News Wrap


Even though crop insurance schemes have been tried out with limited or no success in India, since the 1970s, the absence of ways to hedge risks has been a major contributor, historically, to farmer distress. Despite government subsidy, the farmers have not derived benefits from insurance schemes commensurate with the cost of the premiums they have had to pay. Procedures for taking out the policies and claiming compensation have been cumbersome. Barely 23% of cultivators opted for insurance cover. In agriculturally advanced states like Punjab and Haryana, insurance coverage has been even poorer. Insurance plans did not reimburse even a fraction of the actual losses incurred by the farmers, due to bad weather or other factors. Under the new scheme Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), farmers will have to pay the lowest ever premium—just 2% of Kharif crops, 1.5% for Rabi crops, and 5% for horticultural crops—and still get full insurance cover, without any cap on the sum insured. The scheme covers prevented sowing, as well as post-harvest damage to the produce, within two weeks of harvesting. Compensation will go directly to the farmers’ bank account, and technology and satellite imaging will be used to assess losses and settle claims. The subsidy on premium would be shared equally by the central government, and the states. The Centre will bear 90% of the total cost. The total annual financial liability may be about Rs 8800 crore even if half the relevant farmers are insured.

Limits of free speech
British-colonial era laws, once intended to prevent communal tensions, are being used to suppress art, literature and academic writing in several parts of India. Kiku Sharda, an actor in a comedy show broadcast on an Indian cable channel, partly owned by US based Viacom, has been taken into custody and jailed, for offending the ‘‘sentiments’’ of Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan’s followers. Mr Insan is the leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda Sect, which claims to have 6 million followers in Haryana state. The guru, who had been accused of blasphemy by India’s Sikh minority, threw his weight behind the BJP, which wrested power from the Congress party in the Haryana sate elections in 2014. Kiku Sharda, an Indian comedian had appeared to mimic a motorcycle riding religious guru, known for his flamboyant sequinned outfits, and his political support for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr Insan’s followers had objected to Sharda’s recent portrayal of Palak, a recurring character on the programme ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’, which appeared to mock their revered leader. Sharda had apologised to the guru and his followers in January 2016. The heavy-set bearded guru who delivers sober spiritual discourses is clad in flamboyant outfits, refers to himself as a saint. He has cut several record albums; and directed and starred in two big budget action films.

North Korea and Nukes
On 06 January 2016, North Korea announced that it has conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test. It is a huge jump in Pyongyang’s efforts to improve its still limited nuclear arsenal. The explosion defied international sanctions. It is unclear whether the explosion, involved a hydrogen bomb. North Korea’s fourth underground test in nearly a decade, set off alarm bells in Japan and South Korea, and drew condemnation from the United Nations Security Council, and from China and Russia, North Korea’s two main allies. Claims by North Korea that it has tested a ‘‘minitiaturized’’ hydrogen bomb, provides the country with a weapon to defend against the United States and its other enemies. The US flew on 10 January 2016, a nuclear-capable B52 bomber, and with F16s, and South Korean F15s, close to a defiant North Korea. The bilateral flight mission took off from Osan Air Base, about 100 km from the North Korean border. USA and other western powers have been punishing the North Korean regime each time it defies international norms, on nuclear non-proliferation. China remains North Korea’s largest trading partner, supplying most of its oil and gas. A North Korean regime collapse could trigger a refugee crisis across the 800-mile border between China and North Korea. A possibility could arise of the US-backed South Korea taking over the North.

Mass Assault on Women
There are over 380 criminal complaints on the mass attacks on women in the German City of Cologne, on New Year’s Eve. Investigations focus largely on asylum seekers or illegal migrants from North Africa. Around 40% of the complaints included sexual offences, including two rapes. The attacks targeted women mostly, and ranged from theft to sexual molestation. This has prompted a highly charged debate in Germany, about its open-door policy to migrants and refugees. More than one million migrants came to Germany in 2015. Scores of women were assaulted by men of Arab or North African appearance, in Cologne and at least three other German cities.

More than two-thirds of the refugees reaching Greece and Southern Italy are male; and a fifth are under 18 years age, and many more are young adults. The refugee crisis risks distorting the gender balance across Europe and the Middle East. Within a year of the demographic crisis, Sweden’s sex ratio among people aged 16 to 17 years, already favours males more heavily than even China’s. The refugees have little grasp of western laws and norms. Single young men dominate the flow of refugees to Germany and Sweden.

Siege of Madaya
In retaliation for the capturing of the towns of Fua and Kefraya in Idlib province by rebels, the Syrian government forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah blockaded in July 2015, Madaya, a centre of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, about 25 miles north-west of Damascus. Pro-Assad forces imprisoned Madaya’s 40,000 inhabitants. The town was encircled with thick coils barbed wire. More than 170 checkpoints, patrolled by armed Hezbollah and regime soldiers, were established. Syrian forces planted hundreds of landmines. Such siege warfare was condemned in September 2015 by United Nations Commission of inquiry on the Syrian conflict. Madaya was one of the first towns in Syria, to rise up against Assad. For six months, Madaya’s inhabitants took to the streets every Friday, to protest peacefully for democratic change. The Madaya enclave is the last rebel-held position on the mountainous Lebanese border region of Qalamoun, which was a key rebel supply route to the Damascus area. The Syrian regime has used starvation and barrel bombing as weapons to break the resistance of towns such as Qusayr, Yabroud and Zabadani. With half a metre of snow fall in beginning January 2015, there were catastrophic conditions inside Madaya town, with residents eating pets, leaves and grass. Around mid-January 2015, forty four trucks were allowed into Madaya, breaking a siege that led to desperate starvation and deprivation, and left up to 400 people in need of immediate evacuation. Added to systematic starvation, Russian airstrikes have killed almost 800 civilians, since September 2015.

Vol. 48, No. 36, Mar 13 - 19, 2016