News Wrap


Reduced from 14 about sixteen months ago, there are just eight licensed working elephants in India’s capital. During an official inspection in the summer of 2014, six elephants were discovered missing or dead. Elephants are a star attraction at many of New Delhi’s lavish events, ranging from weddings, temple courtyards and Republic Day parades. New Delhi’s wild life authorities, citing legitimate safety concerns, have stopped the elephants living on the banks of Yamuna river, where there is plentiful grazing. Elephants now stay in crowded slum on the city’s northern outskirts, where rubbish strewn lanes are barely wide enough, for an elephant to pass. Across dual carriage ways choked with traffic, is the access to the river, which is two-thirds of a mile away. Delhi’s elephants are micro-chipped to ensure they are not trafficked or neglected. Even then six elephants disappeared last summer. No other support is offered by the city. While elephants love the leaves of pipal trees, it is not possible to release captive elephants into sanctuaries, alongside wild herds. Keeping elephants is an age-old practice, and owners are reluctant to go to villages. Elephants in cities walk on tar roads, step on glasses and metal nails, and hit by trucks on roads in low light. ‘Mahouts’ who drive elephants possess little veterinary knowledge. Elephant calves are taken from their families, chained to trees, and starved and beaten to break them down.

Modernity in Bhutan
Bhutan has population of about 740,000. The poverty rate has halved in less than a decade, falling to 12% in 2014, from 23% in 2007. Healthcare and education are free. Life expectancy has increased by 20 years, and per capita income by 450%. A heavy debt burden and currency shortage forced the government to push through an $88 million (53 million Pound) stimulus package for the economy last year. The economic growth has stumbled in recent years, and for 2012 economic growth is 7.3%. The rural-urban migration in Bhutan is among the highest of countries in South Asia. The country got its first television sets in 1999, and held its first democratic elections in 2008. Low living standards, lack of alternative job opportunities, especially for young people, and unhappiness of around 63% of rural households are contributing to increased out-migration from rural to urban centres. Break-down of families and loss of vitalities amongst communities are increasing. With greater development comes greater expectation.

Thimpu, Bhutan’s capital, is one of the fastest growing cities in South Asia, expanding at about 10% a year, in spite of attempts to curb its growth. There are strict building rules, tax breaks for business in other towns and rural areas. New roads are being added, and regional airports are increasing. 60% of Bhutan’s landmass is forests. Roads account for 5500 km. Farming holds 16% of GDP. Four massive hydropower projects have boosted industry’s share to 44% of GDP. The huge Dagachu hydro project plant in south-west Bhutan is opening shortly. Bhutan is attempting to raise hydro power capacity to 10,000 mw by 2020, most of it for export to India, which is funding the expansions. Bhutan has a distinct culture, language and tradition. A heritage sites bill protects cultural traditions and monuments. Bhutan has its own broadcasting channels, and insists on national dress in government meetings and in schools. Men wear national dress and masks, and dance at traditional festivals.

Plight of Rohingyas
Thousands of Muslim Rohingyas are refugees living in squalid, dusty camps in Rakhine state of western Myanmar. There are about 140,000 Rohingyas at the camps. Two years of ethnic violence in Rakhine, mostly by Buddhist mobs against Rohingyas has left as many as 280 people dead, and forced 140,000 to abandon their homes. Since the transition to democracy three years ago, Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, has been gripped by ethnic and religious violence, mostly in Rakhine. Although many Rohingyas came to Burma generations ago, the Myanmar government considers them all illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Those displaced by recent violence live on the outskirts of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine. Almost daily there are reports about deaths, many of them pregnant women, experiencing complications that could have been prevented. Foreign medical aid workers have been forced out by a distrustful government and extremist Buddhist mobs. Special permission is required for obtaining medical aid outside the camps, in hospitals run by the Buddhist Rakhine majority. The Rohingyas worry that Buddhist doctors and nurses will hurt or even kill them. The government is rebuilding the health care system, after years of neglect. Recently the Myanmar government has allowed Save the Children, Oxfam and other humanitarian groups to return to Rakhine. Few foreign staff members have done so. State doctors show up at Muslim camps several times a week, but only for a few hours. The Emergency Co-ordination Centre is composed of state and central government officials, as well as representatives from the United Nations and members of the local Buddhist Rakhine community. Its role initially was to be an information-sharing mechanism. Now aid groups activities must be approved by the Centre, and foreign medical aid donors must give Buddhist and Rohingya equal amounts of aid.

Vatican’s Assets
While Pope Francis insists a ‘poor Church for the poor’, the Roman Catholic Church has been amassing earthly treasures and valuable artworks for almost 2000 years. The Vatican administers its own and third-party assets, for a declared value of 9 to 10 billion Euro (7-8 billion Pound). Of these assets, around 9 billion Euro were in securities, and 1 billion Euro in property. Vatican’s congregation for the Evangelisation of People, is believed to have property holdings worth around 7 billion Euro. Vatican’s wealth has listed luxury shops on New Bond Street in Central London and a former home of the last French President Francois Mitterand. Switzerland, the heaven of banking secrecy, is also host to Vatican holding companies.

Vol. 47, No. 29, Jan 25 - 31, 2015