News Wrap


There are concerns in India's North East about the future of the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, and the special provisions under Article 371 applicable to Nagaland (371A), Assam (371B), Manipur (371B), Sikkim (371F), Mizoram (371G), and Arunachal Pradesh (371H).The roots of the sixth schedule can be traced to the expansion of the colonial power to the "North East frontier" of Bangal, on the sub-Himalayan region beyond the Brahmaputra and Surma valleys. Those borderlands were inhabited by tribes, who had never been under any outside authority, and Tribal chiefs managed their societies under customary laws. Their interaction with the plains was limited to the purchase of salt and some commodities by way of barter. This was first recorded in Regulations X of 1822. However, after the success of tea in Assam and jute in Bengal, the timber, coal and limestone resources of the tribal areas, motivated the colonial capital to open up the region, from the early 19th century. It led to several protective and area—specific laws as Garo Hills Act 1869, Scheduled Districts Act 1874, Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act 187A (Inner Line Regulation), Assam Frontier Tracts Regulation 1880, and Government of India Act 1919. The Sixth Schedule is a part of the evolutionary process of the administration of the North-East tribal areas.

The sixth schedule was extended to Tripura in 1988, and to the Bodoland Territorial Administration District of Assam in 2003, by constitutional Amendments, to meet the aspirations of the Bodos and Tripura tribal people.

Under the Sixth schedule the Autonomous District Councils and the Regional Councils enjoy powers to legislate on ten subjects, which include land and its principal uses, minerals, water use and forests other than the reserved forests, village and town administration, regulation of trading and money lending by Non-tribals, and the power to levy Taxes. The Autonomous councils are also responsible for administration of civil and criminal justice, in matters involving tribals, by application of customary laws. In the last three decades of economic reforms "capitalism" especially in the "extractive" form, has spread rapidly in extracting coal limestone, sand and timber from resource rich state like Meghalaya. Today in Meghalaya, the share of mining and industries is 28% and services 56%. The economy has diversified, and no longer dependent on agriculture. The tribal dominated states, no longer have a society of the period when the Sixth Schedule was framed.

Bank Mergers
The union government of India has unveiled a mega plan in August 2019, to merge ten public banks into four, to help create stronger global sized banks. Accordingly, Punjab National Bank would take over Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India. Syndicate Bank would merge with Canara Bank. Union Bank of India would take over Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank. Indian Bank would take over Allahabad Bank. With these mergers, together with the two previous consolidations in the past two years, the number of public sector banks comes to 12 from 27, in 2017. Given the limited flexibility on restructuring and rationalisation, meaningful cost synergies from these mergers are unlikely. Even as size and scale of operations increase, core profitability of these banks is likely to remain weak. These banks will continue to depend on government for funds. The government had also said it would infuse Rs 52,250 crore into these ten banks to boost their balance sheet. Coupled with the ongoing moderation in growth for private sector banks, led by the slump in the auto sector and increased caution among lenders, credit growth, thus, is unlikely to be revived by these mergers. The merger is also unlikely to meaningfully revive flows of credit to the liquidity pressed non-banking finance companies (NBFCs), as given the already high share of NBFC exposure in constituent banks, all four merged entities will have over 10% of their loan exposure towards NBFCs. Credit flow to NBFCs will remain a challenge, even as bond market access continues to remain differentiated for them. The focus on integration affects near-term growth, and growth can be expected to be impacted.

Melting Himalays
Owing to melting of Himalayan glaciers by the end of the century, 1.4 crore people in Kolkata, the highest among 20 cities worldwide, with a population of more than 10 lac (in 2005), will be severely affected. Kolkata, Mumbai, Surat and Chennai are projected to be similarly affected by a one-meter sea level rise in 2100, while several other cities in North India are expected to face a severe water crisis. The four Indian cities are among 45 such coastal port cities globally, where even an increase of sea level by 50 cms, will lead to flooding and affect a total of 13 crore people. The extreme sea level events are anticipated to occur every year by mid-century in many regions, increasing risks for many low-lying coastal cities and small islands. The one-metre rise of sea levels would affect a total of 140 crore people around the globe, unless the world drastically cuts emissions of climate damaging greenhouse gases. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its report on "Ocean and cryosphere", released in Monaco, September 2019, shows the sea level had risen globally by around 15 cms during the 20th century, while "it is currently rising more than twice as fast —3.6mm per year and accelerating.

Elections to Moscow Parliament
Pro-Kremlin candidates suffered major losses in a Moscow city election, following a police crackdown on a wave of anti-government protests since May 2019. On 09 September, 2019, the Kremlin backed candidates who previously held 38 of the Moscow assembly's 45 seats, were down to 25. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny had called on Muscovites to back the politician, most likely to beat a pro-Kremlin candidate, whatever their affiliation. The beneficiaries were the Communist Party which took 13 seats, up from five, as well as the liberal Yabloko party and the left leaning Just Russia, which won three. The shake-up in the city parliament comes amid a stagnating economy, declining living standard and a fall in president Putin's approval ratings. The ruling United Russia party played down the losses pointing to other local and regional elections across Russia, in which the ruling party was "very, successful". In Moscow, none of the pro-Kremlin candidates ran under the "United Russia" party banner, instead presenting themselves as "Independents." Meanwhile, Kremlin-backed candidates won in all 16 regions, where there were elections for governor. Activists allege irregularities at polling stations across Russia while videos emerged on social media of ballot stuffing in Saint Petersburg and elsewhere. In the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, the Nationalist LDPR party took a majority in the city council. The region already has an LDPR governor.

Albania and NATO
Once part of the Warsaw Pact, Albania is hosting a NATO air base. Heavy machinery is moving in to upgrade Albania's Kucova air base into a NATO one. Seventy-one rusting and broken Soviet and Chinese planes are being evicted. By 2005 safety concerns and a lack of cash meant that the last of Albania's Migs were grounded, even though Albania had a formidable air force. Engineers from China assembled the Migs, when they were shipped in the 1970s. The Albanian air force now flies just helicopters. Kucova plays host only to occasional agricultural planes, and a few military visitors. In case of emergencies, the Kucova air base remains open. NATO is investing around $50 million, in a first phase of upgrading the base. Having left the Warsaw Pact in 1968, after years of disagreement with Russia, Albania has been a member of NATO since 2009. The plan is for an operational base in Kucova, for refueling, and for ammunition to be stored in its communist era tunnels, originally built to house 100 war planes. The first runway was built in 1939, by an Italian oil company. In the 1970s the base employed 3000 people. Now the number is 110. The demise of communist era industries, led to Kucova's population plummeting from 20,000 to about 12000. Locals hope that the restoration of the base will mean work for them. NATO flew drones from the base during the Kosovo war in 1999. While Albania is a majority Muslim country, Albanians are ferociously pro-American. Americans had provided support for the Kosovars, against the Serbs in the Kosovo war. A radar station partly funded by the Pentagon is being built in the mountains of Albania. This is planned to plug black spots in NATO's Balkan surveillance capability.

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Vol. 52, No. 27, Jan 5 - 11, 2020