FOOD SECURITY BILL INTRODUCED
Soon after being forced to overturn its decision on multi-brand-retail FDI, the government has rolled out a new Food Security Bill. If cleared by Parliament, this will see 62.5% of the country’s population receive subsidised food - at Rs 3/kg for rice, and Rs 2/kg for wheat. Even as the government claims this is a pro-poor measure, critics have accused the ruling UPA of keeping the upcoming UP state
elections in mind before taking the decision. The Agricultural Ministry is also said to be against the bill in its current form over concerns of difficulty in acquiring food for resupply. The new measures are expected to add `27,663 crore to India’s subsidy bill. Meanwhile, the government will try and re-introduce the changes to the retail sector sometime next year. In other major political news, Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh has been named as the new Civil Aviation Minister.
OVER 90 DEAD IN KOLKATA FIRE
Around 93 people were killed when a deadly fire raced through the AMRI Hospital in Kolkata. Reportedly caused by gas cylinders and waste that was kept in the hospital’s basement, the fire resulted in the deaths of several staff and patients in the ICU and other wards. According to reports, AMRI Hospital also lacked fire-fighting equipment and was functioning without clearance from the fire department. Relatives of those who died in the tragedy have blamed the hospital authorities for not calling the fire department or ordering an evacuation even after they were alerted to
the presence of smoke. The toll would also have been higher had it not been for the initiative shown by residents of the nearby slums, who attached makeshift ladders in a bid to evacuate people. State governments across the nation have now ordered a thorough investigation into fire safety measures
ILLEGAL ALCOHOL TRAGEDY STRIKES WEST BENGAL
Soon after the deadly fire in a Kolkata hospital, West Bengal was hit by yet another tragedy. Over 150 people are feared dead after having consumed locally-brewed alcohol. According to reports, the victims had consumed illegal ‘hooch’ at liquor vends in the the Mograhat area, near Kolkata. Most of
those dead were found to be affected by methanol poisoning. Methanol is a by-product of the distillation process and is highly poisonous. It can cause blindness and death if consumed even in minute quantities. Later, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee said, “I want to take strong action against those manufacturing and selling illicit liquor. But this is a social problem and has to be dealt with socially, along with action.” The tragedy has deepened political rifts in the state, with both the opposition Communist parties and the ruling Trinamool Congress blaming each other for sheltering the accused, who are on the run from police.
NORTH KOREAN LEADER PASSES AWAY
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has passed away. The 69-year-old ‘Dear Leader’ reportedly died of a heart attack while on tour of the nation. While some commentators have hoped that his passing could lead to an era of openness and reform in what is regarded as one of the world’s poorest, most closed, and repressive societies, others have warned of instability. “We have to be very worried because whenever there is domestic instability North Korea likes to find an external situation to divert the attention away from that - including indulging in provocation,” said a Yonsei University analyst.
INDIA WIN SOUTH ASIAN FOOTBALL
Hosts India have retained the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup. The tournament, held in New Delhi, saw the Indian side defeat Afghanistan 4-0 in the final. This was the Indian side’s first international outing since erstwhile skipper Baichung Bhutia announced he was stepping down. The team was led by Climax Lawrence, while striker Sunil Chhetri emerged as the tournament’s top scorer. The Indian side will now be seen playing German club Bayern Munich in January in a farewell match for Bhutia.
SAINA GOES DOWN BATTLING
Badminton star Saina Nehwal seems to be recovering her form after a lowkey season. The Commonwealth Games Gold medallist went down battling in the final of the World Super Series Finals in China. Nehwal won the first set, but eventually lost 18-21, 21-13, 21-13. The outing can be viewed as a good one for Nehwal, who recorded wins against four of the world’s top eight players.
PUTIN FACES PROTESTS
In what may be an unprecedented show of democracy in Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin found himself at the receiving end of protests over the past two weeks. This followed his United Russia party’s disastrous showing in the Parliamentary elections held in the first week of December. However, opponents of the Prime Minister - who is also the former President and is expected to stand for that office again - say that his party had rigged the polls to ensure a slim Parliamentary majority. Reportedly, over 50,000 people attended protests in Moscow, with even Putin’s hometown of St Petersburg witnessing marches and rallies. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into the poll result and attempted to pacify the protestors. “We need to change the model, and only then will there be dynamic development in our country,” Medvedev stated, while warning that reform could not be pushed through under pressure.
ANNA DRAWS LOKPAL ‘RED-LINE’
Even as negotiations continued on the fate of the Lokpal Bill, veteran Gandhian Anna Hazare threatened to launch a jail bharo agitation if his recommendations were not accepted by Parliament.
The issue, which resulted in stalling Parliament proceedings yet again, has flared up after Anna said he would be launching fresh protests from 27 December “If a Bill that is capable of putting a
stop to corruption is passed and we are all very happy with it, then the fast I have planned for the 29th and the jail bharo andolan on the first can be stopped. The government's Lokpal Bill is
weak. If the Lokpal Bill as per our demand is brought in the winter session then we will not agitate from 27 December.”