News Wrap


The National Food Security Act (2013) is aimed at ensuring supply of highly subsidised food grain to around 84 crore people in India. The scheme was to be implemented in the country from July 2014. Most large states where the number of Public Distribution System (PDS) beneficiaries are high have shown little improvement in their preparedness.  Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra combined covers more than half of the scheme’s target population. These large states have not yet put the list of beneficiaries on-line, although some of these states claim the NFSA is already under implementation. The states are still grappling with end-to-end computerization of the entire PDS delivery system, which is a prerequisite for rolling out the scheme. However, the scheme is now being implemented in eleven states (including Union Territories), and is targeted for extension to the entire country by May 2015. Pilferage of food grains has been rampant from mid-2013 to mid-2014. Bihar which claims to have been supplying subsidised food grains under NFSA to 7.6 crore of the state’s total population of 10.3 crore for about a year, is yet to put the beneficiary names on-line for verification.

The food subsidy bill for 2014-15 was Rs 1.22 lac crore (revised estimates) and the amount estimated for 2015-16 is Rs 1.25 lac crore, which includes NFSA expenditure of Rs 64,919 crore. Only a few states and Union Territories, viz Delhi, Chandigarh, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, have completed the computerization of the beneficiary list. Leakages in the public distribution system range from 40% to 50%, and in some states go as high as 60 to 70%.

Threats to Freedom
From time immemorial, peculiar fertility practices have been in vogue in many parts of South India. At the Shiva Temple at Tiruchengode in Namakal district (Tamil Nadu), during nocturnal festivals, childless women pair with unknown youths they fancy, and disappear in the darkness, with the knowledge of their husbands, a custom sanctioned by society to beat barrenness among married women. A professor of Tamil at the Government Arts College at Namakal and a well known chronicler of Kongunadu, Perumal Murugan published his Tamil novel, ‘‘Madhorubagan’’ (One Part Woman) in 2010, hailed as a masterpiece. Penguin published an English translation in 2013. The story revolves around a childless farming couple in the last decade of British rule in the Namakal region, where most people are Saivites. Beginning January 2015, there was a protest in Tiruchengode where activists of the Sangh Parivar burnt copies of the novel, and demanded a ban on it. The AIADMK government of Tamil Nadu, remained indifferent. The district revenue officer forced Murugan to sign a statement expressing ‘‘unconditional apology’’ for hurting the sentiments of a section of the population. Copies of ‘‘Madhorubagan’’ have been withdrawn from book shops.

Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace campaigner has been stopped by Indian officials in the second week of January 2015, from travelling to the United Kingdom, to talk to British MPs, about the impact of a coal mine, on a village in Central India. The Indian national was prevented from boarding a flight from New Delhi to London, and given no reason by immigrant officials who stamped her passport ‘‘off load’’. She has no criminal record, and possessed a valid visa to enter the UK. Greenpeace says that Pillai has campaigned against a mine which would affect thousands of villagers, in and around the Mahan forest in Madhya Pradesh. The campaigner had been placed on a government ‘‘lookout’’ circular, a list of absconding criminals, even while the Indian government has made no official comment. The Mahan coalmine plan is a joint project between London–listed Essar Energy and Hindalco Industries. The clearing of large parts of a centuries-old forest that covers 1000 sq kms (385 sq miles) endangers the forest homes of a community of 50000 people. India is the world’s third biggest user and producer of coal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has cracked down on Greenpeace India over its coal campaigns.

Poland’s Shale Gas
Poland has massive deposits of shale gas. The political elite has been eager to wean Poland off energy supplies from Russia. Of late, the fracking Revolution has stalled. In the face of a combination of poor test wells and sustained environmental protests, foreign investors have pulled out. The local anti-shale gas protest group Green Zurawlow in south-east Poland, where only 96 people live, has stopped Chevron. Farmers and their families from Zurawlow and four nearby villages blockaded a proposed Chevron shale drilling site, with tractors and agricultural machinery for 400 days. The company abandoned its plans in July 2014. Similar battles have flared up across Poland and 3 Legs Resources have also called a halt on investments after disappointing results. The recoverable shale gas volumes under Poland is estimated between 346 and 786 billion cubic metres, the third largest in Europe, and enough to meet Poland’s gas needs for between 35 and 65 years. Seven of the 11 multinationals that invested in Poland have already pulled out, citing permit delays and disappointing results. Just 66 wells have been drilled, and 12 involving horizontal fracking. Permits for a further 27 drills are under lengthy enquiry. The shale industry faces environmental protests, falling oil prices, continued supply of cheap coal, and European Union pressure to increase cost competitive renewable power generation.

Vol. 47, No. 41, Apr 19 - 25, 2015