News Wrap


The Union Government of India has moved to contain outgo on rural job scheme. The demand for MGNREGS is being driven down. There is a higher proportion of expenditure on material, reducing the budget available to pay wages. Again, there is a focus on implementing the scheme only in the poorest 2500 of India’s 6275 blocks. The third cut is the unprecedented delay in payments to beneficiaries. Till October 2014 end, about 70% of all payments, totalling Rs 8407 crore had not been paid within the statutory fifteen days, the most severe delay in the history of the scheme. In 2013-14, about half the workers received payments on time. Wages amouting to Rs 607 crore had not been paid for more than three months. The statutory obligation of states to compensate workers for delay in payment of wages has now been disregarded almost universally. State governments owed wages for 2.9 billion work days. Besides legitimate dues, the state governments owed Rs 117.41 crore in compensations. About Rs 157.66 crore was not paid due to lack of sufficient funds with states. Only Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have paid compensation. The electronic cash transfer system, designed to move and track fund flow from the central government, to the state government, to the beneficiary, has not yet been adopted. The Union Government maintains the discretion to transfer funds to states. In 2009-10, the projections of work by the Union Rural Development Ministry was 4.02 billion person days; while for 2014-15, this has been scaled down to only 2.27 billion. The increase in wages rates through the years, conceals the real fall in the actual volume of work created.

Ebola Epidemic
Death toll from the Ebola epidemic has risen to over 5400 out of higher than 10,500 known cases in eight countries. The virus has infected people virtually all along West Africa, covering Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Liberia and Senegal. There are isolated cases in Spain, Germany and the United States. The true death toll may be three times as much by a factor of 1.5 in Guinea, 2 in Sierra Leone and 2.5 in Liberia. The death rate is about 70% of all cases. Fifteen African states, including Ivory Coast, are at the highest risk of the deadly virus being imported. Trials of Ebola vaccine began in December 2014, and hundreds of thousands of doses should be available for use by the middle of 2015. There are about 700 health care workers infected by Ebola. The number of new Ebola cases arise between 5000 and 10,000 a week.

As quarantines and border closures aimed at containing the Ebola outbreak disrupt farmers and pile pressure on food imports, Liberia’s government is struggling to secure the food supplies. The Ebola crisis has crippled food production in Liberia, and the agricultural sector has been hardest hit. The country’s food imports comprise about 80% of all foodstuffs. Now measures to prevent the spread of Ebola have increased Liberia’s reliance on food imports, and concerns over diminishing food production are mounting. The Ebola containment measures often require entire villages and communities to be cut off. Liberia needs around 36,000 tons of rice to feed its population for one month. Before the Ebola outbreak, 1.2 million people or 41% of the population in Liberia, were unable to lead a healthy and active lifestyle due to malnutrition. Food insecurity was deemed ‘unacceptably high’. To dodge Ebola quarantines, Liberians are struggling to secure food supplies. Disruptions in cross border trade and marketing activities have resulted in sharp price rises, affecting the food security situation of large numbers of people, in West Africa.

AL Under No Pressure
About a year ago, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won an unprecedented second term in an election boycotted by Mrs Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), BNP’s electoral ally was barred from running. Without an effective opposition, the Awami League (AL) is under little pressure. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has recently rejected appeals by a former Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, over the appointment of a judge in a corruption case against her. Mrs Zia has to stand trial, and is accused of siphoning cash from charitable trusts, set up in memory of her late husband, who was an army leader, and was later assassinated as President. Poverty has fallen rapidly since Awami League returned to power in 2009. Bangladesh’s economy is now twice as big as when the incompetent government of Mrs Zia, ended in 2006. Sheikh Hasina’s government has a two-thirds majority in Parliament, and its ally, the Jatiya Party of former dictator Mohammad Ershad, acts as the loyal opposition. In September 2014, the Bangladesh parliament passed a constitutional amendment to give it the authority to dismiss judges. However, the economy was recently slowed, the banking sector is not functioning satisfactorily, and law and order is shaky. China has an open-ended offer of aid, so long as it gets a sea port. Japan has pledged $6 billion in loans. A feasibility study for two nuclear plants, is being conducted by Russia and Bangladesh. Foreigners have put in bids to launch a Bangladeshi satellite. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is emphasising economic ties and a common front against Islamic militants. Probes have revealed that the Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh terror network aims to establish an Islamic State of Bangladesh including some districts of Bengal and Assam.

Vol. 47, No. 26, Jan 4 - 10, 2015