News Wrap


India’s Supreme Court on 01 November 2017, directed the Union Government of India to constitute Special Courts, to exclusively try criminal cases involving politicians. There are over 1581 criminal cases pending against Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and Members of Parliament (MPs), as declared at the time of filing of the nomination papers to the 2014 elections. There are numerous new criminal cases lodged against present or former MP or MLA, between 2014 and 2017. At any point of time, each trial court is handling around 4200 cases, which is far above any optimal level. The Election Commission has suggested to the Supreme Court that it was in favour of a lifetime ban on convicted politicians, and had recommended it to the government.

Wheat Disease
Wheat blast is caused by a fungus, leading ripe wheat to turn whitish and dry up. It can infect large areas in a short time, and reduce an area infertile for two to three years. Once it strikes, the entire field of standing crops has to be burnt, and the ash disposed to prevent a return the next season. The disease was first identified in Brazil in 1985. It had struck Bangladesh in 2016, where crops over 20,000 hectares were burnt. West Bengal shares a 2217 km border with Bangladesh. In Bengal, symptoms similar to those of wheat blast first appeared in February 2017, resulting in burning of crops over 1000 acres, in the border districts of Murshidabad and Nadia. Wheat cultivation has been banned in the two districts, and within 5 km of the border, throughout West Bengal. Movement of wheat grains has been banned, from out of the affected areas in Bengal. The BSF has been alerted to stop movement of wheat from Bangladesh. Farmers are asked to sow alternative crops. India is the second largest producer of wheat in the world, at 96 million tons. Entire fields can go sterile, if the disease spreads, which happens either by air, or through stubble. The Central Government is trying to develop blast-resistant strains at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Delhi, and at the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research, Karnal.

Loans and Suicides
As per sections of the Tamil Nadu Money Lenders Act, 1957, no money lender shall charge interest on any loan, at a rate exceeding such rate as the government may notify. The legal banking system and financial institutions do not lend money to poor traders or farmers without collateral. For those in need of money, the ‘‘kandhu-vatti’’ lending system has been developed in Tamil Nadu, which functions round-the-clock, everyday. The manner in which the high interest rates are collected, drive many to suicide. Following the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Charging Exorbitant Interest Act (2003), the Chennai Commissioner of Police in 2014, formed a special wing called ‘‘kandhuvatti’’ and non-specialised traditional crimes wing. There has not been any significant impact on ‘‘kandhuvatti’’ lending, though it is illegal. On 23 October 2017, Essaki-muthu, aged 28 of Kasidharman village in Tirunelveli district, his wife, along with a 4-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter, committed self-immolation in front of the office of the district collectorate. The daily wage earner had borrowed Rs 1.45 lac from a money lender, and repaid more than Rs 2 lac, which was treated as interest. He was harassed to repay the borrowed sum. Interest can run up to 10% a day. The ‘‘kandhuvatti’’ business is patronised and protected by local politicians. It is prevalent in cities of Tamil Nadu, including Chennai. Extra-legal methods, like harassing women folk including sexual abuse, are adopted, if a borrower defaults in repayment.

NTPC Boiler Blast
An unfortunate accident struck National Thermal Power Corporation–Unchahar, in the boiler of Unit 6 (500 MW) on 02 November 2017, in Rae Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh) killing over 35 persons, and injuring over 85. The 1550 MW coal fuelled unit (about 110 km from state capital Lucknow) supplies electricity to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi and Uttarakhand. It has 840 MW capacity available for generation. Clinkers, which are lumps formed after burning of coal at high temperature in the furnace, chocked the bottom of ash outlet, raised the pressure in the boiler, and melted the water valves surrounding the boiler. This created a vent and the economiser duct blew releasing fuel gas and steam, at high temperature, the dead and injured were contract workers. Some 20 to 25 workers had been inducted to assist in the de-chocking of the funnel shaped bottom end of the boiler.

Greek Refugee Camp
There has been a dramatic rise in the number of refugees and migrants entering Greece, making acute the already deplorable living conditions on island camps. Since the beginning of June 2017, the number of people arriving across land and sea borders, has more than doubled. Arrivals are at their highest level since March 2016, with more than 200 men, women and children registered daily. There are whole families fleeing war zones in Syria and Iraq. In the last few months, clinics of Medicines sans Frontiers have seen more people who have suffered violence, who are victims of rape, and who have been tortured, than ever before. Despite a pledge by EU member states in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers, including 106,000 from Greece and Italy, just 29,000 in Greece have been moved to other European countries so far. Refugees and migrants have been arriving in Greece not only in rickety boats from Turkey, but by foot across the frontier between the two countries. Around 40% of the new arrivals were aged under 18. More than 1500 unaccompanied minors are on waiting lists in Greece to be housed. Over 65,000 people are marooned in Greece. Some 14,500 men, women and children are stranded on Greek islands.

Vol. 50, No.30, Jan 28 - Feb 03, 2017