News Wrap


Of 2016, the National Crime Records Bureau has recorded 283 incidents and 307 victims, under Section 326A (acid attacks) and Section 326B (attempt to carry out an acid attack) of the Indian Penal Code in India. Of these, 26% (76 incidents) and 27% of the victims were from West Bengal. In comparison, during the same period, the most populous state, with over double the population of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh recorded 57 incidents and 61 victims. After the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act (2013), Sections 326A and 326B of the IPC were added. Before this, perpetrators were typically charged with causing hurt, which only invited a punishment of three years. West Bengal has recorded 220 cases of acid attacks between 2016 and 2017, which is about 20% of all cases recorded in the country. The easy availability of acid in Bengal is a major reason for the wide prevalence of acid attack crime. A variety of acids such as muriatic acid and hydrochloric acid are available in hardware shops. Nitric acid is sourced from local goldsmiths’ shops. Acid used in garment and hosiety factories for textile processing, is also corrosive. Less than 50% of acid attack victims are compensated.

Bhima-Koregaon Battle
On 02 January 2018, there were clashes between dalit groups and supporters of right-wing Hindu organisations, during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in Pune district (Maharashtra), leaving one man dead, and injuries to several persons. The two-century-old battle was between British troops, including Mahar troops, and the Peswa army. The Hindu Ekta Aghati and Shivraj Pratishthan had opposed the celebrations of ‘‘British victory’’ in the battle. Angry dalits hit the streets in Mumbai, Pune and at least nine districts across Maharashtra, alleging they were targets in clashes that broke out earlier. The agitation damaged scores of buses, and disrupted road and rail traffic. Dalit groups were celebrating the bicentenary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle, which the forces of the British East India Company had won, over those belonging to the Peshwa. The British with 834 infantry men, of which over 500 were Mahar, defeated a numerically stronger Peshwa army, in the battle of 01 January 1818. Along with a few British soldiers, many Mahar soldiers also dead. The battle marked the continuity of the British, but the end of Peshwa rule. The British had established a pillar, to commemorate the third Anglo-Maratha war, in Bhima-Koregaon village, which the Mahars consider a memorial to Mahar courage, valour and martial values. The Bhima-Koregaon Ranstambha Seva Sangha was formed to commemorate the battle of the Dalits, for self-respect and equality. The Congress party led opposition parties have attacked the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) over allegedly sparkling the caste violence in Pune and other parts of BJP ruled Maharashtra.

Data on Maoists
Statistics released by the Chattisgarh state government and its anti-Maoist wing, point to a decrease in numbers of suspected Maoists killed, surrenders of suspected rebels, and an increase in number of security personnel killed in Maoist violence in 2017, compared to 2016. 135 Maoists were killed in Chattisgarh in 2016, while 76 Maoists were killed in 2017. The number of Maoist surrenders has reduced from 1216 in 2016 to 365 in 2017. The number of arrested rebels has increased from 977 in 2016 to 1017 in 2017. 39 security personnel were killed in 2016, while 59 were killed in 2017. With security forces pushing deeper into Maoist territory, there were heavier exchanges of fire. Two massive Maoist ambushes in Bhejji and Burkapal in March 2017 and April 2017, respectively claimed 27 lives of security personnel. 1478 Maoists were ‘‘neutralised’’ in 2017, including 178 ‘‘big cadres’’, having a bounty of more than Rs 1 lac. Security forces entered into Tondamarka and Palody ‘‘red entrenched’’ areas, and about Rs 4.8 crore was paid as bounty money. 68 weapons were recovered in 2017, compared to 310 recovered weapons in 2016. In 2017 police recovered the first LMG and 6 AK47s, as against one in 2016. 181 of the 310 firing weapons recovered in 2016, were locally made ‘‘bharmar’’ rifles, with allegations that these were planted after encounters. There was a fall in allegations of human rights excesses in 2017, notwithstanding allegations of fake encounters, especially those in Sukma and Bijapur of December 2017. In the deep forests and forward areas, allegations of fake encounters and surrenders and harassment of journalists and activists, against state police continue!

US tax Bill
The recently passed US Tax Bill, allows tax cut benefits flow to corporations and wealthy. For years, corporations have been sitting on record profits and cash hoards, while interest rates have been very low. Investment in USA has not been held back by the cost or availability of capital. Tax cuts will not encourage CEOs to increase investment in USA. The bulk of corporate tax savings is passed on to share holders (which is only about half of all Americans), in higher dividends and share buy backs which increase share prices. Investment is flowing into automation of current production, or mergers or acquisitions of existing firms, which is reducing rather than increasing, employment. Wealthy share holders are saving rather than spending their tax bill windfall. The good for the markets, asset prices are rising, but consumption and growth are scarcely rising. With the US economy at or below full employment, any additional spending or investment, will simply push up wages and prices. US business plans are being held back by serious labour and skills shortages, aggravated by the Trump administration’s tightened immigration policy. Automation and overseas investment are more attractive.

Over the next ten years, the Congressional Budget Office estimates an additional $1.7 trillion budget deficit. 62% of the US$4 trillion 2018 budget is mandatory entitlement spending on Social Security and Medicare, which has not been curbed by the tax bill. The Republicans have proposed cutting only the much smaller expenditures on Mediaid for the poor, and Medicare for the disabled. 8% is interest on the national debt. US defence accounts for over half the remaining 30%. Less than 15% of US federal spending goes to all other government functions combined. Inequality is calculated to increase with the Republican Tax Bill. The highest among major economies, the corporate tax rate has been reduced from 35% to 21%. The US $1.5 trillion tax reform bill was passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives on 20 December 2017, on a partisan basis, with Democratic lawmakers voting against it. The tax plan offers deep tax cuts for businesses, lower tax rates for many individuals, and a narrower estate tax. In the first few years, corporate shareholders, business owners and most households will gain. The many losers include some households living in regions, where state and local taxes are high.

Rohingya Repatriation
Nearly one million Rohingya refugees live in Bangladesh, many of whom have been there for decades. Myanmar, has agreed to take back the refugees, who arrived since October 2016, believed to number more than 700,000. Higher than 655,000 Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state have sought refuge in Bangladesh, since a military crackdown in late August 2017, fleeing what the USA and United Nations have described as ‘‘ethnic cleansing’’. That added to more than 300,000 in camps in Bangladesh, after fleeing earlier violence, in the Buddhist majority state. The Mayanmar government and the Bangladesh government signed an agreement in November 2017, allowing for repatriations from 23 January 2018. In spite of doubts that fearful Rohingya will agree to return the Bangladesh government sent a list of 100,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees on 29 December 2017, to Myanmar authorities, in the first batch of repatriations, allowing for repatriations from 23 January 2018. The repatriations were to commence after Mayanmar verifies the list, and the authorities in Bangladesh get consent from willing refugees.

Vol. 50, No.37, Mar 18 - 24, 2018