News Wrap


Several revolutionary anniversaries will occur till the summer of 2018. The 50th anniversary of the ‘‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’’ of China, allowed Chairman Mao Zedong to reassert control over China and the country’s Communist Party, from 1966 to 1976. The 50th anniversary, in May 2017, of Bengal’s Naxalbari Uprising, which sparked a pro-landless peasant, pro-dispossessed and pro-poor conflagration, ultimately raising political consequences, and highlighting India’s socio-economic failings. November 1917 is the centenary of the Russian Revolution, arousing left-wing, communist revolutions in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The birth of Karl Heinrich Marx is bicentennial in May 2018, who revolutionized the political thought of socialism, Marxism and communism. In June 2016, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Muppala Laxman Rao, nom de guerre Ganapathy had invited celebrations for the four anniversaries. Along with left-wing rebels, India has witnessed the evolution of civil rights and human rights movements fighting against social injustice.

Darjeeling Tea digital
Since mid-June 2016, Darjeeling Tea is being bought at the click of a mouse on laptops. Darjeeling is the last tea to be sold by open outcry. India’s first tea auction took place in 1861 at New Mart, 8 Mission Row, Calcutta, an imposing Georgian-style residence, owned by Robbert Thomas, a Welshman with a taste for gambling. Founded during the days of the British East India Company, J Thomas and Co in Kolkata, is the largest tea auctioneer in the world. The modern company occupies the same site on Mission Row. It handles one-third of all tea auctioned in India, nearly 200,000 tons a year. With laptops coming in, the gavel is no longer dropped at tea auctions. The process of optimum prices and tasting of samples in a long room of steaming kettles continues. But the human element of the auction is gone. The Tea Board of India, the government run body that regulates sales, introduced digital auctions for other teas such as Assam in 2007. Darjeeling tea was first planted by a Scottish doctor for medicinal purposes on the Himalayan slopes,  and is still grown on only 87 estates in West Bengal. Around Darjeeling hills, where profits are increasingly difficult to make, tea planters are feeling uneasy at the shift to new technology.

Drugs in Punjab
A survey on drug abuse in Punjab, conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, estimates that in Punjab, there are 2.3 lac opioid (heroin, opium, doda, phukki) dependent people, and four times as many opioid users. The annual expenditure on opioid drugs in Punjab is about Rs 7575 crore. Of 2.75 crore population in Punjab, there are over 8 lac drug users. The numbers include those who consume alcohol even once a week. A proper nationwide survey is absent. Rave parties are infrequent in Punjab, though they keep happening in Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Himachal Pradesh. Estimates of the size of opioid dependent population in Punjab, have used scientifically valid and time-tested methodology. Data was collected from 3620 people, across 10 districts, that represent 60% of Punjab’s population. While 80% of those surveyed tried to give up drug abuse, only 35% received any kind of help, including from NGOs and religious groups. 16% of drug users received medical treatment, while merely 8% got in patient treatment, or were addicted to de-addiction centres. Among men in the age group of 18 to 35 years, four in 100 are opioid dependent mainly on heroin, and about 15 in 100 could be opioid users. About 55% of the opioid dependent people are from rural areas.

Bonanza for Govt Staff
The cabinet of the Government of India accepted end June 2016, the 7th pay panel recommendations on pay, pension hikes for 4.7 million employees and 5.3 million pensioners, of the Central Government. This would be a potential boost to the consumer economy. Entry-level basic pay would be more than double to Rs 18,000 per month from Rs 7,000. At the level of Cabinet Secretary, the top-most civil servant pay will rise to Rs 2.5 lac per month, from Rs 90,000. For the apex scale, the maximum pay is Rs 2.25 lac per month. The hike of 23.5% in salary for Central staff and pensioners is implemented from 01 January 2016. The gratuity ceiling for employees has been doubled to Rs 20 lac. In the union budget for 2016-17, there was an interim allocation for various ministries, for Pay Commission provisioning. The states typically follow the Centre, in raising employees’ salaries. The government expects the raises in pay and allowances, will have a multiplier effect on the economy. Demand for housing, automobiles and consumer durables is expected to increase, providing a fillip to the economy.

Diverting Rivers
A massive and unprecedented river diversion programme has started in India. The aim is to channel water away from the north and west of the country, to drought-prone areas in the east and south. Environmentalists fear that the plan could be disastrous for local ecology. The project involves re-routing water from major rivers, including the Ganges and Brahmaputra, and creating canals to link the Ken and Batwa rivers in the centre of India, and Damanganga-Pinjal in the west. The project will cost an estimated 20 trillion rupees ($300 billion) and take 20 to 30 years for completion. This year 330 million Indians have been affected by severe drought. But digging canals everywhere will affect river-dependent ecology, comprising communities, the wildlife and farmers who live downstream of the rivers.

Afghan Cemeteries
After decades of war and frequent personal tragedies, more and more families have some business or another in Kabul’s cemeteries. The sprinkling of water on graves is an old tradition in Afghanistan, believed to keep the memory of the dead fresh, and to help absolve them of the sins they committed in life. As the bereaved visit graves, Afghan children pour water on grave stones, without asking for permission. Once the water is poured, the mourner must pay. Children make about 10 Afghanis for each small bucket of water, they pour on grave. The price of a loaf of bread, is about 15 cents. On lucky days, a child could get much more in tips, some as big as $10, or even $20. Graves are washed with water. Every weekend there are cockfights at the graveyards. There are roughly 30 cemeteries in Kabul. Since the civil war began in 1980s, unplanned graveyards have popped up all across Kabul.

The Taliban in Afghanistan have recruited hundreds of child prostitutes to work as sex slaves on military bases, and murder the soldiers who abuse them. Exploiting the weakness for ‘‘bacha basi’’ (boy play) and ‘‘bacha bareesh’’ (boys without breads) in the police and military, the Islamists have enlisted the boys as spies and killers. Dozens of soldiers and policemen have been murdered in recent months.

Vol. 49, No.18, Nov 6 - 12, 2016