RONHE VILLAGE in Jharkhand’s Khunti district has six main roads. Residents use these to reach the mineral-rich forestlands essential for their livelihood, and the nearby towns to buy their daily essentials. They do not know that soon they may get cut off from all these. The state government has quietly placed large parts of the village, which includes all the six roads, in an industrial land bank. This will boost the Momentum Jharkhand investment campaign which promotes business in the state. The online portal for the campaign shows that 70,819 hectares away common lands from us, what will we do?” says resident Vimal Gudiya.

In neighbouring Odihsa, the Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation has identified about 40 hectares for industrial use in Dukrigura village of Kalahandi district. This includes the entire 16 hectares of a village graveyard. It also includes the individual land that resident Rusi Majhi received under the Forest Rights Action 2007. He does not know that Khata number 27 in plot number 150 that he received from the government now features in the land bank.

States are on an overdrive to fill land banks as acquisition is difficult under the Right to Fair compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, or RFCTLARR Act, 2013.

Ushering the biggest reform in land governance, RFCTLARR Act replaces the colonial Land Acquisition Act, 1894. It gives people a say in land acquisition and makes the process participative, humane and transparent. The Act promises to put an end to forcible acquisitions, enhances compensation to landowners, resettles and rehabilitates families displaced by land acquisition and gives the gram sabha decision-making powers in land acquisition. It is heralded as a step in the right direction.

But five years after the Act was introduced, the rising number of protests and court cases prove that land acquisition process has not been set right yet. Lands are still being forcefully taken, and farmers still do not get their due for the land they lose.

To understand the reasons for this, in November 2017, Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) filed Right To Information (RTI) queries with 28 states. The questions were commonplace which could fetch straight answers–under which law was land being acquired; were people’s consent taken; which projects were in the pipeline; and, how much land was acquired under RFCT-LARR Act. State governments took months to send their half-baked replies. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh did not reply at all. An analysis of the replies shows why states were reluctant to give explicit replies. They are in no mood to implement the robust Act.

THE ACT AND AN ORDINANCE

RECTLARR Act rests on five pillars–social impact assessment (SIA), people’s consent, compensation, resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) and downsizes eminent domain, the government’s power to take private property for public use.

The Act puts a check on the government from indiscriminately acquiring land for uncertain public purposes. It ensures greater public participation by seeking consent from 70 per cent of the people affected by land acquisition in public-private partnership projects and from 80 per cent people in private projects. As per its compensation formula, landowners get four times the market value of rural land and twice of urban land. It is mandatory to resettle and rehabilitate title holders and livelihood losers.

The 119-year-old law’s urgency clause allowed the government to acquire land for any public purpose. RFCTLARR Act narrows down the scope of the clause. The government can now take land under the urgency clause only for national security, in natural calamity, to in any other emergency approved by Parliament. Acquisitions under these three categories do not require people’s consent or social impact assessment. If such acquisitions take place in the Fifth and Sixth Scheduled Areas, as identified in the Constitution, they require the consent of the gram sabha or an autonomous council. The new Act also forbids acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land. In special circumstances, the government will have to develop an equivalent area of cultivable wasteland. RFCTLARR Act is applicable in all land acquisitions in the country except in Jammu and Kashmir.

In a way, the Act took away the government’s powers and gave them to landowners. So, the states tried to find convenient ways to circumvent it. Soon after it was enacted on January 1, 2014, the newly-elected NDA government diluted the Act through an Ordinance. It also tried to amend the Act with similar debatable provisions. The excuse was that the new Act was cumbersome, time-consuming and cost-escalating, making its implementation difficult.

The Ordinance makes the process of acquisition simple when the government needs land for defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors or industrial projects. It exempts these from provisions such as social impact assessment, consent and restriction on multi-cropped land, which uphold people’s rights over land and are a must in RFCTLARR Act.

When an acquired land remains unused for five years, the Act returns it to the original owner or documents it as part of the land bank. The Ordinance gives five years, or any period specified for setting up the development project.

The most debated provision of RFCTLARR Act is the retrospective clause. It states that a land acquisition proceeding will be deemed lapsed in case of a pending process where the compensation award was declared at least five years before 2013, but physical possession of the land was not taken and compensation not paid. This land will either be given back to the land loser, or fresh proceeding under the new Act will commence. “Cases used to drag in courts as people pleaded for higher compensation,” says Namita Wahi, head of land rights initiative Centre for Policy Research. Soon after the Act came into force, the Supreme Court gave landmark judgements under the clause. Many landowners got their land back many others got compensated, an unheard of proposition.

The Ordinance manipulates this clause and makes it government-friendly by excluding that time period in which the acquisition process was held up due to a court order; when a tribunal had specified a time for the possession; and, when land was acquired but compensation amount was lying in court or a designated bank account. This leaves many cases of land acquisition out of the purview of the Act.

“The Ordinance made the new law quite like the 1894 law,” said Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh. The Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament on February 24, 2015 and passed in the Lok Sabha. But it could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha and was referred to the Joint Committee of Parliament. In its several sittings, the committee could not reach a consensus. The fate of the Amendment Bill now rests with the Joint Committee of Parliament.

STATES’ PLOYS

When the Centre failed to make changes in the act, states stepped up to make the alterations. While land is a state subject, requisitions and acquisitions fall in the concurrent list. In such cases, the Central law overrides the state law. But according to the constitution, state governments can amend Central laws with the President’s assent.

One year of CSE investigation reveals that seven states–Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh–have bypassed the law and implemented their own Acts by replicating the ORDINACE (see ‘Status of states’).

The latest to change its law is Andhra Pradesh. The state was complying with the Central Act, conducting social impact assessments and taking people’s consent until July 23, 2013 when Andhra Pradesh received the President’s assent on its amendment Act. Now, the amended Act exempts defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors or industrial projects form social impact assessment and consent. The Act lays down provisions for voluntary acquisition or private negotiations, and reduces the gram sabha’s role to giving advice.

Jharkhand passed its own Act about a month before Andhra Pradesh. Jharkhand’s Amendment Bill was presented to the President twice. The Bill brazenly overlooked the five pillars of RFCTLARR Act. Within a year, it was enacted with only slight changes. Now Jharkhand, too, does not need to conduct social impact assessment to acquire land for schools, hospitals, irrigation projects and housing for the economically weaker section; the gram sabha’s only role is to give advice.

Before the amendment was enforced, Jharkhand was acquiring land without taking people’s consent or conducting social impact assessments. It was changing Acts such as the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act that were making land acquisitions difficult. The social impact assessment report for a coal-fired thermal power plant in Godda district by Adani reads that landowner gave their consent by a show of hands. RFCTLARR Act mandates a written consent. Landowners complain that they received only two to three days’ notice for public hearings instead of the three weeks mandated in the law.

The Tamil Nadu Amendment Act received the President’s assent, which stated that provisions of the Central Act shall not apply to land acquisitions carried out under the Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Harijan Welfare Schemes Act, 1978, the Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Industrial Purposes Act, 1997, and the Tamil Nadu Highways Act, 2001. Incidentally, three-fourths of the acquisitions in the state are done under these three Acts. Maharashtra also exempts four of its state’s Acts from the purview of the Central Act.

Land for the much-talked-about Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, funded by Japan Interactional Cooperation Agency, is being acquired under the Gujarat Amendment Act, 2016. It will affect several farmers of southern Gujarat and northern Maharashtra. “The project will affect 192 villages in Gujarat. Fertile and will-irrigated agricultural land is being diverted for the train project, but no consent has been sought from gram sabhas, nor a social impact assessment done,” says Jayesh Patel, president of Gujarat Khedut Samaj, working for farmers’ rights for more than 45 years. “The acquisition is in violation of not only our fundamental rights but also human rights,” he adds.

SMALL CHANGES

While the seven states have more or less adopted the provisions laid down in the Ordinance, 14 states have made minor modifications to RFCTLARR Act (see ‘Laws on land’ on p37). These modifications drastically weaken the effect of the Act. Its poor implementation further deprives people of their rights.

“Over the years, the government has found it increasingly difficult to acquire land for industries. So states tweak legislations to make land acquisition a quick and easy process,” said Sanjay Basu Mallick, farmer rights activist based in Ranchi.

What hurts landowners most is the cut in compensation. “RFCTLARR Act gives so much compensation to rural landowners that it should deter the government from acquiring land. But changes to the compensation formula make acquisitions lucrative for the industry,” says Pranay Kumar of CRADLE, an R&R implementing non-profit Ranchi.

As per the compensation formula, the market value of land is multiplied by two in rural areas and by one in urban areas for compensation. This amount is then doubled to give solace to the land loser, thus ensuring them compensation amount four times the market value in rural areas and twice the value in cities. But Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tripura have modified this provision and reduced the compensation amount. The result is that landowners get half the compensation amount eligible under the Central Act (see ‘On the ground’ on p38-39).

Rural land for the highly ambitious Greater Noida International Airport is being acquired with this compensation cut. Set to become operational by 2022-23 in Jewar tehsil of Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar district, acquisition has been initiated under RFCTLARR Act. Farmers are resisting the project because the state government has classified their land as urban. This makes them eligible for compensation only two times the market rate, instead of four times. The government has failed to give people adequate compensation, but it has conducted social impact assessment for the airport.

The success of social impact assessment largely depends upon the body that conducts it. The Haryana government has directed Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) to conduct the assessments for every land acquisition in the state. An HSIIDC official, who did not wish to be named, said the corporation does not have the capacity to conduct so many assessments and public hearings. So it plans to outsource the responsibility to a third party. In such cases, the social impact assessment reports are of poor quality and at times even plagiarized.

Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Odisha, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu and Tripura have reduced the notice period to hold public hearings. This ensures minimum public participation and minimises the chances of the affected families being influenced by land activists.

To reduce the arbitrary powers of the district collector, RFCTLARR Act directs setting up of independent expert groups and social impact assessment units to assess if the project serves a public purpose. But in Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Kerala, government officials, deep-neck in the process, are part of such bodies. For instance, in Uttarakhand, the expert group is chaired by the chief development officer. Commissioner R&R has been given the responsibility of the social impact assessment unit in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Kerala, thus creating a conflict of interest.

“Such subversion of the law is against the spirit of democracy,” said N C Saxena, former secretary to the Union Ministry of Rural Development.

Overturning the 1894 land acquisition law, which gave civil courts the power to settle land disputes, RFCTLARR Act directs setting up of a separate judicial court in each district. The court must clear cases related to land acquisition, compensation, and re habilitation and resettlement within six months. CSE probe reveals that only six states–Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand–have established separate judicial courts. In Assam, Jharkhand and Karnataka, district courts do the job.

ANOTHER BYPASS

While changing the law and making slight modifications is one way states acquire and, making direct purchase through negotiations with the willing seller is another.

Purvanchal Expressway, Uttar Pradesh’s six-lane highway will connect the historic towns of Ghazipur and Azamgarh with its capital city, Lucknow. “Ninety-three per cent land for Purvanchal Expressway has already been purchased. There was no trouble acquiring it even though only compensation was given. People were not rehabilitated or resettled. The acquiring process for the remaining land is underway,” says Sanjay Chawla, deputy collector, Uttar Pradesh Expressway Industrial Development and Authority.

“The process is faster under direct purchase, so we offer enhanced compensation over and above the amount prescribed under the Act,” says Shivaji Devbhat, sub-divisional magistrate (land acquisition), Maharashtra. The state promises 25 per cent enhanced compensation and Chandigarh 10 per cent if land is obtained through direct negotiation. Landowners also get the benefit of stamp duty and registration fee waiver on further purchase of any land.

Odisha has notified instructions for direct purchase of up to 10 hectares in one village. Delhi, Chandigarh, Goa, Telangana, Jharkhand have passed their policies to facilitate land acquisition by direct negotiations, private purchase or land pooling.

Gao has a policy for direct procurement of land to set up public-private partnership projects on priority basis without taking people’s consent or doing R&R. it has also formulated the Goa Requisition and Acquisition of Property Bill, which lies with the legislative assembly for deliberation.

Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram have passed their own Acts because under the special status granted to them, Central Acts do not apply to them unless the legislative assembly decides so.

Arunachal Pradesh acquires land as per Jhum Land Regulations, 1947. This does not require any formal acquisition proceeding but landowners get the opportunity to demand showcause against such acquisitions. Nagaland also follows its age-old state Act.

Mizoram has passed its own land acquisition Act, but upholds the Central law. “State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) and the panchayati raj conduct social impact assessments,” said Khuangthansanga Pakhuangte, core faculty of the institute, “SIRD hires and trains locals to conduct social impact assessment as they understand the problems of the affected people and find solutions effortlessly,” he added.

A good example of RFCTLARR Act implementation is Meghalaya. “We do not fear carrying out the tedious process of social impact assessment and consent even for small tracts of land. People are accommodative as there opinion matters. The process is clear and transparent and no intermediary or third party is involved,” says Aiban Swer, director, Meghalaya Institute of Governance.

LOOPHOLES IN THE LAW

All said and done, RFCTLARR Act is procedure-heavy, and therefore, leads to delays. The entire acquisition process can take four-and-a-half years to complete and involves multiple steps. A series of committees have to be set up to take crucial decisions. An independent body has to be set up to conduct social impact assessment. Its report is appraised by another expert group. An R&R committee, a state-level committee and a national monitoring committee have to be instituted to evaluate reports presented by junior committees.

Second, RFCTLARR Act curtails government’s powers to acquire land under the principle of eminent domain. At the same make binding the recommendations of the expert group, decides if there is a bonafide public purpose. The government can proceed with the acquisition process even if the recommendations suggest otherwise. This gives the government immense powers to silent people’s voice.

This apart, when the Act defines the public purpose, it embraces wide ranging areas. Defence, infrastructure, industry, tourism, sports and health can, in fact, encompass all purposes. For instance, a tourist resort in the dense forests of Karnataka can qualify as serving a public purpose, irrespective of being privately or government owned. The term public purpose still battles to find its true meaning.

Third, the five-year development plan for people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes returns the rights due to people who lose their land, but a big drawback is that the Act does not specify that a monitoring body should watch its implementation. “Monitoring compliance is difficult and stakeholders lack the capacity to do so,” said Madhusudan Hanumappa, expert on social impact assessment and R&R.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

A good land acquisition legislation should strike a balance between direct and indirect costs. Direct cost is what developers pay to land losers as compensation for the land acquired and to resettle and rehabilitate them. Indirect cost is what developers pay to carry out the procedures, manage multi-layered bureaucracy, as well as the revenue foregone due to the time taken to acquire land. RFCTLARR Act has increased both the costs. “Any amendment to the law should substantially increase direct costs and drastically cut down indirect costs. By delaying the process of acquisition, the Act unfortunately does not strike a good balance,” Saxena says.

Developers seem satisfied paying direct costs, but are perturbed by the indirect costs, especially the time taken for land acquisition. The consequence is that states have started promoting direct purchase of land, even if the compensation amount is higher. “Direct purchase has its cons, but we shall steer towards such a way of acquiring land,” Saxena adds.

Other ways of obtaining land is also gaining popularity (see ‘Land lease reduces conflicts’). People queued up to give their land for the development of Amaravati, the planned capital city of Andhra Pradesh. As per this land pooling model, for every acre (0.4 hectare) given for development projects, the landowner will get 1,000 square yards of developed residential plot and 450 square yards of developed commercial plots. Farmers have voluntarily offered 13,354 hectares to the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority.

NITI Aayong has lauded land pooling as a model for the nation to emulate. On October 18, this year, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) notified Land Pooling Regulations which allows DDA to use consolidated land for development projects. The land loser will get a part of the developed land back. So far, it is unclear if landowners are benefitting from such methods of acquisition. “RFCTLARR Act is one legislation which deters the very procedure it is laying out rules for,” says Ramesh. If the objective of the Act was to minimize acquisition and promote purchase, then the Act has made a headway. However, the states’ methods of acquisition are certainly not in favour of landowners. The government will have to seriously look at the original Act and make some amendments.

While the unrealistic timeline of the land acquisition process needs to be rectified, the government also needs to be nuanced about where the law can be applied. The provisions of RFCTLARR Act do not apply to 13 enactments specified within the Act. These include railways, national highways, atomic energy and electricity. Provisions as important as social impact assessment and consent are required in the smallest projects, but are not required for projects under these 13 enactments that acquire huge chunks of land.

The robust RFCTLARR, breathing for over five years now, has not really left anyone happy. Seven states have downright rejected the Act to create their own. The rest are likely to follow soon. It’s time for the authorities to sit and take crucial decisions to take the country forward.

 

Bichhri Industrial  cluster

Care issue: The Industry filed multiple interlocutory applications over a period of 15 years to avoid compliance of the judgement.

Background: In 1989, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court against Hindustan Agro Chemicals Limited for polluting the land and water in Bichhri village in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district.

Verdict: In 1996 the court observed that “toxic untreated waste waters were allowed to flow out freely and because the untreated toxic sludge was thrown in the open in and around the complex, the toxic substances have percolated deep into the bowels of the earth polluting the aquifers and the sub-terrain supply of water”. It said water in the wells and the streams had become unfit for human consumption and the soil was unsuitable for cultivation. In November 1997, the court ordered the company to immediately pay `37.4 crore towards the costs of remediation. Following the judgement, the company filed several interlocutory applications. Calling the application as delaying tactics, the Supreme Court in 2011 asked the company to pay the fine long with compound interest @12 per cent per annum from November 1997 till the amount is paid or recovered. The company was also asked to pay costs of litigation.

Patancheru-Bollaram industry cluster

Core issue: 224 industrial units in Telangana’s Patancheru-Bollaram industrial cluster dumped untreated chemical waste that polluted the soil and water in over 20 villages.

Background: A writ petition was filed before the Supreme Court in 1990 under Article 32 of the Constitution asking for the state and the Centre to provide drinking water to the people living in the villages being affected by chemical industrial pollution. In October 2001, the Supreme Court transferred the case to the Andhra Pradesh High Court which further transferred it to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2013.   

Verdict: Observing that the groundwater quality had not improved even after decades of litigation, NGT directed the state government to restore all the water bodies and recover the cost from the industrial units. It also directed the state government to supply drinking water to the affected villages, paid by the polluting industries. They were also ordered to compensate the people for a period from 1986-1987 to 2001-2002 at the rate of `1,000 per acre (0.4 hectares) per annum in case of dry land and `1,700 per acre per annum in case of wet agricultural land. The state government was asked to constitute an expert committee to look into the health ramifications of the industrial pollution and set up a government super specialty hospital, funded by the industrial establishments (75 per cent0 and the state (25 per cent).  

Eloor and Edayar industrial zones

Core issue: The Periyar river between Eloor and Edayar in Kerala has been severely polluted by the alleged dumping of untreated toxic waste and effluents by around 400 industries.

Background: The process of industrialization in the Eloor-Edayar region started in the 1950s with the setting up of Hindustan Insecticides Limited in the area. In eh early 1990s, anti-pollution demonstrations started in the area. In 1997, a Supreme Court-appointed High Power Committee was set up to examine all matters relating to hazardous waste and violation of environmental laws. In 2004, while hearing a petition filed in the same year, the Supreme Court took the Kerala State Pollution Control board (KSPCB) to task over the sorry state of the river.

Current status: In February 2017, a report was submitted in NGT to highlight how little had changed over the years. On September 2018, NGT ordered for remediation of the Kuzhikandam Thodu creek leading to the Periyar river at an estimated cost of `25.93 crore. It said 60 per cent of the cost would be borne by the state government and the polluting industries and the remaining would be paid by the Centre. It also ordered KSPCB to ensure all industries located in the area install treatment plants. On November 14, it ordered the Centre to deposit its share with the state government within three weeks.

 

I WISH I had accepted the offer by the local exporters to sell apples in October,” says 45-year-old Gulzar Ahmed Malik, owner of an orchard in Jammu and Kashmir’s Shopian district, often called the Apple Basket of the state. He decided to wait till mid-November as apple prices peak around Diwali.

In the evening of November 2, rains started, but as night fell, it turned into snow, and continued for the next 24 hours. By the time the sun shone again, about half a metre thick snow had transformed the trees laden with apples worth 550 cartons into white mounds. The snowfall had split the trunks of many of Malik’s apple trees and the frost introduced moisture into the apples, which over the next few days developed dark blotches, leaving them discoloured and soggy.

Malik has never seen such heavy snowfall in early November in the two decades he has been running his orchard. The Valley usually receives snowfall between December and February and by then the fruits are plucked and the apple trees undergo foliage loss, says Manzoor Ahmed Qadri, director of the Kashmir horticulture department.

In Shopian, where damage assessment is still underway even after a month of the snowfall, initial estimates suggest over 40 per cent of the apple trees were damaged, says Abdul Hamid, chief horticulture officer, Shopian. In the neighbouring horticulture district of Kulgam, which has completed its assessment, 50 per cent of the 7 million apple trees were damaged, says Shameem Ahmed Wani, district development commissioner, Kulgam. Of these, 15 per cent were “completely damaged”, which mean they got either “uprooted, or broken beyond repair”. The assessment excludes trees too old or too young to bear fruit, indicating that the long-term damage of the snowfall would be higher. Wani say the unexpected snowfall may have affected over 0.13 million farmers in the Valley’s two districts alone.

“The last time it snowed in the first week of November was in 2009, but the amount of snow was negligible,” says Sonam Lotus, director of the state’s meteorology department. According to the weather station in Srinagar, precipitation (snowfall and rains) this November stood at 118.1mm, the highest since 1980. In the 33 years between 1980 and 2018, the precipitation that month never crossed 50 mm. the weather observatory station at Qazigund, closest to the two hortivulture districts, recorded 115 mm precipitation in the first week of November.

Without a warning

Besides the loses, the recent snowfall highlights two worrying aspects: erratic weather events are increasing in the Valley and the government is largely ill-prepared to handle them. “We have witnessed an increase in droughts, floods, snow-less years and untimely heavy snowfall in the past two decades,” says Shakeel Romshoo, head, Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Kashmir. The Valley has recorded at least four extreme weather events in the last four years. Romshoo blames it on climate change.

On the other hand, the meteorology department has failed to predict the erratic weather events. Most orchard owners say had they been warned of the November snow, they would have plucked and packed the apples that were ready by October. The last warning issued by the department, released on the social media on October 30, ready, “A spell of light to moderate rain, snow (over higher reaches) at most likely during 31st (October) night to 3rd November, with maximum intensity on 1st and 2nd November in J&K”. The warning at best predicted, “moderate snowfall…on Mughal Road, Zojila, Sinthan Top, north Kashmir, mountains of Ladakh, mainly Kargil district etc”. There was no mention of snowfall in Shopian and Kulgam.

Calling the event “unprecedented, very rare”, Lotus says 100 per cent accuracy is not possible due to the “instability in the atmosphere”. He, however, accepts that “there is scope for improvement in forecasting. But what we have, we are using it well to give people an understanding of the weather to come”.

State’s cold response

A week after the November snow, the Jammu and Kashmir government termed it “untimely, unexpected and intense” and notified it as “state-specific special natural calamity”. So far, snowfall is not considered a disaster under the state’s Disaster management Policy, released in 2011. Frost conditions and avalanche are categoriesed as a disaster though. State’s chief secretary B V R Subhra-manyam has announced `10 crore to each of the affected districts and asked for additional assistance to the affected famers from the State Disaster Response Fund. The state has also declared apple as a perennial crop and enhanced the quantum, of relief from `18,000 a hectare to `36,000 a hectare. Orchard owners, however, say the compensation announced by the government is a cruel joke.

Manzoor Ahmed Dar of Hanand village of Kulgam says he had estimated to earn `2 lakh from his produce, but managed to get only `30,000 after the frost injury. He will receive another `10,800 as compensation for his orchard of 6 kanals (0.3 hectares). “I spent `60,000 on the orchard this year and took a loan to buy the pesticides. How will I repay that loan now?” asks Dar, adding that his effective loss is over `1.5 lakh even after the government support.

Qadir says the government is only focusing on the immediate loses while “the uprooted and broken trees are a loss to the farmer for many years to come”. It takes about five years for an apple tree to start bearing fruits and 10-15 years to mature and yield fully. In Kulgam and Shopian districts, a mature apple tree gives a farmer at last `2,000 per year. So, a single fully damaged tree would mean a farmer losing at least `10,000 over five years.

“In Kulgam alone, we will lose about `600 crore in the next five years,” Wani say. In Shopian too, the district administration fears a loss of `100 crore annually for the next five years  , says Hamid.

For long, orchard owners in Kashmir have been demanding the implementation of crop insurance schemes, which can provide some relief to the farmer in the event of a crop failure. The government, however, has been dragging its feet over it. The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana was approved by the state government last year, but it is yet to be implemented due to “non finalization of insurance company”. In February 2018, the state Cabinet approved the Restructured Weather-Based Crop Insurance Scheme for cash crops like apple and saffron, but it is yet to be implemented.

In the wake of the snow disaster, a central team of the Technical Advisory Committee visited Kashmir “to finalize the modalities for crop insurance schemes… in Kashmir division for apple and saffron”. This development has not excited the orchard owners who say the move is reactionary and lacks intent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE INDIAN milk sector, which surpassed the European Union to become the world’s biggest producer in 2017-18, is growing like never before. A recent report by global analytical company CRISIL forecasts a steady growth in milk sales in coming years and a 50 per cent faster growth in the value-added dairy products sector. Sniffing windfall gains, national and international players are entering Indian dairy sector, widening procurement networks and expanding dairy portfolio. These developments should usher in good news for the country’s 73 million small and marginal dairy farmers who have been struggling to recover the production cost for the past three years. But N Adinarayan, a marginal dairy farmer from Mandambarpalli village in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district does not think so. And he has a reason.

“Earlier, procurement units used to refuse to pay us a fair price citing surplus supply and a slump in global milk price. They now ay the market is flooded with cheaper milk,” informs Adnarayan. But the fact is dairies supplying cheaper alternatives actually sell soya milk mixed with dairy. In last three years, milk procurement rate in Chittoor has remained `18-20 per litre, whereas the production cost has increased to `24-28. These dairies are selling their formulation at as low as `15 and keeping the rate further depressed, he adds.

In Maharashtra’s drought-hit Beed district, 31-year-old Nilesh Chipde is equally worried. In 2014, he quit his high-paying job in business management to set up a dairy farm with over 100 cows and supplies milk to dairy processing units in the district. “What I see is most these units mix vegetable oil, such as palm oil, with milk fat to produce cheese and butter. T hey push the products by using distorted logos or brand names of established companies, and their consumer base rang from individuals to restaurants and confectionery shops,” says Chipde, adding that the practice has increased in the past couple of years.

Even big players are passing off products made using vegetable oil and milk solids, as pure dairy products. Market experts say the organized market of these product, dubbed analogue dairy products, stands at over `30,000 crore in India. If one takes into account the unorganized sector, it is well over `50.000 crore. says Vijay Sardana. commodity expert in Delhi.

Of late, the Indian dairy industry has raised its concerns about such products churned out by big players like Hindustan Unilever (HUL) ITC Ltd, Future Group, Cargill India and several local companies. In 2017, the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), owner of Amul brand, launched an advertisement

campaign that emphasized the difference between ice-creams (made from milk fat) and frozen desserts (made from vegetable oil). Though HUL’S Kwality Wall’s, leader in frozen desserts market in the country, dragged Amul to court, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) sided with Amul and has since asked all companies dealing in fast-moving consumer goods not to sell frozen products in the name of ice creams or under the garb of dairy products if they contain plant-derived fats.

Dark side of analogues

The use of dairy analogues is not new to India. In the early 19805, the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Karnal, conducted research on alternative dairy products to fill the gap between demand and supply of milk. “We did research on alternatives like soya milk when the country was facing milk crisis,” says Kaushik Khamuri, scientist at NDRI. “Now it is irrelevant as we are world leader in milk production,”

Utterly butterly analogues

The nutrition level of most alternative milks, such as those derived from almond, soyabean and grains, are low when compared with dairy milk. They, however, provide safer alternatives for those who are averse to milk; the lactose intolerant; those who are allergic to milk protein casein; those who follow veganism; or those who follow dairy-free diet due to calorie or cholesterol restriction. But for commercial enterprises manufacturing pizzas, tacos, confectionery, milk beverages, cheese, yoghurt and frozen treats, these dairy look-alikes have emerged as amt-cutting opportunities.

For instance, explains Sardana, HUL’S frozen dessert ‘which is being sold as ice cream is made by substituting `700 per kg milk this with `60 per kg of edible palm oil. Similarly, sugar and maltodextrin (white powder made from corn. rice or potato starch) any major ingredients of skimmed milk powder products (SM P). While the retail price of one such SMP Nestle’s Everyday Dairy Whitener is `350 per kg, sugar does not cost more than `35 per kg (see ‘Utterly butterly…’).

“Alternatives like palm oil have also been a common mix in sweets, cheese and butter available in the Open market” says Sardana. But in recent years, dairy farmers are using those as milk adulterant. This is probably to compensate for losses incurred due to a slump in milk price, he adds.

An official with K C Group, soya milk machine manufacturer in Delhi, explains the profit potential of dairy analogues. One can extract some seven litres of milk from 1 kg soyabean, which costs `40. Even though the soya milk making machine costs `1.5 lakh, ballpark estimate shows the production cost of a litre of soya milk is as low  as `5.50. It means huge profits even if the farmer sells the milk at the lowest rate of `15. “Most orders for our machine come from smaller towns of Utter Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The demand for soya milk is negligible in those cities. Why would people buy the machines if not for selling soya milk as adulterant,” says the official, who does not wish to be named.

D S Mishra, advisor to Rajasthan-based cooperative Saras Milk Federation, also says cases of adulteration am mostly reported from states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where cooperatives are weak, and private players control the procurement net-work and dictate milk price.

Time to draw the line

Analysts say the market of dairy analogues is growing because of ignorance among consumers as well as lax regulations. For instance, most confectionery shops use palm oil to make Khoa (condensed milk). “FSSAI has defined Khoa but does not define barfi made using Khoa,” says Sameer Saxena, manager (quality assurance), GCMMF.

The absence of labelling regulations that can differentiate dairy analogues from pure dairy pendulum are missing. “The rightful income of dairy farmers is being diverted to dairy analogues, which further impacts the health of consumers,” says R S Khanna, chairperson of Kwality Ltd, Delhi-based dairy company. “Dealing with dairy alternatives, their labeling and specification, and differentiating them from dairy products are complex issues,” says Sunil Bakshi, advisor at FSSAI. “The rules for checking dairy analogues are under consideration of the scientific panel,” he adds.

Saxena, however, says the dairy industry wants regulation that the public can use to physically differentiate dairy products from non-dairy products. “We believe non-dairy products should be named just beverages or sold under some other name.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MADHVI SHARMA, 37, is three-month pregnant and distraught. On November 5, officials from the nearby Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Hospital came to her house in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha district. Cases were reported form Sironj–the block where Madhive lives. The team was particularly targeting pregnant women because Zika can deform fetuses. On finding she was pregnant, they collected her blood sample. Ten days later, block medical officer R L Dinkar and a paediatrician from the hospital came and a paediatrician from the hospital came and told her she had Zika and must undergo an abortion if she did not want to have a deformed baby. Madhvi’s first two children–both girls–are differently abled and her third child–a boy–had died within hours after birth.

Officials also advised Neeta Sahu, who lives in the same locality as Madhvi, to undergo abortion. She did so on November 26. Did the officials overreact in advising abortion?

India is in the middle of its first major Zika outbreak. Between September 22 and November 2, a total of 289 people have been found Zika positive in Madhya Pradesh (130) and Rajasthan (159)–the only two states with conferment cases. Since fatality in Zika is just 8.3 per cent, as per a 2017 paper in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, governments have not taken steps to deal with the virus. It was always known to cause mild fever, and was less dangerous than even dengue and chikungunya viruses, which are also carried by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Zika. But during the 2015 outbreak in Brazil, it became evident that Zika can deform foetuses.

This made governments across the globe take note. The World Health Organization declared a “public health emergency of international concern” on February 1, 2016. “10-15 per cent Zika positive pregnant women have babies with microcephaly, or underdeveloped head and brain,” says Nivedita Gupta, senior scientist at the Indian council of Medical Research’s epidemiology and communication division. As a result Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan too increased surveillance of pregnant women living in Zika affected areas.

But to advise abortion based on a preliminary blood test report appears extreme. Madhya Pradesh officials deny that they are advising abortion. “At this point we have absolutely no intention to ask mothers to undergo abortion. We are ensuring they take regular ultrasound tests to note any deformity in foetus. If a deformity is detected, we would take the case to the districts headquarters to confirm the abnormality with best-available ultrasound machines. Only then we would counsel mothers to consider abortion. It’s their call,” principal secretary of the Madhya Pradesh health department, Pallavi Jain Govil, told Down To Earth (DTE).

There is also an inexplicable secrecy about the screening process in Madhya Pradesh. “When the officials came with the test result on November 15, they took an undertaking from me that I had been informed about Zika, advised abortion and that if I continued with the pregnancy, it would be at my own risk,” says Madhvi. “They did not give any receipt or copy of the report or the undertaking.”

The chaos

Apart from Vidisha, where 50 cases have been reported, Bhopal (53), Sehore (21), Sagar (2), Raisen (2) and Hoshangabad (2) are the other Zika-affected districts of Madhya Pradesh. DTE accessed the list of all Zika patients in the state from officials who do not want to be named, and talked to three pregnant women in Bhopal and one in Sehore. But none of the four were even aware that they had the virus. “What Zika? No official ever told us that she is suffering from Zika,” says the husband of Deepika Satankar, who lives in Bhim Nagar, Bhopal. Babli Rajak and Aarti Ahirwal too denied being aware of Zika. Same was the case with Sarita Tarachand of Sehore. DTE could not access details of measures taken by the Rajasthan government because Sunil Singh, joint director, Rajasthan health department, refused to talk.

Could the government have been better prepared? “It was a bolt from the blue for us,” says Govil. However, Himanshu Jayswar, the nodal officer for National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, Madhya Pradesh, says that after the outbreak in Rajasthan, the Madhya Pradesh government got a letter from Union health ministry on October 9 and a statewide advisory was issued. The first cases were reported on October 30, one each from Bhopal, Sehore and Vidihsa, and after that the government started containment drives by doing door-to-door surveys. “We issued treatment and surveillance advisories as per the protocol given by the ministry. The larvae identification zones were killed. Sample collection from the affected areas was also increased. All the samples were sent to AIIMS-Bhopal,” he says.

Fear of the unknown

But why were these districts affected? “We don’t know yet,” says Jayswar. The stat government has sent al the blood samples to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) to identify the virus strain. “A lot of people travel between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh but we cannot say anything conclusively till we get the report from NIV,” Jayaswar adds.

The strain of the virus in India is still a worry. In the case of Rajasthan, the Union government issued a press communiqué on November 3, quoting ICMR experts, which says that the “known” mutations of the virus do not cause microcephaly. However, Nivedita Gupta of ICMR says, “We are still not sure about the unknown mutations that may or may not cause microcephaly. It is an ongoing research. We have not been able to do sequencing of the virus strain found in Madhya Pradesh and whether it causes microcephaly. The virus could also lead to delayed developments in children born to Zika-affected mothers.” The sequencing could not be done because the volume of collected samples was not enough, she adds.

This is not the first incidence of Zika in India. In 1954, NIV had found Zika antibody in 16.8 per cent of the samples, as per a 2017 paper published in Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz, a Brazillian journal. “Three cases identified in Gujarat and one in Chennai did not reveal any travel history to ZIKV [Zika virus] endemic region, suggesting that the ZIKA is not a recent introduction into the country and it may have been present as a vector-borne entity albeit in a silent, low key ecological niche,” the paper states, referring to four sporadic Zika cases reported in India in 2016-17.

The Zika virus has two lineages–Asian and African. According to Gupta, the African strain was discovered in a monkey in Uganda in 1947. Over time, the virus mutated to a more dangerous strain, which spreads easily, known as Asian strain in the 2000s. It broke out in the Yap islands (2007), French Polynesia (2013-14) and Brazil (2016). The strain in Rajasthan was of Asian lineage, an ICMR scientist told DTE, requesting anonymity.

Breeding ground

What next?

India has Asia’s most Zika-exposed population. A 2017 paper in BMJ Global Health says that 465.7 million people could become infected by the virus in an outbreak under circum-stances which led to the outbreak in the Americas (see ‘Breeding ground’). “At the country level, we project that India has the potential for the largest number of ZIKV infections by more than six-fold that of any other country, mainly due its large population and relatively high suitability for ZIKV transmission,” the paper states.

India could also be a breeding ground for Zika virus. “The environment in India is conducive for the Ae, aegypti mosquitoes. Though these mosquitoes breed throughout the year in and around the houses in potable water sources, the density is extremity high during monsoon since more available. High humidity and optimal temperature support their survival for many days,” states a 2017 paper published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research. The paper points out that in India people face perennial water shortage due to which they tend to store water where this mosquito breeds. Madhya Pradesh principal secretary Govil too confirmed that most of the places where the larvae were detected had no supply of water and the community had to store water. Since Zika is largely asymptomatic in 80 per cent adult cases and can be confused with dengue or chikungunya, it is reasonable to assume that total number of cases in India are under-reported, wrote Farah Ishtiaq of Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, in a 2018 paper.

All the experts agree that vector control is key to control Zika. Requesting anonymity, an ICMR scientist told DTE that the institute has advised the health ministry to identify the foci areas of vector breeding before the breeding season and start robust surveillance. The government must also conduct research on Zika and teach it in medical colleges. It is yet to be introduced by the Medical Council of India in its curriculum.

HOW NOT to allow inconvenient public research: this has to be a case study that all corporate are taught in business schools. Why do I say this? Because there is a pattern that corporate India follows when it comes to ensuring that such research is besmirched to the point that scientists, who n any case are resistant to join discordant discourses, are pushed to the point to even greater reticence and retirement.

We saw this when it came to pesticide contamination in our food. First, when the issue of pesticide toxicity broke, it was government scientists, weaned n the idea of using pesticides for growth that came to the assistance of the beleaguered pesticide industry. Then when scientists broke rank to do research on the toxicity o pesticides and their link with human health, industry went ballistic. Their strategy was always to ensure that they targeted each researcher individually; they attacked the science and then invariably went after the individual.

This was the case with government scientists working on endosulfan poisoning in Kerala’s Kasaragod district; government scientists who dared to do research on the health impacts of pesticide usage in cotton fields of Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra and those who started to investigate other such cases. The actions from industry were always quick and nasty and sadly effective. This is why, in the past few years, there is little research on pesticide toxicity–no Indian government scientist will take on this task as it would invite retaliation.

But why am I writing this now? Because the same strategy is at play to ensure the inconvenient research on the sources of air pollution is besmirched and killed.

The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MOES) published a percent report on the sources of air pollution in Delhi. From the date the report was published the Society for Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has been hammering away at it–disputing facts and challenging its conclusions. When questions on the technical issues raised in the report were answered, it has continued to lobby against the report. Why? Why should this scientific report raise the hackles of LIAM? Way this virulent campaign?

Because this report is inconvenient. It establishes that vehicles contribute 40 per cent of the total pollution load in Delhi–roughly half the PM2.5, more than 60 per cent of the NOx emissions and over 80 per cent of carbon monoxide load. All this means that action to combat air pollution must drive changes in the fuel, technology of commercial and light-duty vehicles and must target the number so that we can move, but without more individual vehicles.

So, what does SIAM want? It wants government to back down and take this research off its website. But this is not all. It also has its pet research for which it wants credence. This research has been supported by another government ministry, the Department of Heavy Industry, and has been done by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI). This study “establishes” that vehicles only contribute some 15-23 per cent of the PM2.5 load in the city. Even less when you take into account PM10. It is dust that is the bigger problem–adding upto 42 per cent of the pollution load.

Even if you put aside the obvious conflict of interest of the ministry that is in charge of promoting the vehicle industry or of the automotive research association, which is directly funded by the vehicle manufacturers, the fact is that comparing the two studies is completely erroneous. The MOES study is an emission inventory, which looks at total pollution load from different sources. While the ARAI-TERI study is source apportionment–which takes the particulates and fingerprints–or tracks–back to the sources. Apples and oranges, scientifically speaking.

Given the toxicity of the air we are breathing we need to address all sources of pollution–vehicles, industry and dust. But industry needs to be in the clear–somebody else is responsible. Not us. We are a small part of the problem, they say. The ARAI-TERI study helped them establish this. Now, they do not want the apple-cart rocked.

So, they have no worry about the fallout of this attack. They are going all out–even requisitioning the services of eminent scientists in questioning the results. It is inconvenient. It is wrong. I say this with some confidence that the same vehicle industry cannot anymore argue that air pollution is not toxic or that diesel emissions are not likely carcinogenic. This is what they tried hard to “establish” through their science for the past some years. So, I believe, public science will survive the assault of industry. It must.

Crisis looming

India’s booming cities could face a situation like South Africa’s Cape Town if they do not put in place proper water management plans soon. Already, our urban centres are making headlines for water rationing months before the lean period. In “World of Cape Towns” (16-31 March, 2018), Down To Earth reported that the residents of Cape Town had drilled numerous holes in the city’s water pipes to collect water after strict rationing was introduced. At that time, the water quota stood at 50 litres per person per day.

Green Revolution hiked food prices

This refers to the article “is India food surplus?” (16-31 November, 20180. It is not a matter of being food surplus, but the buying capacity of 58 per cent of the country’s population. The Green Revolution eliminated small farmers and farm workers and replaced organic manure with chemical fertilizers. This not only destroyed microflora but also raised food prices. The movement also eliminated all crops except paddy and wheat and encouraged the import of pulses and oilseeds. This gave rise to exports, thus, depriving India’s own people of food. Policymakers and scientists never thought about food production for the people.

Enriched eggs

This refers to the article “Egg of the matter” (1-15 November, 2018). Mahatma Gandhi once said when flaxseed becomes a regular food among the people, there will be better health. Flaxseed is popularly known as alsi in Hindi, Gujarati and Punjai, tishi in Tai. Its scientific name Linum usitatissimum means the most useful. It was used as food by the ancient Greeks and Romans. In modern times, it is mainly used as livestock feed.

Flaxseed is an excellent source of fibre and a good source of minerals and vitamins. It is a rich source of essential fatty acids (omega-3) and linoleum acid (omega-6).

Baigas’ special millet

This refers to the article “Will sikiya return?” (16-31 August, 2018). Li would like to congratulate the author for the special story on sikiya, a millet consumed by the Baiga tribal community of Madhya Pradesh. It is disheartening that the Baigas are growing crops like pulses (arhar) to supplement their income, leaving behind the legacy of sikiya. This kind of reliance on monocropping, besides destroying food diversity, is also responsible for malnutrition among the tribals. As we celebrate the national year of millets, sikiya and other such rare millets should be promoted for better health and nutrition.

It was great ot know that a millet like sikiya actually exists. The facts of the story are quite interesting. It is sad to know that even though the Baigas have been consuming sikiya for generations, theMadhya Pradesh government’s agriculture department has not show any interest to promote and popularize this millet. I wish the government takes appropriate steps to increase the production of sikiya after reading the report.

The article on sikiya was truly informative. It is depressing to note that the nutrient-rich sikiya is losing its relevance even among the Baigas, who have cherished it for centuries even though the millet is being grown in Poland and Germany. Efforts should be made to popularize this millet.

Avni’s killing

This refers to the article “What is the exact procedure to remove a man-eater? Published in the website on 9 November, 2018. Preservation and protection of tigers is trhe prime responsiblityof the Indian government. Despite the fact that the tigress Avni was considered dangerous for having preyed on 13 humans, the forest officials should have protected her rather than killing her by flouting all norms of the wildlife code. This dastardly act is condemnable because the killing of the tigress was officially mandated. I fact, the shooter instead of tranquillizing the tigress, committed a grave blunder by killing her. It is unfortunate that due to the environment ministry turning a blind eye, tigers are being killed mercilessly. The need of the hour is protection and conservation of habitat tigers. Even the National Tiger Conservation Authority and animal activists have expressed serious concern over the indiscriminate killing of tigers. Strict punishment to poachers and killers is imperative to save animals from being killed.

Sexual harassment

This refers to the Last Word “The others too” (1-15 November, 2018). The piece is an apt comment of the spill-over effect of the MeToo movement that has reached the most unexpected of places: villages, roadside dhabas, rural schools, places of worship and what not. In fact, it has become a movement with not. In fact, it has become a movement, who have been bearing the brunt of male atrocities since time immemorial. However rural women are still ignorant about the significance of the term MeToo. But the facts are slowly unfolding. Whatever be the case, skeletons in the cupboard will bring down the high and mighty and end the self-acquired arbitrariness of the patriarchal society one day. It is a welcome more that the dormant self-esteem of women is getting stronger with each passing day.

Milk crisis

This refers to the article “When milk turns sour” (1-15 November, 2018). Dairy farming has been going through a crisis for a long time. While until a few decades ago, it was a case of low production and unviable prices, today it is a case of high production and low returns. These high-producing cows are no more cows; they are now being turned into biological machines. With an average productive lactation lifespan of two to four years, it is not only unsustainable but also inhuman considering the different types of treatments cows are being subjected to. Against this we have indigenous cows that yield less than half of what crossbreeds yield, but they remain productive for eight to 10 years. Not only is this sustainable from the environmental point of view, but these cows do not need unnecessary human interventions that at times border on unethical practices. Dairy farming is a major source of livelihood in developing countries. But this is in danger due to dumping of milk by developed countries.

Toilet-building exercise

This refers to “World Toilet Day: Why future of Swachh Bharat Mission remains unsure” published in the website on 20 November, 2018. In most villages, women travel miles to fetch drinking water, leave alone water for bathing and washing clothes. They suffer the most due to the lack of toilets. Even though women manage to defecate in the open before dawn, bathing in village ponds is a problem in this age of camera phones. Most people are using toilets as storerooms or have abandoned them cue to the lack of water.

Now, HP to set up land bank

IN YET another move to undermine traditional rights of local people over forests and divert them for projects, the Centre has approved Himachal Pradesh’ request to put dreaded forests in the land bank for compensatory afforestation. It says government wastelands, categorized as protected forests under a 1952 state notification, are to be added to the bank. The state’s 1,290 sq km of degraded forests are under occupation on which people can claim rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. While the state has settled 6 per cent of the claims, it has exempted several projects from gram sabha consent on FRA settlement.

Why the flip-flop on demonetization?

A DAY after the Union agriculture ministry admitted on November 20 that demonetization had hit crop production, the government issued a denial. Citing a jump in wheat production to 98.5 million tonnes (mt) in 2016-17 from 92.29 mt the previous year, the government claimed that demonetization did not hit productivity in 2016-17 rabi season.

It negated media reports on the ministry accepting that a large section of farmers couldn’t procure seeds and fertilizers after the Centre demonetized high-denomination currency notes in 2016. However, while briefing the parliamentary panel, the ministry had said the National Seeds Corporation of India fell short of its sales target for wheat seeds by 17 per cent or 138 thousand quintals (1 quintal is 100 kg) despite a normal monsoon in 2016-17.

Non-antibiotics spur resistance

AS ANTIBIOTIC resistance emerges as a global challenge, scientists are scrambling to understand how to escape the post-antibiotic apocalypse. One such study by the University of Queensland in Australia shows non-antibiotic drugs can also promote antibiotic resistance. Scientists have found that carbamazepine, used to treat epilepsy and neuropathic pain, enhances mating within the same bacterial species and across bacterial genera. Since mating involves the exchange of genetic material, the discovery shows that carbamazepine at environmentally relevant concentration can promote the transfer of multi-antibiotic resistance genes, says the study published in The ISME Journal. Some 1,000 tonnes of carbamazepine is consumed worldwide each year, which can remain in the environment for years because of its resistance to biodegradation.

Half-way across the world in London, scientists have understood the functioning of DNA gyrase, a molecular machine in bacterial cell that allows replication of cells and thus aids in bacteria proliferation. The understanding can help design new drugs that can stop DNA gyrase from working in dangerous bacteria and thus halt their replication.

Prosecute local agencies, send them to

 jail: SC on air pollution measures

AS AIR quality in the national capital continues to be “poor”, the Supreme Court has reprimanded the Centre and civic agencies for lack of action in pollution-related complaints. “Prosecute the local agencies. Send them to jail. That is the only option left,” the court said while responding to the Centre’s statement that 749 complaints were received through social media and 3,000 through “Sameer”, a mobile application of the Central Pollution Control Board that enables people in Delhi to register their complaints. Some have been dealt with, but others are pending with local agencies, the Centre said.

UK, China opt forests, fight climate change

THE UN’S Special Report on 1.5oC seems to have prompted countries to explore radical ways to tackle climate change. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change has calculated that the fart and burp by Britain’s sheep and cattle produces the equivalent of 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year. A 20-50 per cent reduction in beef and lamb pasture can not only reduce emissions but also free 3-7 million hectares (ha) of grassland, which can be converted into forests. The panel suggests increasing the number of pigs and chicken as they produce less methane and chicken as they produce less methane and sifting people’s diet to less-red-meat. In china, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration has announced plans to increase forest cover to 23.04 per cent by 2020; grassland to 56 per cent; rehabilitate 10 million ha of decertified land; and invest in ecological restoration projects.

Understanding whales through sound app

RESEARCHERS HAVE developed a web-based application to enable citizen scientists to listen to the sounds of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the northeast Pacific in real time. The app livestreams audio from underwater microphones, called hydrophones, located in the Salish Sea off the Washington, through the internet to a user’s laptop, phone or tablet. The Orcasound project produced the app to help raise awareness and understanding about ocean noise, and where and when humans and whales overlap. Orcas, along with dolphins, porpoises and other toothed whales communicate using sound, which hydrophones can pick up. Researchers say the app deputizes “citizen scientists” to help them conduct their research on whales, whose population is at the lowest in over 30 years.

Amid falling prices, crops land in manifestos

MADHYA PRADESH: The Mandsaur region, which saw five farmers being shot during agitations last year, has been witnessing stirs as farmers claimed that garlic price fell to `1 per kg earlier this year. A media report claimed that a large section of farmers in the state stopped repaying loans since Congress president. Rahul Gandhi promised to waive loans up to `2 lakh. The BJP promised to invest `50,000 crore in agriculture and expand the area under irrigation to 8 million hectares (ha). It also rolled out a scheme to pay farmers the difference between the market price and MSP. The Congress has also promised to develop agriculture corridors. The Samajwadi Party promised a `5,000-crore fund for farmers, Jail term and `1 lakh penalty for traders who buy crops below the MSP.

RAJASTHAN: The state contributes half of India’s mustard produce, but Centre-state dispute is hurting famers’ interest. Gandhi has talked about the price of garlic falling to `2 per kg.

CHHATTISGARH: Famers in the state reportedly said the MSP of `1,750/ quintal for rice is not enough. The BJP promised to increase the support price for small forest produce by 1.5 times, `1,000 pension/month to marginal farmers and landless agricultural labourers above 60 years, and new pump connections to 200,000 farmers in the next five years. The Congress promised farm loan waiver within 10 days of coming to power, higher MSP, pension for famers.

TELANGANA: The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) promised to waive off farm loans up to `1 lakh, and expand the ‘Rythu Bandhu’ scheme to `10,000/acre of land. CM K C Rao promised a `2,000 crore market stability fund. The Congress promised MSP/quintal of `2,000 for paddy, maize, jowar and bajra: `6,000 for cotton: `7,000 for gram: `5,000 for groundnut and sunflower: `10,000 for chilli, turmeric.

MIZORAM: The state has been grappling with low prices for ginger. The Zoram’s People  Movement, an alliance of regional parties, promised an MSP of `50 per kg; while the Mizo National Front promised “special attention to ginger cultivation and markets”. The Congress vowed to continue with is New Land Use Policy, while BJP promised an insurance policy for farmers; a farm loan waiver commission and transparent implementation of MSP.

 

THE MUCH awaited report, Global Warming of 1.5oC, was expected to jolt governments into action and announce some bold commitments to cut green-house gas emissions. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns about the cata-strophic impacts of climate change if global warming exceeds 2oC above pre-industrial levels, and makes the strongest case to limit it below 1.5oC (see ‘Every bit of warming makes a deference’, Down To Earth, 16-31 October, 2018). But nothing remarkable seems to have happened since.

Countries are proceeding, at both national and international levels, as if nothing has changed since 2015, when the historic Paris Agreement was signed. The Agreement seeks to hold the rise in the global temperature to well below 2oC and pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5oC. To help achieve the target, countries in the lead up to the Paris Agreement had declared their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCS), or domestic action plans to address climate change.

But Climate Action Tracker, which is a collaboration of three research organizations, says the aggregate effect of NDCS, even if they are fully acted on, takes us well past 2oC. The IPCC report says current NDCS would result in 3.5oC rise by the end of the century.

To stay on the right side of the threshold–IPCC estimates the world has only 12 years before it runs over the 1.5oC carbon budget–we need a 45 per cent reduction of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions by 2030, and a further reduction to net zero emissions in 2050 (both targets take 2010 emission levels as a baseline). This requires rapid and far-reaching transformations in our economies and commitments to start the transformation now.

The 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, which will be held from December 3 to 14, offers the perfect platform to initiate this transformation. COP24 is likely to be focused on the Paris Rulebook, which would set out the guidelines and rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement. It is expected to prompt countries to scale up climate action. But can it be achieved without targets?

Time to raise ambition

Currently, countries are required to update their NDCS in 2020. Analysts say revision of NDCS needs to start at Katowice if the world is serious about staying below the 1.5oC target.

Civil society pressure to make the 1.5oC target a priority is increasing, particularly in developed countries. A report by the European Capacity Building Initiative, an initiative in support of international climate negotiations, confirms the wide acceptance that climate efforts before 2020 are seen as vital to reducing global emissions. A newly formed civil society group, The Extinction Rebellion, had a thousand of its members protest in front of the Parliament House in London in October, issuing a declaration of civil disobedience as a means of drawing attention to the unfolding environmental crisis.

Thomas Hale, professor of climate policy at the University of Oxford, UK, says, “The groundswell of climate action from sub-national governments, the private sector and civil society has reached a massive scale, creating big opportunities which were not available a few year ago, for governments to step up their own pledges”. A report by research groups, Data-Driven Yale, New Climate Institute and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, says if current initiatives by individual groups continue to scale up, they could curb emissions by a third before 2030. These, says Hale, combined with stepped up NDCS can put the world on the 1.5oC pathway.

This pressure needs to translate into increased ambition in NDCS in Katowice. There is an avenue available to push for this. Talanoa Dialogue, initiated at COP23 in 2017, is a year-long consultative process to take stock of the collective efforts to reduce emission. It will culminate in Katowice with countries pledging to raise the ambition of their respective NDCS.

However, past experience shows countries tend to postpone negotiations. Increasing ambition has become an “after you, please” topic in international negotiations. This approach is often presented as the desire for equity for the impoverished. While this argument is often made stridently at home and abroad, the fact is these are the people who bear the maximum runt of climate impacts. To refuse to raise climate ambition citing the need for development is to shoot oneself in the foot. The two aims are not contradictory. As Benjamin Schachter, focal Point, Climate Change and Environment, at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says, there is a link between climate action and the success of Sustainable Development Goals, which is why the international community must take the most ambitious climate action to protect human rights, health and welfare. “Failure to take urgent action now clearly breaches human rights obligations,” Schachter adds.

Action should be taken in both developed and developing countries. Rahul Tongia and Sahil Ali, researchers with think-tank Brookings India say, India requires better frameworks aimed at deep decarburizing in energy and other sectors. Though decarburizing the power sector is easier than other sectors, this has limits; variable renewable energy needs large-scale storage solutions. Thongia and Ali say India should thus employ integrated strategies around urban development and land-use, preserve and enhance carbon sinks, and implement sustainable transportation systems.

Countries will also face challenges in raising ambition from groups which do not have an incentive to transition. Hale says there is a “need to find strategies to neutralize opposition from those actors most dependent on fossil fuels”. This requires both pressure to show them the status quo cannot last, and engagement, to help them find a new low-carbon future, he adds.

Equally important is a strong signal from the top. Last three years have seen the spirit of Paris Agreement chipped away be defections, under-whelming commitments from key players and dubious commitment records. If Katowice is to revive the spirit, it must star with seriously pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5oC.

 

AFTER BANNING the exchanges where cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are traded, the Chinese government is cracking down on plants where such currencies are mined. The Yingjiang Administration Bureau for Industry and Commerce, which enforces enterprises and consumer protection laws, has issued a notification to Bitcoin mining facilities in Yunnan province, asking them to register their firms with the Power Supply Bureau. In case of non-compliance, it warned them with power cuts, threatening the very premise on which their mining operations are based. The notifications surfaced after big facilities were found to be using the state-sponsored cheap electricity to mine cryptocurrencies. China accounts for the world’s highest computing power devoted to the crypto mining operations. It has made the country headquarters to some of the biggest crypto mining firms, including crypto giant Bitmain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Maharashtra forest department could have captured Anvi. Then why was she killed?

THE KILLING: On November 2, a sharp shooter, appointed by the Maharashtra forest department, gunned down Avni in the vicinity of Tippeshwar sanctuary. She was six years old with two cubs and was officially called T1. Armed with hand gliders, drones, sniffer dogs and elephants, forest officials were on a three-month search of Avni after courts ordered the department to capture of kill the tigress. Over the past two years, Avni and a male, T2, were suspected to have killed several humans; Avni was responsible for two recent killings.

CONTROVERSY: Animal lovers question whether Avni could have been saved, or at least captured. The National Tiger Conservation Authority does lay down protocols for declaring a tiger a “man-eater” and initiating its removal. While the jury is out on whether these were followed in Avni’s case, analysts observe a breach of the provisions of the Indian Veterinary Council Act 1984 as the order to tranquilise the tigers and her cubs had been entrusted to a person who was not a registered veterinarian. No veterinarian was present n the spot. An independent autopsy report suggests the tranquiliser dart may have been inserted into her thigh after the was shot. Media reports quote state government officials saying the forensics show the tigress was not charging at the term. In that case she would have been shot in her face or chest, not on shoulder.

POLITICS: Avni’s killing has triggered a battle of words between Union Minister for women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi and state forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, both belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Partry. “Tigress Avni could have been saved if Mungantiwar had been a little more patient…Request you to fix responsibility of killing and removing the minister from post,” said Gandhi, a known animal rights activist. Mungantiwar said that she needs to put in her papers owing moral responsibility because of malnutrition deaths. Meanwhile, Jayant Patil, state unit president of the Nationalist Congress Party, alleges that the forest department killed Avni to help mining industries of top business houses in that region.

 

 

After Alleging that India provides huge subsidies to its wheat and rice farmers, the US has again moved the World Trade Organization (WTO) complaining that the market price support for cotton in the country is “vastly in excess of what it has reported to WTO”. The US has also demanded a robust discussion on how India implements its policies at the upcoming WTO Committee on Agriculture meeting. Officials in New Delhi say they will strongly dispute the complaints as they are based on flawed calculations. They do not take the dollar-rupee difference into consideration and assume the entire production is eligible for subsidies.

China flip-flops o rhino, tiger parts

China has backtracked on a recent decision to legalise the “controlled” use of rhino and tiger parts for cultural and medicinal use. In 1993 China banned the trade in tiger bone and rhino horn. In October this year, the government eased the ban and said it would permit the use of rhino and tiger parts obtained from farmed animals for scientific, medical and cultural purposes. This had triggered a wave of protests from environmental groups. A couple of weeks later, Ding Xuedong, deputy secretary-general of China’s State Council. The country’s highest governing authority, issued a statement, saying the implementation of the regulations “has been postponed.” Ding did not give a reason for the postponement. Activists say every wild tiger and rhino would be I jeopardy until china cancels the ban reversal permanently.

 

RESISTANCE TO antibiotics and pesticides is rising at alarming rats, shows the first estimates of antibiotic and pesticide “planetary boundaries”, published in Nature Sustainability. If resistance to antibiotics and pesticides goes beyond these boundaries, societies risk large-scale health and agricultural crises, say the researchers who have assessed the stat of six types of resistance–antibiotic resistance in Gram–negative and Gram-positive bacteria; general resistance to insecticides and herbicides; and resistance to transgenic Bt-crops and glyphosate resistance in herbicide resistant cropping systems. Gram-negative bacteria, which includes well-known pathogens such as Salmonella, Klebsiella pneumonia and E coli, are already beyond the “planetary boundary,” as some strains of several species are alreadyresistant to all or most antibiotics tested. Pesticide resistance is also an urgent concern, particularly resistance to glyphosate and insecticidal Bt-toxins in transgenic crops, which are now widespread. Some herbicides and Bt toxins have already reached regional boundaries with some farming areas reporting large-scale resistance to them.