Archive for ‘Maharashtra’


Maoist rebels kill five policemen in eastern India

BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) – Maoist rebels killed five policemen in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand on Friday, a senior police official said, the latest in a series of attacks on security forces.

The policemen were patrolling a weekly market, M. L. Meena, additional director general of police in Jharkhand, told Reuters by telephone from Ranchi, the state capital.

The attack took place near the state border with West Bengal, Meena added.

Last month, suspected leftist insurgents killed at least 15 police and a civilian in a landmine attack on two security vehicles in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

The Maoist insurgents, also known as Naxals, have battled a number of state governments for decades. They say they are fighting on behalf of people who have not benefited from a long economic boom in India, Asia’s third largest economy.

Source: Reuters


‘There is no water. Why should people stay here?’

Image caption Hatkarwadi hasn’t seen decent rains in three years

Every morning Dagadu Beldar, 75, wakes up and cooks rice and lentils in his village home in India’s western state of Maharashtra. After that, there’s little else to do.

For the past three years, Mr Beldar has lived alone in his gloomy one-room hut in Hatkarwadi, a stony hillside outback ringed by forests. Drought forced his wife and three sons out of the village. The earth was parched and the wells were dry. There was little water to drink and bathe in, and the family’s millet farm lay barren.

Two sons found work at a sugar factory in Sangli, a cane-growing district some 400km (248 miles) away. Their mother looked after the third son, who went to school there. Hatkarwadi had become a bad memory.

With age, Mr Beldare is going deaf. He mostly keeps to himself in his dark room.

“He’s a very lonely man. He hasn’t seen his family in three years. All because of water,” says Ganesh Sadgar, a neighbour.

Dagadu Beldar
Image caption Dagadu Beldar lives alone after his family left the village because of lack of water

Across the lane, 75-year-old Kishan Sadgar’s only son left home a decade ago to work in a sugar factory far away. He lives with his wife and a pet dog. “My son hardly comes home,” he says. “And when he comes he wants to leave after two or three days because there’s no water here.”

A few doors away, Saga Bai lives with her 14-year-old deaf mute daughter, Parvati. Her only son, Appa, left home years ago to work in a factory. “He hardly comes home. He says he will come only if it rains,” says Ms Bai.

And Ganesh Sadgar, the only graduate in the village, is unable to find a bride because “no woman wants to come here because there’s no water”.

Hatkarwadi is located in Beed, a sprawling sun-baked district which has been impoverished by lack of rain. Not long ago, more than 1,200 people lived in its 125 squat homes. More than half of them, mostly men, have left, leaving behind bolted, abandoned homes. These water refugees eke a living in faraway towns and cities, where they have found work in cane farms, sugar factories, construction sites or as taxi drivers.

Abandoned house in Hatkarwadi
Image caption Yashwant Sahibrao Sadgar locked his home and left the village a year ago because of lack of water

“There is no water. Why should people stay here?” says Bhimrao Beldar, the 42-year-old headman of the village.

The night before I arrived in the village, there had been a brief burst of rain. Next morning, promising grey clouds seemed to be the harbinger of bountiful rains. By mid-afternoon, however, the sky began burning again, extinguishing any such hopes. That’s how fickle hopes are here. The last time the village had “decent rains” was three years ago.

The cruel summer has sucked the life out of Hatkarwadi. The earth is brown and cracked. Cotton and millet farms have withered away. Only two of the 35 wells have some water left. There are a dozen borewells, but the fast receding water table is forcing farmers to drill deep – up to 650ft – to extract water.

Hatkarwadi pump
Image caption The only source of water is a few functioning borewells

Even a minor gale snaps electricity lines, so the borewells often don’t work. Water tankers – the lifeline of the drought-hit – refuse to supply because of the precarious state of the narrow strip of tar which serves as the connecting road to the village.

There’s nothing to feed the animals, so 300 buffaloes have been moved to a fodder camp uphill where the animals live with their owners under tarp. Some 75 new toilets built under a federal government programme to end open defecation lie unused because there’s no water. Most villagers borrow drinking and bathing water from well-to-do neighbours who own borewells.

Hatkarwadi is a speck on the map of Beed, where more than a million people have been hit by the drought. Deforestation has reduced forest cover to a bare 2% of the total area of the district. Only 16% of the farms are irrigated. When monsoons are good, the rain-fed farms yield cotton, soya bean, sugarcane, sorghum and millet for 650,000 farmers.

Hatkarwadi well
Image caption Most of the village’s 35 wells are dry

For the last six years, Beed has seen declining rainfall. Irregular rainfall patterns have been playing havoc with crops. A 10-day-pause in rainfall can end up damaging crops. Last year’s abundant rains – 99% of the average yearly rainfall of 690mm – still led to crop failure because there were four long interruptions.

The main Godavari river is running dry. Nearly all of the 140 big and small dams in Beed are out of water, as are the 800-odd wells. Two of the major dams now have what officials call “dead water” – low lying stored water, contaminated with sediments and mud. This is the water which is being pumped into ponds from where nearly a thousand tankers pick up supplies, spike them with chlorine and transport them to 300-odd thirsty villages.

Saga Bai
Image caption Saga Bai says her son returns to the village ‘only when it rains’

Half of Beed’s 800,000 cattle have been moved to more than 600 cattle camps because of lack of fodder. More than 40,000 people have taken up work under a jobs for work scheme, and officials are opening it up for others to prevent people from going into penury. The drought hasn’t spared people living in towns: the 250,000 residents of Beed town are getting piped water only once a week or sometimes a fortnight.

“This is the worst drought in a decade,” says Astik Kumar Pandey, the senior-most official of Beed. “We are hoping that our drinking water supplies last until end of July and then we have abundant rains”.

The crippling drought in Maharashtra is part of a larger climate catastrophe which has gripped India. More than 40% of the land, by one estimate, is facing drought and more than 500 million people living in at least 10 states are badly affected.

Media caption ‘Men don’t care about drought as women fetch the water’

P Sainath, the founder and editor of the online People’s Archive of Rural India, says the lack of water is an “explosive problem”. But drought alone has not contributed to the crisis, he says. It also has to do with the appropriation of water by the well-to-do at the expense of the poor, and the skewed allocation of water.

“The transfer of water from the farms to the industry, from food crops to water guzzling cash crops, from rural to urban areas, and from livelihood to lifestyle purposes for multiple swimming polls in urban high-rises has also led to this situation.”

Back in his office in Beed, Astik Kumar Pandey peers over a live map tracking the movement of GPS-tagged water tankers in the district. It’s a dense mass of red (stationary tankers picking up supplies) and green (tankers on their way with water) trucks clogging the heart of the district.

“This is how bad the situation is. We are hoping that the rains arrive soon”.

Source: The BBC


Priyanka meets Rahul Gandhi as he stays firm on quitting as Congress chief

The meeting between Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi comes in the backdrop of reports that the powerful working committee of the party may meet in the next three-four days to discuss the leadership issue.

INDIA Updated: May 28, 2019 13:42 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra,Randeep Surjewala,Congress spokesperson
Congress president Rahul Gandhi with his sister and AICC General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi. (ANI file photo)
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met her brother, Congress president Rahul Gandhi amid reports that he wants to quit after the crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.
Priyanka Gandhi, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, his deputy Sachin Pilot and Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala arrived at Rahul Gandhi’s 12, Tughlaq Lane residence on Tuesday morning. The meeting between Rahul Gandhi and senior Congress leaders comes in the backdrop of reports that the powerful working committee of the party may meet in the next three-four days to discuss the leadership issue
Rajasthan’s ruling duo Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot calling on him amid rumblings of discontent in the state and his insistence on quitting.
The Congress has denied that any such meeting has been scheduled in the near future. “These reports are baseless,” KC Venugopal, general secretary in-charge of organization who is responsible for convening Congress Working Committee meetings.
On Monday, Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel and KC Venugopal met Rahul Gandhi. But Patel insisted that he had gone to meet Rahul Gandhi for routine administrative work. “I had sought time before the CWC to meet the Congress President to discuss routine administrative work. The meeting today was in that context. All other speculation is incorrect and baseless,” Patel tweeted.
Three more state Congress chiefs resigned on Monday taking ‘moral responsibility’ for party’s poor performance in Lok Sabha elections. Other than Sunil Jakhar (Punjab) and Ajoy Kumar (Jharkhand) and Ripun Bora (Assam), HK Patil, who was tasked to oversee the Karnataka Congress campaign in December, also put in his papers.


Delhi: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Randeep Singh Surjewala arrive at the residence of Congress President Rahul Gandhi.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter
Source: Hindustan Times

At Cong’s big meet after poll defeat, Rahul Gandhi’s next move is the focus

Rahul Gandhi, who had fronted the opposition campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has owned responsibility for the crushing defeat at the meeting.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: May 25, 2019 14:07 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, NewDelhi
Lok Sabah elections 2019,General elections 2019,Congress
Seated next to Rahul Gandhi as he shared his brief analysis of the election is UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi (Sanjeev Verma/ HT Photo)
Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday is leading a review of his party’s devastating performance in the Lok Sabha elections at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, or CWC.
Rahul Gandhi, who had fronted the opposition campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has owned responsibility for the crushing defeat at the meeting. Seated next to Rahul Gandhi as he shared his brief analysis of the election is UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, former minister P Chidambaram and Congress’s leader in the outgoing Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge was also present.
Television channels initially said Rahul Gandhi had offered to resign at the CWC which was rejected by the top panel but later put out a clarification. Three senior Congress including Uttar Pradesh unit chief Raj Babbar, HK Patil, who was tasked to oversee the Karnataka Congress campaign and Odisha Congress chief Niranjan Patnaik have resigned after the election debacle.
The Congress won just about 52 seats in the Lok Sabha in this round of national elections, a shade better than its worst performance ever, in the 2014 elections, when it ended up with 44 seats.
Congress leaders have indicated that the CWC could go for a deeper analysis of the election outcome that goes beyond the obvious. Some drastic action could also follow.
Senior Congress leaders assembled at the party’s Working Committee meeting in New Delhi.

For now, the Congress’s top priority is to get the party fighting fit in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand that will head to assembly elections later this year. Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are likely to be held anytime soon and Delhi will go to the polls in February next year.

Some new general secretaries and in-charges of states are also expected to be appointed soon.
Gandhi had made it clear at an unusually brief news conference after the poll verdict came on Thursday that the party was determined to fight back. “Have faith and we will work and sort this out in the time to come,” Gandhi said, his message to party workers and supporters. “Love never loses, and I am certain that we will emerge stronger and work better… love will guide us.

The Congress which did not get the post of the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha in 2014 may not get it this time also. A party should get 10 per cent, or 55 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, to be entitled to the Leader of Opposition designation for its leader.

Rahul Gandhi has already taken responsibility for the party’s performance in the Lok Sabah elections but hasn’t elaborated on the next step yet.

Source: Hindustan Times


Lok Sabha election 2019: Vandalism, rigging reported from Bengal in last phase of polling

The seventh and the last phase of Lok Sabha election in West Bengal was hit by vandalism and rigging on Sunday amid polling in nine parliamentary constituencies with the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP locked in a bitter battle for power.

LOK SABHA ELECTIONS Updated: May 19, 2019 11:19 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Lok Sabha elections,Lok Sabha polls,Lok Sabha Bengal
Kolkata Police personnel leaving for polling booth on the eve of final phase of Lok Shabha election from a Polling distribution center in Kolkata on Saturday . (ANI photo for representation)
Crude bombs were hurled at two places on Sunday in West Bengal, where polling is underway in nine constituencies in the last phase of polling of the Lok Sabha election amid reports of vandalism and malfunctioning EVMs.
Reports of bombs thrown in Gilaberia area in Deganga of North 24 Parganas district under Barasat constituency and in Raidighi of South 24 Parganas district under Mathurapur constituency came in as voters queued up in polling booths.
There were allegations that BJP supporters were beaten up and its camp office vandalised allegedly by TMC workers in Kultoli in Jaynagar Lok Sabha constituency as 14.17% polling was recorded till 9am from across the state.
Sayantan Basu, the BJP’s candidate for Basirhat constituency, alleged rigging in several areas and said police was doing nothing to stop it.
“People have queued up from as early as 4:30am to vote. But there are a lot of allegations of muscle flexing and rigging in areas such as Sandeshkhali, Hingalganj and Baduria. The inspector-in-charge of Shashan police station is virtually helping to rig in favour of the TMC,” Basu said.
“About 150 complaints were lodged with the EC (Election Commission) in the first three hours. I have not seen effective steps of the poll panel so far,” Basu, also the general secretary of the Bengal unit of the BJP, alleged.

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Mala Roy, the TMC’s candidate in Kolkata South constituency, alleged that central force personnel did not allow her to enter booth number 72 in a polling station in Mudiali under her constituency. Roy said she went after learning that polling was stopped for 45 minutes. She said she will lodge a complaint with the poll watchdog.

Trinamool Congress’ Rajya Sabha member Sukhendu Sekhar Ray alleged Electronic Voting Machines in all the parliamentary constituencies were not working as he questioned the EC over the EVMs.

“Hundreds of EVMs found to be dysfunctional from the very start of poll in various booths of the 9 Parliamentary Constituencies Of West Bengal where elections are being held today,” Ray wrote on Facebook.

“Rs 3,173 crores sanctioned by the Government in April 2017 for purchase of 16 Lakh new EVMs. It seems that old and junk machines have been put on service in these 9 constituencies with the evil design to delay the process of voting,” he said.

“Because if the voters after waiting for hours together fail to cast their votes will leave the polling stations in disgust, which will affect percentage of polling severely. Shame Election Commission,” Ray said.

Widespread violence

Before this, the state witnessed numerous incidents of violence in the last six rounds of polling, which included vandalism, attacks on candidates, party workers, security officials and the media, and those of stopping voters from voting.

Sporadic incidents of booth capture, smashing and malfunctioning of electronic voting machines (EVM), intimidation of voters have also been reported from West Bengal in all these phases. Several workers of both the parties have also been killed in violence reported from across the state.

The past week also saw a high-pitched battle between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the TMC, during and in the immediate aftermath of BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata, which included the vandalising of a bust of 19th century Bengali icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in an educational institute.

This led to the Election Commission bringing forward the campaign period by 19 hours, a move that received all-round criticism from opposition leaders.

The eastern state is important for both the TMC and the BJP as 42 seats are on offer — the third highest after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra — which the ruling party at the Centre is eyeing to offset possible losses in northern India, and which are crucial for chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s national political ambitions.

Candidates, as well as party workers, of both the TMC and BJP have accused each other of violence throughout the six phases of polling in the state.

During the sixth phase on May 12, the BJP’s candidate from Ghatal constituency Bharati Ghosh alleged she was heckled at a polling booth and pushed by some women supporters of the Trinamool Congress. The former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, once considered close to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, also said stones were thrown at her convoy and that crude bombs were hurled at her car.

Also read: Poll violence at several places in Bengal, BJP to meet EC in Delhi

In Barrackpore parliamentary constituency, the BJP’s candidate Arjun Singh alleged he was “attacked by goondas” of the Trinamool Congress in the fifth phase on May 6. On the same day, at Bongaon Lok Sabha seat, one TMC worker and one cop were injured in the violence.

In Hooghly district, which borders Kolkata, the rented accommodation of BJP’s women’s wing chief Locket Chatterjee, an actor-turned-politician who is also the party’s candidate from the Hooghly Lok Sabha constituency, was allegedly vandalised on May 6 by TMC workers.

A complaint was also filed against Chatterjee for allegedly threatening a presiding officer at a poll booth in Hooghly constituency during the same phase.

Sporadic clashes were reported in West Bengal, especially from Asansol, in the fourth phase of the general election. The BJP’s sitting member of Parliament and candidate Babul Supriyo’s car was vandalised in Asansol allegedly by stone-throwing Trinamool Congress supporters. The minister escaped unharmed with only the rear glass of the vehicle being damaged.

On April 18, the second phase of polling, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate and Raiganj sitting MP Mohammed Salim’s car was attacked when he went to a polling booth on Islampur. Reports of sporadic violence came from Darjeeling constituency as well.

Places such as Nalhati (Birbhum), Nanoor (Bolpur), Barabani (Asansol) and Suri (Birbhum) saw pitched battles between political workers involving knives and long sticks.

Crude bombs were hurled by unidentified men outside polling stations at Tiktikipara in Domkal, Murshidabad, and Kaliachawk in Malda South.

The Election Commission has deployed hundreds of security personnel forces to cover the booths in the battleground eastern state to ensure free and fair polling.

The votes will be counted on May 23.

Source: Hindustan Times


India election 2019: How sugar influences the world’s biggest vote

An Indian vendor sits among sugarcane kept at the main wholesale market ahead of celebrations surrounding the festival of Pongal in Bangalore,Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some 30 million farmers are engaged in cane farming in India

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a recent election meeting in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, he was compelled to make a promise relating to sugar, a diet staple.

Farmers who grow cane in the politically crucial state ruled by Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were angry because sugar mills had not paid their dues in time. They held protests and blocked railway tracks. “I know there are cane dues. I will make sure every penny of yours will be paid,” Mr Modi told the audience.

India’s sugar mills are bleeding money and collectively owe billions of dollars to 50 million cane farmers, many of whom haven’t been paid for nearly a year. Niti Ayog, a government think tank, says the arrears have reached “alarming” levels. More than 12 million tonnes of unsold sugar have piled up in factories. There is little incentive to export more as India’s sugar price is higher than the international price.

Sugar is serious business in India. Around 525 mills produced more than 30 million tonnes of sugar in the last crushing season, which lasted from October to April. This makes it the world’s largest producer, unseating Brazil. A large number of mills are run by cooperatives where farmers own shares proportional to the land they own and pledge their produce to the mill.

An Indian worker is pictured next to a sugarcane processing unit at the Triveni sugar refining factory in Sabitgarh village, in Bulandshahr district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionIndia is the world’s largest producer of sugar

That’s not all. Some 50 million farmers, tightly concentrated geographically, are engaged in cane farming. Millions more work in the mills and farms and are engaged in transportation of cane.

As with much of India’s politics, cane growers appear to be a reliable “vote bank”. Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, which together produce 60% of the country’s sugar, send 128 MPs to the parliament. The price of cane can swing votes in more than 150 of the 545 seats in the ongoing general election, according to one estimate. Sugar is possibly the “most politicised crop in the world”, says Shekhar Gaikwad, the sugar commissioner of Maharashtra.

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India votes 2019

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Indians are also voracious consumers of sugar. The bulk of the supply goes into making sweets, confectionary and fizzy drinks that are beginning to contribute to a rising obesity problem, like elsewhere in the world. “The world’s sweet tooth continues to rely on cane sugar, much as it did four centuries ago,” says James Walvin, author of How Sugar Corrupted the World.

Indian sugarcane farmers shout slogans during a protest in New Delhi on December 4,2012Image copyright AFP
Image caption Cane farmers have held protests, demanding higher crop prices

On the face of it, cane growers and owners of sugar mills should be happy.

The government sets cane and sugar prices, allocates production and export quotas, and hands out ample subsidies. State-run banks give crop loans to farmers and production loans to mills. When mills run out of cash, public funds are used to bail them out. “I earn around 7,000 rupees ($100; £76) from growing sugar every month. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s an assured income,” says Sanjay Anna Kole, a fourth-generation, 10-acre cane farm owner in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district.

But protectionism may be yielding diminishing returns. Generous price support for the crop means the price at which mils buy cane has outstripped the price at which they sell sugar. Among large producers – Thailand, Brazil and Australia – India pays the highest cane price to farmers. It also spends more than Brazil, for example, in producing sugar.

Sanjay Anna KoleImage copyrightMANSI THAPLIYAL
Image captionFarmer Sanjay Anna Kole says cane farming provides an ‘assured income’

The involvement of politicians may not be helping matters. Since the inception of the first mills in the 1950s, politicians have owned or gained control of them by winning mill co-operative elections. Almost half a dozen ministers in Maharashtra, India’s second-biggest cane growing state, own sugar mills.

A study on the links between politicians and sugar mills by Sandip Sukhtankar, associate professor of economics at University of Virginia, found that 101 of the 183 mills – for which data was available – in Maharashtra had chairmen who competed for state or national elections between 1993 and 2005.

He also found that cane prices paid by “politically controlled” mills fell during election years, and that this was not entirely due to loss of productivity.

These mills have also been blamed for holding on to arrears and releasing them before elections to win over voters; and political parties have been accused of using money from the mills to finance campaigns. “One would think that perhaps political parties that don’t benefit from links to sugar might have incentives to reform the sector, but we have seen parties everywhere want a piece of the action,” says Dr Sukhtankar. “There are resources in the sugar industry to be extracted for political purposes.”

Sugar stocked in Maharashtra factoryImage copyright MANSI THAPLIYAL
Image caption Sugar stocks have piled up in factories across India

Whatever the case, India’s world-beating crop is mired in crisis. The farmers and the mills grumble that they aren’t getting a fair price for their crop and sugar respectively. “It looks like a sunset industry for me. There’s no future in cane until the government completely overhauls farm policies,” Suresh Mahadev Gatage, an organic cane-grower in Kolhapur, told me.

The unrest among the farmers is worrying. In January, several thousand angry cane farmers descended on Shekhar Gaikwad’s office in the city of Pune, demanding the mills pay their dues in time. The negotiations lasted 13 hours.

One of the farmers’ demands was to arrest a state minister, who was heading three mills in the state, and had defaulted on his cane dues. When negotiations ended way past midnight, authorities issued orders to seize sugar from the offending mills and sell it in retail. In India’s lumbering bureaucracy, that took another eight hours because 500 copies of the orders had to be printed. “My office is pelted by stones every other day by irate farmers,” says Mr Gaikwad.

Suresh Mahadev GatageImage copyright MANSI THAPLIYAL
Image caption Cane grower Suresh Mahadev Gatage says there is ‘no future in cane’

Meanwhile, what is completely forgotten is how much sugar has hurt India’s ecology. More than 60% of the water available for farming in India is consumed by rice and sugar, two crops that occupy 24% of the cultivable area. Experts say crop prices should begin to reflect the scarcity and economic value of water.

But before that, as Raju Shetti, MP and a prominent leader of sugarcane farmers, says, price controls should be eased and bulk corporate buyers like soft drink companies and pharmaceuticals should pay more for sugar.

“We need differential pricing for sugar. Cheap sugar should be only provided to people who can’t afford it. The rest should pay a higher price,” he told me.

“Otherwise, the industry will collapse, and farmers will die. Even politicians will not be able to save it.”

Source: The BBC


India’s rural pain goes beyond farmers, and it may be a problem for Modi

ZADSHI VILLAGE, India (Reuters) – Three years ago, brick mason Pundlik Bhandekar was always busy as farmers in his tiny hamlet in Maharashtra commissioned new houses and nearby towns were undergoing rapid urbanisation. Now, as the rural economy sinks and the pace of construction slows, Bhandekar is struggling to get work.

“I used to get a new construction project before I could even finish one. People would come to my house to check when I would be free to work for them,” said Bhandekar, as he sat with friends under the shade of a tree on a hot afternoon.

From daily wage workers such as masons, to barbers and grocery shop owners – just about everyone in Zadshi village, some 720 km (450 miles) from India’s financial hub Mumbai, says a drop in farm incomes has dented their livelihoods.

Their woes are symptomatic of a wider problem across India, where more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, as the slowdown in the rural economy is felt in the dampening sales of consumer goods, especially the biggest such as car and motorbike sales.

The slowdown has also dented Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity in the hinterland that propelled him to power in 2014, and political strategists say it may mean he struggles to form a majority after voting in a staggered general election that began on April 11 concludes on May 19.

Zadshi has been almost entirely dependent on annual cotton and soybean crops that, according to farmers, have given lacklustre returns in the past few years due to a dip in prices, droughts and pest attacks.

And as incomes have dropped, farmers have cut back on big-ticket spending such as building new houses, digging wells or laying water pipelines, squeezing employment opportunities for people such as Bhandkekar.

“No one is interested in hiring us. We are ready to work even at 250 rupees ($3.60) per day,” said Bhandekar, who charged 300 rupees a day when work was steady, but now gets work only once or twice in a fortnight.


Economic data reflects the plight of farmers and daily wage workers.

Retail food inflation in the fiscal year ended on March 31 fell to 0.74 percent, even as core inflation stood at 5.2 percent, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch Research, eroding the spending power of farmers.

Inflation adjusted wage growth for workers involved in crop sowing was just 0.6 percent 2018/19 compared with 6.5 percent in 2013/14.

The value of farm produce at constant prices grew 15 percent in the past five years, compared with 23 percent in the previous five, while the manufacturing sector grew 40 percent, against 32.6 percent in the previous five years, government data shows.

“Lower rural wages will result in lesser spending, which in turn will reduce demand for goods and services that are part of the rural basket,” Rupa Rege Nitsure, group chief economist at L&T Finance Holdings in Mumbai, told Reuters.

The government needs to spend more in rural areas to generate employment and boost incomes, Nitsure said.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist government did introduce various support schemes in the past six months, such as a 6,000 rupees yearly handout to small farmers.

The main opposition Congress party has gone much further with its pledges though, saying it would introduce a basic minimum income, where the country’s poorest families would get 72,000 rupees annually, benefiting some 250 million people.


In Zadshi, as the mercury touched a searing 40 degrees Celsius(104F), a group of villagers gathered under the trees lining a dusty road and began chatting about everything from crop prices to politics.

“What else we can do? Had work been available in urban areas, we could have moved there but even in the cities construction has slowed down,” said Amol Sontakke, an unskilled labourer who works in farms and on construction sites.

Job opportunities have slowed even in urban areas and India’s unemployment rate touched 7.2 percent in February, the highest since September 2016, according to data compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Official data is unavailable for recent periods.

The mood in Zadshi was glum. While four dozen villagers interviewed by Reuters were hopeful that if there was a good monsoon this year it could improve farm incomes, they’ve been cutting back on spending in the meantime.

“People are thinking twice before buying new clothes during festivals,” said Avinash Gaurkar, a farmer currently doubling up as a part-time driver. “Buying big-ticket items such as motorcycles or refrigerators is out of the question.”

Two years ago Gaurkar began building a house, but had to give up midway as his five-acre farm could not generate the money needed, he said, pointing towards a half-finished structure without doors.

In 2018, just four villagers bought new motorbikes compared with as many as 10 a year about four years ago, said cotton farmer Raju Kohale, whose son is sitting at home unemployed after graduating as an engineer.

“Poor monsoon or lower prices, something or the other has been hurting us in the past few years,” Kohale said.


In the 2014 general election, most in Zadshi voted for Modi, but the farmers’ distress has swayed many towards the opposition Congress party. That was clear from Reuters’ interviews with 48 villagers, who cast their ballots last month.

Farmers are at the bottom of the Modi administration’s priority list, said labourer Sagar Bahalavi.

“They are building big roads to connect metros and calling it development. How is that useful for us?” he said.

Some, though, want to give Modi a second chance.
“Modi’s intentions are good, it’s the bureaucratic system that is not supporting him,” said Gulab Chalakh, who owns a 20-acre farm and is among the richest in the village. “We should give him another chance.”
Source: Reuters

15 commandos, driver killed in blast by Maoists in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli

Just when the two vehicles of the security forces were passing through the Dadapur Road in Gadchiroli, Maoists triggered the explosion.

INDIA Updated: May 01, 2019 15:36 IST

Pradip Kumar Maitra
Pradip Kumar Maitra
Hindustan Times, Nagpur
The improvised explosive device (IED) blast in Gadchiroli targeted a vehicle carrying security personnel.(HT Photo)
Fifteen jawans of C-60, an anti-Maoist squad of Gadchiroli police, and a driver were killed in a powerful landmine blast on Wednesday on Dadapur Road in Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra.
The explosion occurred this afternoon when the jawans were out on an operation. Just when the two vehicles of the security forces were passing through the Dadapur Road towards Korchi, located about 250 km from Nagpur, the Maoists triggered the blast.
Many jawans were also injured in the incident. The improvised explosive device (IED) blast is believed to be a retaliation after 40 Maoists were gunned down by security forces on April 22 last year near Bhamragarh in the district.
Officials said reinforcements have been rushed to the spot and the injured have been shifted to a civil hospital in Gadchiroli.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack on security personnel. “Strongly condemn the despicable attack on our security personnel in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. I salute all the brave personnel. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten. My thoughts & solidarity are with the bereaved families. The perpetrators of such violence will not be spared,” PM Modi tweeted.

Also read: BJP legislator, 4 security personnel killed in Maoist attack in Dantewada

Earlier in the day, Maoists torched at least three dozen vehicles belonging to private contractors in Kurkheda, Gadchiroli.

The incidents took place on a day the state is celebrating its foundation day, Maharashtra Day. The Maoists were in the final stages of observing a week-long protest to mark the first anniversary of 40 of their men who were gunned down by security forces on April 22, 2018.

The targeted vehicles were engaged in construction works for the Purada-Yerkad sector of National Highway 136 near Dadapur village.

Last month, a BJP legislator and four others were killed when Maoists attacked their convoy in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar. The incident happened on April 9, just two days before the region votes in the first phase of the 2019 general election.

Source: Hindustan Times


Police break up clashes in West Bengal, Mumbai votes in fourth phase of massive poll

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police broke up clashes between rival groups of voters in West Bengal on Monday as some of India’s richest families and Bollywood stars also cast their ballots in Mumbai during the fourth phase of a massive, staggered general election.

In West Bengal, a populous eastern state crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid, supporters of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clashed with others from the regional Trinamool Congress, police said.

TV footage showed armed security forces chasing away people wielding sticks, although it was initially difficult to determine the scale of the clashes.

There were no immediate reports of any poll-related injuries in West Bengal, where at least one person was killed and three injured during the third phase of voting last week.

The BJP is in a direct, and sometimes bloody, fight in West Bengal with Trinamool, whose chief Mamata Banerjee is one of Modi’s biggest critics and a potential prime ministerial candidate.

More than 127 million people are eligible to vote in this round of the seven-phase election held across 71 seats in nine states. Modi’s coalition won more than 75 percent of the seats in the previous election in 2014.

Many of the constituencies are in Uttar Pradesh in the north and western India’s Maharashtra, where the financial capital Mumbai is located. Uttar Pradesh elects the most lawmakers, with Maharashtra next. Both states are ruled by the BJP and its allies.
However, political analysts say the BJP may struggle to repeat its strong showing this time due mainly to a jobs shortage and weak farm prices, issues upon which the main opposition Congress party has seized.


First-time voter Ankita Bhavke, a college student in Mumbai, said she voted for economic development.

“I want the country to be at par with the best in the world,” she said. “There’s been some progress in the last five years.”

India’s financial markets were closed on Monday for the election.

Mumbai is home to the massive Hindi film industry, as well as Asia’s wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s richest banker, Uday Kotak.
Ambani, who heads Reliance Industries, and Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, created a stir this month by publicly endorsing an opposition Congress party candidate from their upscale South Mumbai constituency.
Mumbai, which has six seats, is India’s wealthiest city but ageing and insufficient infrastructure is a major concern. Six people were killed last month when part of a pedestrian bridge collapsed, recalling memories of a 2017 rush-hour stampede that killed at least 22 people on a narrow pedestrian bridge.
The election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise with about 900 million voters, started on April 11 with Modi in the lead amid heightened tension with long-time enemy Pakistan.
The last phase of voting is on May 19, with results released four days later.
There are a total of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Modi sent warplanes into Pakistan in late February in response to a suicide attack by an Islamist militant group based there that killed 40 Indian police in the disputed Kashmir region.
Modi has sought votes on his tough response towards militancy and in recent days has evoked the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in nearby Sri Lanka.
Maidul Islam, a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, said long queues outside polling stations would indicate whether Modi’s national security pitch was working.
“Whenever there is a BJP kind of a wave, you see a higher voter turnout,” he said.
Source: Reuters

Two dead after Chinese navy plane crashes

  • No other injuries reported following accident on southern island of Hainan
  • Military is currently intensifying training for pilots as it looks to strengthen capabilities

Mobile phone footage believed to be taken from the crash site. Photo: Handout
Mobile phone footage believed to be taken from the crash site. Photo: Handout
A Chinese navy plane crashed in Hainan province on Tuesday killing two crew members, the military said.
A short statement said the crash happened during a training exercise over rural Ledong county in the southern island province.
No one else was reported to have been injured after the plane hit the ground and the cause of the incident is being investigated.
Footage that purported to be taken from the crash site started circulating on social media after the accident.
Footage apparently taken at the crash site. Photo: Handout
Footage apparently taken at the crash site. Photo: Handout

The PLA’s official statement did not specify the type plane that crashed, although unverified witness account online said it was a twin-seat Xian JH-7 “Flying Leopard”.

The JH-7, which entered service with the navy and air force in the 1990s, has been involved in a number of fatal accidents over the years.

The country’s worst military air accident in recent years happened in January 2018. At least 12 crew members died when a PLA Air Force plane, believed to be an electronic reconnaissance aircraft, crashed in Guizhou in the southwest of the country.

Between 2016 and 2017, there were at least four accidents involving the navy’s J-15 “Flying Sharks”, one of them resulting in the death of the pilot.

Military commentators have previously said that China’s drive to improve its combat readiness, which includes the building of new aircraft carriers and warplanes, has resulted in a serious shortage of qualified pilots.

To fill the vacancies the Chinese military has started a major recruitment drive and intensive training programme for pilot pilots.

One unverified report said the plane that crashed was a JH-7 “Flying Leopard”. Photo. Xinhua
One unverified report said the plane that crashed was a JH-7 “Flying Leopard”. Photo. Xinhua

Currently China has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in service, which can carry a maximum of 24 J-15s as well as other aircraft.

Meanwhile, the new home-grown carrier Type 001A will soon be commissioned, which is designed to accommodate to carry eight more fighters.

In addition, construction is believed to have started on another carrier that will be able to carry heavier and more advanced warplanes.

Chinese navy veteran warns training, not hardware is key to military preparedness
According to figures from the end of 2016, there were only 25 pilots qualified to fly the J-15 while 12 others were in training.
Most of the Chinese navy’s pilots have been redeployed from the air force, which is itself in need of more trained pilots.
This year the navy for the first time began a nation-wide programme to scout out potential pilots.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing legislative meeting in Beijing Feng Wei, a PLA pilot from the Western Theatre, said the military was currently intensifying its pilots’ training as increasing amounts of new equipment entered service.
“Personnel quality is the key to everything,” he added.
Source: SCMP
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