News Wrap


The 65-year-old Planning Commission in India has been replaced with a new body called NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog (Commission) which is mandated to provide the central and state governments ‘‘with relevant strategic and technical advice across the spectrum of key elements of policy’’. The Prime Minister will be the chairperson of the NITI Aayog, whose governing council will comprise all Chief Ministers and Lt Governors (of union territories). Co-operational and federalism will rule the implementation of the National Development agenda. The continuing partnership of states will replace the Centre-to-State one-way flow of policy, which was the hallmark of the Planning Commission era. The new body is a more federal institution, because Chief Ministers will be part of it, and the Prime Minister will be heading it. The NITI Aayog is unlikely to allocate funds or devise five year plans, a key function of the Planning Commission. It is more likely to focus on the policy aspect of governance. The devolution of funds would no longer be a major part of the Aayog’s responsibilities. The finance ministry continues to be the financier of the state governments.

Squandering and collecting
In West Bengal’s ‘Junglemahal’ covering Birbhum, West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia, the Maoist insurgency area, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has sanctioned a bonanza from a rickety public exchequer, to 2000 clubs in the volatile belt. Each of these clubs will receive Rs 2 lac in the first year for the development of sport, and Rs 1 lac per annum for each of the next for years. A cadre base is being nurtured for the Trinamul Congress Party, with the party’s generosity covering 6395 clubs. The largesse will cost the state Rs 90 crore this fiscal; Rs 43.95 crore for the 4395 clubs already covered by the scheme, Rs 40 crore for the clubs in Junglemahal. To revamp the pattern of policing, Rs 6 crore will be spent on 600 police stations in Junglemahal, each thana (police station) being allotted Rs 1 lac. There are no signs of any Central bailout package. West Bengal tops the Reserve Bank of India’s list in terms of ways and means advance. The state government has failed to disburse Rs 755 crore advance by the union government of India for payment of wages under the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

A multi-layered membership in the Trinamul Congress Party offers four categories of members: Life members pay Rs 60000, associate members Rs 30000 and active members Rs 19500 as a one-time fee. For primary members, the fee is Re 1 only.

Minimum monthly wages
The Union Government of India has fixed minimum national monthly wages around Rs 15000 for all jobs, in both the formal and informal sectors. The National Minimum Wages Act (1948) stipulates minimum wages for 45 listed economic activities, which also serve as minimum wages for these activities in the states. The state governments can specify minimum wages for over 1600 economic activities. Increasing minimum wages to Rs 15000 will effectively more than double the income of workers in activities covered by the Minimum Wages Act.
At least 186 MPs pay their personal assistants wages that are less than the minimum, mandated by law. There are at least 321 underpaid assistants in the employ of these MPs, who belong to both Houses of Parliament. MPs receive Rs 30,000 per month of office allowance to engage personal assistants, who are ‘‘computer literate’’. The prevailing minimum wage in Delhi for skilled labour is Rs 10,478 per month. But the MPs have been paying these 321 computer literate assistants Rs 10,000 or less per month. Under the Minimum Wages Act, those who pay their employees less than the minimum can be fined 10 times the difference, and also prosecuted.

UK Tortures in Ireland
Britain has been accused at the European Court of Human Rights of torturing men who were interned without trial, during Northern Ireland’s troubles of the 1970s. The Court has been asked by the Irish government, to review a 1978 judgement in which it said that 14 detainees, known as the ‘‘hooded-men’’, were subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment in 1971. They were taken to Shakleton Barracks and subjected to the ‘‘five techniques’’ of being hooded for long periods, forced to stand against a wall in a stress position, subjected to loud noise deprived of sleep, and deprived of food and drink. The prisoners were transported to the base in helicopters from which they were pushed out while close to the ground, and told they were hundreds of feet in the air. An RTE Television documentary crew has unearthed thousands of previously unseen documents, including material held at the National Archives in Kew. These papers indicate that the mistreatment of the men was sanctioned by members of Edward Heath’s cabinet, and that evidence was withheld from the Court in the 1970s. Merlyn Rees, the then home secretary to the Prime Minister James Callagham, in a letter written in 1977, had said the decision to use ‘‘methods of torture’’ was taken by ministers.

Vol. 47, No. 34, Mar 1 - 7, 2015