News Wrap


India’s current population is 1.3 billion, with estimates of population growth at 10 million additional people per year. Mid November 2014, fifteen young women died at a mass sterilization camp in Bilaspur district (Chattisgarh state). Dr R K Dhawan who performed the sterilization has been charged with attempted culpable homicide and negligence, and also accused of failing to sterilize surgical instruments. The doctor has claimed that vomiting and pain were a reaction to the anti-biotics given by village quacks to the sterilization patients, when they went back to their villages. The exact cause of deaths has not yet been detected. Preliminary finding of health authorities suggested a poisonous chemical compound, zinc-phosphate, got mixed with the drugs. The firm has denied any wrong doing. Dr Dhawan was performing 83 surgeries in six hours, and was trying to meet laproscopic tubectomies quota demands of local authorities. The programs include incentives, even though voluntary. Women, in most states in India, can make around $25, if they opt for sterilization. The tragedy has exposed the horrible conditions under which doctors work.

Rate of Rail accidents
There were over 100 rail accidents in the April 2014 to February 2015 period, a jump of 45% compared to the 62 accidents, recorded in the corresponding period last year, in the Indian Railways. It has been the worst performance in three years on rail accidents, even as Indian Railways is gearing up to roll out high speed passenger services. There was a decline in the ratio of the number of accidents to every million km covered by trains, from 0.29 (2004-05) to 0.10 (2013-14). Safety data indicate that the number of accidents per million train km average 0.14 for this financial year, higher than the numbers recorded in each of the past three years. Accidents in the present financial year include 50 derailments, 42 level crossing accidents, five collisions and four cases of fire in coaches. Between April 14 to January 15, 75 persons lost their lives in train accidents. In the earlier financial year 2013-14, the total number of deaths related to train accidents was 54. The task of deploying anti-collision devices in North-East Frontier Railway (one of 16 zones) and other zones, and installation of train protection warning systems, and train collision avoidance systems might be difficult, owing to inadequate appropriation to the Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF), used to fund replacement of old and ageing railway assets. In 2013-14, Railways appropriated Rs 6700 crore to the DRF, 13% less than the budgeted target. From the safety fund for 2013-14, Rs 2000 crore was withdrawn, again an appropriation of Rs 900 crore.

Industrial Disasters
In the first week of December 1984, methyl isocyanate escaped from the pesticide plant of the Union Carbide in Bhopal. Three million people have eventually suffered after exposure to the gas, and thousands died within days. The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act 1985 was confined to the disaster, and enabled the Union Government of India to enter into the settlement with Union Carbide for US$ 470 million, although the victims had already challenged the constitutional validity of the Act. The Claims Act was silent on the toxic wastes from the Union Carbide factory site. Much before the Bhopal disaster, the contamination of the ground water had begun and it was to manifest years after the disaster. In the absence of application of the polluter pays principle, around 350 tons of chemical wastes remain to be removed from the site of the Union Carbide plant.

On 08 June 2014, 18 km away from Bhopal, 500 tons of Basmati rice went up in flames, at Daawat Foods Ltd in Mandideep Industrial Area. There were no casualties as the fire happened in the storage area, resulting in an estimated loss of rice worth Rs 180 crore. The total number of documented fatalities from industrial accidents in just 11 states in 2012 is 1174. Three days before last Diwali on 21 October 2014, a blast at the Manikanta Fire Works manufacturing unit, in the coastal village of Vakathippa near Kakinda (Andhra Pradesh), left behind a trail of destruction and 17 bodies. Fatalities are the highest in industrialized states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra, as also in resource rich states such as Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, where mining is a major industrial activity. Official statistics suggest there were 4275 documented fatalities in Indian factories, between 2010 and 2012. The actual numbers could be at least ten times higher, if the accidents in the unorganized manufacturing sector are counted. In 2014-15, there were at least 90 fatalities, including the 17 who died in the Kakinada incident. There is an almost complete lack of enforcement of safety regulations, inadequate health facilities, and an abysmal track record of punishing those found guilty of violations.

Postmortem is continuing at steel flagships, where over 100 workers have died in the last two years. On 12 June 2014, leakage of carbon monoxide at Bhilai Steel Plant affected 36 people. A few died during treatment, and a body of a young contract worker was found 30 feet down in the pump site, after the water was drained. Two engineers of a private firm, SMS Seimag Ltd, died of suspected gas leak on 16 June 2014, at the Visha-khapatnam Steel Plant. There were 25 deaths among the contract workers in Durgapur Steel Plant since 2011. After the Trinamool Congress came to power, old and experienced contractor workers were forcefully terminated and replaced by 3500 Trinamool supporters.

oil Rocks Rouble
Since Russia’s 1998 financial crisis, the Rouble suffered its worst fall, due to the impact of tumbling oil prices on its economy. The Rouble at one point hit a record low of 53.86 to the Dollar, though later it cut some of its losses. Beginning June 2014, the near 40% fall in the oil prices has put huge strains on Russia, which in 2013 derived more than half of its budget revenues from oil and gas extraction. President Putin’s regime is already struggling to cope with US and European Union sanctions over Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. Russia’s Central Bank has predicted zero economic growth in 2015 unless sanctions are lifted. OPEC, the oil producers’ cartel decided at end December 2014, not to cut output to shore up prices, provoking a further fall in the crude price, and causing increasing pressure on the Rouble. The Rouble’s slide has made it more expensive for Russian bank and companies to service their foreign debt. While Russian lenders are taking precautionary measures, Russian banks have yet to report a wave of depositors taking money out of their Rouble deposits.

President Putin has said in December 2014, that Russia would stop construction of the South Stream gas pipe line, to bring Russian gas to Bulgaria under the Black Sea, bypassing Ukraine, unless the EU dropped its opposition. Moscow is developing a gas hub to southern Europe via Turkey. The European Commission has refused to give Gazprom the exemption needed to operate the Moscow-Kiev pipeline, at full capacity.

Vol. 47, No. 28, Jan 18 - 24, 2015