News Wrap


India imports 80% of its oil requirements. The Ratna and R-Series oil and gas fields, off Mumbai’s coast had been languishing since 1993, when the government decided to invite bids. The fields were awarded to a consortium led by Essar Oil in 1996. ONGC was a partner in the consortium, with a 40% share. It is estimated that the delay in awarding the Ratna and R-Series Oil and Gas fields, led to the loss of production of 56 million barrels of crude oil and 920 million metric standard cubic metres of natural gas, between October 2005 and March 2015. The loss amounts to around Rs 26,200 crore, with reference to the Reserve Bank of India’s reference rate of the dollar for each month. Additionally, Rs 1086 crore was lost due to damage to equipment in the fields which were productive at one time, operated by state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation.

Records of the Union Ministry of Railways reveal that for period 2011-14, delays in completion of India’s Railway Projects, raised the financial burden from Rs 10,659 crore to Rs 19,936 crore. In India’s North-East costs essalated by 265%. Out of 11 delayed railway projects in the region, costs of 7 had increased from Rs 7651 crore to Rs 20,313.75 crore.

States to Mine and sell coal
Till end 2015, the states of India were allotted coal blocks, but with specified end-use, such as power production, steel and iron production etc. The Union Government of India has now approved the allotment of coal mines to states for mining and commercial sale to medium and small industries in their states. This ends the 41-year-old monopoly of the central government over mining and sale of coal. Under the provisions of the Coal Mining (Special Provisions) Act, 2015, the recent measure is likely to benefit the mineral-rich states to earn surplus revenue, which were until now earning royalty from private companies, mining coal for captive use. Coal blocks will not be having any specified use. The coal blocks which the states would mine, in turn, would be able to allot that coal to any industry. Ultimately, the medium and small scale industries, including small power plants, which cannot source coal from Coal India, will be benefited. The domestic production of coal is expected to enhance to meet the demand of national economy, thereby reducing import. For development of Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) in coal and lignite bearing areas to extract energy from coal/lignite resources, revenue sharing has been adopted, for offering blocks through competitive bidding.

Food Prices Rising
For over 15 months in a row, the longest since 1975-76, the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) deflation is continuing. Rising food prices pulled up the Consumer Price Index (CPI) based inflation to 5.5%. Rising prices of vegetables and pulses in the festival months of October-November, has propelled the inflation. The WPI inflation in vegetables has increased to 15%, from 2.56% (October, 2015). Heavy showers in South India and seasonal trends contributed to rising food prices. Inflation in non-food items in the primary category (unprocessed articles) also increased by 7%. Prices of fuels and manufactured items declined by 1.42% and 11.09% respectively. Rural areas bore the brunt of the retail inflation at 6%, compared to 5% for urban areas.

Mid-Day Meals
Poor quality of meals served, diversion of food grains and lack of monitoring and inspection has led to a consistent decline in enrolment of children in schools, covered by the Mid-Day Meal scheme in India. Enrolment has fallen from 14.69 crore children in 2009-10, to 13.87 crore children in 2013-14. There has been a rise of 38% enrolment in private schools. Enrolment at the primary level fell by 12%. Only 50% of the Rs 84.21 crore allocated for encouraging school among poor children, was utilized during 2009-10 to 2013-14.

Travel without VISA
At end November 2015, Turkey’s 75 million citizens were given the right to travel to and within Europe, without a visa in 2016, after European Union leaders decided a measure that could solve Europe’s migration crisis. Concessions to Turkey included an open-ended financial commitment, beginning with 3 billion euros in funding in 2016, and the reopening of talks on the country’s application for EU membership, despite fears the country is moving to authoritarianism. The deal aims to create a new European system with Turkey, stopping all irregular migratory movements to Europe, in return for taking 400,000 people from Turkish Refugee Camps every year, who will be shared across EU countries in the Schengen passport-free travel zone. Turkey will stop the 2.2 million Syrian Refugees on its territory from illegally crossing to Europe via Greece and the Balkans. In 2015, an estimated 1.2 million migrants entered the EU’s passport-free travel zone. Turkey will also accept deported Afghan, Bagladeshi, Pakistani and other Asian ‘economic migrants’, who have had their asylum applications turned down in EU countries. Hundreds of Syrians, Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis, alongwith people smugglers have been arrested by Turkey in the countryside near Ayvacik, a Turkish town, north of the Greek island of Lesbos. Since summer 2015, the migration crisis commenced in Europe. More than four and half years ago, the crisis began in Turkey, when desperate Syrians started sneaking over Turkey’s southern border, to escape the bloodshed.

ISIS BluePrint
An Islamic State manual shows how it has plans of building a state in Iraq and Syria complete with government departments, a treasury and an economic programme for self-sufficiency. The 24 page document sets out the ISIS group’s blueprint for establishing foreign relations, a full-fledged propaganda operation, and centralized control over oil, gas and other vital parts of the economy. The manual (2014) entitled Principles in the Administration of the Islamic State, explains ISIS’s state-building aspirations, and the ways in which it has managed to set itself terrorist group of the past 50 years. The foundation text document, to train ‘‘cadres of administrators’’ in the months after ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a ‘‘caliphate’’ in Iraq and Syria on 28 June 2014, sketches out procedures of organizing government departments, including education, health, commerce, communications and jobs, natural resources, industry, foreign relations, public relations and military camps. The document details how ISIS will build separate training camps for regular and veteran fighters.

Saudi Women Vote
Second week of December 2015—Saudi women voted for the first time in local council elections and also stood as candidates. Following men-only polls in 2005 and 2011, the election is for two-thirds of seats on councils, that previously had only advisory powers, but will now have a limited decision making role in local government. Women cannot drive only in Saudi Arabia. A woman’s male ‘‘guardian’’ usually a father, husband, brother or son, can stop her travelling overseas, marrying, working, studying or having some forms of elective surgery. However, since 2011, more women are attending university and joining female employment. Over 1.48 million Saudis, from a population of 20 million registered to vote in the election, including 131,000 women. The poll has no political parties, strict laws on campaigning, and in which only local issues are at play. Three Saudi women have won seats on the local municipal councils from Madrakah, Jeddah and al-Jawaf areas.

Vol. 48, No. 32, Feb 14 - 20, 2016