News Wrap


Amid heated protests from the Opposition in India's parliament, including a walkout, and a determined defence by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, the amended Triple Talaq Bill, which mandates imprisonment for violators, was passed in the Lok Sabha on 27 December 2018. The Opposition described provisions in the Muslim Women (Protenction of Rights on Marriage) Bill as "unconstitutional" and demanded that it be referred to a Select Committee. The government argued that the legislation aimed to empower and ensure justice for Muslim Women, and rejected the contention that it was aimed at targeting a particular community. Under the proposed law, giving instant triple talaq will be illegal and void, and will attract a jail term of three years for the husband. The Bill's fate remains uncertain as it will now go to the Rajya Sabha, where union government lacks numbers, and it cannot become a law, unless passed by both Houses of Parliament. The triple talaq bill, criminalises an essentially civil matter. The triple talaq practice has already been banned by the Supreme Court. While more than twenty Islamic countries have banned instant triple talaq, between January 2017 to December 2018, there were about 500 instances of triple talaq, in India. The bill is against several provisions of India's Constitution viz Articles 14, 15, 26 and 29, which guarantee constitutional rights of faith and belief. There is ample evidence that desertion of wife, without a due process of divorce is committed by man, of all faiths and community. It is not unique to Muslim men only. The Bill has no provision for protection of women's rights for residence and maintenance. Other laws like death penalty for those who rape minors, and criminal penalty for dowry, have been passed by parliament.

Paddy procurement norms
Earlier ceiling for paddy procurement from an individual farmer in West Bengal, was 90 quintals. This left too much room for middlemen to corner the market. Recently, the ceiling has been cut to 45 quintals. The relatively high ceiling set from individual farmers, was making it easy for brokers and middlemen to enter the process. Against the Minimum Support Price (MSP) the state aims for the maximum inclusion of the marginal farmers in the procurement of paddy. A marginal farmer is one whose maximum cultivation area is one hectare. In one hectare, the highest yield of paddy in West Bengal is about 27 quintals. The middleman in disquise as a marginal farmer, has been intruding into the process, simply by taking advantage of the high ceiling for selling paddy. Burdwan (East) has 352 rice mills, and 200 of them have already been enrolled for procurement. Around 1.20 lac middlemen are operating round the year. The rice mills annually process 25 lac MT of paddy for domestic consumption and export. The state government has set a procurement target of 4.70 lac MT for the public distribution system. The mills are compelled to compromise with the middlemen, for the collection of remaining 80% of marketable surplus round the year.

Vulnerable Tribals
Primitive tribal groups, of late referred as "Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups" (PVTG), live in small hamlets scattered over Jharkhand state's undulating forests. There are 325 PVTG households, spread over 18 hamlets, in Manika block (Latehar district), and in the adjacent block of Satbarwa (Palamu district). There were 256 PVTG in the two blocks, as listed in the Socio-Economic and Caste Census of 2011. All the PVTG families belong to the Parhaiya community. As uprooted people, deprived of their traditional resources, they are struggling for new sources of livelihood. PVTG families in the area were subsisting mainly on forest based activities, such as hunting, gathering and selling minor forest products (roots, berries, wood, mahua, tendu, lac, herbs and others); and manufacturing simple items from straw and bamboo. Environmental degradation has been destroying the forests of Jharkhand, which were once rich with flora and wildlife. Most PVTG families in Manika and Sathbarwa are subsisting on a little farming, casual labour, and residual forest based occupations, such as making ropes or baskets. Some work as seasonal labourers in the rice fields or brick kilns of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Occasionally they migrate to more distant places.

None of the 18 hamlets of Manika block and Satbarwa block have a well-functioning school. Child development services are out-of-reach to most PVTG children, as few hamlets had their own "anganwadis". Public transport is nil. Health centres, banks and administrative offices are dispersed far away. Government officials rarely visit these hamlets. Exploitative contractors and middlemen reduce the PVTGs to extreme poverty. The tribals are submerged in isolation, poverty and low education. The PVTG families survive on serial security pensions and food rations from the public distribution system. In the right to food case, under a Supreme Court order of May 2003, Antyodaya ration cards are to be distributed to all PVTG households. This entitles them to 35 kg of food grains per month from the PDS, at a nominal price. It is free in the case of Jharkhand state. 87% of households are on the Antyodaya list. The Antyodaya households are receiving about 33 kg per month, on an average. Many PDS dealers use recycled tins, instead of a weighing machine, thereby pruning food rations to 31 kg per month, instead of 35 kg.

All PVTG families in Jharkhand are entitled to a pension of Rs 600 per month, under an existing old-age pension, widow pension, disability pension, and under the state government's special pension scheme for PVTGs. However, only two-thirds of all PVTG households are receiving a pension. Many pensions have been discontinued in recent years, owing to Aadhaar card related problems. All pensioners in Jharkhand are required to fulfil the Electronic Know Your Customer banking norms. The Aadhaar number has to be linked to the bank account, which must be verified by biometric authentication. In the absence of biometric facilities at a bank, the PVTG pensioners are required to go to a Pragya Kendra (Customer Service Centre) for authentication certificates. Many of the elderly pensioners are unaware of the requirements. Around 10% of PVTG pensioners are currently deprived of pension. In cases of temporary discontinuation of pension, there are no retrospective payments for the gap months, after a pension is resumed. The Aadhaar related problems extend to blindness, deformed hands, ration cards being cancelled for lack of Aadhaar linkage, children being refused school admission, MNREGA wage payments being rejected as bank accounts are frozen for lack of E-KYC. There are cases where several parateachers have siphoned off children's scholarships. Pragya Kendra operators routinely take bribes for services, which can be steep as Rs 2000. The Parhaiya PVTG community live in the shadow of hunger.

Bloodiest year In kashmir
The Centre and State Government adopted a more stern and strong arm policy in Kashmir Valley, during 2018. This has led to the deaths of about 300 militants, nearly 120 security force personnel, and around 100 civilians in insurgency related violence in 2018. Near encounter sites, most of the civilians fell to security forces' bullets, while trying to rescue trapped militants, or while protesting against their deaths, at the hand of troops, holding automatic gunfire. About ten civilians died and dozens were injured in firing by the security forces, at Sirnoo village, in Pulwama, South Kashmir, on 15 December 2018, the highest ever civilian toll, at an encounter site. Educated young men joined the militants, in larger numbers in 2018, and many of them were killed in encounters.

Climate Change
A report UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24; Katowice, Poland, December 2018), shows global emissions have reached historic levels. The long term warming trend continued in 2018, with the past four years being the warmest in 138 years of climate record keeping. Climate change has already begun to take a toll. In August 2018, Kerala suffered its worst flooding, since the 1920s killing over 250 people, and displacing more than 1.4 million people. Major wildfires affected Athens in Greece in July 2018, causing at least 91 deaths. British Columbia in Canada, broke its record for the most area burned, in a fire season for the second successive year. California suffered devastating wild fires, with November 2018 Camp Fire being the deadliest, in over a century killing at least 86 people. The Asiatic region experienced the second lowest overall sea-ice coverage on record in 2018. Melting of polar ice contributes to rising sea level. Even a minor rise in sea levels due to climate change can increase the risk of potentially devastating Tsunamis, around the world. The poorest regions of the world bear the worst brunt of climate change. The earlier Paris agreement had set limits to average surface global temperatures at 1.5o or 2o C, which has not been achieved. The Indian economy is losing $10 million every year due to its carbon di-oxide emissions. Indonesia's Sumber Jaya, Sumur, Pandegland provinces were stuck by Tsunami waves without warning on 22 December 2018, raising the death toll to over 500, and at least 150 missing. The waves followed an eruption and apparent landslide, in the volcanic islands that formed in the early part of the 20th century, near the site of the cataclysmic 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. A vast achipelago of more than 17000 islands, and home to 260 million people, Indonesia lies along the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific basin.

Vol. 51, No. 38, Mar 24 - 30, 2019