News Wrap


The debt of the West Bengal government crossed Rs 3 lac crore in 2015-16. The expected debt of Rs 3.48 lac crore in 2016-17, against Rs 3.04 lac crore of 2015-16, is one of the highest among states. Between May 2011 and end March 2016, it is estimated that about Rs 1,40,722 crore would have been deducted from the state treasury as interest and principal repayment. Borrowings of the state government will continue to rise. Total market loan for 2016-17 is pegged at Rs 27,204 crore (budget estimates), against Rs 24,500 crore in 2015-16 (revised estimates). The state has projected a 16.96% increase in Plan expenditure for 2016-17. The plan expenditure for 2016-17 has been fixed at Rs 57,095 crore, against Rs 49,507 crore in 2015-16 (budget estimates). Borrowings of the state government will continue to rise as the total market loan for 2016-17 is pegged at Rs 27,204 crore (budget estimates) against Rs 24,500 crore in 2015-16 (revised estimates).

West Bengal state has received a soft loan of $300 million from Asian Development Bank. The state’s revenue deficit for 2015-16 is around Rs 3869 crore. The fiscal deficit is estimated Rs 19,377 crore. The deficits have declined compared to 2014-15, when revenue deficit (actual) was Rs 17,137 crore. The total state tax revenue increased by 9% in 2015-16 (revised estimates) over 2014-15 (actual) to nearly Rs 42,920 crore in 2015-16 (revised estimates). There was shortfall of about Rs 3577 crore in budgeted-revenue tax collection. The 14th Finance Commission for increasing the devolved share of the state from 32% to 42%, has unilaterally structured several central government schemes, which led to de-notification of 39 such schemes. In the case of 58 schemes, the share of the state government spending has drastically increased. The state’s share of union taxes and duties stands at Rs 38,461 crore (2015-16).

Food Waste in USA
Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the United States are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock, or hauled from the field to the landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards. According to official data, a cult of perfection is causing Americans to throw away almost as much food as they eat. This is deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment. Farmers and others in the food distribution chain claim nutritious food is being sacrificed to retailers’ demand for unattainable perfection. In the ‘‘farm to fork’’ food waste problem, agricultural produce is lost in fields, warehouses, packaging, distribution, supermakets, restaurants and fridges. Fresh fruit or vegetables have to be blemish-free or rejected. By US government tally; about 60 million tons of produce, worth an estimated $160 billion is wasted by retailers and consumers every year, which is one-third of all foodstuffs. The figures exclude the amount of foodstuffs thrown out and lost on farms and in packaging warehouses. Scarred vegetables are regularly abandoned in the field to save the expense and labour involved in harvest, or left to rot in a warehouse because of minor blemishes, that do not affect quality. When added to the retail waste the amount of food lost is close to half of all produce grown. At least 25% of the potatoes crop and other vegetables, is just thrown away or fed to cattle. Researchers acknowledge there is no clear accounting of food loss in the US. About two-fifth of all fruit and vegetables are consigned to the dump, because they do not conform to the industry standard. Globally, about one-third of food is wasted amounting 1.6 billion tons of produce a year, with a value of about $1 trillion. Food waste accounts for about 8% of global climate pollution.

Burkini Ban
After the 14 July 2016 Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice, several towns in France imposed the ban on full body beach wear ‘‘Burkini’’ on municipal beaches. The clinging body suit has been outlawed in some 20 resorts on the Côte d’Azur and other coastal towns. Police, under orders of the Cannes Mayor, have escorted women off the beach for wearing a hijab-veil. Appeals against the bans by rights organisations reached the council of state, the highest administrative court of Paris. Bans on Islamic swimwear were ruled unlawful on 26 August 2016, by the Council of State. The Council stated that the Burkini bans that began after the Nice Terrorist massacre of 14 July 2016 ‘‘seriously breached the fundamental freedom to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom’’. It was a victory for campaigners who opposed decrees by the mayors of 31 coastal resorts. The ruling, which referred to a ban at the small Riviera Resort of Villeneuve-Loubet, must be observed in all municipalities that have bans. Beach Resorts in France have refused to revoke bans on the Burkini, despite a court ruling that they were breaching basic human rights. The display of Muslim practices in public, has become a central issue in presidential and parliamentary election campaigns for Spring 2017.

Oil Prices and Algeria
The plunge in oil prices has led to an economic crisis in Algeria, a country that depends on energy for 97% for its exports and two-thirds of its government revenue. The Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State have shaken the rest of the region. Algeria has been remarkably stable in recent years. The country has doled out generous oil-financed benefits, including housing, cars and pay rises. International Monetary Fund records indicate that government spending jumped by 50%, and civil servants salaries grew favourably. Algeria had a socialist tradition, but its recent protectionism was aimed at maintaining a system of privileges. The regime remains a place very hostile to foreign investors, and prefers to work with businessmen close to the elites, in order to buy their loyalty. Low oil prices have created a series of dysfunctions in the system.

Unemployment in Algeria is over 20%. Protests take place nearly everyday. Basic social services, health care and education had been widely perceived as declining, even before oil prices collapsed. The government is facing budget shortfalls. With the goal of inspiring Algerians to think beyond oil, the government has called for entrepreneurship, innovation and diversification of the national economy. The Algerian government has promised to ease unemployment among youths, by redistributing energy revenue and offering micro-credits to young entrepreneurs, who create jobs. As banks are not prepared to invest in start-up, the initiative has yet to show significant results.

Vol. 49, No.27, Jan 8 - 14, 2017