News Wrap


The annual status of Education Report (ASER) in India, was introduced in 2005. The ASER 2017, which was released in January 2018 is focused on the age group 14 to 18 years, which constitutes roughly 10% of India’s population. Of the 14 to 18 year-old, 86% are enrolled in school or college. 25% cannot read a basic text meant for children, and five to seven year old in their mother tongue. 57% of them are unable to do basic division, viz a three digit number to be divided by a single digit number. Of the 18-year-old enrolled in schools and colleges, 60% can read English, though one-fifth of those cannot tell you what they read, 36% of rural adolescents could not correctly name India’s capital, with some of them thinking it is ‘‘Pakistan’’. Large interstate differences are hidden by these disturbing numbers. The percentage of youth with the ability to read basic English is 94.9% in Kerala, and 84.2% in Himachal Pradesh. For Uttar Pradesh it is less than 50%, and Rajasthan less than 40%. The ability to solve simple division problems is 67.1% in Kerala, and 58.4% in Himachal, whereas the figures for UP and Rajasthan are approximately 35%. The numbers suggest a collective failure and an accumulation of faulty policies over a long time. The surge of hyper-nationalism in India in recent years is harming modern education and scientific learning. The gross enrolment ratio for those in the age-group 18 to 24, has gone up from 11.6% (2005) to 24.5% (2015). The number of students enrolled in Standard Eight has gone up from 11 million a decade ago, to 22 million now. Rising enrolment indicates that the desire to obtain a certificate or degree is high in India. The investment-to-GDP ratio in India has been falling over the last three years. Human capital, comprising education, vocational skills and creativity a population possesses, is one of the hardest to measure. There is no significant improvement in learning.

Maoists Killed
On 02 March 2018, at least 10 Maoists, including six women were killed when Telengana police’s Greyhound swooped on a Naxal camp, in Chattisgarh’s Bijapur district. In the early morning operation, a personnel of the elite force also lost his life. The joint team of Greyhounds and special police personnel encountered the Maoists near Pujarikankar in Chattisgarh, 30 km from Venkatapuram in Telengana’s Bhadradri Kothagudem district. All the Maoists are suspected to be from the Telengana State Committee. Combing operations started after a tip-off about a big meeting of Maoists somewhere along the Chattisgarh–Telengana border. Officials believe a number of Maoists were injured in the encounter, and were hiding in nearby hills. The operation to flush them out continues. As per the First Information Report registered at Cherla Police Station in Kothagudem district, a joint team of Telengana and Chattisgarh security personnel was patrolling in the area, when they were fired upon by Maoists. In self-defence the team fired back. Police seized an AK-47, and SLR rifle, five INSAS rifles, one .303 rifle, a pistol, a wireless set, three laptops, detonators, Rs 40,000 in cash and Maoist literature from the site. The Andhra Pradesh and Telengana High Court in Hyderabad directed Telengana Police to ensure that the autopsies of the Maoists killed in the alleged encounter is video recorded in the presence of independent witnesses.

Senior Naxal cadres normally carry hi-tech assault rifles. Security forces from Telengana and Chattisgarh had launched the counter-insurgency operation, based on inputs about a gathering of a large group of uttras. Police suspect those present at the Maoist meeting included Hari Bhushan, secretary and a senior member of the Telengana State Committee, and Bade Chokka Rao, alias Damodor, another senior leader in charge of Karimnagar–Khemmam Warangal in Telengana. Damodar had escaped an encounter in September 2015, in Warangal. Police had launched a massive search operation with forces drawn from neighbouring states, during which Maoists were spotted in an area 30 km from Bhadradri Kothagudem district of Telengana. The encounter with at least 100 Maoists took place in the forest between Venkatapuram, Cherla and Pujarikanker. Many Maoists escaped from the spot, towards Chattisgarh as they were hemmed in by the Godavari river on Telengana side. The Revolutionary Writers’ Association, headed by writer and poet P Varavara Rao, believes that the encounter was faked, and was staged. The Maoists had stepped up their activities along the inter-state border, targeting road construction equipment and alleged ‘‘police informers’’.

Scarce Water
Cape Town’s water supply is dangerously close to running dry. Most taps in homes and businesses are turned off, until the rains come. The city’s four million residents are lining up for water rations, at 200 collection points. People wait in a long anxious line before a natural spring, to fill big containers with water. Cape Town is illustrious for its strong environmental policies, including its careful management of water, in an increasingly dry corner of the African continent. But after a three-year drought considered the worst in over a century, the city is now at serious risk of becoming one of the major cities in the world to lose piped water, to homes and most businesses. The scale of shut off in water is severe, even though hospitals, schools and other vital installations still get water. The growing risk of powerful recurring droughts emanates from climate change. As water levels in the dams supplying the city continue to drop, the city’s administrators are scrambling to finish desalination plants and increase ground-water production. Since February 2017, residents face harsher fines if they exceed their new daily limit which has gone down to 50 litres a day per person, from 87 litres earlier. Cape Town population has swelled by 30% since the early 2000s, but the overall water consumption has remained flat. Many of the new arrivals settled in the city’s poor areas, which consume less water, actually helped bring down per capita use. Almost all of Cape Town’s water comes from six dams, dependent on rainfall. The dams which were full only a few years ago, are now down to about 26% of capacity. The national government controls the water supply to Cape Town, other municipalities, and the province agricultural sector, including the wine industry.

Air Strikes in Syria
Control of Eastern Ghouta in Syria is shared between two main Islamist factions, while Syria’s former Al-Qaida affiliate is also present. Since 17 February 2018, air strikes on the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta took the civilian death toll to more than 1000. The United Nations Security Council unanimously demanded a 30-day ceasefire on Syria, effective 25 February 2018, to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations. In a concession to Moscow, the ceasefire did not apply to operations against the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda along with ‘‘individuals, groups undertaking and entities’’ ‘‘associated with the terror groups’’. Russia’s president Putin ordered a daily humanitarian pause in fighting in the Eastern Ghouta enclave, from 09.00 hrs until 1400 hrs, local time daily. Meanwhile, air raids, including the dropping of barrels bombs, as well as rocket fire continue on Douma, Eastern Ghouta’s main town, and against Al-Qaeda linked jihadists in Idlib. Rebel forces shell humanitarian corridors, to keep civilians hostage, as in the government controlled Qassa area of Damascus. The Syrian government has denied charges of using chlorine gas by Syrian forces. North Korea has been sending equipment to Syria, that could be used in chemical weapons manufacturing. The Syrian government has paid the Kim Jong-un regime via a number of front companies. About 400,000 civilians are still entrapped in Eastern Ghouta. 85% of Syrian refugee children in Jordon live in poverty, 38% are not in school and almost half of those under the age of five, do not have proper access to health care. Syrian government forces are pounding Mesraba town in eastern Ghouta, with air strikes, in an effort to slice the rebel enclave in two. Government forces have captured nearly half of the territory. 700 pro-government militia fighters are at the front as re-infrocements. Towns and villages of eastern Ghouta, under Syrian government siege for years, is already running out of food and medicine. When aid convoys reach the area, Syrian government officials strip out most medical supplies. Russia has offered rebel fighters safe passage out with their families and personal weapons.

Vol. 50, No.46, May 20 - 26, 2018