News Wrap


Noted economists have pointed out that farm loan waivers should not form part of election promises, and there should be a ban on such practices, which inhibit investment in the farm sector, as well as putting pressure on the finances of concerned states in India. Only a sub-set of farmers in distress, get those loans. Often the loans go to the best connected, rather than those most poorly off. Loans create enormous problems for the fiscal of the state governments, once the loan waivers are done. They inhibit investments down the line. Although India is having 7% growth, the economy not clearly creating enough jobs. Even though in a state of under employment or disguised unemployment, agriculture has engaged 70% of India's working population. Falling farm incomes are no longer paying for non-existent jobs, or even to feed the hungry mouths. The cities are offering much less opportunities, for a large segment of jobs seekers, who are quite unskilled for today's job requirements. Youths currently account for around 35% of India's population. The Indian workforce will increase to 600 million by 2022, from around 473 million at present. Data from Employees' Provident Fund confirms that nearly a fourth of the net payroll increases features job switchers. Without paid work especially in the farm sector, there are just 27.4% women compared to 75.5% men (2015-16) figures. Advent of disruptive technologies in the corporate sector, has caused 75,000 job losses in 2018, on the heels of another lac jobs lost in 2017. India has 200 million people in the "food insecure" category, and is amongst the top few globally in terms of the largest number of hungry. While India is the sixth-largest world economy by nominal GDP, and the third largest by purchasing power parity, the country lacks an efficient taxation system, with effective collection from rich non-payers.

Chattisgarh PDS
The Multi-thousand crores Public Distribution System (PDS) scam was unearthed in March 2015, in Chattisgarh. The state's much publicised PDS scheme, purportedly provides Re 1 per kg rice to the poor. In 2015, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that the state government was supplying low quality rice, gram and iodised salt to the poor households in the state. Activists suspect that the charge sheets filed by the Chattisgarh Economic Offences Wing (EOW) in the Special Anti-Corruption Court of Raipur have several grey areas. Based on a diary recovered from one Girish Sharma, an employee of Nagrik Aparti Nigam, the investigating agency arrested some low profile suspects. The Diary has hand written entries of kickbacks running into several crores to different government officials, ministers, MLAs and several high profile individuals. Only 16 pages out of 113 pages of the 2012 Diary, find reference in the EOW charge sheet. An entry in the Diary mentions the disbursal of Rs 263.72 crore in 2012-13 alone. The EOW has filed a supplementary charge sheet on 30 November 2018. Certain mobile phone call records have been traced. There are demands on the new Congress government in Chattisgarh to initiate a thorough probe.

Pollution in India
Delhi's air is the most noxious of any big city, as it chokes on roughly twice as much PM 2.5, fine dust that penetrates deep into lungs. The stink in Delhi is contributed by the carcinogenic diesel that supplies three-quarters of the city's motor fuel, the rice stalks that nearly farmers want to clear after the harvest, the rubbish dumps that perpetually smoulder, and the 400,000 trees that feed the city's crematoria. 70% of surface water is tainted in India. In the World Health Organisation's rankings of air pollution, Indian cities claim 14 of the top 15 spots. In the index of countries environmental health, India ranks a dismal of 177th out of 180. The annual death toll from breathing PM 2.5 alone is between 1.2 million to 2.2 million a year. The life span of Delhi dwellers is shortened by more than ten years. Consumption of dirty water directly causes 200,000 deaths a year, without measuring its contribution to slower killers, such as kidney disease. Some 600 million Indians, nearly half the country, live in areas, where water is in short supply. Pollutants taint groundwater, and global warming makes the vital rains more erratic. Wide spread dumping of antibiotics in rivers has made India a hotspot for anti-microbial resistance. Emissions of carbon-dioxide, the most common green house gas, grew by 6% a year between 2000 and 2016, compared with 1.3% a year for the whole world as a whole (and 3.2% for China). If electricity demand doubles by 2030, coal consumption stands to rise by 50%. Even though much cleaner gasoline fired power plants sit noticeably idle, India imports big amounts of foreign coal, which adds blackening of Indian skies.

Air Strikes in Somalia
USA carried out four air strikes on 15 December 2018, in Gandarshe area of Somalia, killing 62 al-Shabad extremists and two more air strikes on 16 December 2018, killing 28 rebels. All the air strikes were carried out in close  co-ordination with Somalia's government. The air attacks were in the Gandarshe coastal area, south of the capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shahbab uses parts of southern and central Somalia to plot and direct extremist attacks, steal humanitarian aid, extort the local population to fund its operations, and shelter radicals. With these attacks, the US military has carried out at least seventy air strikes in 2018 against al Shabab, which is allied to al-Qaida and Africa's most active Islamic group.

An increasing number of countries and other parties in the Middle East, are using armed drones (UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles) in regional conflicts to lethal effects. More and more mid-east countries have acquired armed drones, either by importing them, such as Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, or by building them domestically like Israel, Iran and Turkey. China has won sales in the Middle East and elsewhere by offering drones at lower prices, without the political conditions attached by the United States. Armed drones have enabled Turkey and the UAE to conduct strikes in situations, where they would not have risked using conventional aircraft. Iran, hamstrung by obsolete aircraft and US sanctions, has developed armed drones, to enable to project power, beyond the reach of its airforce.

Vol. 51, No.35, Mar 3 - 9, 2019