News Wrap


On 17 July 2019, a village head and his supporters allegedly opened fire on a rival group in a land dispute in Sonabhadra district, in lndia's Uttar Pradesh state. Ten people were killed, including men, women and children 28 injured. The land in the district's Ghorawal area, earlier belonged to an IAS officer, and he had sold it to village head Yagya Dutt, who wanted to take its possession. When Dutt reached the spot with his henchmen in 10 to 12 tractors, local villagers tried to stop them taking over the land. Those accompanying Dutt, then showered a volley of bullets on the villagers, killing ten of them, in Umbha village. The state government has implemented section 144 of IPC in Sonabhadra district. Earlier on 06 July 2019, the district authorities rejected the plea of Gond tribal residents against the illegal transfer of the title, to Yogya Dutt.

More Corruption
Recently the West Bengal government disinvested its entire shareholding in Metro Dairy to Keventer Agro Limited, which was till then the principal holder and owner of Metro Dairy. On a share ratio of 53:47, two decades ago Keventer Agro Ltd formed Metro Dairy, as a joint venture with the West Bengal government. Against a paltry sum Rs 85 crore, just recently the state government sold its entire 47% share that it held in Metro Diary. The tender procedure was ignored. After this disinvestment, Metro Dairy sold 15% of the share it had acquired from the state government to the Singapore-based Mandela Capital for Rs 170 crore, which was 13.33 times the price of investment Rs 12.75 crore, which is 15% of Rs 85 crore. The Metro Dairy earned a profit of Rs 157.25 crore in the process. The state government could have sold the entire stake of 47% it held at Rs 1133 crore. The far less Rs 85 crore, it earned in disinvestment of shares to Keventer, was in a dubious manner, ignoring the tender procedures, the unusual transaction was conducted at a pre-decided price. Tax payers received a short shrift.

Tractor Murder
Consequent to a land dispute in Singhrauli district (Madhya Pradesh State), a 30 year-old tribal woman was killed after three men, allegedly ran a tractor, over her. The incident took place in Dhilari village on 19 July 2019. Kiran Kol died a day later. The accused have been identified as Bandhu Bais, aged 55, his son, Lalpati Bais, aged 30, and their relative Prabhakar Bais aged 23. On 19 July 2019, an argument had broken out between the victim and the accused, after the latter started ploughing a plot, claiming that it was theirs. Kiran objected to the intrusion, claiming that the farmland belonged to her family, since the past three decades. The angry accused knocked Kiran down with tractor, that they were using for ploughing the field. The trio also attacked Kiran's father-in-law Vistreshwar Kol, aged 60, with a wooden stick, leaving him injured. The accused have been booked for murder, attempt to murder, and other offences. They have also been booked under the Scheduled caste and scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Empowering Bureaucrats
Recently the government has introduced amendments to the Right to Information Act, reducing independence of the Information commissioners. The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill passed by India's Lok Sabha, seeks to amend sections 13, 16 and 27 of the RTI Act, a move that links the status of Central Information Commissioners with that of Election Commissioners, and the state Information commissioners with the state Chief Secretary. Credible oversight mechanisms are weakened, because the government is threatened by disclosures that were ordered on issues ranging from the prime minister's educational qualifications to demonetisation. The Bill has been brought without any public consultation. Earlier the salaries and tenure of the information commissioners were fixed by law. Now they will be decided by bureaucrats' case by case. The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority has had the number of airports it oversees cut by half. Essentially the control of tariffs and other regulatory measures have been ceded to the government for some of India's most trafficked airports, including those which are most likely to be controversial, because of substantial private sector participation.

The National Investigation Agency Act gives the agency extra-territorial powers and allows it to create special courts. The income Tax department has made certain offences related to the possession of black money "Non compoundable" which means that paying a fine it no longer an option. Under extended powers in the union budget, customs officials now have the right to attach bank accounts for six months. Trading false duty scripts has been made a cognizable and non-bailable offence. Customs officers have also been armed with powers to demand an Aadhaar number and investigate. Not just violations of customs law, but "any other law for the time being in force", as long as it is "in the interests of protecting revenue".

Israeli Forces
On 22 July 2019, Israel demolished a number of Palestinian homes it considers illegal, in the Sur Baher area, which straddles the West Bank and south of Jerusalem. Israel defended the move as essential to its security. Residents and activists were dragged out of the homes, many of which were still under construction, in the area close to the Israeli security barrier which cuts off the occupied West Bank. Israel says that some of the multi-story buildings were built too close to the separation barrier, that it built to top attacks from the West Bank. Palestinians accuse Israel of using security as a pretext to force them out of the area, as part of long-term efforts to expand settlements, and roads linking them. Under the earlier agreements between the Palestinian and Israeli governments, most of the buildings are located in areas meant to be under Palestinian Authority civilian control.

Back to Home Page

Vol. 52, No. 21, Nov 24 - 30, 2019