News Wrap


The Tarakeswar–Bishnupur Railway project was sanctioned in the 1999-2000 Indian Railway Budget, when Ms Mamata Banerjee was the Union Minister of Railways. Two religious auspicious places, Kamarpukur near Tarakeswar and Joyrambati near Bishnupur, the birth places of Ramakrishnadev and Saradadevi, were to be connected. The project is incomplete even after 19 years. The Eastern Railways had given a detailed project outline in 2003. The total length of the fully electrified railway line was divided into three parts, viz Tarakeswar–Arambagh (26 km), Arambagh–Kodabari (16 km) and Kodabari–Bishnupur (44 km). Train service on the Tarakeswar–Talpukur segment were opened on 25 April 2010. A section of villagers in Hooghly have refused to allow filling-in of a pond, that is located on the planned course of the rail project. Stiff opposition to the project has been aroused in Hooghly district. Land owners claim the railway track would destroy the water body, where they rear fish. A substitute pond, and substantial aid and assistance from the Bengal State Fisheries Department, as compensation to the owners of the water body, has been offered.

POSCO Departs
South Korea’s POSCO has confirmed in March 2017, withdrawal from the steel project near Paradip (Odisha). Earlier, the forest dwellers, fisherfolk and peasants in the area were engaged in a long struggle to protect their land, livelihood and environment. Considered the largest investment by any multinational in India, the 52,000 crore project violated the Forest Rights Act (2006), as no forest land can be allowed to anyone until all the rights of the people are protected and their consent obtained. However, the forest dwellers do not have any title deed to the land and forests. On 30 March 2012, the National Green Tribunal has suspended the environmental clearance given by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest on 31 January 2011. The government was committed to transfer to POSCO 4000 acres of land for the steel plant, 2000 acres for a township near the plant and 25 acres in Bhubaneswar for POSCO offices. The drinking water supply to Bhubaneswar and Cuttack was threatened, as the plant would have drawn 12000 crore litre of water from the Mahanadi river [daily] to exploit 6000 million tons of iron ore, the government was to allocate captive mines to POSCO, on a pittance as royalty. This would have given POSCO an estimated net profit of Rs 96,000 crore.

While the POSCO company may have been in a position to provide 13,000 jobs, the land acquisition would have displaced 40,000 people, and 20,000 of them would have lost their rural employment. However, the Odisha state government has decided to fence the land transferred to POSCO, and keep in its Land Bank. The owners of the land are still unable to resume cultivation and reconstruct their demolished homes. Forest dwellers and betel farmers, whose lands were illegally acquired for POSCO, have been agitating peacefully for the last twelve years, against the land acquisition measure of the Jagdalpur district administration and the Industrial Development Corporation of Odisha.

Tent Theatres in Assam
Local mobile theatres in Assam, are staging plays based on Hollywood hits like Titanic and Superman. Television is redundant in Assam, with erratic electricity supply. Local film industry is being stamped out by Bollywood. Locally called ‘‘Bhraymaman’’ theatre, Assam’s half-a-century old mobile theatre has been flourishing. The Kolkata-based Q connect, an advertising firm helps brands get in touch with mobile theatres in Assam. They have a viwership of five crore a year. Brands like ITC,  Bingo, Parle and Airtel advertise in these mobile stage shows on banners, posters, stalls and even pay for on-stage mentions. LIC, SBI and Tata Shakti (Roofing) have also advertised with Q-connect. The mobile theatres have been around from the 1960s. Plays based on ‘Anaconda’, ‘Jurrasic Park’ and even the search for Osama Bin Laden are enacted for audiences of a thousand people, by forty theatre companies. Each show has two to three performances a day and tickets costing between Rs 50 and Rs 250. Big actors from the Assam film industry, take part by singing and dancing. The turnover of Assam’s mobile theatres is about Rs 10 crore, annually. Top artists who travel with these theatres earn around Rs 30 to Rs 70 lac per season. Trailers, featurettes and annual itenerary of these theatre shows are uploaded on You Tube and Web Sites.

Chinese Zeal for Assets in Britain
In spite of Brexit uncertainties and Beijing’s state capital controls, Chinese companies investing in the United Kingdom are currently reaping significant records. Chinese companies are enjoying surging revenues from their British assets, from financial services firms such as Alipay (UK) to retail groups such as House of Fraser. The best performing Chinese companies are registered in the United Kingdom. Chinese acquisitions of property in the UK, accounts form 44% of the value of deals, announced between 2012, and the end of the first half of 2016. Next is the consumer sector at 28%, then 8% for financial services, 7% for oil and gas, and 5% in healthcare. In China, property is over supplied, and overpriced, and there are fears that the renminbi will devalue. The UK is a safe haven to balance assets of Chinese investors. China’s self-made billionaires are diversifying into English football clubs, as a target for trophy assets. The State Council, China’s cabinet, has circulated a draft document that requires government agencies to sign off on foreign acquisitions, valued about $10 billion or $1 billion if they are outside the acquirer’s core business. The document also calls for a halt to foreign real-estate purchases above $1 billion, by state-owned enterprise.

Vol. 50, No.1, Jul 9 - 15, 2017