News Wrap


End March 2017, India’s Lok Sabha passed a Finance Bill that exempts companies from declaring the identities of the political parties they have donated to. A cap on corporate funding to parties is eliminated. So far firms could donate only up to 7.5% of their average net profits, over the previous three years. The Representation of the People’s Act, Reserve Bank of India Act and the Income Tax Act have been given separate amendments, which allow political parties to avoid disclosing corporate funding, received through ‘‘electoral bonds’’. Against the currents of rising transparency in electoral funding all over the globe, the new legal amendments allow corporate political donors to mask their contributions. The changes clash sharply with international, transparency trends. The changes are likely to bring an increase in the flow of political funds to political parties, but not greater transparencey. The Central Information Commission has not enforced its own ruling and has not been responding to applications seeking information on political funding. Industrial houses can now donate as much as they wish, through electoral bonds, without either the corporate political donors or the political parties needing to reveal this funding.

Attacks On Nigerians
Coinciding with xenophobic attacks on Indian origin people in USA, Australia and New Zeeland, the rising incidents of racism in New Delhi and Bangalore against people from other countries, from Jan 2017 till date, has weakened India’s strategic foothold in Africa. There were two attacks in the last week of March 2017, on Nigerian students in Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh), where many African students study and live. The attacks took place during a protest march, over the death of a class 12 student, allegedly of drug abuse. A 25 year-old Kenyan woman was allegedly pulled out of her cab early on 29 March 2017 and beaten by four assistants in Greater Noida. Again, a Nigerian student was beaten with steel dustbins, kicked and punched by a large mob, inside the Ansal Plaza Mall, in Greater Noida. The heads of 44 African Missions, accredited to India, have unanimously concluded that these accumulated attacks were ‘‘xenophobic and racial in nature.’’ They have also observed that the recent attacks on violence against African students in India, have not been sufficiently condemned by the Indian authorities.

Cooking Gas
The threat that Nepal would import fuel from third countries like China, if Indian Oil Corporation was unable to ensure regular supply of petroleum products like cooking gas, has been warded off with IOC and Nepal Oil Corporation reaching a new agreement. The fuel supply exclusivity to India is safeguarded, that was started with the first agreement, signed in 1974. By the new agreement of March 2017, IOC conceded marginally on marketing charges and waived the interest levied on NOC, for delays in payment. IOC has also agreed to compensate NOC, if it failed to supply products, as per the demand. After gifting fuel during the alleged six-month blockade against Nepal by India, which began in Sep 2015, China was attempting to gain commercial opportunities, by offering to become an alternate supplier. India also agreed to extend the proposed Raxaul (India)- Amlekhganj (Nepal) product pipeline to Chitwan (Nepal), with the promise to start work on the pipeline in 2017-18. An Indian high level official committee will look into Nepal’s demand, for a LPG pipeline from Motihari to Amlekhganj, as well as extending the natural gas pipeline, from Gorakhpur into Nepal.

British Troops in Estonia
About a quarter of Estonia’s population are Russian-speaking, with many receiving their news from Kremlim-friendly Russian Television Channels. Around 800 British soldiers have arrived in Estonia since 17 March 2017, as part of the United Kingdom’s biggest deployment in eastern Europe, since the cold war. Troops from 5th Batallion, The rifles, and the Queen’s Royal Hussars are based at a former Soviet military base, 90 miles from the Russion border. They will operate with warrior armoured fighting vehicles, challenger 2 tanks, self-propelled artillery and surveillance drones. The British troops have joined French and Danish soldiers in  a 1200-strong force, with three other Nato battle groups being deployed to Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. The base is on the outskirts of Tapa, a small town, with black and austere Soviet era apartment blocks. The deployment is ‘‘a reassurance and deterrence mission’’, that Nato would defend Estonia and its neighbours. The army chiefs have ordered a team of soldiers to work with Estonian cyber-specialists, to identify and rebut ‘‘fake new’’ stories, from Moscow’s propaganda compaign. Intelligence officials have warned of honey traps or Russian provocateurs trying to draw Nato soldiers into fights that would be filmed. British troops are permitted to travel to Talimin, the capital, only in small numbers, when off duty. Visits to strip clubs are banned, and some bars and clubs are out of bounds. The rules are ‘‘fairly restrictive’’, and include an alcohol ban. Soldiers have also been instructed not to bring sim cards for their mobile phones and other electronic devices, to prevent cyber hacking.

Brexit and EU Migrants
British prime minister Theresa May was not present at the last week of March 2017 celebrations in Rome, in remembrance of the European Economic Community Treaty, signed on 25 March 1957. The Treaty committed Europe to ‘‘ever-closer union’’, as well as a common Market. Britain is expected to cease being an EU member in the spring of 2019, 46 years after joining the Rome pioneers. Britain has had difficulties of adjustment with EU’s pursuit of ever-closer union via the euro and the Schengen agreement on open borders. EU migrants who have come to Britain will continue to be paid child benefit after Brexit, to send to their families back home. The 3 million EU migrants in the United Kingdom should keep their rights to state handouts, even after Britain leaves the EU. Any attempt to withdraw child benefits from those already in Britain, would undermine the health and pension rights of British pensioners in Spain and Britons living elsewhere in the EU, when two years of talks start.

Vol. 49, No.52, Jul 2 - 8, 2017