Archives  >  2019  >  October  >  27th

Diwali, Not So Bright

1. What’s the story?

Yesterday was the festival of lights. We hope you had a good time celebrating. However, many people didn’t. In one of the gloomiest Diwalis in years, numerous industries including tourism and retail reported low numbers. Unemployment was also high this year, leading to not enough money being circulated throughout the economy. The situation looks quite grim.

Tell me more.

Diwali is one time when most Indians spare no expense to be with their families. But not this year. The reluctance to spend on air travel this festival season has dampened celebrations and is making airlines nervous, who are forced to lower airfares to fill up their planes.

Data from the travel portal Yatra.com shows that fares on key metro routes are down by 30%, while this is usually a time airlines hike airfares due to a huge demand and are able to make up for losses piled up during the lean months of July, August and September.

“The slowdown is beginning to bite us. The demand for air travel is not growing as compared to the same time last year. As a result, our yields (average fare per passenger mile) are lower. I don’t see this improving for several months to come. This is an industry-wide trend,” said a top official at one of the leading airlines in the country on the condition of anonymity.”

In additional woe for the economy, consumption slowdown means that retail sales have been down 40 per cent this year, with footfall in malls down even more (around 60 per cent.)

Rising unemployment has also hit the common man hard — with laid off workers finding it very hard to find another job. 

“Rajeev Kumar Pandey, a former factory worker in Manesar, was fired from his job just a fortnight before Diwali. He says, “I’m still looking for work. But I am unable to find one. Anywhere. There is no other way out for me either.”

Santosh Jagtap concludes, “I’m praying to Goddess Lakshmi to bless me with opportunities to work, so that I can at least keep my family going. That is my prayer this Diwali.”

Even the skilled sector is feeling the pinch, as India Inc. reported a distinct slowdown in extravagant corporate transactions during the festive season. 

“India’s corporate gift industry usually works overtime in the run-up to Diwali to meet a surge in demand – with the annual ritual seen as a convenient way to nurture business relationships while avoiding accusations of outright bribery.

But in Mumbai’s busy Mangaldas market, a street lined with shops offering festive discounts, third-generation entrepreneur Jatin Shah is a worried man.

The owner of Rainbow Dry Fruits, an 80-year-old gift packaging firm, Shah added 20 temporary workers to his staff of 15 to account for the anticipated Diwali rush.

But orders have yet to materialise.

“In previous years… we would work till two in the morning. Now since the orders are lower in size and scale, we finish work and pull down the shutters by 10 pm,” Shah told AFP.

Even orders for the cheapest items – small boxes of Indian almonds, walnuts, and cashews – have fallen by more than half, he said, bringing down the firm’s annual turnover by 35 percent and leaving him with no funds for employee bonuses, another Diwali tradition.”

So, what now?

The situation looks grim, but the Government seems to be working overtime to draft a plan to inject money into the economy and increase the poor man’s spending power. It’s an uphill battle, but we’re hoping for the best.

Keep your eyes on this space. We’ll keep you updated.



2. Where else should I keep my eyes on?

Syria, that’s where. In a major development that could have wide repercussions across the world (and especially in the Middle East), ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, “the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group who presided over its global jihad and became arguably the world’s most wanted man, is believed dead after being targeted by a US military raid in Syria.” US President Donald Trump, in his characteristic manner, teased a major announcement on Saturday night, tweeting that “something major has just happened.”

“Al-Baghdadi led the Islamic State for the last five years, presiding over its ascendancy as it cultivated a reputation for beheadings and attracted hundreds of thousands of followers to a sprawling and self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria. He remained among the few Islamic State commanders still at large despite multiple claims in recent years about his death and even as his so-called caliphate dramatically shrank, with many supporters who joined the cause either imprisoned or jailed.”

However, according to some experts, this “win” might just be a symbolic one for Western counterterrorism efforts, since practically al-Baghdadi was just a “figurehead”. He was even described as “irrelevant for a long time” by a coalition spokesman a couple of years ago. 

We’re keeping our eyes peeled for any further developments in this case. Watch this space.



3. What more?

Considering the continuous negative impact on health and life among human settlements, the Delhi Government has announced a census of monkeys in the city. “After two decades of effort, the government has now roped in the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, to study the “numbers and behaviour” of the animal.”

“The presence of monkeys has increased in the residential areas of Delhi in the last two decades. Even the high-profile bungalows and apartments – where the ministers, members of parliament, judges and other senior officers live – are not spared.

Parliamentarians too have raised the issue in the house several times and Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament) secretariat has had to issue guidelines for members to keep themselves safe from the attack of monkeys. Several members of parliament also asked questions related to the problem.



Experts see a number of reasons behind this problem – where monkeys have moved away from their natural environments into human settlements.

“We have created this monster problem over the decades by destroying the forests and village commons where these animals would live. Also, the plantation forest just gives you timber but no fruit,” Yogesh Gokhale, Senior Fellow, Forestry and Biodiversity Division in The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), told Mongabay-India.

“Here the very inefficient garbage and waste management system has provided them ample food in the form of leftovers. So, the monkeys have adapted very well and learned to live with humans in urban conditions,” he adds.”



4. Anything else?

In Kashmir, that state still under partial lockdown and sporadic communication failure, “the family of a boy killed in August is still trying to prove he died.

“There was a funeral. There is a grave. But there is no death certificate for a 17-year-old who died fleeing CRPF personnel.



It has been two and a half months since 17-year-old Osaib Altaf Marazi died in Srinagar. But in the eyes of the state, he is not dead.

The teenager jumped to his death in the Jhelum on August 5, just hours after the Centre announced it was revoking special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and split the state into two Union Territories.

According to his family and at least three eyewitnesses interviewed by Scroll.in, he had been in a group of at least 10 boys who were being chased by Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Srinagar’s Parimpora area. He jumped into the river when he was allegedly cornered by CRPF personnel, closing in on him from two sides.

But the Jammu and Kashmir Police refuse to acknowledge the death and file a first information report. The Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where he was taken, will not issue a death certificate in “medico-legal cases” without an FIR.”



5. Is that all?

In a fascinating bit of news, according to a new report, “scientists monitored human waste from 60 million people in 37 countries to discover how the world gets high.” And it has thrown up surprising results. 

“According to the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Addiction, cocaine use is on the rise across Europe, methamphetamine is most prevalent in North America and Australasia, and the Netherlands had the highest rate of MDMA use.

The team avoided collecting samples during public holidays, when higher-than-average drug use might skew the results, and tried to account for contamination of prescribed drugs that might leave the same chemical fingerprints as their illegal variants. For instance, Seattle wastewater suggests especially high methamphetamine use in the city, but this finding could be influenced by legal drugs prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders.

The results showed that overall drug use was most prevalent cities such as Antwerp, Amsterdam, Zurich, London, and Barcelona, while cities in Greece, Portugal, Finland, Poland, and Sweden had the lowest rates of drug residue in wastewater.”



6. Before you leave…

Take a look at how the lives of the refugees rescued at sea last year have actually turned out.

“In June 2018, Italian photographer Nicoló Lanfranchi joined the last ship patrolling the Mediterranean to save refugees. Then, over many months, he tracked them down to their new homes.” 



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