News Wrap


The High Court in India’s Himalayan state of Uttarakhand has ruled that the stretches of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers be granted the same legal rights as humans, highlighting the struggle to halt systematic pollution of India’s holy waters. The two rivers, which are considered sacred by almost a billion Hindus, should be afforded strict protection under the law. The Uttarakhand court in Nainital, has appointed three officials to serve as legal custodians to the Ganges and Yamuna and their tributaries. The initiative only applies to Uttarakhand states and unlikely to have any effect, on the industrialised northern plains downstream. In spite of a host of initiatives to clean the holy waters, the Ganges remains badly polluted. The National Green Tribunal, an environment protection agency has recently observed that not a drop of the Ganges had been cleaned so far.

Three-fourths of the Ganga’s pollution emantes from municipal sewage of cities, towns and villages located along its banks, covering 2525 km, through the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Bengal. Six million tons of fertilisers and 9000 tons of pesticides used in agriculture, are poured in the Ganges basin. A cluster of about 400 tanneries around Kanpur spew highly toxic effluents into the river. Around 150 large industrial units, in Kolkata’s peripheral suburbs, belech effluents. The National Green Tribunal has been informed by a seven-member panel of experts, that efforts to mend the ecological damage caused by a cultural festival in 2016 hosted by the spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living Foundation on the Yamuna flood plains, neighbouring New Delhi, will cost Rs 42 crore, and take ten years. About 170 hectares of the flood plains have been adversely impacted ecologically.

Hinduism in the West
An estimated 1.2 million Hindus are living in Britain. The first Hindu temple in Britain was inaugurated in Earl’s Court, London in the 1920s, but closed after a few years. The big wave of Hindu immigration to Britain from India, commenced in the early 1950s. The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Puroshottam Swaminarayan community has about 30,000 devotees in Britain, using 40 temples and centres, many of them converted warehouses and chapels. Now many Indian companies have established satellite branches in the UK and brought with them financial and IT experts, from the subcontinent.

Meanwhile, Reza Aslan, the scholar and TV presenter has been pressurised to eat human brains while filming with a fringe, cannibalistic Hindu sect for a new CNN series (USA), on the world’s religions in March 2016. In the programme, Aslan encounters a group of Aghori nomads outside the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, who smear his face in cremated human ashes, and persuade him to drink alcohol from a skull. An Aghori ascetic feeds the TV presenter with a piece of human brain.

Indo-Bangla Talks and pacts
China had entered in 27 agreements with $25 million with Bangladesh in October 2016, in a range of areas, and struck a deal for two submarines with Bangladesh. On 08 April 2017, New Delhi signed four Defence Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with Dhaka in India’s capital, and extended a first-of-its-kind $500 million line of credit, for Bangladesh to purchase military hardware. The four MoUs were part of 22 agreements, in the presence of the visiting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Another 12 pacts, worth about $9 billion were signed in the second week of April 2017. India also extended an additional $4.5 billion line of credit to Bangladesh, over and above the existing $2.8 billion line, to fund infrastructure in Bangladesh. These will include 17 projects, including the upgradation of the Payra, Chittagong and Mongla ports, and airways, highways, road and rail links. New Delhi and Dhaka also decided to forge a formal civilian, nuclear co-operation agreement, for the transfer of nuclear material, developing nuclear plants, training of personnel and sharing of expertise.

There was no final agreement on the Teesta water-sharing pact. Issues of water resources management, including sharing of common rivers waters like Teesta, the Padma-Ganges Barrage Project and basin-wide management of common rivers were discussed. The two countries would soon start negotiations on sharing waters of the Feni, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar rivers. Ms Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of Bengal proposed a feasibility study of three to four small rivers of North Bengal like Torsha and Mansai, that flow into Bangladesh, for an alternative water-sharing arrangement. The Teesta is the lifeline of North Bengal. During lean season the river draught comes down. There are fears that sharing of the Teesta water would lead to drinking water shortage and also effect agriculture in North Bengal. After the earlier Indo-Bangla Ganga Water treaty, the barrage of the Teesta-Gajoldoba, has a poor draught, like the one at Farakka. Most of the NTPC thermal power plants at Farakka cannnot run because of water shortage.

Harsh crackdowns in Egypt
Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former president was released from custody in a Cairo hospital end March 2017. The 88-year-old Mubarak was cleared in a retrial of all charges, in relation to the killing of about 800 people, during the 2011 Arab Spring revolution. No one has been held accountable. Mubarak’s police chiefs were all exonerated during an earlier trial. The only charges upheld against Mubarak, relate to using public funds, to renovate family homes. The 2015 conviction led to a three-year sentence, but some of the time spent in pre-trial detention counted towards the term. The revolt of 2011 ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule. The current Egypt government, led by president Abdel Fattah al-Sasi, a former army chief, has overseen a harsh crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, winners of the 2012 elections, and the activists who led the 2011 uprising.

Following the bombings at churches in Tanta and Alexandria cities, the Islamic State terror group targeted two minority Coptic Christian churches in powerful bomb blasts on Palm Sunday 09 April 2017, killing over 45 people, and wounding more than 100 others. The first blast took place in the Coptic church Mar Girgis, St George in the Nile delta city of Tanta, about 120 km from Cairo. Hours later a suicide bomber struck the Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria’s Manshyia district. Egypt on 10 April 2017, imposed a three-month state of emergency and ordered the military to protect vital infrastructure.

Vol. 50, No.3, Jul 23 - 29, 2017