News Wrap


India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims the new gold monetisation scheme to free up an estimated 20,000 tons of gold lying idle in Indian households and temples, and reduce bullion imports. The initiative has received a tepid response, with just four kilograms of gold raised from November 2015 to January 2016. The 200-year-old Shree Siddhivinayk Temple in Mumbai, devoted to Ganesha, the elephant headed Hindu god, will withdraw some of the 160 kg of gold in its vaults, and lend it to the government. The temple plans to melt 40 kgs of jewellery to make bars, and deposit those bars under the scheme. Over the years, India’s temples have amassed gold worth billions of pounds, through donations. The Indian government’s aim is to put much of that gold back into circulation, melting it down, and passing it on to jewellers. The government offers an annual interest of 2.5%. However, the donation to temples may drop off, if worshippers believe that their contributions will simply be passed on to the state.

People’s Representatives
In pre-Independence India, only landed people were eligible to hold posts in local bodies. Post-Independence, late K Kamaraj became Chief Minister of Madras (Tamil Nadu) state, and later became the president of the Indian National Congress. The Supreme Court has endorsed the validity of the Haryana State BJP government’s Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, prescribing that a matriculate alone can contest for panchayat president or ward member. About 42 lac out of 96 lac eligible voters are debarred from contesting grass-roots level elections in Haryana state. The ineligible people comprise the poorer sections of society, the scheduled castes and tribes. Section 175 of the Act disqualifies individuals from contesting local body panchayat elections if they do not have a functional toilet, or have arrears in payment of electricity bills, or co-operative society loans. The Supreme Court judgement in the Rajbala versus Haryana State observers ‘‘The proclaimed objective of such classification is to ensure that those who seek elections to panchayat have some basic education...’’ According to the Constitution of India, the Governor of state who gives assent to such legislation need not have any qualification except he or she should have completed 35 years of age.

Tibet and Global Weather
Tibet is the world’s highest and largest plateau, at an average elevation of 4000 metres above sea level. The Tibetan plateau has 46,000 glaciers. It is the third largest concentration of ice after the poles. The Tibetan plateau is the head source of Asia’s six largest rivers. For the 1.3 billion people in the world’s ten most densely populated nations surrounding the plateau, the waters from Tibet are a critical resource. The heat waves in the global weather system have been linked to thinning snow cover on the Tibetan plateau. The temperature of the Tibetan plateau has increased by 1.3 degrees Celsius, which is three times the global average. Two-thirds of the glaciers on the plateau will disappear by 2050, as they are melting at an average rate of 7%. Critical for the health of the planet, the Alpine permafrost is at serious risk. The permafrost stores more than 12 million tons of carbon on the Tibetan plateau. 10% of this permafrost has degraded in the past decade, leading to release of carbon. Nomadic mobility is a key to protecting the world’s dry lands, but China has been forcing Tibetan nomads off their lands into large scale settlements.

Missing Children in China
There are about 21 million victims of forced labour worldwide, and countless numbers of children caught in the horrors of trafficking. Media reports in China say 13,000 women or children were rescued in 2014 and 24,000 in 2013. Buying or selling children through informal brokers is a long tradition in China’s countryside. Only a minority of trafficked children are kidnapped. Records from provincial courts indicate that about two-thirds of missing children had been sold by their birth parents or close relations due to poverty, to avoid fines, or because the parents were unmarried. China’s rapid economic development has been driven by the flood of young adults into growing cities. Toddlers play unsupervised in half abandoned villages or city slums, where they become targets for kidnappers. Kidnappers steal from regions where enforcement of population control laws in lax, like the rural south-west, and sell into regions where tough enforcement of the one-child policy has left a shortage of heirs and brides. In some provinces it is cheaper to buy a child than pay the fine for having a second or third. Rising infertility in cities creates more demand.

The price of a trafficked child ranges from Rmb 10,000 ($1500) to Rmb 100,000. Boys on average fetch twice the price of girls. Most stay within China, but some end up in international adoptions, joining the millions of people forcibly moved across borders in growing global trade. As elsewhere in China teenagers lured with the promise of work find themselves uncompensated and unable to escape. By the mid-2000s, the one-child policy has eased, more couples could afford fines, and birth control was more reliable. There were fewer births, as birth rates plummeted. International adoptions out of China peaked in 2005. China introduced eligibility restrictions on foreign adoptions in 2007, indicating there were fewer healthy infants available. Many missing children are enslaved at brick kilns, or sold into prostitution. Decades of turmoil, migration and the one-child policy have fractured many Chinese families.

Civil War in North Africa
Civil war has created turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Nigeria. While the structure of fascism has always been hierarchic, Islamism functions as a network. The British government obtained a substantial majority for its resolution to bomb ISIS targets in Syria, by comparing ISIS to Franco, Mussolini and Hitler. A five-sided conflict enrages in the Syrian Civil War, in which at least 15 foreign powers have intervened at varying times, since it began five years ago. The Syrian government forces, plus various Shiite militias, including Hezbollah have received support from Iran and Russia. There is the Free Syrian Army plus affiliated Sunni militias, which have been assisted by not only USA, Jordon, France and now Britain, but also Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Sunni states support al-Qaeda linked jihadist groups, such as al-Nusra Front. These jihadists periodically fight against ISIS, which finances itself with private donations from the Gulf, and sales of oil to Turkish buyers. The Kurds also fight under at least three banners, the biggest being that of the People’s Protection Units. They receive support from Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as USA, Britain, Canada and France.

Vol. 48, No. 33, Feb 21 - 27, 2016