News Wrap


Lynching is a social evil and India's Supreme Court has directed to take action against lynching. The central government has not introduced any anti-lynching legislations. Rajasthan faced problems in passing the anti-lynching legislation, as they had not taken the state governor's consent. After taking prior permission from the state governor, the West Bengal Assembly on 30 August 2019, passed the West Bengal (Prevention of Lynching) Bill 2019, to check incidents of mob assault and lynching. The anti-lynching bill proposes that if an act of lynching leads to the victim "suffering hurt", the perpetrator could be sent to jail for a maximum of three years, and slapped a fine of rupees one lac. If the victim suffers "grievous hurt", the punishment would be life imprisonment up to ten years, and the fine would range from Rs 25,000 to Rs 3 lac. In case of death of the victim, the perpetrator would be "punished with death sentence or rigorous imprisonment for life", and fine, ranging from Rs 1 lac to Rs 5 lacs. Any person involved in a conspiracy to lynch another person or who abets an act of lynching shall be "punished, in the same manner as if he had himself committed lynching". The Bill also prescribes punishment of imprisonment up to three years, along with a fine extending up to Rs 1 lac against anyone, who is responsible for encouraging hostile environment towards a person, or any group of persons. The chief minister, West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has announced that a compensation scheme was being put together, for the families of lynching victims. West Bengal has witnessed a series of lynchings in the districts, over the past few months on the basis of rumours that the alleged offenders were child lifters. Lynching as a peoples' punishment is meted to perceived offences, notably the consumption and transportation of beef in Northern India, Bihar and Jharkhand. People are lynched just on the basis of fake messages spread on WhatsApp. The law enforcement agencies are palpably on the retreat in BJP ruled states. The BJP maintained a studied silence in the West Bengal Assembly.

Ordnance Factory Board
The union Government of India has floated a proposal to corporatise the Kolkata head quartered Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), under which there are 41 factories, with a combined manpower strength of over 82,000. The OFB traces its origin to 1802 during the British Raj. It is the oldest and one of the largest departmental run commercial organisations of the government of India. With a turn-over of over Rs 12,800 crores, it has historically enjoyed a monopoly over a wide variety of products ranging from tanks and armoured vehicles to small arms, ammunition, and various troop comfort items. Being a government department, the OFB is prohibited from making profits from sales to the armed forces. The OFB is frequently allowed to pass on all costs of production to customers The cost-plus approach to production, which is widely discarded as inefficient, adds extra cost to the union ministry of Defense's (MOD) budget. As a subordinate department of the MOD, OFB's major decisions pertaining to finance, human resources, research and development (R and D), modernisation of factories, and formation of joint ventures and subsidiaries, are taken outside the organisation. The organisation can hardly boast of any worthwhile product of its own. Nearly 80% of its turnover comes from imported technologies. OFB lacks focus on innovation. Delayed execution of orders, low labour productivity, and meagre exports has frustrated its key stake holders, especially the Indian Army, which accounts for nearly 80% of its supplies. With poor quality of OFB products, and repeated performance shortfalls, the MOD has over the years, tried to move away from products procurement from the OFB. The MOD has already declared 275 odd items produced by the OFB as non-core items. This has effectively demolished the OFB's monopoly over these products. Indian private sector companies having defence industrial licenses are now producing more than the OFB. The idea of corporatisation of the OFB, was first suggested by the Nair committee in 2000. It was reiterated by the Kelkar Committee in 2005. The corporatisation of the OFB will turn it into a defence public sector undertaking (DPSU), under the administrative control of the MOD. As a DPSU and with a 100% equity stake by the central government, the OFB is expected to have far greater autonomy in decision making.

Army And People In Algeria
After months of protests in Algeria, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was brought down in April 2019. There was no replacement, even though an election was set for July, 2019. Demonstrators are angry about stalled politics and stalled economy, and take to the streets each week. The army holds de facto power. The army has set out to dismantle the power base Bouteflika had built over the previous two decades. Wealthy businessmen like Ah Haddad, who made a fortune from state contracts was imprisoned. The president's brother, two former spy chiefs and other powerful behind the scenes figures known as "le pouvoir - The power" were went sent off to jail. Almost no one bothered to register for the supposed elections of July 2019. The army chief Abdel Kader Bensalah is the Interim president, and rejected a transition plan for the release of jailed protesters, an end to public violence, and greater freedom for the press and dissenters. Pressure on critics is slowly being increased by the army. Several are being rounded up on spurious changes. Dozens have been arrested for waving the Amazigh (or Berber) flag at demonstrations. Independent news websites often find themselves blocked. The government briefly shut down You Tube in August 2019, after a former defence minister released a video on the site, urging soldiers to oust General Salah.

Algeria is one of Africa's largest oil and gas producers, but corruption and inefficient subsidies have squandered much of its wealth. Endless bureaucracy deterred foreign investment. While young people make up most of the population, one in four are jobless. Low oil prices have pinched the budget. Foreign reserves, though still a sizeable $65 billion, are barely a third of what they were five years ago. The economy, which grew by a modest 2.3% in 2018, will probably slow down at end 2019. Fertial, a fertilizer company, is struggling to pay wages. In the absence of a necessary energy law, talks by Sonatrach, a state energy giant with foreign oil majors to attract new investment, are on hold. The opposition wants a freely elected government that does not include the army. But the army has power again, and does not wish to relinquish it.

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Vol. 52, No. 22,Dec 1 - 7, 2019