News Wrap


Keen to be counted with USA, France and Russia as power building nuclear parks in India, Japan has asked India for a dedicated Nuclear Reactor Site. Japan has shed all inhibitions of doing nuclear commerce with India. India is giving big contracts for six reactors each to US blue chip companies GE and Westing-house. The six reactors deal with the two American companies will mean cheaper pricing for India. A critical component of the nuclear industry, the insurance structure, has been activated in July 2015, as Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) buys a nuclear insurance policy at Rs 100 crore premium, from a consortium that includes General Insurance Corporation (GIC) and a group called Nuclear Risk Insurance from Britain. The sites for the US nuclear reactors are in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The capital-intensive nuclear programmes will benefit from Japanese involvement.

Temple Gold Rush
A hunger for gold in India, has led to a severe current account deficit over a couple of years, because gold was the number two imported item after oil. Gold has consistently given good returns even as stock market and land prices have fallen. It has been the chosen mode of investing wealth among Indians. The young and upwardly mobile urban professionals are investing in ‘paper gold’ or gold mutual funds,  instead of real gold. Political leaders have tried in vain to curb the nation’s appetite for gold. India is one of the largest consumers of gold in the world, importing almost 1000 tons each year. By contrast the Indian government’s gold reserves amount to only 550 tons. The love of gold dates back centuries, stemming from gold-giving rituals and gold buying festivals, brides draped with gold, and gold laden dowries. Wealthy Hindu temples, like Mumbai’s Shree Siddhivinayak Temple and Kerala’s Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, are repositories for much of the $1 trillion worth of privately held gold in India about 22000 tons, according to an estimate from the World Gold Council. The Union Government of India is looking to monetise India’s vast hidden wealth. A programme has been introduced that will allow temples to deposit their gold into banks to earn interest, rather than sit idle in vaults. The gold would be melted down and sold to jewellers. Jewellery auctions are taking place in many temples. Money from the gold auctions funds charity projects.

Attack on Dissent
Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister is continuing a crackdown on civil society groups and environmental organizations. India put the Ford Foundation, the US philanthropy group on a security watchlist in April 2015, following complaints of its links to an activist seeking the conviction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for human rights abuses. In June 2015, India deported a member of Greenpeace after denying him entry to the country despite his valid travel documents. While on his way to meetings with Indian colleagues, Aaron Gray-Block, an Australian who has campaigned against a plant to clear a forest and build a coal mine in Mahan, Central India, was stopped by officials at Delhi Airport. His passport was seized and he was placed on a flight to Kualalumpur, without explanation. The passport was returned only after he landed in Malaysia. The deportation was part of a pattern of state harassment of the Greenpeace Environment Group, which is fighting several government backed ‘developmental’ projects. In April 2015, Greenpeace’s foreign funding licence was withdrawn, crippling its finances. A court in May 2015, partially reversed the order, enabling Greenpeace to unfreeze some of its bank accounts. India’s secret service the Intelligence Bureau shortly after the election of Mr Modi in May 2014, claimed that delays to ‘big development projects’ caused by Greenpeace and other organizations, had reduced 2 to 3% off India’s annual rate of economic growth.

Reclaimed Land in South China Sea
China’s total land reclamation in the South China Sea has increased from two square kilometres in December 2014 to about eight square kilometres in May 2015. The reclamation has been undertaken at five outposts on the Spartly Islands, which China calls the Nansha Islands. China has set up harbours, communications and surveillance systems, logistic support facilities, and at least one airfield in the reclaimed area. A heliport on Gaven Reef has already been developed, and runaway is being constructed on the Fiery Cross Reef. Avoiding escalation of military conflict in the disputed East China Sea and South China Sea, to claim sovereignty China introduced trade tariffs, tourism restrictions, limits on foreign direct investment, and curtailment on fishing boats.

The territorial dispute over the South China Sea between China and Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines is about fish, oil, gas, freedom of navigation and assertions of national pride. On the northern edge of the sea, on Hainan Island, China bases its nuclear submarines, including the four equipped to launch ballistic missiles. China’s coast line of the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea is hemmed in. Its only access to the Pacific and beyond is through narrow straits, bordered by Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia. The South China Sea carries 80% of China’s overseas trade, and half of all global tanker shipments. China’s Jin-class nuclear submarine, carrying Jualang 2 submarine launched ballistic missiles, is expected to begin its first patrol for nuclear deterrent purposes by end 2015.

Crackdown in Pakistan
In June 2015, Pakistan shut down the offices of ‘Save the Children’. The global charity left the country in fifteen days, as the Pakistan government intensified its crackdown on non-profit organizations. Pakistan has in the past linked the charity to the fake vaccination programme used by the Central Intelligence Agency in its hunt for Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US Commando raid in 2011. More than a year after bin Laden’s death, Pakistan expelled six foreigners employed by ‘Save the Children’, in a move apparently linked to its suspicions over spying. The charity has always denied being involved with the CIA, or the Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who carried out the programme. ‘Save the Children’ has been made inoperational in Pakistan, where the country has begun placing curbs on non-profit organizations across the board.

Vol. 48, No. 7, Aug 23 - 29, 2015