News Wrap


The top 1% of India’s population owns around 60% of the wealth of the entire population, according to a periodic report of Credit Suisse. The top 1% of the population owns roughly half the total wealth of India as a whole, since a part of the country’s wealth is owned by the public sector. The value of claims on capital stock, such as equities and bonds, is subject to speculation, and in India their current price has been much higher relative to the current price of output. The ratio of wealth to output, at current prices, is around 5:1. The imposition of a 1% tax on wealth, will yield a revenue that is about 5% of the GDP. A 1% wealth tax on the top 1% of India’s population, could fetch around half of 5%, that is, 2.5% of the GDP as tax revenue. Considering the centre and the states together, the ratio of public health expenditure in India to the GDP is about 1.3%. An estimated total public health expenditure as a proportion of GDP could be 3.8%, if the proceeds of the 1% wealth tax on the top 1% of the population is spent entirely on health care.

The richest 1% in India own 73% of the wealth generated in the country, in 2017. During the past twelve months, the wealth of the richest group increased by Rs 20,913 billion, equivalent to the total budget of the Union Government of India in 2017-18. Just 67 crore Indians, who comprise the poorer half of the population, experienced 1% increase in their wealth. In 2017, India added 17 new billionaires, raising their number to 101. Indian billionaires’ wealth increased by Rs 4.89 lac crore, from Rs 15.78 lac crore to over Rs 20.67 lac crore. Even though there is little hard date to go by in estimating income inequality, the Oxfam analysis  implies inequality has risen dramatically in just three years. A mere 2% of Indians pay taxes. In countries like India and the Philippines, at least one in every two workers in the garment sector is paid below the minimum wage, compared with 37% in Pakistan and 25% in Cambodia. In rural India, it will take 941 years for a minimum wage worker to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian garments firm earns in a year. The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks India as 62nd among emerging economies, on an Inclusive Development Index, much below China’s 26th position and Pakistan’s 47th. Graduates in India toil in small or micro enterprises, operating informally and these employ 93% of all Indians. Only 3% of Indians have ever been on an aeroplane. Only one in 45, owns a car or lorry. Barely a quarter of women work, a share declining in the past decade.

Biometric Scheme
Aadhaar Identity Scheme is India’s project to issue every resident a unique, biometrically verifiable identification number. It provides a quick and theoretically fool proof way for civil servants and firms to know for sure, with whom they are dealing. The government had put too much faith in the system’s designers. The Union Government of India became a public repository of private data, being handed over to private enterprise. Some 200 government entities have been shamed for publishing private Aadhaar data, and more than one private firm with licensed access to Aadhaar has been caught using it for purposes other than those agreed. The fiasco in Chandigarh’s Tribune newspaper, an English language daily, revealed that for $8 or so a reporter had bought illegal access to the entire Aadhaar database, barring cardholder’s fingerprints and iris scans. An additional $5 or more, was enough to be able to print out ID cards, with any Aadhaar number. Aadhaar is now linked to more than 150 other databases, including less secure, and more detailed data on residents, stored by several Indian states. Some of these state repository data, include information on religious affiliation, and use mobile phone data to track citizen’s movements. The custodian of the data is the regulator. More layers of security are being added to the Aadhaar scheme. From June 2018, the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI) new system will allow cardholders to hide their actual 12-digit Aadhaar number, behind a changeable virtual ID code. New security will be far more selective about who has access to what level of data.

Maoist Bullets
On 24 January 2018, four Chattisgarh police personnel were killed, and nine injured in an encounter with Maoists, in Narayanpur district of Chattisgarh state. All from the District Reserve Guard, a force created primarily to fight Maoists, two of the deceased were sub-inspectors and two others were constables. The exchange of fire took place inside Abujhmaad, an unmapped area of dense forest and hills, with little government presence. Similar to South Sukma, the area is near Irpanar, in Abujhmaad, which is perhaps the most sensitive area. A massive exchange of fire, that lasted over an hour, broke out around 11.30 am. While no bodies have been recovered, the police believe there has been heavy damage to the Maoists. The area is remote, so evacuation by ground was not possible. An IAF MI-17 was induced into service, and landed near the encounter spot, evacuating all the injured, and flew to Raipur. The encounter took place primarily with the Maoist battalion number 6, which is one of the deadly military Maoist battalions, and is often supplemented by local operation squads and divisions in the area. This Maoist battalion is deployed when senior leaders want entry or exit from Abujhmaad. Its jurisdiction is around a 10 km radius around Irpanar, and headed by commander Sobhi, with other leaders including Urmila and Hemlal. In 2017, 140 cadres, including 30 women and Maoist leaders, have been neutralised by the security forces. 58 districts are affected by Maoist violence, largely confined to Bastar-Sukma region, Andhra-Odisha border, and the Abujmaad forest.

Protest in Tunisia
Protests are occurring since January 2018, across Tunisia, many of them in places like Ettadhamen, a working class suburb of Tunis, the capital. Sometimes peaceful during the day, rioters burn police stations and smash supermarkets at night, leaving the streets with spent tear-gas canister. President Beji Caid Essebsi has introduced a package of text increases, affecting dozens of consumer goods, effective 01 January 2018. Heavily subsidised fuel prices, were also raised. The Tunisia government aims to shrink the budget deficit of 6% of GDP. Many of the austerity measures, like the sharp rise in wine prices, are aimed at the rich. The prices of basic necessities, like bread and phone cards, have also increased. The government has announced that it would spent an extra 100m dinars ($40 million) on welfare payments in 2018. Pensions are growing along with health-care benefits for the unemployed. Though poor families are granted at least a 20% increase in aid, for many it implies $13 more per month. The larger stipends are still below the 240 dinars, that economists call a subsistence monthly wage. Police have arrested more than 1000 people, among them bloggers and activists; and the army has been deployed in some outlying areas. Enormous demonstrations toppled Zine el-Abidine, the longtime dictator in 2011. In 2014, parliament adopted a new constitution, but a constitutional court is yet to be appointed. Local elections originally planned for 2016, have been postponded four times. Nidaa Tounes, a bloc of  secular parties, and the better organised Ennahda party eye the tentative local elections in May 2018, and the national election in 2019. The present Tunisia government is an alliance of nationalists and Islamists. 20% of workers have jobs in the public sector, and their wages consume almost 14% of GDP. Over the past decade, the state oil company hired 14% more workers, during which time production volumes fell by 29%.

Vol. 50, No.40, Apr 8 - 14, 2018