News Wrap


Bifurcation of states is having a domino effect in South India. In Tamil Nadu, Ramadoss, founder-leader of the Pattali Makkal Kachi of the backward Vanniar community, has been demanding the carving out of a separate state, comprising the northern and western districts of Tamil Nadu, where there is a preponderence of his community. The powerful youth wing of the Indian Union Muslim League is demanding carving out of a Malabar state from Kerala, comprising the northern districts of Kasaragod, Kannur, Kozikhode and Malappuram and the western district of Palghat. Hundreds of Muslim youth all over Kerala state have been languishing in jail for several years without bail or trial. Curturally and historically, Uttara Karnataka, despite having linguistic unity with the rest of Karnataka, is quite different having been part of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency or the Nizam's territory of the Hyderabad. The region is arid and bereft of any large industries. The Uttara Karnataka Horata Samity, led by the heads of Lingayat and Veerashaiva mutts, are demanding bifurcation of Karnataka. In the recent Kumarswamy budget, the northern states have been virtually left out. A lion's share of the budget went to Bengaluru, while cities like Belagari, Dharward and Huballi got a pittance. With a population of 64 million, Karnataka is eligible for bifurcation. The BJP feels that Uttara Karnataka will turn into a safe haven for the saffron party.

Summer Heat
The summer heat in the plains of India can rise from 420C to 520C. Death toll rises caused by dehydration, aggravated by fasting during Hindu rituals or Muslim Ramadan, food poisoning, common in summer because food spoils quickly. Extreme heat is devastating the health and livelihood of millions. If global greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current pace, heat and humidity levels could become unbearable, expecially for the poor. The poorer are becoming poorer and sicker. The outdoor worker becomes so weak or so sick, that they routinely miss days of work, and their daily wages. People directly exposed for six hours or more to the heat and humidity are faced with difficulties for surviving. In many places, heat only magnifies the more thorny urban problems, including a shortage of basic services, like electricity and water. In India's cities and towns, during summer of 2018, there was a 43% increase in mortality, compared to the same period in previous years. A recent World Bank report has concluded that rising temperatures could diminish the living standards of 800 million people. At construction sites with hazy sky and dust, skin rash, dry mouth, nausea and headaches were everyday ailments, affecting construction workers. As roads are built, trees are cut down, and the weather becomes hotter. The International Labour Organisation estimates that by 2030, extreme heat could lead to a $2 trillion loss in productivity. Based on data from 283 weather stations across India, India's heat index, a metric that takes average temperatures and relative humidity into account, has risen sharply—by 0.60C in summer, and 0.550C during monsoons per decade, between 1951 and 2010.

The average March-to-May summer time heat index for Hyderabad had risen by 0.690C per decade between 1951 and 2010. In Kolkata, a delta city in the east, where summers are sticky and hot, the monsoon is becoming particularly harsh. The city's June-September heat index climbed by 0.260C per decade. Only a few people are protected in air conditioned homes and offices. The social cost of working outdoors is high. Proliferating air conditioners spew hot air outside. Local governments and advocacy groups are putting in place simple measures. At certain towns and cities, municipality vans distribute free water, during the hottest months. In Bhubaneshwar, parks are kept open in afternoons, so outdoor workers can sit in the shade. Some elected officials, post heat safety tips, on social media. Teams of engineers and city planners in certain cities are pouring white reflective paint over several thousand tin-roofed shanties, bringing down indoor temperatures. White tarpaulin thrown over tin-roofed shacks brings down indoor temperatures, by at least two degrees.

Kerala Floods
Following one of the worst ever floods in Kerala during August 2018, that has left 370 people dead and caused unprecedented destruction, 724,649 people remained in 5645 camps. Water overflowed numerous towns and villages. 22,034 people had been rescued from flooded homes and buildings in districts, Idukki, Ernakulam, Pathanam-thitta, Alappuzka, Chengannur and Palakkad district. Kerala was battered by "exceptionally high seasonal rainfall", since 01 to 19 August 2018, varying from 11 cm to 19 cm of rainfall, daily. The state suffered a loss of nearly Rs 20,000 crore, following floods and landslides. Deaths began on 29 May 2018, when Kerala got the first of the monsoon rains. Bulk of the fatalities were reported from 09 August 2018, after sluice gates of several rain filled dams, viz Mullaperiyar and Idukki, were opened. Kerala received 41.44% more rain than average, this monsoon. The opening of 44 dams without any prior information was a principal reason for the floods. The state government had no idea about the areas that would get flooded, when nine dams were opened together in Pampa, 11 dams in Idukki and Erna-kulam districts, and 6 in the Challakudy river. The state government failed to alert and relocate people when so many dams were opened. The Kerala State Electricity Board manages the hydroelectric dams. Emergency action plans and indundation plans are prepared only for 349 (7%) of 4862 large dams across India. In Kerala, dam break analysis has not been done for any of the state's 61 dams. There was a failure in flood forcasting and flood management policy. The India Meteorological Department, the Central Water Commission and the state water resources department lacked an integrated approach and co-ordinaiton.

South China Sea
War ships abound in the South China Sea. In August 2018, a British warship was confronted there by Chinese ships and jets. Early September 2018, Japan sent a submarine to conduct drills in the sea for the first time. On 30 September 2018, an American destroyer passed within 50 metres of a Chinese naval vessel, which was conducting "unsafe and unprofessional" manoeuvres, according to the USA. October 2018, witnessed ships from Australia, Singpaore, Malaysia, New Zealand and Britain taking part in joint naval drills, for more than a fortnight. The maritime encirclement is an attempt to push back China's claim to the entire South China Sea, which other littoral states dispute, and which a UN Tribunal has rejected. China wants military vessels and aircraft to notify it, before passing through the sea. USA and others would view it as an infringement of international norms, even if China's claims had been upheld. China has reclaimed land around a series of reefs and rocks in the sea, to build bases teeming with guns, missiles and radar. USA and the UN tribunal, consider several of them "low-tide elavations"—shoals, in effect—that do not enjoy the same rights over military vessels passing within 12 nautical miles. Since 2015, USA conducted 15 of the "freedom of navigation operations" (FONOPS in Pentagon Jargon) that flout China's claims in several different ways. Even as FONOPS have grown more regular and strident, they tend to keep a greater distance from China's bristling baselets.

Vol. 51, No.23, Dec 9 - 15, 2018