News Wrap


Historically slaughter of cows, considered sacred by Hindus, has been banned by most states in India. In truth the ban was rarely enforced in India, which is the world’s largest exporter of beef. Over the past eighteen months states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have broadened the ban to include other types of cattle, like bulls and bullocks. Hindu vigilantes have stepped up attacks on traders, to enforce the prohibition. Prices of cattle have fallen across India. The country’s meat exports have fallen by 14% in the April 2015 to March 2016 period. Rival beef supplier Brazil is gaining from India’s loss. Farmers are already reeling from bad harvests because of back-to-back droughts and unseasonal rains. Millions of farmers are struggling to sell animals, they can no longer feed. In a drought year, traditionally farmers have sold cattle to butchers, mostly Muslims, and bought new ones when earnings rise after monsoon showers. Farmers are left with little money to buy seeds or fertilizers, ahead of the next sowing season, in June. Suicides of farmers have nearly doubled in the drought-hit Marathawada region of Maharashtra. Assembly around tankers and borewells is leading to riots. Cows and buffalos need 70 litres of water per day. Many farmers are simply abandoning their cattle.

Drought and MGnrega funds
Officially drought has affected over a third of India. Nine out of 29 states, 248 out of 660 districts, 2,327 out of 6,800 blocks and 96,954 out of 2,57,000 panchayets are facing a mismanaged drought. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), inspired by the Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Act (1977) has Rs 10,588 crore currently pending in payment delays. About nine crore workers in 25 states are facing illegal delays in wage payments. More than half of this amount prevail in drought-affected states. The legal requirements of the MGNREGA relating to work on demand, and full and timely payment of wages, have failed. In the drought hit states, only 5% households have completed 150 days of work. State governments have been unsuccessfully appealing for adequate funds releases, under MGNREGA.

Terror in Brussels
In a series of explosions that ripped through Brussels Airport and a Metro Train, around 35 people were killed and over 200 injured, on 22 March 2016. The latest attacks, to rock Europe, are claimed by the Islamic State militant group. Per capita, Belgium has supplied the highest number of foreign fighters to Syria than any other European nation. Belgian federal police, who pursue major crimes, suffer a shortfall of close to a fifth of the full strength force of 12,500. Concerns that the small European nations’s Security and Intelligence officials are overwhelmed, and that its co-ordination with western allies falls short, have again come to the fore.

Russia and the West
Russia began its air campaign against militant groups in Syria, at the end of September 2015. Since then, Assad’s forces have made considerable advances, mostly against western-backed rebels, rather than the ISIS jihadists, who were the professed target of the bombing. Russian planes had flown 9000 sorties and 400 settlements and 10000 square kilometres (3861 square miles) of territory had been ‘‘liberated’’. In a surprise announcement on 14 March 2016, President Putin of Russia ordered the withdrawal of most Russian forces from Syria. Russia’s bombing campaign was declared a ‘‘mission accomplished’’. As part of a presence in Syria, Russia will maintain its Tartus naval supply base on the Mediterranean coast and a presence at the Latakia airbase, from which about 48 planes had been operating. Russia has about 2400 men, including armoured infantry, artillery crew, marines, special forces, and reconnaissance units in the country. SU-34 jets have flown back to Russia. The Syrian campaign had cost Russia 33 billion Roubles (£340 million), using defence funds re-assianed from military exercises and combat training.

Activist’s death in Honduras
At least two gunmen broke into the home of environmentalist and indigenous rights activist Berta Caceres, and fired shots at her as she slept, early on 03 March 2016. The murder sparked violent clashes in Honduras, despite promises by President Juan Orlando Hernandez to swiftly find and punish the killers. The authorities failed to protect a high-profile campaigner who had repeatedly received death threats. Rock-throwing students clashed with riot police firing teargas at the University of Honduras. International NGOs called for foreign investors and engineering companies to withdraw from the Agua Zarca Hydro-Power Project that Caceres had been opposing at the time of her death. The US government also came under fire for supporting a government that came to power in a coup, and has since pushed forward with the controversial cascade of dams, and failed to prevent Honduras from becoming the most murderous country in the world for environmental campaigners. Caceres and other members of the group she founded, the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), have been in conflict with the dam project operators Desa, the local mayor, police and soldiers. Members of the group are frequently detained and threatened. More than 80% of murders in Honduras go unpunished. The military work with powerful interests, while human rights activists are criminalised.

Vatican Martyr
There are allegations that Francesca Chaouqui, the PR expert and two others stole documents they had gathered in the courts of work on the Vatican commission, and leaked them to journalists, who used them to write explosive books about alleged financial minmanagement of church funds. In November 2015, Chaouqui was summoned to a meeting with Vatican police. The 33-year-old was arrested, interrogated and held for 72 hours within the Vatican walls, apart from a short stint in hospital after falling ill. She says she was denied access to a lawyer. Chaouqui who had earlier served on a prominent Vatican commission examining financial reforms, has been charged by Vatican prosecutors with leaking confidential documents to two journalists, a crime under Vatican law, punishable by up to eight years in prison. The Pope has suggested Chaouqui was lashing out at the church, because she had not been offered a permanent position, after the commission she served on was disbanded. So far, the Vatican has not released any evidence in its case against Chaoqui or her co-defendants the monsignor, Luio Balda, a lay-person named Nicola Maio, and two journalists, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi. Balda has alleged that he was seduced by Chaouqui, and that he leaked the documents, after being encouraged to do so. Chaoqui expresses admiration and respect for the Pope. There is a widely held view that Pope Francis has internal enemies who object to his reform proposals, particularly those that would shed more light on the Church’s finances.

Vol. 48, No. 46, May 22 - 28, 2016