News Wrap


Coal consumption has grown by 3.1% a year from 2006 to 2016 across much of Asia accounting for almost three-quarters of the world's demand, for the most polluting fossil fuel. In 2017, India the world's second-biggest coal burner after China, consumed an additional 27 million tons, a rise of 4.8%. The prices for thermal coal, the type used for generating electricity, are at their highest since 2012, and have more than doubled in the past two years. India suffered 2.5 million pollution-related fatalities recorded in 2015, 2017 was the first year in four that global emissions of carbon dioxide have risen. Electricity demand would triple between 2012 and 2030, in India. If coal meets much of the growing appetite for power, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects it will, India will contribute the most to the rise in carbon emissions. India's Prime Minister aims to install 227 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2022. Prices of wind and solar power have tumbled. Solar power and wind power can be cheaper sources than building new coal-fired capacity. Coal generates more than three-quarters of India's electricity. Coal India, a state-owned coal company, plans to increase coal production from 560 million tons (2017) to 1 billion tons (2020). In the long run, India's strategy is to put new coal-fired power plants in places like Jharkhand, close to sources of coal and far from big cities. Coal accounts for half the railways freight carried on the network.

Armed Assailants
On 13 August 2018, in New Delhi, a man with a gun pounced on student activist Umar Khalid, attempted to kill him, then threw the jammed pistol after crossing the road, and simply melted away from the scene. Khalid, a former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, has been vilified by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), "Hindutva" outfits and several television anchors as an "anti-national", for being present at an event in JNU on 09 February 2016, to mark the death anniversary of parliament attack convict, Afzal Guru. The police are yet to file a sedition charge-sheet on Khalid. "Enemies of the Nation" are being attacked on social media, and then physically. On 17 August 2018, when Swami Agnivesh approached the BJP headquarters in Delhi to offer homage to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he was attacked by BJP activists, abused and beaten up, and forced to leave under police protection. Though clad in saffron robes, Agnivesh is a critic of the ruling regime, and therefore an "anti-national". In July 2018, he faced similar assault in Jharkhand state, and no BJP leader condemned it.

The Anti-Terrorist Squad in Mahara-shtra on 09 August 2018, arrested Vaibhav Raut, Sudhanwa Gondhalekar and Sharad Kasalkar, after seizing over 20 crude bombs from Raut's residence, on the outskirts of Mumbai. Raut is a leading Gaurakshak (Cow protector). Police suspect that the three men have links with the group which carried out the assassinations of journalists Gauri Lankesh, and rationalists MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Again, on 16 August 2018, Haryana residents Naveen Dalal and Darvesh Shahpur, uploaded a video claiming responsibility for the attack on Umar Khalid. They claimed to be members of a local cow vigilante group called Gaurakshan Sena, and labelled JNU student activists as "mad dogs". The attack on Khalid, they claimed was their "gift to India on Independence Day". The expression "Saffron terror" emanates from charges against Hindutva zealots, who were held responsible for the 2006-08 blasts at Malegaon, Ajmer, Hyderabad and the Samjhauta Express.

Rise in Unemployment
Analysis of data from the National Sample Survey for 2011-12 and the annual report for 2015-16 by the labour bureau of the Union Ministry of Labour, indicates the proportion of jobless people rose significantly in India, across educational levels between 2011 and 2016. Data later than 2015-16 are not available. The nation-wide average unemployment rate for all people aged above 15, educated or not, rose from 2.2% in 2011-12 to 3.4% in 2015-16. While 3.4% are completely jobless, the rest include people who may be employed fully or temporarily, for a particular period in a year, or for a few hours a day, and for a few days in a year. The unemployment rate for general stream graduates has more than doubled, while that for graduates in technical subjects like engineering, pharmacy, management and architecture has increased from 6.9% to 11%. The unemployment rate is higher for the better educated because they are choosier about jobs, compared with those less educated, who tend to be from poorer families. The labour bureau survey covers a substantial period of the year, if not the whole year. The annual survey has apparently been stopped by the labour bureau. The National Sample Survey completed a survey on employment for 2017-18, in June 2018, but it is yet to be published. There is a sharp rise in the number of indirect tax payers, as per Economic Survey for 2017-18. Many have voluntarily chosen to be part of Goods and Services Tax (GST), especially small enterprises that buy from large ones, and want tax benefits on these purchases. Once these enterprises register under the GST, they register their employees with the Provident Fund Organisation. The Employees' Provident Fund Organisation has registered 45 lac new subscribers between September 2017 and May 2018. Another 5.68 lacs have been added to the National Pension Scheme, during June-July 2018. The increases owe to a formalisation of jobs that were in the informal sector.

Hydro Electric Pursuits in Laos
July 2018 saw the collapse of a dam at the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydro power project in Southern Attapeu province, in Laos. Water from the dam inundated 13 villages, killing at least 34 people, and leaving more than 100 missing. Authorities are now inspecting all the dams in Laos, both those completed and those under construction, to ensure they are safe. The Laos government has suspended further investment in hydro power projects. The strategy for becoming a major exporter for energy across Asia is under review. Laos has been harnessing its rivers to generate electricity, for sale to neighbouring countries. Thailand has been its major buyer so far. The "Battery of Asia" strategy has been in place for decades now, with dams built along the Mekong River and its tributaries. Currently there are 53 dams in operation. The plan is to build more than 90 hydro power plants by 2020, and to export most of the electricity generated. But Thailand already has ample power to meet its needs, and will likely never depend more heavily on Laos. Thailand is diversifying its energy sources as well. Cambodia, China, Vietnam and other countries in the South-East Asian grid line are also potential markets. But most have their own power supplies, and will not be taking up all the electricity Laos aims to produce. Transmission distance is discouraging Malaysia and Singapore. Laos is contracted to supply 5,400 MW of power to Thailand now, and 9000 MW by 2036. Thus far, Laos has supplied only 2100 MW to Thailand.

Vol. 51, No.24, Dec 16 - 22, 2018