News Wrap


The recently published Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 points out that nearly 40% of India’s rural population are landless, and work as casual labourers. Of the 100 million deprived rural households, 21.5% belong to scheduled castes or tribes. States that have implemented land reforms have higher rates of landlessness than the national average. 10.08 crore or 56% the country’s rural households do not own any agricultural land. The incidence of landlessness is higher in Kerala (72%) and West Bengal (70%), where under left-ruled governments in the past, radical land reforms were undertaken. States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maha-rashtra and Odisha that have no record of any sustained land redistribution programme, have less percentage of rural households who do not own any agricultural land. Kerala has a significant reduction in land under cultivation. Land reforms in West Bengal were focused more on providing sharecroppers legal security of tenure and protection against eviction, through the Left Front government’s ‘Operation Barga’ during 1977-87, than conferring ownership per se.

Crimes in Gaza
Israeli and Palestinian factions have been accused of multiple potential violations of international law, including suspected war crimes, by a United Nations enquiry into the 2014 Gaza war. Most of the blame for Israel’s suspected violations has been placed at the feet of its political and military leadership. Israel maintains that the report failed to recognize the difference between ‘‘Israel’s moral behaviour’’ and the ‘‘terror organizations’’ it confronted. Rejecting the findings, Hamas claims its rockets and mortars were aimed at Israeli military sites, not at civilians. Israel began its offensive in July 2014, in response to heavy rocket fire from Hamas and other militant groups. More than 2200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed during the fighting. 73 people died on the Israeli side. As billions of pounds of pledged aid to the Gaza strip has failed to materialize, nearly 400,000 children are still suffering from shellshock, fourteen months after the war. More than 530 Palestinian children were killed during the 51-day war in July/August 2014, when swathes of the densely populated territory, were pounded under Israel’s bombardment. Children comprise more than half of the 100,000 people still homeless.

A temporary truce is in effect, but negotiations for a long term ceasefire have grounded to a halt. All of Gaza’s fighting groups have female units. The women fighters have swelled in numbers since the most recent Israeli offensive. The most efficient is the Nasser Salaluddin Brigades women unit.

Highways and ports
Since independence from Pakistan in March 1972, Bangladesh has not built a new sea port. Chittagong and Mongla ports, built pre-1947, similar to Calcutta port suffer poor draft, and cannot take in large vessels. Bangladesh is trying to develop a deep sea port at Sonadia, with Chinese funding. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency is constructing the Matabari deep sea port, 25 km from Sonadia. The construction will start in January 2016. Matabari and Sonadia are in Cox’s Bazar district, and lie close to Maheshkali, where the Japanese are funding a coal-fired 1200 mega watt power project. The Matabari port will have a draft of 18 metres and more, and will primarily be used for importing huge consignments of coal, needed for the Maheshkali thermal plant and the one at Rampal, near the Sunderbans. Sonadia would mean an additional land-to-sea access for China, besides the Kyaukpyu-Yunnan link in Myanmar. India is trying to develop a deep-sea port at Sagar Island, to take pressure off the Calcutta-Haldia port system.

Lamb Pelts
Most western countries import only carpets and opium from Afghanistan. Finish fur buyers have a growing regard for the velvety pelts of Afghan Karakul lambs. Finland has become Afghanistan's largest export destination for velvety Karakul. Last year, Finland, a power house in the global fur trade, imported nearly half-million Afghan lamb pelts, auctioned them off the fashion houses to be turned into luxurious women’s coats, among other items. The hub of the trade is the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where fur traders gather in March and April with stacks of pelts of the Karakul breed of sheep, purchased from shepherds, across the countryside. Between October and December 2014, Afghanistan exported $3.6 million worth of Karakul pelts to Finland. Only traders who amass 20,000 pelts generally travel to Helsinki’s fur auctions.

Austerity in Greece
Class divisions in Greece have become manifest and the social damage caused by austerity has not been a quitably spread. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister’s Syriza party won the snap parliamentary elections in Greece on 25 January 2015. During February 2015, the Greek government negotiated a four-month bailout extension, on repaying its Euro 320 billion debt. On 04 June 2015, Greece agreed with IMF to postpone repayment until 30 June 2015. Talks to reach deal at EU summit failed on 26 June 2015. The bailout deal expired on 30 June 2015, and Greece is due to pay £ 1.1 billion to the IMF. Greece formally defaulted on its debt of £ 2.5 billion to European Central Bank, on 20 July 2015. Many Greeks agree with their government’s opposition to austerity, but a majority want to keep the single currency. The German fiscal rigour of the euro currency, has been blamed for increasing unemployment, homelessness and despair, while the Greek economy shrank by one quarter over the past five years. One third of distributors who operate cash machines of the Bank of Greece have run out of money. In the referendum of 05 July 2015, Greek’s government and its populace have won the ‘No’ on bail out terms and more austerity measures, by a resounding 63% of Greek voters.

Vol. 48, No. 10, Sep 13 - 19, 2015