News Wrap


The Budget for 2017-18 of the Union Government of India has envisioned a National Testing Agency to conduct all entrance examinations, for higher educational institutions. This will free CBSE, AICTE and other premier institutions from administrative responsibilities.

Rs 1.31 crore has been allocated to the Indian Railways’ capital expenditure in fiscal 2017-18, an increase of 8.26% over the 2016-17 outlay. After 1924, this was the first merged rail budget. Gross budgetary support of Rs 55,000 crore will be provided by the Union Finance Ministry. The Railway Safety Fund with a corpus of Rs 1 lac crore over five years, will be partly financed by the Union Government. The Railways will have to manage the rest through its own resources. The fund will cover the upgradation of tracks and signalling. The budget proposes the elimination of all unmanned level crossings on the broad gauge networks by 2020. There will be no change in rail fares, and no service tax on e-tickets. The Union budget has hiked the total railways outlay for Bengal by 295%, amounting to Rs 6336 crore for 2017-18.

The Defence allocations for 2017-18 saw an increase of 6.2%, rising to Rs 2.74 lac crore, from Rs 2.58 crore (2016-17). A hike of 10% in the capital outlay is expected to cover modernisation programmes. India ranks fourth in the list of top defence spenders in the world.

Demonetisation After Effects
98% of transactions take place in cash in India. On 08 November 2016, the Reserve Bank of India had a stock of 2.47 billion Rs 2000 notes, valued at Rs 4.95 trillion, ready to put into circulation. At that time the new Rs 500 notes were not printed. There was a reported scarcity of currency printing paper and printing ink. Orderly implementation of demonetisation was seriously hampered. After the old Rs 500 and old Rs 1000 notes were recalled, about Rs 20.7 trillion old notes were returned to banks, post offices and government treasuries. The total cash which dried up was more than four times of the new replacement in Rs 2000 currency bills. About a 100 people lost their lives queuing up before crowded banks, unable to bear the tension. Within two months of demonetisation, the informal sector suffered a 40% decline in transactions. More than 90% of India’s labour force is engaged in the informal sector, often without written contracts, regular employment or social security. The informal sector consists of production and trade in agriculture, small business and household enterprises. Industry suffered a severe downturn in its operations, suggesting a slump in business ranging from 30% to 70%. The worst affected areas were Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), automobiles, mobile phones, personal computers, real estate, consumer products and jewellery.

Kashmir vs Jammu
The PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir state is giving certificates of identity to West Pakistan refugees in J and K. This is threatening to divide J and K state on regional and religious lines. Separatists and the mainstream opposition accuse the PDP-BJP coalition government of trying to dilute state subject laws by giving the identity certificates to the refugees. Leaders in Jammu have raised the settlement of Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh and Myanmar, calling it an attempt to change its demography. Protests and violence have erupted in Kashmir Valley. The J and K state government has defended the identity certificates stating the West Pakistan Refugees, almost all Hindus, came to J and K at the time of partition in 1947, continue to be ‘‘non-state subjects’’. The ID certificates would help them get jobs in paramilitary forces, and other Central Government establishments, as citizens of India. Many point out that the issue of ID certificates to West Pakistan refugees, forms part of the Agenda of Alliance, between the ruling PDP and BJP. Muslim refugees from Myanmar have been coming to Jammu for the past several years. There are about 20,000 West Pakistan refugee families, spread out in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts. Of these only 20 families are Muslims.

Spies and Para Militaries
Motenegro, a picturesque Mediterranean Nation of just 620,000 people is at the centre of a tug of war between Russia and the Western Countries on South-West Mediterranean, Kotor is a deep sea port, built for large battleships, and is coveted by both the Kremlin and Nato. As in South Eastern Europe, Russia is sponsoring political parties in Montenegro and staging military manoeuvres. A mysterious ‘‘humanitarian’’ centre is being built by Russia in Serbia, that Nato suspects is a cover for espionage. Russia is targeting countries in the western Balkans by forging ties with elites, supporting anti-western groups, and buying its way into the energy and media sectors. Montenegro is the only country on Europe’s Mediterranean coast outside Nato. The smallest of the six republics that once made up the former Yugoslavia, Montenegro with just 2000 men under arms will contribute little to Nato. Many Nato members are under pressure from Donald Trump, the US President, to increase military spending to 2% of their GDP. In October 2016, the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov struggled to find a birth, in which to refuel enroute from Russia to Syria. The Balkan Cossack Army, is made up of Russian para militaries and locals, who fought in the Balkan civil wars of the 1990s, and the present conflict in Ukraine. Kremlin has warned Montenegro against joining Nato. Since 16 October 2016, after parliamentary elections bringing to power Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, a pro Nato leader in Montenegro, the country has been shaken by claims of a Russian-backed plot to seize government institutions. The Orthodox Church of Montenegro has railed against attempts by the Montenegrin government to throw in its lot with the West and considers the Nato as ‘‘nothing but an occupying force’’.

Children Starving in Yemen
Hundreds of thousands of children in Yemen, are at risk of dying of starvation. Yemen is running out of food after two and half years of civil war, in which more than 11,000 people have been killed. Children and elderly are dropping by the roadside, on their way to seek medical help. Greater numbers are dying at home. More than two million of Yemen’s children are malnourished, of which at least a quarter severely. At least one child dies of starvation and associated illnesses such as diarrhoea, and pneumonia. The health system in Yemen is falling apart. In Sana’a the capital, plastic bags are used to cover holes in broken incubators for babies. A vast majority of families seeking help, are turned away from hospitals. Some may go to a private hospital, but those who cannot affrod it just go home. At the Al-Sabeen hospital in Sana’a, parents deposit ‘‘unnamed’’ babies and leave, as they are unable to pay the small fee that the hospital charges, since government funding dried up in September 2016. The hospital staff have not been paid since then and many health workers have gone home. As part of efforts to restore to power a government that was ousted by rebels, known as the Houthis, who are sponsored by Iran, Saudi Arabia has imposed a blockade on Yemen. Tens of thousands civilians have been killed or injured, many in Saudi aristrikes. The civil war has destroyed the economy and infrastructure, reducing parts of Yemen to Rubble. 3.2 million civilians have been left homeless. Schools and hospitals have been bombed. Food has been scarce in Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country, even before the war broke out in 2014. 14 million people do not have enough to eat. The airport has long been closed, except for the occasional UN flight.

Vol. 49, No.35, Mar 5 - 11, 2017