News Wrap


Following a nation wide outrage over cases of sexual assault and murder of minors in Kathua (Jammu and Kashmir) and Surat (Gujarat) and the rape of a girl in Unnao (Uttar Pradesh), Government of India's Union Cabinet has approved an ordinance to provide stringent punishment, including death penalty, for those convicted of rape of girls below 12 years. New fast track courts will deal with such cases. Special forensic kit for rape cases is being supplied to all police stations and hospitals in the long term. The Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance slipulates stringent punishment for perpetrators of rape, particularly of girls below 16 and 12 years. Death sentence has been provided for rapists of girls under 12 years. The minimum punishment in case of rape of women has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of seven years to ten years, extendible to life imprisonment. In case of rape of a girl under 16 years, the minimum punishment has been increased from 10 years to 20 years, extendible to life imprisonment. The punishment for gang rape of a girl below 16 years will invariably be life imprisonment. The deadline for the completion of trial in all rape cases will be two months. With the approval of the President of India, and the promulgation of the ordinance, the Indian Penal Code, Evidence Act, Code of Criminal Procedure and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) stand amended.

Tibetan Rebellion
A series of high-level meetings between Indian and Chinese officials are being given priority in India, as an attempt to smooth over an increasingly tense relationship. End March 2018, a directive from India's Foreign Secretary urged officials to discard their invitations to celebratory rallies in New Delhi and Mcleodganj (Himachal), as a gesture of gratitude from the Dalai Lama and his followers, for India's role in sheltering them after a Chinese crackdown on rebellious Tibetans 60 years ago. Invitations to top officials were withdrawn, and the "Thank you India" event was moved from a stadium in New Delhi to the secluded northern town of McLeodganj, home to Dalai Lama's temple, and the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. A scheduled interface prayer in New Delhi, was flatly cancelled rather than moved, given the lack of other religious representatives in MacLeodganj. India is trying to encourage trade ties and Chinese investments. It is also trying to catch-up modernising its military, worried about China's rapidly expanding forces, and its growing influence all around India in South Asia. The cancelled events underline India's struggle to court and counter-balance China. India faces a $51 billion trade deficit with China. Beijing's annual defence budget is $175 billion (March 2018), while New Delhi's annual defence budget $45 billion (February 2018).

Currency Deficit
Mid-April 2018, there was an unusual spurt in currency demand in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, as well as state assembly poll bound Karnataka, leading to dry ATMs in several parts of India. It is being suspected that Rs 2000 notes were being boarded. The Union Government of India has recently increased five-fold the printing of Rs 500 notes. By end May 2018, Rs 70,000 to Rs 75,000 crore of new notes were printed. The cash crunch affected cities and towns across Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Government officials attributed the cash crunch to crop procurement and hoarding of high denomination currency, ahead of elections in Karnataka of May 2018. Such a crisis has not been witnessed in any of the previous agriculture procurement seasons. The currency circulation as on 06 April surged to Rs 18.42 trillion, which is Rs 54,000 crore more than the Rs 17.88 trillion on 11 November 2016, three days after the demonetisation experiment. Currency has expanded by only 2.5%, when India's GDP at current prices would have increased by 13% to 14%. Value of digital RTGS transactions peaked at Rs 154.09 lac crore in March 2017, while in February 2018 it fell to Rs 11.12 lac crore. Value of mobile banking transactions hit a high of Rs 2.13 lac crore in May 2017, but in February 2018 it was only Rs 1.15 lac crore. Supply of new currency has not been commensurate with the public's transaction needs. Restrictions on daily withdrawal and deposits (at Rs 2 lac) has itself been a reason for low harvest prices. Ill-gotten wealth is being invested in gold. There is a simultaneous shortage of currency notes, and the spurt in imports of gold, silver and rough diamonds.

Strikes on Syria
Dozens of people were killed in Syria on 07 April 2018, in a suspected toxic chlorine gas attack on Douma, the largest town in former rebel stronghold outside Damascus. The massacre was significant escalation in a pattern of chemical warfare weapons used by Syria, that left adults, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. However, till date strikes inspectors from the international chemical watchdog have not visited the area. Russia's view is that the purported chemical attack in Douma, Syria was a fake one. On 14 April 2018, USA launched precision strikes on the war-torn Syrian nation, jointly with the United Kingdom and France. US President ordered the launch of air strikes on Syria, and claimed that the joint action was meant to establish a "strong deterrent" against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. The Russian military experts who earlier inspected Douma found no trace of any chemical attack. Prime Minister Putin of Russia maintains that the joint strikes launched by USA, Britain and France on Damascus and its suburbs had a "destructive influence on the entire system of international relations". Syrian air defence units fired surface-to-air missiles in response to three waves of military strikes meant to punish President Bashir Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons. The US Pentagon claims destroying three chemical weapons facilities of the Syrian regime. US, France and Britain deployed 106 missiles against three targets. It is assessed that the Syrians fired about 40 missiles in retaliation, but none of them endangered the US forces and its allies. The material and equipment at the source of the site facilities was not movable. USA did not co-ordinate with Russia.

Russia has reported 71 of the 101 cruise missiles launched were shot down by a Soviet-era air defence system, deployed by the Syrian government, a claim, commanders from the US, UK and France have denied. Members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission to Syria arrived in Damascus on 14 April 2018 afternoon. The West launched a series of air strikes on Syrian government facilities in the early hours of 14 April 2018 morning. In 1991, the Americans bombed a "baby milk infant formula factory" calling it a "biological weapons factory". Donald Trump's missiles in April 2018 destroyed the Scientific Studies and Research Centre in the Damascus suburb of Barzeh. The "Department of Pharmaceutical and Civilian Chemical Research" complex was hit by 13 missiles. According to the 192-nation Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons during its visit in November 2017, there was no evidence of chemical or biological weapons being developed, tested or produced. At the Research Centre, students and lecturers were researching on the production of medicinal chemicals, and especially the DNA of scorpions and snakes, and lukemias and cancers. Rubber particles were being developed for he oil industry and for bridge construction.

Vol. 51, No.3, Jul 22 - 28, 2018