News Wrap


At the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa (15 to 22 December, 2019), artists are free to express themselves. It is up to the listeners to make sense of it. On 18 December 2019, Goa police arrested four members of the music band, Dastaan Live for allegedly "performing songs that insult the Hindu religion". A visual arts exhibition curated by Sudarshan Shetty at the prestigious event was briefly shut, after visitors scribbled slogans against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, on blank canvases. The four singers - Sumant Balakrishnan, Anirban Ghosh, Shiv Pathak and Nirmala Ravindera - were let out on bail by a magistrate court, after they deposited a surety of Rs 20,000. Complaints alleged that the lyrics of the songs performed by the artists in Panjim on 17 December, 2019, included "Om with abusive language". The room containing the visual arts exhibition was shut. A caption stating that an art work did not arrive in time due to a "transportation delay caused by the Citizenship Amendment Bill protests in the North-East was removed. Recordings of Miya poetry a genre of in Assam, that was being used to express anguish over citizenship issues, was not functioning. The exhibition included a sculpture by Chandabhan Prasad titled "English, the Dalit Devi", a deity in the mould of the statue of Liberty, carrying a pen and a copy of the Constitution, and signifying the power of English to uplift Dalits.

Public Safety Act
During November-December 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has squashed orders passed the draconian Public Safety Act, by the Jammu and Kashmir administration, ruling that it did not communicate the grounds of detention, to the detained persons, and hence violated the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. The Court's verdict is in relation to at least five habeas corpus petitions, challenging preventive detentions after 05 August 2019, when the Union government of India scrapped the special status of J and K state, and split into two Union Territories. All five detainees have been ordered to be released. There are over 300 petitions currently being heard of those detained since 05 August 2019.

Coastal Waste
A coastal cleanup operation, conducted towards the end of 2019, reveals that 34 Indian beaches, together produced 35 tons of waste. The litter recovered mostly composed of plastic, glass, paper and general waste, left behind by tourists and locals. Kerala's sandy beaches, extending to Mangaluru Kannur, Kozikhode, Fort Kochi, and Alappuzha, table top, yielding 9519 kg of litter, the highest in India. The clean up was conducted by the National Centre for Coastal Research. Around 6804 Kg of litter was collected from six beaches in Tamil Nadu, the runner-up. 5930 Kg of waste came from three beaches in Maharashtra. Odisha had the least polluted coastline, from 478 kg of litter, collected on four beaches. About half the 35 tons of litter was plastic. The remaining trash comprised leavings of fishing and household items, disposed of in the sea. The major source of litter on 22 beaches was tourism.

Plastic items left on beaches, generally break down into micro plastics. Swept out into the sea, these micro plastics enter the marine food, and settle down in the gut of fish, eventually consumed by humans.

Maoists in Kerala
Law student Alan Shuhaib and journalism student Taha Fazal of Kannur University were arrested in Kozikhode on 01 November 2019, while they were allegedly distributing Maoist publicity material. The state police later said they had unearthed evidence, that the two had Maoist links. Earlier, four Maoist were gunned down, in late October 2019, in a forest encounter in Palakkad. The arrested students have been denied bail twice by district courts, and once by Kerala High Court. The Kerela state government has said that the case was taken over by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) without its knowledge. The arrested students have been booked under the tough Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). A rights group formed to help the two Kerala students arrested and jailed, under rights activist K Ajitha have written to the CPI(M) leadership, to get the party-led state government to take over the case, pending with the NIA. The NIA Act, which defines the powers of the national agency, has a provision that allowed a state government to take back a case, and ask its own police to investigate. Section 7 of the NIA Act relates to "Power to transfer case to the state government, for investigation and trial of the offence". The state government has an unsympathetic stance to the two young men. The UAPA has the contentious provision of declaring a person as a terrorist, merely for possessing Maoist material. The chief minister of Kerala is yet to disclose any reasons for arresting the two students.

China's Trade with Neighbours
After imposing tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods over nearly two years, China and USA are edging closer to an initial trade agreement. Meanwhile, relations between the pair have been further strained by US legislators support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and their condemnation of the mass internment of Muslim minorities in the western Chinese region of Xinjang. China is now stressing on the importance of trade ties with Japan and South Korea, and recognises the vast volume of trade was due to the "joint protection of regional stability and peace". China, Japan and South Korea at a summit on 24 December 2019, in Chengdu, touched on a planned free-trade agreement between the three nations. China has offered support for an infrastructure initiative. Beijing is willing to strengthen economic co-operation with Japan, in third country markets. China has agreed to "further open up its services industry" to Japan. South Korea has obtained China's willingness to work on rail network linking Korea with China and Europe. Trade among the two was worth more than $720 billion in 2018. The leaders plan for the new free-trade agreement (FTA) to build on a separate, sprawling China-backed Asian trade pact which would be the world's biggest trade deal. The pact, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), is meant to account for 30% of global GDP, and loop an half of the world's people. India has rejected the RCEP deal in November 2019, dealing it a major blow. The remaining members of RCEP, include all 10 ASEAN states, plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

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Vol. 52, No. 40, April 5 - 11, 2020