News Wrap


Higher Education in India has 25 colleges per lac population, on an average. West Bengal has nine colleges per lac population, which is way below the all-India average. Since May 2011, the West Bengal state government has established 31 new colleges and 13 new universities. Even then the state falls short in terms of infrastructure and student enrolment count. In terms of higher education, Telengana tops the chart with 54 colleges per lac population, followed by Andhra Pradesh with 44 colleges. The poor situation in West Bengal is reflected in the average enrolment per college at 1498, significantly higher than the national average of 715. The total enrolment of students in colleges in West Bengal, is about 14.3 lac. The 955 colleges in West Bengal account for only 2.69% colleges in India. The state ranks a poor 14th in the list of states with most colleges, and 5th in universities. 3.01 crore students pursue higher education in India. In West Bengal, 16.6 lac students pursue higher studies. Barely any teachers have been appointed in colleges and universities in West Bengal, during the past four years. 24% of college teachers in the state are temporary.

Phasing of Pantry cars
Teams of men have toiled over decades to provide billions of meals to passengers on the Golden Temple Mail, the Deccan Queen, the Rajdhani Express, and the Agra Shatabdi. The pantry car carriage in the long, over-crowded trains in India has always been a haven of well being. Multi-course meals are served in a select few trains. Basic rice, vegetables and chapatis are the menu in more modest trains. The famous pantry car is now being phased out. It will be largely replaced by ‘e-catering’ and take aways, to satisfy India’s increasingly varied gastronomic tastes. People want different types of food. Pizza, burgers or continental food will be on offer. Railway fare is known for poor hygiene and grease. Even then there is much resistance to the end of a treasured catering. More than half a million meals a day are prepared in pantry cars or specialised kitchens, and served to passengers. They are usually extremely economical, though prices vary. The menus of the pantry cars, and the occasional dining cars, have been unchanged for decades. Under the new modern system, passengers would pre-order their meals on an app or web-site, by phone or SMS and then pay online or on delivery.

Islamists in Earthquake Relief
After a massive earthquake struck Pakistan in October 2015, a banned militant group in Pakistan and considered by western countries as a terrorist organisation, is leading relief work. Since the 7.4 magnitude earthquake on 26 October 2015, thousand of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) workers have fanned out across northern Pakistan. In the west, the group was seen as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba. The group was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks in which 166 people died. Volunteers from JuD and its welfare unit, Falah-e-Insaniyat (FIF) are seen as saviours, in the quake zone. The group is thought to be controlled by Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, although Islamabad denies this. USA has imposed sanctions on FIF and its leader, Hafiz Abdul Rauf, for links to terrorism, who insists that it is purely a welfare organisation. FIF has 2000 workers in northern Pakistan. Its operations nationally reach deep down into communities. With hundreds of thousands of volunteers, FIF runs dispensaries, ambulance services, and madrassa schools that are ‘breeding ground for terrorists’.

Collateral Damage
Over the last four months, Russia’s airstrikes in Syria, in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime have killed at least 160 civilians. President Putin of Russia has targeted terrorists, ISIS and anyone seeking to overthrow the dictatorship of President Assad. Collateral damage comprises civilian casualties. President Barack Obama of USA has a foreign policy of disengagement, both from the wars of his predecessors and from new crisis. The British House of Commons has voted against British military involvement in Syria. There is a promised retaliatory bombing of Syria by USA, after allegations that Assad had used chemical weapons.

A direct consequence of US retreat from Afghanistan is the alleged US bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, which Medecins Sans Frontiers says killed at least 19 people and seriously injured 37 others. The reduction of US troops is reflected in the seizure of Kunduz in the last week of September 2015, by the Taliban. Although part of Kunduz has been recaptured by the Afghan army, it had to call in American air support. A US AC-130 gunship, a converted Hercules cargo aircraft mounted with 40 mm and 105 mm cannons, were reportedly engaged over Kunduz, at the time of the attack on a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontiers. The charity has now pulled out of Kunduz, with patients moved to nearby cities or Kabul. MSF has denied claims by Afghan security officials that Taliban fighters had been firing from within the hospital compound. ISIS has stepped into the vacuum of US withdrawal from northern Iraq.

During November 2015, Russia fired cluster bombs around border camps housing thousands of Syrian refugees. The Yamadi camp area, a few hundred metres from the Turkish border, was targeted by Russian air strikes three times in November 2015. The nearby Aubian camp was struck by a cluster bomb on 09 November 2015, killing four people, and injuring dozens more. A Russian jet warplane was shot down by two Turkish F-16s, a mere 17 seconds after entering Turkey’s airspace for the second time 24 November 2015 morning. The Russian jet was targeting Syrian rebels. It is the first Russian aircraft to be shot down by a NATO member country for more than 60 years. Ankara has repeatedly warned Moscow against striking the area, accusing Russia of massacring Turkmen civilians. Russia launched punitive airstrikes in several areas, close to the Turkish border on 25 November 2015, including the site where the jet was shot down on 24 November 2015. The Russian defence ministry claims it had proof that Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and his family were benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from ISIS held territories.

Vol. 48, No. 29, Jan 24 - 30, 2016