News Wrap


Eyeing the April-May general elections, prime minister Narendra Modi-led government turned what was supposed to be an interim budget or vote on account, into a virtual budget for 2019-20, on 01 February 2019. The massive populist exercise in its sixth and final budget, decleared on annual cash dole of Rs 6000 for small farmers, proposing a monthly pension of Rs 3000 for unorganised sector workers on a contributory basis, and giving "full tax rebate" to people with annual taxable income up to Rs 5 lac. Defence allocation has been raised by 7% to over Rs 3 lac crore. The subsidy bill has increased to Rs 2.97 lac crore from Rs 2.66 lac crore. The education sector has a mega budget with an outlay of 3.3% of the total budget. The interim finance minister Piyush Goyal announced an income support programme for about 12 crore small and marginal farmer families, by directly providing Rs 6000 each in their bank accounts, in three equal instalments in a year, which will cost Rs 75,000 crore per annum to the government. Vulnerable landholding farmer families having cultivable land up to 2 hectares, will be eligible under this programme called Pradhan Mantri Kissan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN). Although Goyal said the scheme will be implemented retrospectively from 01 December 2018, and the first instalment for the period up to 31 March 2019 will be paid in the current fiscal, it is not clear how the beneficiaries would be identified. The monthly contribution of Rs 100 a month in the unorganised sector, would lead to a monthly pension of Rs 3000.

Income up to Rs 5 lac is exempted from income tax. The standard deduction is raised to Rs 50,000 from Rs 40,000. The direct tax proposals are to provide Rs 23,000 crore relief to 3 crore tax prayers. Persons with gross income upto Rs 6.50 lac are not required to pay any income tax. The Budget targets two critical voter segments; an estimated 12 crore farmer families, and 3 crore middle class tax prayers. It hands them more money that can spur consumption-led growth, declining prices of agricultural commodities in the international market and fall in food inflation in India since 2017-18, relative to non food sector have reduced the returns from farming. Small and fragmented land holdings on account of repeated divisions have contributed in decline in the income of the farmer family. Farmers who owned less than two hectares of land, about 120 million households, would receive income support, worths Rs 6000 a year. It is not known how the beneficiaries will be selected, and whether tenant farmers will be eligible. Nor will landless agricultural labourers receive direct transfers under the PM-KISAN scheme.

With the twin shocks of demonetisation and goods and servies tax (GST), in 2017-18 the fiscal deficit was budgeted at 3.2% of GDP, whereas the actual figure turned out to be 3.5%. For the current fiscal too, the revised estimate of 3.4% has marginally overshot the budgeted 3.3%. The interim budget for 2019-20 pegs the deficit at 3.4%. In absolute terms, the figure is Rs 703,999 crore. The gross tax revenue for 2018-19 is estimated to decrease by Rs 23,067 crore. There is a Rs 1 lac crore shortfall in Goods and Services Tax collections. Revenue from direct taxes are estimated to exceed the intial budget target by Rs 50,000 crore to Rs 12 lac crore in 2018-19. Even though data showing joblessness has touched a 45 year high of over 40% in 2017-18, the budget has nothing to offer by way of job creation.

Witch hunting in Assam
Witch hunting has claimed 161 lives in Assam state, since 2001. 133 cases related to witch hunting had been registered in Assam between 2001 and 2019. On 31 January 2019, Naha Tudo aged 50, was allegedly murdered by her nephew aged 30, on suspisssion of practising witch craft at Birgaon in Chirang distrist. In Kokrajhar district, 48 people were killed after being branded witches between January 2001 and January 2019, the highest among all districts in Assam. Kokrajhar is followed by Chirang and Goalpara districts, where 24 and 17 people were killed, respectively during the same period. There is no government scheme to provide compensation to the families of the witch hunting victims, who mostly belong t poor families.

Cow Cess
The state government of Uttar Pradesh has decided to levy a cow cess to fund temporary shelters for cattle. As decided beginning January 2019, the state BJP government is introducing an additional levy of 0.5% as cow welfare cess on eight profit making public sector infrastructure companies, to fund the construction and maintenance of cow shelters. The cess will also apply on travel on some express ways, where motorists already pay a toll. "Mandi parishad" which have been giving 1% of their income for cow welfare, would be paying 2%. The additional 0.5% cess is levied on toll collected by the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority, and similar public sector agencies like UP Rajkiye Nirman Nigam and UP State Bridge Corporation. The tax levies will be used to generate funds for the cow shelters. Farmers are being helped to save crops from stray cattle, and in the conservation of cattle. The sale of byproducts from cattle will also help make the cattle sheds self-dependent. The cow sheds are being opened in all villages, panchayats, municipalities, nagar panchayats and municipal corporations. Each cow shed is expected to hold 1000 animals. Farmers have been abandoning their animals because of increasing mechanisation. The new policy will ensure the care of stray animals. The "Kanji House" system for holding impounding cattle is being revived. The state government has recently ordered removal of illegal encroachments to pave the way for fresh grazing grounds. There have been cases in western Uttar Pradesh, where villagers have rounded up stray cattle, and locked them up in government schools. Opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh have slammed the fresh levy cess, claiming it would burden the people.

Protests in Bhavnagar
Hundreds of villagers in Gujarat's Bhavnagar districts are protesting against mining operations by the Birla-owned private Ultratech Cement Company at a village. The villagers fear that the mining operations would lead to salinity ingress into their fertile land. Villagers and environmentalists explain that salinity ingress turns fertile land into barren fileds. In the last few years, farmers of Bhavnagar had sucessfully protested against a proposed nuclear power plant in Mahuva taluka of the district. The proposed nuclear plant was shifted to Andhra Pradesh. Another cement plant in Mahuva had faced prolonged agitation by farmers as fertile multiple cropping land was in danger, due to the hazardous impact of the project. The police has cordoned off the mining site of the cement company. The mob of protesters are pelting stones on cops and vehiclies. Nearly 100 people have been held, and taken to police stations.

Genocides and Killings
On 09 December 1948, a United Nations convention adopted a definition of genocide, essentially enshrining the message of "never again" in international law. Over the years the convention has key failings. First, the application of the term "genocide" is applied too slowly and cautiously when atrocities happen. Secondly, the international community fails to act effectively against genocides. Thirdly, too few perpetrators are actually convicted of their crimes. The 1948 convention of the UN, was ratified in 1951. Till date, only three genocides have been legally recognised, and led to trials, under the convention: Rwanda (1994), Bosnia (and the 1995 Srebrenic massacre) and Pol Pot's Cambodia (1975-79). The widespread killing and displacement of Yazidi by ISIS in Syria, and Rohingya in Mayanmar is recognised by UN as a whole. But they are yet to be recognised as genocides by some individual states. Thirteen years after atrocities occurred in the Sudanese region of Darfur, criminal investigations continue, but no official charges of genocide, have been made under the UN convention. There has been subtle UN avoidance on the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66, and the Gautemalan genocide of 1981-83. Political scientists point to the genocides committed under Sadam Hussein against the Kurds in Iraq (1988-91) and atrocities by West Pakistan forces in East Pakistan/Bangladesh (1971). The International Criminal Court is investigating several sovereign states in which human rights violations and war crimes "may" have occurred. Genocides such as that involving Australia's "stolen generations", banishments to Siberia and executions in Russia and uprooting of Tibetans and resettlements by China's Huns in Tibet are academically debated. Atrocities committed by Sri Lankan government troops against Tamils in Sri Lanka, between 1983 to 2009, have never officially been recognised as a genocide. The true number of mass killing perpetrators in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and Cambodia is unknown, but still only a handful have been convicted.

Vol. 51, No.34, Feb 24 - Mar 2, 2019