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Author: Nikhil M Ghanekar

MoEF and WII to begin captive breeding of Great Indian Bustard

Annually, GIB lays one egg and two eggs on some rare occasions. But with proper nutrition, ideal location, temperatures, food and management they can produce more than two eggs per year. The ministry has envisaged that about 25-50 eggs of GIB will be collected from wild habitats over a period of five years. These eggs will be incubated, hatched and their chicks will be reared to achieve a breeding population target of 50-100.The union environment ministry has approved a budget of Rs.33.85 crore for the project. While Rs.81.7 lakh has been sanctioned for Rajasthan, Maharashtra will receive Rs.1.38 crore. Gujarat’s share of Rs.1.10 crore is still under process.

Nikhil M Ghanekar

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Fragile Western Ghats paying price of development

On Friday, dna had reported that Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Gujarat and Kerala have recommended that only 19,702.85 sqkm of eco-sensitive area (ESA) should be retained as against the 56,825 sqkm that was identified by the K Kasturirangan-led committee, opening up the rest for development and commercial activities. The state governments were unhappy with the Kasturirangan report and thus the central Government had allowed them to physically verify their ESAs.

Nikhil M Ghanekar

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Eco-sensitive zones to sink by 60% of Western Ghats?

If the states have their way, nearly 60% of the eco-sensitive, protected area of the Western Ghats, also known as water tower of peninsular India, will be thrown open for development and commercial projects. Five states located along the Western Ghats – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Gujarat and Kerala – have recommended to retain only 20,000 sq km as eco-sensitive area (ESA) and release the rest 36,285 sq.km for development. Among the six Western Ghats states, Tamil Nadu is yet to submit its recommendations on ESA areas to the Centre.A Central government appointed committee led by K Kasturirangan had recommended 56,825 sq km as ESA, nearly three times more than what the states have stated. The Centre too had notified 56,825 sq.km area as ESA in a draft notification in September this year. Western Ghats is one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world and is also a UNESCO world heritage site.In their detailed reports on ESAs, the states have rejected most findings and recommendations of the Kasturirangan report, pushing for opening the Ghats to development and commercial activities. The state governments were unhappy with the Kasturirangan report and thus the Central government had allowed them to physically verify their ESAs.The Kasturirangan report had identified ESAs on the basis of natural landscape and cultural landscape. The natural landscape comprises of natural vegetation, forests, water bodies, hills and sacred groves while cultural landscape comprises of human dominated land use of settlements, agricultural land, horticulture and other plantations.For example, the report had identified 4,156 villages across six states as ESA, but the five state governments, in their recommendations, demarcated only 1,666 villages. Each state government has shot down prohibitions suggested in the Kasturirangan report on issues such as mining, township development and forest plantations.An analysis of the state reports by dna shows that broadly they have vouched for inclusion of only contiguous forests that are already notified along with non-forest private lands areas while excluding plantations, industrial zones and even non-cultivable agricultural land.Gujarat, however, is the only state to have increased its ESA area.The ground reality, the states’ reports claim, is that most villages across Ghats rejected the ESA tag, as they feared for loss of livelihood. The reports say that villagers were victims of misinformation campaigns. The villagers, reports said, termed the concept of ESAs as ‘government land grab’.Speaking on the state reports, veteran ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who headed the first Central panel to have given a road-map for conservation of the Ghats, said, “The process states have followed to demarcate ESAs is more important than the area they have retained. It is a flawed process from several angles and most crucially, there is little people’s participation.”He added, “So called ground-truthing exercises involved gathering only select few groups of influential locals across villages. Also, I got first-hand reports of misinformation campaigns that were spread against the concept of ESAs.”While analysing the state reports, dna found each state government has used different approaches for giving ESA tag to villages. As per the Kasturirangan report, villages having more than 20% natural landscape were to be counted as ecologically sensitive. Maharashtra, which has the second largest ESA area has reduced the number of ESA villages from 2,154 to 1,254, reducing the protected area of Ghats to 6,719.3 sq.km.In Maharashtra, the government excluded a total of 879 villages for being isolated, distant from the contiguous, elevated range of the Ghats and for having less than 20% natural landscape. ESA villages that are home to industrial zones have been excluded without studying their pollution load on water resources.In Karnataka, the government thought it more ‘practical’ and ‘rational’ to count only those villages with 50% or more natural landscape and that already fall in the buffer zone of sanctuaries and national parks as ESAs. Karnataka has whittled down ESA villages to 153 from 1,553, shrinking the protected area to 2,020.01 sq.km.Once Tamil Nadu submits its report, MoEF&CC will deliberate on recommendations of all states and map ESA villages using satellite maps. The ministry is likely to meet representatives and MPs from each state before it takes a final call on how much area of the Ghats should be kept as ecologically sensitive.dna contacted Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar, who said the matter of finalising Western Ghats’ ESA is under process.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>

Western Ghats to lose 60% protected areas?

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States unhappy with Kasturirangan report, push for lesser prohibitions.

If the states have their way, nearly 60% of the eco-sensitive, protected area of the Western Ghats, also known as water tower of peninsular India, will be thrown open for development and commercial projects. Five states located along the Western Ghats – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Gujarat and Kerala – have recommended to retain only 20,000 sq km as eco-sensitive area (ESA) and release the rest 36,285 sq.km for development. Among the six Western Ghats states, Tamil Nadu is yet to submit its recommendations on ESA areas to the Centre.A Central government appointed committee led by K Kasturirangan had recommended 56,825 sq km as ESA, nearly three times more than what the states have stated. The Centre too had notified 56,825 sq.km area as ESA in a draft notification in September this year. Western Ghats is one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world and is also a UNESCO world heritage site.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> In their detailed reports on ESAs, the states have rejected most findings and recommendations of the Kasturirangan report, pushing for opening the Ghats to development and commercial activities. The state governments were unhappy with the Kasturirangan report and thus the Central government had allowed them to physically verify their ESAs.The Kasturirangan report had identified ESAs on the basis of natural landscape and cultural landscape. The natural landscape comprises of natural vegetation, forests, water bodies, hills and sacred groves while cultural landscape comprises of human dominated land use of settlements, agricultural land, horticulture and other plantations. For example, the report had identified 4,156 villages across six states as ESA, but the five state governments, in their recommendations, demarcated only 1,666 villages. Each state government has shot down prohibitions suggested in the Kasturirangan report on issues such as mining, township development and forest plantations. An analysis of the state reports by dna shows that broadly they have vouched for inclusion of only contiguous forests that are already notified along with non-forest private lands areas while excluding plantations, industrial zones and even non-cultivable agricultural land.Gujarat, however, is the only state to have increased its ESA area. The ground reality, the states’ reports claim, is that most villages across Ghats rejected the ESA tag, as they feared for loss of livelihood. The reports say that villagers were victims of misinformation campaigns. The villagers, reports said, termed the concept of ESAs as ‘government land grab’. Speaking on the state reports, veteran ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who headed the first Central panel to have given a road-map for conservation of the Ghats, said, “The process states have followed to demarcate ESAs is more important than the area they have retained. It is a flawed process from several angles and most crucially, there is little people’s participation.”He added, “So called ground-truthing exercises involved gathering only select few groups of influential locals across villages. Also, I got first-hand reports of misinformation campaigns that were spread against the concept of ESAs.”While analysing the state reports, dna found each state government has used different approaches for giving ESA tag to villages. As per the Kasturirangan report, villages having more than 20% natural landscape were to be counted as ecologically sensitive. Maharashtra, which has the second largest ESA area has reduced the number of ESA villages from 2,154 to 1,254, reducing the protected area of Ghats to 6,719.3 sq.km. In Maharashtra, the government excluded a total of 879 villages for being isolated, distant from the contiguous, elevated range of the Ghats and for having less than 20% natural landscape. ESA villages that are home to industrial zones have been excluded without studying their pollution load on water resources. In Karnataka, the government thought it more ‘practical’ and ‘rational’ to count only those villages with 50% or more natural landscape and that already fall in the buffer zone of sanctuaries and national parks as ESAs. Karnataka has whittled down ESA villages to 153 from 1,553, shrinking the protected area to 2,020.01 sq.km. Once Tamil Nadu submits its report, MoEF&CC will deliberate on recommendations of all states and map ESA villages using satellite maps. The ministry is likely to meet representatives and MPs from each state before it takes a final call on how much area of the Ghats should be kept as ecologically sensitive. dna contacted Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar, who said the matter of finalising Western Ghats’ ESA is under process.

Groundwater status alarming across 16 states and 2 UT’s: House panel

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While reviewing the status of groundwater, the standing committee of parliament on water resource, river development and Ganga rejuvenation noted that groundwater across 1071 locations across 16 states and two union territories is being over exploited.

Worried about the indiscriminate extraction of groundwater for irrigation, industries and domestic use and its groundwater contamination, a parliamentary panel has asked the Union ministry of water resources to carry out a study to detail impact of groundwater extraction on farming, health and environment. The panel has asked the ministry to submit the report in six months from now.While reviewing the status of groundwater, the standing committee of parliament on water resource, river development and Ganga rejuvenation noted that groundwater across 1071 locations across 16 states and two union territories is being over exploited. These locations comprise of blocks, mandals, talukas and districts are spread over a total area of 5 lakh square kms of the country and have been termed as ‘dark blocks’. These dark blocks stretch from plus localities such as the capital’s Defence Colony and Hauz Khas to districts in southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The committee are gravely concerned that the country is on the path towards a serious water crisis in the near future due to over-extraction and quality deterioration of groundwater,” the parliamentary panel said. While recommending that a study be carried out, the panel specifically asked the ministry to map agricultural land falling in dark blocks. According to the the data provided on the annual ground water withdrawal, irrigation sector accounted for the maximum share; 90.75%, followed by domestic and industrial sector, whose combined share was 9.25%.The committee noted that states such as Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan saw high levels of groundwater extraction for irrigation. In Punjab, irrigation accounts for 97.9% groundwater withdrawal while in Haryana and Rajasthan, the figures stand at 94.5% and 88.4% respectively.Along with indiscriminate groundwater extraction, high contamination of water in rural habitations was reported in the year 2015. The parliamentary panel was informed that as of May 2015, states have reported that water in 63,282 rural settlements was contaminated by heavy metals or toxic metals such as arsenic, flouride, salinity, iron and nitrate. Some of the states worst hit due to groundwater contamination are Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Punjab, Assam and Tripura.

MoEF gives forest clearance for expansion of country’s largest open cast mine in Singrauli

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The block has 483 million tonnes of mineable reserves and with a 15 million tonnes/annum capacity, the life of the project will be about 22 years.

An expert panel of the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC) has recommended forest clearance for expansion of India’s largest open cast mine located at Nigahi in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, with certain conditions. The expansion of the mine, under the control of Northern Coalfields Limited, is a part of the Singrauli coalfied and is located on a hilly pleateau with an elevation of about 400-450mts above mean sea level.The block has 483 million tonnes of mineable reserves and with a 15 million tonnes/annum capacity, the life of the project will be about 22 years.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The coal from the Nigahi extension block will feed the Vindhyachal Thermal Power Station which is the country’s largest power station with an installed capacity of 4,760MW.The project had come up for appraisal before the forest advisory committee (FAC) of the MoEFCC as it requires clearing of forest areas. Singrauli district, where the project is located, is known as the coal and energy capital of the country is home to dense, rich Sal forests. The Nigahi extension block will spread across 596.11 hectares and out of this the project needs to clear 424.5 hectares of forest comprising of 13,201 trees.During the appraisal of the project, the FAC noted the report of MoEFCC’s regional office at Bhopal that detailed the quality of forests. According to the report, a sizeable part of the extension block is covered by dense forests. Using satellite imagery the FAC confirmed that three major patches of very dense forests are present on the western end of the mine. Of this, two grids are classified as inviolate or out of bound for mining.Thus, even as they recommended forest clearance for the project the FAC has asked Northern Coalfields to not utilise the dense forests for mining owing to their richness. It also asked the company to provide details of the dense forest patches such as its area.The Nigahi coal block is located in the same region as the Mahan forests, where local villagers and Greenpeace India ran a campaign against a proposed coal mine of Essar that was eventually cancelled by the Centre. In fact, the MoEF&CC classified the forests around Mahan coal block as inviolate or out of bound for mining.

World sets new target to save planet, adopts climate accord

The agreement will be formally ratified at a high-level signature ceremony of the United Nations on April 22, 2016 and at least 55 countries will have to accept for it to come into effect.

China and India representatives at the Paris climate talk

Reuters
History was made on Saturday night in Paris. As many as 196 countries adopted a new climate accord – to be known as the Paris agreement – that commits to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, while pursuing efforts for an even ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius pre-industrial levels. More importantly, by adopting the agreement, countries across the globe have committed to end fossil-fuel domination and they have to ensure that net greenhouse gas emissions are zero in the second half of the century. The agreement will be formally ratified at a high-level signature ceremony of the United Nations on April 22, 2016 and at least 55 countries will have to accept for it to come into effect.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> For India, who was seen by the US and European Union as a potential deal-breaker, the agreement protected its interests in the near future. Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar said, “We are happy to note that all concerns of India have been taken on board.” The final text of the agreement makes several mentions of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility that was a crucial demand made by India throughout the negotiations. This ensures that India does not have the burden of scaling up their emission cuts or providing climate finance to other nations. But, the United States and other industrialised countries have offset its ‘historical responsibility’ by ensuring that the final text does not include this term. Speaking after the deal’s adoption, Javadekar said, “This (deal) recognizes development imperatives of India and is happy that it acknowledges climate justice, CBDR and equity. We are happy that agreement differentiates between developed and developed nations. We are of the opinion that the agreement could have been more ambitious and actions are far below historic responsibilities and limiting temperature below 2 degrees will be difficult.” The deal also allowed industrialised nations another relief as the issue climate finance – funds provide by richer countries to fight against climate change – was not included in the legally binding section of the agreement. Developed nations will have to provide $100 billion by 2020 and are to scale it up. The Paris agreement will replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Under the 1997 agreement, developed nations were asked to cut down their emissions. But the Paris agreement is more holistic as each of the participating country has submitted their action plan to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. French President Francois Hollande told the assembled delegates: “You’ve done it, reached an ambitious agreement, a binding agreement, a universal agreement. Never will I be able to express more gratitude to a conference. You can be proud to stand before your children and grandchildren.”
Accord weak, unambitious: Think-tankEnvironmental think-tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) called the Paris deal unambitious. “On the whole, it continues to be weak and unambitious, as it does not include any meaningful targets for developed countries to reduce their emissions,” said CSE director Sunita Narain. Outcome has no winners or losers: ModiPrime Minister Narendra Modi said the outcome of Paris agreement had no winners or losers and climate justice was the lone winner. “Climate change remains a challenge but agreement demonstrates how every nation rose to challenge,” Modi tweeted. ‘Best chance’ to save planet: ObamaUS President Barack Obama said the landmark deal is a “turning point” for the world and represents the “best chance” for mankind to save the planet. “I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world,” Obama said in an address to the nation.

Paris climate talks: World on brink of climate accord, India backs final draft

The final draft runs into 31 pages and asks countries to pursue the target of limiting the average rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degree celsius. But there is no clear roadmap elucidated that will ensure that this target will be achieved.

French President Francois Hollande made an impassioned appeal on Saturday to finalise a historic climate accord, that will for the first time get most countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, just before a draft of the final agreement was released. Nearly 200 countries are still involved in hectic parleys at the international climate change summit that has already crossed its Friday deadline. The release of the final draft will be followed by last round of negotiations and setting the tone for arriving at a deal, Fabius, the chair of the summit, said, “We have an ambitious and balanced agreement. This text establishes a long-term ambitious but necessary goal, also enables each delegation of the countries to return with their heads high.” Raising the political pitch and recalling the failed 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, Hollande said, “What is the point of all this work if we don’t take the deal? All the conditions are met. The landmark agreement for the planet is now ready.”<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> The final draft runs into 31 pages and asks countries to pursue the target of limiting the average rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degree celsius. But there is no clear roadmap elucidated that will ensure that this target will be achieved.Notably for India the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) was included in the text while issues relating to finance were also resolved. Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar backed the final draft text, signalling India’s support for a climate accord. “We are happy that India’s concerns have been taken care of in the final climate draft of the negotiating text. It is a balanced text and a way forward.” The minister, though, is expected to raise certain reservations India has about the text during the next plenary session. While going to press, negotiators had still not returned after studying the text of final draft. The ministerial negotiations are expected to go beyond midnight Saturday, sources said and French foreign minister will personally speak with ministers to iron out last minute differences.

Pollution Control Board’s new draft plan proposes segment-wise approach for cleaning up river Ganga

Even as a host of plans to clean river Ganga exist on paper, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has prepared a new draft plan for cleaning up the river in four segments based on geography, eco-flow of the river and pollution load. The National Mission for Clean Ganga, (NMCG), in-charge of implementing Ganga cleaning plans took a year and half to decide that setting up sewage treatment facilities for towns located on banks of Ganga will be the focus of conserving the river’s water quality. But the CPCB’s new draft has now proposed to shift the focus towards segment wise, in situ treatment of polluted water under the direct control of state governments. Dna has a copy of the draft plan.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>CPCB has said that there is an “immediate need to commission in-site treatment of the 144 drains joining river Ganga or any other actions without waiting for full-fledged sewage treatment plants as it may be a time taking process.” The pollution watchdog has proposed that the Centre invite private players to demonstrate, on a pilot basis, in-situ treatment which it thinks is more cost-effective and will be economical. In another major recommendation it has said that Ghats on river Ganga should be hand over to religious and private institutes for their up-keep.”Ghats are primarily used for religious and spiritual activities and local shrines are actively involved so they can be roped in”, said a top official from the union environment and forest ministry. CPCB’s plan has also noted that in the upper segments such as Narora, there is immense abstraction of water for irrigation and human consumption and that it should be reduced for increasing river’s flow.Under the segment wise approach, CPCB has proposed to divide river cleaning into four-segments, each having their own action plan based on the pollution load coming from domestic sewage and industries and flow of the river. According to sources, CPCB’s draft plan was presented to union environment minister Prakash Javadekar and the ministry has approved it prima-facie. It was also discussed with union minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation Uma Bharti and her ministry too has given an in-principle nod.The first segment has been demarcated between the river’s origin and Haridwar, the second segment between Haridwar and Narora. According to CPCB’s draft plan, these segments are the least polluted and fewer grossly polluting industries are situated on the banks of Ganga along this stretch.The third segment is divided into three sub-sections being the most polluted stretch. This segment stretches begins from Narora passing through Kanpur, Allahabad and ends at Varanasi. Segment four is spread across two sub-sections between Varanasi up to Diamond Harbour in Kolkata. “Each of the river’s stretch has a varying pollution load and one size for all approach won’t work to clean the river. A segment-wise approach would see a reduction in time taken for implementing project,” said a top-ranking CPCB official on the condition of anonymity. Mammoth taskRiver Ganga runs a course of 2,525 km before joining the Bay of BengalThere are 66 districts located along the Ganga’s main stem118 priority towns have been identified along the banks of Ganga144 drains discharge industrial and domestic waste into the Ganga and there are 764 grossly polluting industries on the river’s main stem that generate 501 million litres per day of waste water

Big leaders shower praise on Pawar at his 75th birthday celebrations

President Pranab Mukherjee greets NCP chief Sharad Pawar during his 75th birthday celebrations at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi on Thursday. Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former PM Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Pawar’s wife Pratibha Pawar were among those present at the dais
B B Yadav
dna
Making a tongue in cheek comment on the current logjam in Parliament during his 75th birthday celebrations, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar said on Thursday that during his long stint in the country’s highest lawmaking body, he always respected the sanctity of the House and did not obstruct its functioning. “The problems of the people come to the fore when the House is in order, which is why its work should not be obstructed. It is the people’s expectations that the House functions and they have elected us for this very reason,” Pawar said during the grand celebration of his 75th birthday.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Pawar’s 75th birthday function saw a rare gathering of political foes and lawmakers across party lines with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, President Pranab Mukherjee, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and a few others sharing the dais. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, LK Advani, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Parkash Singh Badal and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury were the other senior politicians sharing the dais with Pawar. Also, in audience were Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.The NCP went all out to commemorate their supremo’s birthday that was interestingly celebrated at the Vigyan Bhavan, home to the most central government functions. NCP workers, leaders, legislators packed the venue and the who’s who of the industry, including Anil Ambani, Rahul Bajaj, Sunil Mittal, Gautam Adani, Cyrus Mistry and Subhash Chandra, chairman Essel group, and Vijay Mallya were also present on the occasion.Prime Minister Narendra Modi effusively praised Pawar’s efforts on controlling the underworld in Mumbai and in improving the country’s farm output. “As chief minister, Pawar was dynamic and I remember the times when Mumbai was in a vice-like grip of the underworld and it was a dark period. But Pawar did well to control this menace,” PM Modi said. He added, “As agriculture minister, Sharad Rao was extremely committed and worked in a mission mode. He used to visit me when I was chief minister of Gujarat and has pushed me to improve farm productivity,” the PM said.Congress president Sonia Gandhi laced her short speech with humour and candour on Pawar’s role as agriculture minister and on the differences between them. “We may have differences but our respect for each other has been constant. Although he (Pawar) parted ways with us, NCP has been our valued ally. When UPA came to power, Sharad Pawar was a natural choice, in fact he was the only choice for the post of agriculture minister,” she said. Gandhi went on to add, “His friendships across parties are legendary and in modern terms, his networking skills are great. This is what makes him a great politician through and through, which is a compliment.”During the function, President Pranab Mukherjee released three books on Pawar, including a semi-autobiographical account of his life and a coffee table book. Speaking extempore, Mukherjee said, “Pawarji was offered the defence portfolio when UPA came to power but he turned it down and insisted on getting the agriculture portfolio. That decision has proved to be good for the country. His birthday has given us this rare opportunity to come together from a cross-section and all I can say is ‘Salaam Pawar saheb’.”

North eastern states have lost 628 sq kms of forest: State of forest report

North eastern states constitute only 7.9 percent of geographical area of the country but accounts for nearly one-fourth of the country’s forest cover, the report said. It is one of the 18 biodiversity hotspots of the world due to these rich forests.

Uttarakhand has mostly lost moderately dense forests

Even as the Indian State of Forest Report 2015 recorded an increase of 3,775 sqkm in the country’s forest cover compared to the last survey in 2013, the hill states of north east and Uttarakhand, regions with some of the country’s best forests, have witnessed a setback. According to the report’s data north eastern states there has been a net decline of 628 sq km in the forest cover since 2013. The loss is more than the total area of Mumbai city.North eastern states constitute only 7.9 percent of geographical area of the country but accounts for nearly one-fourth of the country’s forest cover, the report said. It is one of the 18 biodiversity hotspots of the world due to these rich forests.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The top-five states who have recorded a negative changes in forest cover are Mizoram, Uttarakhand, Telangana, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Mizoram’s 88.9% area is covered by forests and the state has lost 306 sq kms of it while Uttarakhand whose 45.3% area is forests lost 268 sq km of it.The State of Forest Report survey, during its ground truthing, tried to ascertain reasons for the increase and decrease in forests. It states that Mizoram has lost forests cover due to shifting cultivation patterns and other ‘biotic’ pressure on forest lands. On the other hand, Uttarakhand has lost forest cover due to rotational felling and diversion of forest land for developmental activities.Incidentally states such as Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, that have both recorded loss of forest cover, are planning to build over a hundred hydro power projects each to harness major rivers. Several of these projects fall in dense to moderately dense forests and have faced opposition owing to the large forest cutting it will cause. The 2,880MW Dibang Multipurpose Project (DMP) in Lower Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh will alone cut down 45.77 sq km of forest.As part of the survey, forest cover across states is categorised into Very Dense Forests, Moderately Dense Forests and Open Forests. An analysis of the report’s data shows that Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Uttarakhand have all mostly lost moderately dense forests. Categories of forest based on density Very dense forest are lands with tree canopy density of 70 %and above, moderately dense forests have a tree canopy density of 40 percent and more but less than 70 % while open forests have a canopy density of less than 10 percent.

Environment ministers get down to business at Paris summit

The on-going international climate change summit has been termed as a ‘do-or-die’ chance for tackling global warming and to arrive at a legally binding treaty to limit average global warming to two degrees Celsius.

After a high-profile start last week, that featured 150 heads of states, the international climate change summit at Paris entered its ‘high-level’ segment on Monday and environment ministers from across the developed and developing world led discussions in groups based on the most pressing issues. Almost all of these discussions occurred behind closed doors and after the first-week of negotiations, on the draft text of the climate change agreement, the onus now lies on the ministers to resolve contentious issues.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The on-going international climate change summit has been termed as a ‘do-or-die’ chance for tackling global warming and to arrive at a legally binding treaty to limit average global warming to two degrees Celsius.At the end of first-week’s negotiations on the draft text of the climate change agreement, differences remained over 900 issues. The areas of disagreement are signified in square brackets. According to civil society observers present in Paris finance, technology transfers, differentiated responsibility, pre-2020 action plan and compensation for loss due to natural calamities were the most contentious issues at the summit.French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who is the President of the summit, has created four different groups to sort out these contentious issues and each group is headed by two ministers, one each belonging to the developed and developing group of nations, civil society observers said. Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar will be present at these group negotiations along with his team of negotiators.”The (environment) ministers have a mountain to climb in the coming days and the discussions will happen behind closed doors. For India, the issues of finance, technology and equity are some of the most important ones”, said Harjeet Singh, International Climate Policy Manager, ActionAid International from Paris.At the beginning of the Paris summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had highlighted the issues of equity and differentiated responsibility and had even said that India is not responsible for climate change and that developed nations should take the lead. But, throughout first-week of negotiations the United States of America has quietly but firmly rejected the differentiated responsibility, sources said.Along with other developed nations the US has argued that countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa are emerging economies and thus, they should bear as much responsibility as others. Even as differences over contentious issues remain, observers also said that the summit could go on beyond its deadline of December 11. “The ministerial negotiations are yet to pick up pace and it is quite possible that the negotiations may go on ahead of the schedule”, said a civil society observer on the condition of anonymity.

14 tremors in Andamans were ‘earthquake swarming’: Experts

According to experts, earthquake swarming refers to a sequence of multiple earthquakes that can occur over days, weeks or months.

Around ten days ago and within two weeks of the devastating earthquake in Hindu Kush mountain range of Afghanistan, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands experienced a series of 14 earthquakes in a span of 24 hours between November 8 and November 9. The magnitude of the 14 quakes ranged from a maximum of 6 on Richter scale to the lowest of 4.7. Although the earthquakes did not cause damage in the sparsely populated Islands, scientists have categorised the multiple shocks as an ‘earthquake swarm’, tracing the cause back to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake that triggered a devastating tsunami.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to experts, earthquake swarming refers to a sequence of multiple earthquakes that can occur over days, weeks or months. In this sequence, the magnitude of tremors typically grow in an ascending order and the one with the highest magnitude usually occurs in the middle of the sequence. The earthquakes experienced in Nicobar Islands too witnessed a similar sequence where the first quake was of 5.2 magnitude on the Richter scale and the seventh quake of 6 magnitude was the most intense.”Earthquake swarms can be attributed either to an adjustment in the tectonic plates, which in is this case might have happened due to the collision between the major plates such as Indian Plate, Burma Plate and Sunda Plate. Swarms can also occur due to subsea volcanic eruptions. But it is not yet confirmed what caused the earthquakes earlier this month,” said Vineet Kumar Gahalaut, director, National Centre for Seismology.Historical data indicates that earthquake swarming is not rare. The last swarm of earthquakes in this region was experienced in September 2014 north of Nicobar Islands. In fact, following the massive earthquake in December 2004, a series of earthquakes were recorded beneath the Andaman Sea north-east of Nicobar Islands beginning January 2005.Some experts were of the opinion that the earthquake swarm are aftershocks due to adjustments in faults caused by the 2004 quake. “Andaman and Nicobar Island region fall in the subduction zone — vulnerable region — and aftershocks are routinely felt. Since the rupture caused by the 2004 quake is about 1,200 km long it will take a few more years to adjusting between the tectonic plates,” said KM Rao, scientist, Institute of Seismological Research, Gujarat.

Mining on non-forest land can begin with nod from state governments

According to the new guidelines, the ministry had “received representations to amend the (earlier) guidelines under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 to allow mining on non-forest areas.

Relaxing green norms for coal production, the environment ministry has decided that companies can begin work in non-forestry areas of a coal block even before they obtain requisite clearances to mine in the forested areas of the block. The decision is likely to benefit power companies and cut down time taken to mine coal. As per earlier guidelines issued by the environment ministry under the Forest (Conservation), Act, 1980, coal mining on non-forest land was not allowed until the Centre released forest land for mining.According to the new guidelines, the ministry had “received representations to amend the (earlier) guidelines under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 to allow mining on non-forest areas. After ‘careful examination’ of the representations received, the ministry decided that the onus of granting permission to begin mining on non-forest areas should be on the state governments. Explaining this decision, the ministry’s new guidelines said, “The State government, if so desires, may execute a separate mining lease for a whole or part of non-forest land falling in mining lease, once Stage-I approval under FC Act 1980 for the entire forest land falling in such mining lease is obtained.”<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Adding a note of caution, the guidelines also added, “The state government, in such cases, shall take all measures that no violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 occurs on forest land.”The ministry’s move relaxes the norms for coal mining on multiple counts. To begin with, Stage-I forest clearance under the FC Act, 1980, only pertains to recommendation of projects by the ministry’s expert committee for clearance. After obtaining this recommendation, the project proponent has to ensure that forest rights of tribal communities are settled under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Besides, they also are required to deposit money with the ministry for afforestation and comply with other conditions, such as mitigation measures to conserve wildlife if necessary.Later, companies obtain Stage-II clearance only when they fulfill these obligations. However, it has been witnessed in several instances that forest rights of tribal communities are not settled on time. In certain instances, final clearances for cutting down forests may be rejected if the project proponent is found violating conditions laid down after the Stage-I clearance. But, the new guidelines effectively detach fulfilling of conditions pertaining to forest land by allowing mining to begin on non-forest areas.While this may increase coal production and boost the power sector, environmentalists said that it will hasten the vetting of projects and clearances. Even as India is trying to increase its share of renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions, 52% of the country’s energy needs are met by coal and 66% of power generation is coal based, according to data from Coal India Limited, the world’s largest producer of coal. Stages for clearancesThe ministry’s move relaxes the norms for coal mining on multiple counts. To begin with, Stage-I forest clearance under the FC Act, 1980, only pertains to recommendation of projects by the ministry’s expert committee for clearance. After obtaining this recommendation, the project proponent has to ensure that forest rights of tribal communities are settled under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Besides, they also are required to deposit money with the ministry for afforestation and comply with other conditions, such as mitigation measures to conserve wildlife if necessary.

Wildlife board gives nod to shrink Bustard sanctuary in Nannaj

To know more about the bird’s movement pattern, the Pune forest division radio-collared a Bustard called Chotu and they found in July that it had roamed 103 kms into Karnataka.

Great Indian Bustard is on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature
Photo: Sujit Narwade

The environment ministry’s National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) approved Maharashtra government’s long pending plan to ‘rationalise’ the boundary of Great Indian Bustard sanctuary in Nannaj, Solapur, that is interspersed by vast private land. The Bustard sanctuary, established in 1979, is spread across an original area of 8,469 sq kms. But over the years locals have felt that the sanctuary area is surplus as the Bustard uses its area only for mating and for foraging and eating insects, it usually roams in croplands and around human habitation. More importantly, the vast spread of the sanctuary had put a host of restrictions on development in private land, antagonising the locals against the bird.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Great Indian Bustard is critically endangered and is on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. From thousands, its numbers in India dropped down to a few hundred across Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh due to loss of grassland and scrub habitat and conversion of this habitat into croplands. In Maharashtra, it is believed that the Bustard is inching towards extinction with a population of just six individuals. The bird stands tall at one metre and weighs around 15 kgs.The proposal was placed before NBWL earlier but an expert committee was formed to carry out a site inspection. Following the expert committee’s recommendation and on the basis of a report submitted by Collector of Solapur, NBWL’s standing committee recommended rationalisation of the sanctuary’s borders. The sanctuary will now have a core habitat of 366.26 sq kms that comprises of grasslands which is also home to Chinkara, Black Buck and Fox. To compensate for exclusion of private land from the sanctuary, the NBWL standing committee has recommended for a sizeable eco-sensitive zone to be demarcated around the sanctuary.Speaking to dna on the need for the proposal to reduce sanctuary boundary, Sunil Limaye, chief conservator of forest, Pune division, said, “The original demarcation of over 8,000 sq kms as sanctuary had outlived its purpose and it was not helping in conservation of the Bustard. The restrictions on private land was turning people against the bird’s conservation and thus there was resentment against the Bustard itself. These factors necessitated a change in the sanctuary’s boundaries.”To know more about the bird’s movement pattern, the Pune forest division radio-collared a Bustard called Chotu and they found in July that it had roamed 103 kms into Karnataka.”We have one female and one male in the sanctuary and there is breeding potential. After reducing sanctuary boundaries, we are now roping in locals to conserve Bustard’s habitat and we will also give incentives to locals who cultivate jowar and bajra that helps the bird in foraging.” Inching towards extinctionFrom thousands, its numbers in India dropped down to a few hundred across Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh due to loss of grassland and scrub habitat and conversion of this habitat into croplands. In Maharashtra, it is believed that the Bustard is inching towards extinction with a population of just six individuals. The bird stands tall at one metre and weighs around 15 kgs.

Sea level rise threatens Mumbai and Kolkata: Global report

The report has projected that China will be most severely affected due to sea level rise as some 145 million faced the prospect of getting submerge.

Picture credit: Climate Central

Millions of people living in Indian metros Mumbai and Kolkata are at the risk of getting submerged in the future if climate change triggered sea level rise is left unchecked, a new global report of Climate Central, a US-based research organization, has said. The report, released on Monday, has suggested that at the current pace of sea-rise, coastal cities won’t be threatened in the immediate future. But, maps released with the report show that if a temperature rise of four degree Celsius occurs by 2100 – due to unchecked carbon emissions – then major cities such as Mumbai, London, New York and many others could submerge.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Almost 11 million people are at a risk in Mumbai while globally 760 million people would be affected due to sea level rise. The report also added that such a scenario can be averted if 195 countries, meeting in Paris later in December to reach an agreement to tackle climate change, make a ‘sharp transition’ to clean energy.Ahead of the Paris summit, 150 nations have submitted their nationally determined plans to tackle climate change and cap global temperature rise to two degree Celsius above the pre-industrial levels. But, the United Nations said last week that even if climate action plans are implemented, greenhouse gas emissions will still be on the rise. The Climate Central report thus asks countries to evaluate the four-degree rise scenario during the Paris summit.The report has projected that China will be most severely affected due to sea level rise as some 145 million faced the prospect of getting submerge. Followed by China, India would be hit hardest with a population of 55 million exposed to these threats due to a four degree warming and 20 million due to a two degree warming. The sea level will rise by 4.7 metres in the event of a two degree warming and it would be double due to four degree warming.Climate Central’s report was based on a paper authored by their own scientists Benjamin Strauss and Scott Kulp and Anders Levermann of Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research published last month in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences of the US.

After FCRA, society registration of Greenpeace stripped

The authorities have also alleged that Greenpeace did not file annual returns for three financial years within the stipulated time of six months from the date of annual general body meeting

Greenpeace

Two months after the Centre cancelled Greenpeace India’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), Greenpeace India Society, the NGO’s officially registered body, has been stripped of its registration by the office of registrar in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Greenpeace India Society was officially registered in Chennai back in 2002 and the NGO was received a notice from Chennai on Friday, informing them of the action taken against them.Greenpeace has been directed to pass a special resolution and dissolve itself as per the rules of the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act. The NGO has termed action against them as ‘demonstration of Ministry of Home Affairs’ intolerance for dissent’.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The notice of the registrar office says that Greenpeace India’s society registration was cancelled after the registrar office in Chennai found that the NGO’s books did not reflect the foreign contributions it received, thus violating Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act. The office of registrar in Chennai had been inspecting the NGO’s books for the past few months.In the notice served to the NGO, the district registrar, Chennai has said, “This society has received crores of rupees from foreign countries. There is discrepancy in the account between the details of the foreign donation furnished by the society….submitted to the Registrar of Societies, which suggest fraudulent dealings.”The notice goes on to allege that the NGO is controlled by Stichting Greenpeace Council, Netherlands and is not independent, in contravention to law. Besides stressing on discrepancies in foreign donations, the authorities have also alleged that Greenpeace did not file annual returns for three financial years within the stipulated time of six months from the date of annual general body meeting.Responding to the development, Vinuta Gopal, Interim Executive Director of the NGO, said, “The Registrar of Societies is clearly acting under directions from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi, which has been trying to shut Greenpeace India down for over a year now. This order has been passed without granting Greenpeace a hearing, and without complying with the Madras High Court order to address each of our points and queries. This is a blatant attempt to circumvent the legal process and shows no respect for the law.”The NGO, which has got a stay order on cancellation of its FCRA registration, believes that they are on a strong legal ground with regards to the registrar’s order and will reply to the notice soon. Greenpeace, which has run major campaigns on nuclear power, coal mining and forest conservation has faced a slew of actions against it ever since the Intelligence Bureau termed it as a threat to ‘national economic security’ in 2014.

Ken-Betwa river linking project will hamper tigers in Panna, says former director of Project Tiger

Veteran conservationist and former director of Project Tiger Hemendra Singh Panwar has critiqued the ambitious Ken-Betwa river linking project for the impacts it will have on tigers and Ken River’s biodiversity in a strong letter written to the environment ministry. Hitting out at the project’s environment impact assessment (EIA) report and DPR, Panwar has termed it ‘deficient, inconsistent and misleading’.

dna Research & Archives
Veteran conservationist and former director of Project Tiger Hemendra Singh Panwar has critiqued the ambitious Ken-Betwa river linking project for the impacts it will have on tigers and Ken River’s biodiversity in a strong letter written to the environment ministry. Hitting out at the project’s environment impact assessment (EIA) report and DPR, Panwar has termed it ‘deficient, inconsistent and misleading’.Panwar recently sent the letter to the expert appraisal committee of the environment ministry, which considered the project for environmental clearance on October 26, and he also spoke to dna on his concerns about Panna Tiger Reserve’s (PTR) wildlife and Ken River.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The primary purpose of the river-link project, proposed during NDA-I, is to irrigate 6.35 lakh hectares of land and divert water from Ken, Madhya Pradesh to Betwa in Uttar Pradesh. It involves construction of a dam that will submerge forest inside Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) and will also divide the contiguous tiger habitat. The project has faced stiff opposition from conservationists, hydrologists and even R Sreenivasa Murthy, PTR’s former director, had opposed the project before his contentious transfer to Kuno wildlife sanctuary.In his letter, Panwar, who was also the first field director of Kanha national park, has said, “My professional conscience impels me to make this submission, challenged as it is by the reliance on half-truths and misinformation by the project proponents to justify environmental and wildlife clearances for Ken-Betwa River Linking Project (KBLP) from the State and Union governments.” He adds, “Inconsistency and suppression of information mark this EIA report. Information on land is misleading and report suppresses that two protected areas are impacted.”In his critique of the EIA, Panwar has elucidated how the endangered population of vultures found along the 30-km long Ken River gorge will be threatened by the project. “Near 400 live nests and a rock nesting vulture population of around 1000, give an invaluable ecosystem attribute to PTR. This entire length of gorge will be submerged and with it the crucial vulture habitat”, Panwar has said.While speaking to dna about on the project’s viability, Panwar said, “When you examine the hydrological impact of river linking and the project’s impact on Ken river’s biodiversity, tigers, vultures and other fauna, major doubts arise on the project’s viability.”Panwar went on to add, “Panna had already lost its tigers in the past. This project will bifurcate their habitat, hampering movement of tigers and their prey. The habitat is also important for water security of the neighbouring areas, which will ironically be under threat due to river-linking”.As a way to compensate for the habitat loss of PTR Uttar Pradesh government decided to include Ranipur and Mahavir Swami wildlife sanctuaries as satellite core of Panna, while Madhya Pradesh government agreed to convert 60 sq.kms of PTR’s buffer area into core zone.Panwar though said that this is not adequate. “This is good independently as a conservation measure but not as compensation.” The ace conservationist has thus asked the environment ministry to reconsider the deficiencies in the EIA before granting it environmental and wildlife clearance.

Overlooking wildlife corridor and rich water source, MoEF clears Mopa airport in Goa

The project’s clearance, though, does not make any mention of an active wildlife corridor close to the airport site. The airport site falls in the same region which is a continuation of the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg wildlife corridor of Maharashtra, that is used by tigers and migrating elephant herd.

Overlooking major environmental concerns of locals and green groups, the ministry of environment and forests has granted a green clearance for Goa’s second airport to be built in Mopa village at a cost of Rs3000 crore. The ministry’s expert appraisal committee had recommended the project for clearance in its last meeting on October 20, and even before making its minutes public, the ministry granted it a final environmental clearance. The airport project requires a total of 2,271 acres and it will be built in four phases.The ministry’s green clearance has come with certain caveats. The proposed airport has to obtain a ‘consent to establish’ permission from the State Pollution Control Board and also has to ensure availability of land near the proposed airport for managing traffic near the NH17 junction. Besides, for water conservation, the project proponent has to provide fixtures and rain water harvesting too has to be adopted.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The project’s clearance, though, does not make any mention of an active wildlife corridor close to the airport site. The airport site falls in the same region which is a continuation of the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg wildlife corridor of Maharashtra, that is used by tigers and migrating elephant herd.The proposed greenfield airport has Goans divided on several issues ranging from environment, tourism and land. While the current airport is located at Dabolim in Goa’s centre, the new proposed airport in Mopa is located in the northern most region, close to Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district.While laying down general and specific conditions for the airport, locals said that the ministry has overlooked the fact that the plateau where the project will be built is a rich source of water for local farmers. Further, the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the airport was heavily criticised during the project’s public hearing, where locals said that the report did not take into account the flora and fauna found near the project site.”The Mopa plateau is rich in biodiversity where Bisons and Leopards have been sighted. The flora and fauna of the site is similar to that of the Western Ghats, but this did not even figure in EIA report. At the public hearing, tribals from Dhangar community too had protested against the project but the clearance does not make any mention of these protests,” said Ramesh Gawas, an activist from Bicholim.

PM Narendra Modi to attend Paris climate summit’s inauguration

The development is significant in the backdrop of the last week’s climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany that saw stormy discussions with the developing nations terming the draft of the Paris agreement as ‘lopsided.’ The conference though eventually manifested in a draft text of 55 pages that was more agreeable to all parties.

In a major departure from climate change summits of the past 80 world leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will participate in the inaugural phase of the climate summit in Paris, the French embassy confirmed on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, French ambassador tweeted about it and in Paris following the announcement in Paris by Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister of France.The development is significant in the backdrop of the last week’s climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany that saw stormy discussions with the developing nations terming the draft of the Paris agreement as ‘lopsided.’ The conference though eventually manifested in a draft text of 55 pages that was more agreeable to all parties.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The presence of 80 world leaders at the beginning of the climate summit was termed as ‘unprecedented’ by some experts. “Usually, the designated negotiators wait for heads of states to arrive and negotiate the final talks, which happens in the last few hours. This is what happened during the Copenhagen summit in 2009. Hence, it is unprecedented for leaders to be present at the inaugural session, to set the ball rolling”, said Harjeet Singh, International Policy Manager, Climate Change, ActionAid International, a non-profit organization. The 2009 Copenhagen climate summit did not result in a legally binding treaty and the summit was largely considered as a failure across all circles.Singh added, “Negotiations on the draft Paris agreement have not been amicable and we still have a long way to go to sort out differences between developed and developing nations.”After the draft of the Paris climate agreement was re-worked Bonn, a last round of negotiations on it will occur in Paris between November 8 and November 10. Ministers of over 100 countries, including environment minister Prakash Javadekar, will be present at this meeting.But, even as world leaders have committed to participating in the inaugural session, there are major concerns among the G77+ China group of developing nations on climate finance and technology transfers. Developing nations such as India, Brazil and South Africa are pushing the developed countries to take responsibility for their historical emissions and also commit finance to poorer nations for switching for adapting to climate change. On the other hand, the richer nations have maintained that countries such as India, South Africa, China and Brazil have grown stronger economically and thus need to share the burden by cutting their carbon emissions substantially.The resolution to this stand-off is going to be the key to the Paris climate summit for reaching an agreement to cap global warming at 2°C over pre-industrial revolution levels India’s climate action targets for 2030.India has said that it aims to reduce emissions intensity or emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 33-35% by 2030, from 2005 levels. Ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, India had committed to reduce its emissions intensity by 20-25%, and the environment ministry said that it has already achieved a 12% reduction. This essentially means that the new target to reduce emissions intensity by 35% is doable.

Massive quake rocks South Asia, nearly 190 dead, 800 wounded; J&K suffers maximum damage

Epicentre in sensitive Hindu Kush mountain range * Jolts north India, maximum damage in Jammu and Kashmir * Triggers landslides in Afghanistan

Pakistani residents gather at a damaged market in Sargodha following the quake.
Schoolboys in the Afghan city of Taloqan tour the neighbourhood to take a stock of the damage after the quake.

AFP, AP
A powerful earthquake struck the remote areas of Hindu Kush mountain range in Afghanistan on Monday rocking South Asia, killing nearly 190 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan while wounding 800. The quake also triggered landslides in Afghanistan and the casualties in remote areas were not clear.The 7.5 magnitude quake sent shock waves right from Kabul, Rawalpindi up to Delhi while Kashmir valley felt the most intense tremors in India as flyovers, buildings and army bunkers cracked up. Tremors were also felt in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and a few parts of Bihar.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In Delhi, at 2.40 pm, strong tremors shook buildings and even brought the Delhi metro to a halt, suspending services. People rushed to the streets and gathered outside their high-rise offices. The two confirmed casualties reported from India occurred in Srinagar as two elderly women died of a heart attack post quake while two army men suffered serious injuries when a bunker wall collapsed in Sopore. Following the quake, the National Disaster Response Force teams were asked to be on standby in Bhatinda and Ghaziabad.The US Geological Survey said the quake’s epicentre was 213 kms deep and lay near the thinly populated Badakhshan province bordering Pakistan, Tajikistan and China. One of the worst post-quake incidents occurred near the epicentre in Takhar province as 12 students from a girls’ school died in a stampede. Casualties were rising steadily in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, the worst affected, with 121 deaths at the time of going to press.In Kashmir valley, panic gripped people as they rushed out of their homes and offices, reciting verses from the Holy Quran on the roadside and the scenes were reminiscent of the 2005 massive quake. Back then, hundreds of people had died and thousands of houses and other structures were damaged in the border areas of Uri and Tangdhar sectors of north Kashmir.There was extensive damage to the infrastructure across the Kashmir valley. The busy flyover at Jahangir Chowk in Lal Chowk developed cracks bringing the traffic to grinding halt. The earthquake brought back memories of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake that had ravaged the region.Seismologists said the quake’s depth impacted places as far flung as Ahmedabad and also curbed its impact in the immediate neighbouring areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The quake’s intensity in Kashmir valley was seven while in Delhi it was between four and five.”The epicentre is very much in the subduction zone, an arc where the Indian plate is colliding with the Eurasian plate and the region is prone to quakes,” said JL Gautam, head (operations), centre for seismology, India Meteorological Department (IMD). Hindu Kush mountain range witnessed an earthquake of 6.2 magnitude earlier this August, and has had a history of frequent earthquakes.Other experts said that aftershocks would be felt over the next two to three days. “The aftershocks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region will be of five-six magnitude on the Richter scale”, said KM Rao, scientist, Institute of Seismological Research, Gujarat.

MoEF panel allows use of imported coal with high ash content

According to environmental experts, major coastal coal-fired power plants such as Tata’s Trombay Thermal power plant and Adani’s Mundra power plant use imported bituminous coal. Imported coal is often mixed with domestic coal, that has 40-50% ash content, to arrive at a better efficiency and to control pollution.

Relaxing earlier restrictions, an expert panel of the environment ministry has recommended a two-fold increase in the ash content of imported coal from 12% to 25%, giving in to demands of the Association of Power Producers (APP), who are highly dependant on the imported fossil fuel. In 2013, the ministry had issued an office memorandum restricting the ash content in imported coal to a maximum of 12%. In this context, the APP made a request to the expert appraisal committee (EAC) of the environment ministry stating that coastal power plants were unable to utilize high grade bituminous steal coal from Australia, South Africa, Russia and Colombia.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to environmental experts, major coastal coal-fired power plants such as Tata’s Trombay Thermal power plant and Adani’s Mundra power plant use imported bituminous coal. Imported coal is often mixed with domestic coal, that has 40-50% ash content, to arrive at a better efficiency and to control pollution.Their submission added, that the plants were using Indonesian coal with low calorific value and high moisture content, that resulted in reduced efficiency and increased coal consumption. This coal, the submission claimed, reduced efficiency and increased costs to power plants. The Central Electricity Authority’s (CEA) opinion too was sought on the issue.The CEA observed that “lesser the ash generation, lesser would be its environmental impacts. However, by restricting the ash content up to 12 %, the source of coal gets restricted to a particular origin and thus the price competitiveness may have to be compromised. This may also be contrary to the objectives of the Competitive Bidding Guidelines and the Electricity Act, 2003.” Based on the CEA’s observations and deliberations within the EAC, it was recommended to increase the ash content to 25%.Researchers from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said that increasing the ash content may lead to an increase in pollution. “The decision to allow use of high ash content imported coal will surely help the power plants in rationalising their resources and lower costs. But, coal with high ash content may also lead to an increase in suspended particulate matter and sulphur emissions. The pollution load will load will depend on how well the companies are equipped”, said Sanjeev Kumar Kancha, senior researcher, CSE.

MoEF issues stricter norms for controlling pollution from slaughterhouses

Slaughterhouses fall in the ‘B’ category of projects as per the environment impact assessment notification and thus only require state clearances. But according to some ministry officials, they may soon require a clearance from Centre too.

At a time when conflicts over beef, cow slaughter and meat exports are on the rise, the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC) has brought out fresh norms to tighten pollution generated in slaughterhouses across the country. There are around 4,000 authorised abattoirs in the country but it is the unorganised sector that generates the maximum pollution, said officials of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).Although, there is no official count of the unauthorised abattoirs, ministry officials said that they may number more than 30,000. CPCB officials also said that it is the responsibility of civic bodies to manage solid waste and liquid waste scientifically who more often than not dump the organic solid waste from slaughterhouses into landfills. “The large professional slaughter houses are not a problem. The medium and small enterprises are the ones not adhering to norms. Also, each major city has slaughterhouses that have now aged and the waste disposal is outdated,” said a senior CPCB official requesting anonymity.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Slaughterhouses fall in the ‘B’ category of projects as per the environment impact assessment notification and thus only require state clearances. But according to some ministry officials, they may soon require a clearance from Centre too.Though the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) already has norms in place to regulate this industry, its officials said that stricter norms and adoption of new technology is the need of the day. The new norms have laid down effluent parameters and standards dividing them into two categories based on the size of the slaughter house. Large slaughterhouses and meat processing units slaughtering more than 200 large animals or more than 1,000 small animals have to meet stricter norms compared to the medium and small slaughterhouses. The slaughter houses also have to ensure scientific disposal of organic waste matter using approved technology.Organic matter such as rumen, intestinal contents, meat trimming and inedible meat is largely left to rot and also causes diseases around landfills and near water bodies.”The issue of pollution from slaughterhouses needs to attended to urgently as enforcement of norms has been poor. The effluents from this industry are either entering the groundwater or directly draining into water bodies,” the CPCB official added.

Online campaign asks citizens to write to MoEF on Western Ghats

In this backdrop, the Jhatkaa campaign has appealed citizens to send at least 2,000 responses to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change by November 3 when the notification expires.

After the success of a digital campaign for net neutrality where lakhs of mails flooded the inbox of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), a group of campaigners from non-profit organization Jhatkaa.org have begun a similar campaign called ‘Save the Western Ghats’. In September, the environment ministry issued a fresh draft notification to declare eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) in the Western Ghats as the earlier one expired. The ministry has now invited public suggestions and objections the draft notification which has demarcated 59,940 square kilometres as ESZ and has called for banning of thermal power and mining in the ecologically fragile areas.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In this backdrop, the Jhatkaa campaign has appealed citizens to send at least 2,000 responses to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change by November 3 when the notification expires. The campaign’s web page – savethewesternghats.com – provides an explainer to citizens on the ecological importance of the biodiversity hot spot, the need for a concerted response to the draft notification and also gives an account of how states adopted shoddy methods to carry out on ground verification of ESZ’s.The response prepared by campaigners to be sent to environment minister Prakash Javadekar highlights, among other things, that once the ESZ’s are finalized the gram sabhas must retain the power of deciding how resources should be protected and conserved. It also adds that allowing hydropower projects will adversely affect the river ecology. The Kasturiranga report had omitted inclusion of parts the Dandeli-Anshi sanctuary and Dodamarg wildlife corridor in the ESZ’s and the campaign asks the ministry to correct this omission.”After the submission of K.Ksaturirangan committee’s report, the Centre asked the six Western Ghats states to demarcate ESZ’s by following a ground truthing exercise. The Centre is also keen on banning thermal power and other red category industries. But the state governments carried out the verification process in a non-transparent manner. Besides, why is the ministry silent on phasing out existing red category industries and river ecology?”, said Tania Deviah, a campaigner from Jhatkaa.org.Till September 4, when the ministry issued the fresh notification, only Goa and Kerala had submitted their respective ground truthing reports while Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were late in submitting their reports.Jhatkaa.org had hit the headlines this August when they ran a successful campaign on the alleged mercury contamination of Kodaikanal lake by Hindustan Unilever’s thermometer factory. The campaign’s rap video, ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’ had quickly become viral with 30 lakh hits on YouTube. Before going online with the project, campaigners reached out to stakeholders and activists across the key Western Ghats states of Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra to incorporate their inputs in the response to be sent to the ministry.”The Ghats sustain millions of people with food and water and thus should be central to any decision on use of the resources it provides. But after speaking to grass roots activists, it was found that little information was provided on meetings in ESZ villages. Thus, we felt it is necessary to send thousands of response to the ministry,” added Deviah.

Delhi-Jaipur six lane highway likely to be completed by December

Gadkari told reporters that land acquisition and poor planning were two of the chief hurdles in delaying the project by four years. “This project should have been completed in 2011 but land acquisition was a major hurdle.

The long-pending Delhi-Jaipur National Highway 8, a part of the golden triangle project, will be completed by December, Union minister of road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari said on Thursday. Gadkari, accompanied by information and broadcasting minister and Jaipur Rural MP Col Rajyavardhan Rathore, was inspecting progress on the high priority project while travelling with media persons in a bus. The two were later joined by Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, to speak on the project’s progress.The NH8 project, executed by M/s Pink City Expressway Pvt Ltd, consists of widening the four lane highway into six lanes on a 225km stretch between the Gurgaon-Kotputli–Jaipur stretch. The project has faced multiple delays over a four-year period making the journey to Jaipur nightmarish while also affecting the Delh-Agra-Jaipur golden triangle of tourism.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Gadkari told reporters that land acquisition and poor planning were two of the chief hurdles in delaying the project by four years. “This project should have been completed in 2011 but land acquisition was a major hurdle.Government is largely responsible for this delay. Out of the 57 structures (flyovers, underpasses) planned, 50 are complete and by December the work should be complete”, Gadkari told reporters. Gadkari added, “Once all works, including repairing of the Kotputli stretch is over, the travel time between Delhi-Jaipur will be down to 3-4 hours from the existing 7-8 hours”.During the journey on the highway, Gadkari was greeted by several local leaders of BJP and the minister halted a couple of times to interact with them. Ironically, this resulted in repeated traffic jams as the minister’s heavy security convoy blocked the highway.Along with widening the highway, the Centre and state governments of Rajasthan and Haryana are also working on plans to build bypasses along NH8 to decongest traffic in the towns of Manesar, Dharuheda, Behror, Kotputli, Paota and Shahpura. “Bypasses will reduce accidents that are seen often on this route,” said Col.Rathore.Even as the road minister expressed confidence to finish the project by December, it was evident during the inspection that work was moving slowly at some important junctions. At Manesar and Dharuheda in Haryana, both congested urban agglomerations, the highway flyovers are far from ready while entry points into these towns are congested and filled with pot holes.Besides land acquisition issues, environmental clearances and protests by villagers along the highway saddled the project and has escalated the project cost from Rs.1896.25 crores to Rs 3,000 crore.Almost 33% of the land acquisition for the project was carried out after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, road ministry data shows, and in terms of actual construction, 20% of the project was completed since June 2014. Data also shows that the project work was steady between 2010 and 2013 as 69% of work was completed but in the last two years of UPA, work suffered.”We are confident of finishing work by year-end as all issues, including those of finances, have been sorted out after having meetings with respective stakeholders,” said Gadkari.

How many trees have you felled, NGT asks major refinery in encroachment case

The principal bench headed by chief justice Swatanter Kumar was hearing an on-going petition that has highlighted the environmental violations of the Numaligarh refinery, a joint venture between Assam government, Oil India and Bharat Petroleum.

In yet another rebuke against the Numaligarh refinery in Assam for violating forest laws and blocking encroaching on wildlife corridors in Kaziranga’s no-development zone, the principal bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) has asked the refinery to submit the number of trees they felled, how many trees they planted and the mortality rate of these trees. Kaziranga national park is home to one of the largest population of the endangered one-horned rhino in the world and their habitat has been under regular threats due to encroachments.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The principal bench headed by chief justice Swatanter Kumar was hearing an on-going petition that has highlighted the environmental violations of the Numaligarh refinery, a joint venture between Assam government, Oil India and Bharat Petroleum.With the help of photographs, petitioner Rohit Choudhary, a resident of Assam, highlighted that an extension of the refinery’s township and construction of a boundary wall for a golf course had obstructed movement of elephants. In fact, local forest officers have recorded how an elephant calf died as it hit against the illegal wall.During a hearing of the petition last week, the bench expressed its anger about the violations. “There is no concern for the environment and it is an abuse of law.” Apart from seeking details of tree felling, the bench asked the state government of Assam to inspect the site where violations have been reported.During the hearing, the petitioner also produced letters of the Golaghat forest division and the divisional forest officer (DFO) who has time and again detailed the adverse impacts of the environmental violations in Kaziranga national park’s no-development zone. The DFO’s site inspection report of the golf course said that there was a “sharp contrast between the neighboring forest areas of having high canopy density and golf course with no trees at all. Further, during the visit elephant tracks were found all around the golf course site suggesting that the area is regularly used by the elephants.In August, the DFO had noted that “the Numaligarh Refinery Township and areas immediately adjacent to that are of late becoming a graveyard for the animals due spur in illegal activities by NRL management.The bench thus has asked the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority to now take a final view on the violations of the refinery based on the reports of the DFO. The matter will now be heard next week.?

India unveils ambitious climate action plan

Invoking Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts on environment sustainability, the Union government on Friday unveiled its climate action plan for 2021-2030 setting new targets to reduce green house gas emissions and laying out a roadmap to tackle climate change.The climate action plan – called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) in climate change parlance – revolves around three focal points of increasing share of renewable energy, increasing green cover to absorb carbon emissions and reducing emissions intensity of gross domestic product.Without stating targets for absolute emission cuts like Brazil, India said it aims to reduce emissions intensity or emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 33-35% by 2030, from 2005 levels. Ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, India had committed to reduce its emissions intensity by 20-25%, and the environment ministry said it has already achieved a 12% reduction. This essentially means the new target to reduce emissions intensity by 35% is doable.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Announcing the broad goals, Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar said the targets were set keeping in mind the responsibility of achieving climate justice for the poor. “India’s contributions represent utmost ambitious action in the current state of development. Though India is not part of the problem, it wants to be part of the solution.” He added that India’s per capita emission is 1.6 tonnes/person against the world average of 5 tonnes/person.Key to the reduction in emissions is going to be the ambitious plan to scale up share of non-fossil fuel in energy production to 40%. For this, the government has planned to ramp up production of solar energy, wind energy, hydro-electric power and nuclear energy. In its official document though, the government has not specified a break-up of how much each renewable sector will contribute to achieve the target of 40%.India’s dependency on coal, however, will continue. A foreseeable scaling up in the manufacturing sector under the Make in India programme may hamper reduction in emissions. In addition, the climate action plan stresses that afforestation by 2030 will help absorb carbon emissions of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes, something experts are sceptic about.”Notwithstanding the claims, forests are under threat and the forest rights Act is getting diluted. At a time when the government is trying to open up degraded forests for private enterprises, how can you create carbon sinks. So there is a gap in claims and actions,” said Devinder Sharma, an agrarian expert.The government has estimated that at least $2.5 trillion would be required between now and 2030 to fulfill the climate action targets. Javadekar said the responsibility of funding climate action plans of developing nations lies with the developed nations. “We can achieve these with the help of transfer of technology and low-cost international financing, including from Green Climate Fund,” he said.The country’s climate action plan was well received by environmental campaigners, academicians and think-tanks. “India’s INDC is fair and is quite ambitious, specifically on renewable energy and forestry,” said Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment. Analysing the action plan, a CSE note said India’s emission targets are similar to that of China’s and called the renewable energy targets more ambitious than that of US.The Third World Network (TWN), a non-profit working on issues related to climate change and sustainable development said the climate action plan needs to be applauded. “Even though dependency on coal is going to remain, the government is working on clean coal policies and better emissions standards. The action plan is exemplary in some senses and even the US has not set such targets,” said Indrajit Bose, senior research officer, TWN.

We can’t stop at Shershah Suri’s roads…we have to move further: Prakash Javadekar

Even as the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC) states the importance of conserving wildlife corridors, it has cleared several road and infrastructure projects in critical habitats. In an exclusive interview with dna, MoEF&CC minister Prakash Javadekar feels that his ministry is doing the needful for both development and environment. Javadekar also spoke on the issues on which the ministry plans to amend CRZ notification, 2011.
Excerpts from the interview:

The Shailesh Nayak committee gave its report on CRZ notification earlier this year. What are the broad contours regarding easing of CRZ norms?Basically, Shailesh Nayak committee has given suggestions on CRZ I to IV, including islands where people are staying. So, coastal development has to be taken into account along with the vulnerability of people living near coasts. We have to build resilience in coastal areas keeping in mind extreme weather events and increasing population on coasts. The committee’s report is under consideration, and a small group of the ministry is studying it. We are also looking at the global best practices for coastal development, regulation, protection and even tourism development. We need to use our coastline to the best advantage of maintaining ecology as well as allowing development and tourism.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> Talking specifically of Mumbai which has unique infrastructure and environment issues, is the ministry looking at specific amendments to the CRZ notification?We will definitely do so. In Mumbai, either the rich or the poor are living near the coastline. You cannot allow people to submerge one day. Redevelopment of coastal colonies is an issue and another big issue is of the dilapidated buildings. The rules were frozen, FSI and other things, since 1991. So, while the rules in the city (non-CRZ areas) have changed, the rules of construction in coastal zones have not changed. These are the problems we are addressing. This being an important policy decision, we will take guidance of the Prime Minister and take opinion of the cabinet colleagues. We are doing our home-work. This week, I am going to see the presentation of our own ministry on the issue. We may present a cabinet note if required after due diligence. Also, we will definitely put the (Nayak) committee’s report in public domain. Devendra Fadnavis had announced that a new chemical zone is proposed in Konkan, Western Ghats, even as one already exists in Parshuram-Lote which has polluted Vashihstri River. Will red category industries not pollute the Ghats more?We have mandated 24×7 online pollution monitoring in the all industrial zones. This (chemical zone) will not be situated in the eco-sensitive zone of the Ghats. Your ministry is also clearing and supporting projects fragmenting critical wildlife corridors and protected areas in the country in the case of NH7, Karnala sanctuary, Ken-Betwa River Link etc. How do justify the decisions while saying that these corridors are important?No, that is not true. Karnala is not a tiger reserve. While expanding the road through Karnala, we are adopting mitigation measures. Shershah Suri (the founder of the Sur Empire in North India) built roads, you cannot stop at that and have to move further. In Karnala or other places, there is honking, pollution and accidents on many such roads. But we are coming up with an eco-duct to aide wildlife crossing, it is one of the world’s best mitigation measures suggested by Wildlife Institute of India. It is a classic example of balancing environment and development. It is true that NHAI has agreed to build wildlife crossings while expanding NH7, it is also a fact that they did so after a long legal battle in NGTUnlike the earlier government we are listening to sane voices. We sat together and we solved the matter. But it is the NGT who asked your ministry and NHAI about NH7’s wildlife clearance and mitigation measure and directed both to arrive at mitigation measuresThe earlier government (Congress-NCP) had not given wildlife clearances. Either you reject it or give it. You cannot keep all projects in limbo. We have decided to take decisions. Regarding the Ken-Betwa river link project, do you think the concept of linking is viable?Though the matter is sub judice, I believe that we can protect both forests and wildlife. We have only 2.5% of world’s landmass and 17% of world’s population. I can’t say that I have to keep everything open and not allow human development. Linking Godavari to Krishna has succeeded. For Ken-Betwa, both Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have agreed. We have to ensure that while linking the two, there is no damage to a major wildlife habitat, and there will be a way out. But this project does go through the Panna tiger reserve?But because this is in court, and I have to file an affidavit, I will not like to talk. The ministry has also issued guidelines on opening up 40% of ‘degraded’ forests to private enterprises for their management, can you elaborate?We want to involve private players on a transparent basis. We are giving access to only those who are importing wood, because they are also creating jobs. The framework we have in mind, is to make available ‘degraded’ forests for afforestation. Non-forestry activities won’t be allowed. Ten per cent of the area will have plants or trees of traditional species bearing fruits, flower wood, that is useful for birds and animals. These trees won’t be harvested for commercial use. The remaining 90% will be offered on rent plus revenue sharing and they can harvest wood for commercial utilisation. So the intention is to create forests in areas where there is no forest, giving us revenue and also generating employment. While you say that 10% will be traditional trees on these land parcels, aren’t you encouraging monoculture on the other 90% for trade?But today, there is nothing on these parcels. Most of these land parcels to be considered are either encroached or barren. They are forests only on paper.

MoEF defers green clearance for Ken-Betwa river link

A detailed wildlife conservation and management plant is also to be submitted to the panel.

The Ken-Betwa river link project has a significant environment and wildlife impact as it passes right through the Panna Tiger Reserve

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s controversial Ken-Betwa river link project is likely to face difficulties and delays as the environment ministry has deferred environment clearance for the project. An expert panel of the environment ministry appraising the project noted that the river-link will significantly affect the Panna Tiger Reserve and thus all aspects of the project will have to be studied more carefully.The primary purpose of the river-link project is to irrigate 6.35 lakh hectares of land and divert water from Ken, Madhya Pradesh to Betwa in Uttar Pradesh. But, the project has a significant environment and wildlife impact as it passes right through the Panna Tiger Reserve, where tigers had vanished in 2009 and the reserve was re-populated with great effort. Contrary to the claims of National Water Development Agency (NWDA) which states that only 41.4 sq km of Panna will be submerged, independent conservationists peg the submergence area at 92 sq km.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>After appraising the details of the project, the environment ministry’s expert panel asked the Madhya Pradesh government for information and studies that they thought was not presented completely. The panel stressed that the project will impact the habitat of tigers, other wildlife and thus a study was needed on loss of habitat, migratory paths for wildlife, including birds. It has also asked for more details on the impact of animal distribution, especially on tigers.Since the project falls within the Panna Reserve, the panel had asked the Madhya Pradesh status of the National Board for Wildlife clearance about the recommendations made by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.A detailed wildlife conservation and management plant is also to be submitted to the panel. The panel also touched upon the critical issue of micro climatic change that the project is likely to bring about due to the submergence of 9,000 hectares of mixed, dry deciduous teak forest. It specifically asked the project proponents to clarify the impact on micro-climatic conditions.As the project affects tigers, ghariyals and a thriving river ecology, it has faced stiff opposition and representations were also made to the expert panel. About seven representations were received from various non-profit organizations. The panel has asked the NWDA and Madhya Pradesh government to respond to these objections.Meanwhile, as reported by dna in June, four sanctuaries are proposed to be added to Panna in lieu of the area submerged. The Uttar Pradesh government has agreed to include Ranipur and Mahavir Swami wildlife sanctuaries as satellite core of Panna while Madhya Pradesh has agreed to convert 60 sq.kms of buffer area of the tiger reserve into core area.

Government hires top firms to implement TSR Subramanian report on environmental laws

Even as a Parliamentary panel recommended in July that the TSR Subramanian report on revising and amending environment laws be scrapped, the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) is pushing ahead with creation of a framework on the report’s recommendations. Documents accessed by dna revealed that the MoEFCC have hired renowned consultancy firm Ernst and Young and one of the India’s biggest law firms Amarchand and Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff and Co for this job.

Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis

PTI photo
Even as a Parliamentary panel recommended in July that the TSR Subramanian report on revising and amending environment laws be scrapped, the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) is pushing ahead with creation of a framework on the report’s recommendations. Documents accessed by dna revealed that the MoEFCC have hired renowned consultancy firm Ernst and Young and one of the India’s biggest law firms Amarchand and Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff and Co for this job.According to the ministry’s documents, the two firms have been hired as a consortium in the role of a ‘Technical Consultant’. The TSR Subramanian led high-level committee was formed in August last year to review six environment laws and were asked to “recommend specific amendments to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives”. After holding a total of 30 meetings with stakeholders across the country, the Subramanian committee made 55 key recommendations.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>As technical consultants, the consultancy and the legal firm have been entrusted the job to prepare a ‘framework’ based on the recommendations of the Subramanian committee report and to “assist in finalisation of environment and related laws.” The MoEFCC will pay Rs1.33 crores to the technical consultants for their services, documents showed. dna mailed queries to Ernst and Young asking them to elucidate their expertise in the field of environment law and their past collaborations with MoEFCC. But the consultancy firm was not available for comment. According to ministry sources, a confidentiality clause also exists between MoEFCC and the consultancy firm on their collaboration. E&Y has been carrying out environment impact assessment reports for project proponents over the past several years.The hiring of these two technical consultants show that the MoEFCC is actively looking at enforcing the recommendations of the Subramanian report that was criticised from all quarters including the parliamentary standing committee on science & technology, environment and forests.While reviewing the Subramanian report, the parliamentary panel had questioned the composition and expertise of the high-level committee to recommend changes in environment laws. While asking the ministry to scrap the report, it had said, “an impression should not be created that a committee whose constitution and jurisdiction are itself in doubt has been used to tinker with the established law and policy.”In its report on the six environment laws – Environment Protection Act, Wildlife Protection Act, Indian Forest Act, Forest Conservation Act, Water and Air Pollution Act – the Subramanian committee had recommended dilution of certain clearances pertaining to linear projects and even the Forest Rights Act, that did not come under its mandate. The committee’s report also recommended that a new umbrella law be created and said that instead of the National Green Tribunal district level administrative tribunals be created. The Subramanian committee had also suggested that on the principle of ‘utmost good faith’ a system of self-certification be created for industry’s compliance of environment laws.”The ministry’s decision to hire these technical consultants for working on the Subramanian report is questionable. The committee’s report had been squarely criticised for its content, process and composition,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal research director, Centre for Policy Research – Namati, environment justice programme. Framework will be preparedAs technical consultants, the consultancy and the legal firm have been entrusted the job to prepare a ‘framework’ based on the recommendations of the Subramanian committee report and to “assist in finalisation of environment and related laws.” The MoEFCC will pay Rs1.33 crores to the technical consultants for their services, documents showed. dna mailed queries to Ernst and Young asking them to elucidate their expertise in the field of environment law and their past collaborations with MoEFCC. But the consultancy firm was not available for comment

Green Tribunal notice to Maharashtra forest department, NHAI

The NGT’s principal bench on Monday issued a show-cause notice to the state forest department and NHAI for violating its orders and asked why its properties may not be attached and contempt proceedings not be initiated against them.

The Maharashtra forest department and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) have earned the ire of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for cutting trees in forest land.Going against the NGT’s orders, the forest department had hacked trees on forest land in Nagpur division for widening National Highway 7 (NH7).The NGT’s principal bench on Monday issued a show-cause notice to the state forest department and NHAI for violating its orders and asked why its properties may not be attached and contempt proceedings not be initiated against them.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The forest department started felling trees in the Mogra beat under the Pauni range on the Maharashtra side of NH7. The proposed NH7 widening will touch the Kanha-Pench wildlife corridor, considered one of the best tiger habitats in the country.The petitioner, Srushti Paryavaran Mandal, submitted photographs to the Tribunal as evidence of tree felling, which, they claimed, started on August 26 and went on for 4-5 days. It also informed that the bench that the Maharashtra government, too, had not given final permission for cutting trees on forest land under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and the state’s special counsel confirmed it.After observing the evidence and the petitioner’s application to initiate contempt proceedings, Justice Swatanter Kumar said: “Despite our orders in May and August, indiscriminate felling of trees was carried out. The Tribunal added that they were prima facie satisfied with the submission of the petitioner that their orders were violated. Pulling up the NHAI, it said that, as project proponent, the NHAI had assured there would be no tree felling.”The NGT’s interim orders to not cut trees were passed in an on-going case pertaining to the forest clearance issued for widening NH7 through Mansar in Maharashtra and Khawasa in Madhya Pradesh.Around 30,000 trees are to be cut for widening the highway, which faced stiff resistance from environmentalists and locals. Felling of trees on forest land had come just on the back of the NHAI and environment ministry decision to build the country’s first-ever animal underpasses and overpasses on NH7 to facilitate passage of wild animals.The NHAI was earlier hesitant to spend on mitigation measures for wildlife, but, after the ecological importance of the wildlife corridor was highlighted before NGT, NHAI came around. As of now, a Rs500 crore mitigation plan has been chalked out.

Water ministry to defer nod for dams

Uttarakhand’s Tehri dam. Pic for representational purposes only

In a move that affirms the importance of evaluating the ecological flows (e-flow) of major rivers at a time when the Central government has planned hundreds of hydro power projects in the country, the water ministry has told the Central Water Commission (CWC) to not approve dams or barrages till the time an expert committee submits its report on adequate e-flows. The directive of the ministry of water resources (MoWR) is likely to be a setback for several mega-dams that the Centre and private companies have planned in states such as Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. Factoring in e-flow of a river is crucial for maintaining its water levels, its eco-system and to sustain livelihood along the river.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Central government has been pushing hydro power projects to move away from coal-fired plants but majority of the hydro power projects have come under a cloud of resistance due to their impacts on ecology, wildlife and tribal communities and also because of flawed impact assessments. The decision to defer approval for dams and barrages was communicated on August 25 by Shashi Shekhar, secretary, ministry of water resources, in a letter to the CWC chairman AB PandyaWithout mincing words, the letter states that dams and barrages have were designed in the past without factoring in e-flow, thus fragmenting rivers and its flora and fauna. It also highlighted that most rivers in India come to lift only during the period of monsoon and are dry rest of the months.”Environment flow in rivers is a necessity for survival of a river and also for it to perform its ecological functions and also to ensure that the cultural dependence of the community is maintained,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, all these functions of a river have been compromised on account of construction of dams and barrages that did not factor sufficient e-flow,” the letter explained. dna has accessed the letter. Shashi Shekhar, the secretary of the water resources ministry could not be reached for comment.It went on to add, “The quantum of e-low is being determined by a committee which is yet to submit its report. Therefore, I have been asked to inform you that till the committee submits its report, CWC may not approve or design any dam or barrage or any structure till the report on e-flow is finalised.dna spoke to Amarjit Singh, additional secretary, ministry of water resources who denied knowledge of the letter but said, “The expert committee is finalising its report on e-flows and it will be put in public domain once done.”To give an idea of how widely India plans to dam its various rivers, one has to only look at Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. According to the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People a non-profit organisation, 197 large, small and mini hydropower projects with a total capacity of 21,212.8 MW are planned in Uttarakhand that suffered a massive flood disaster in 2013. In Arunachal Pradesh, which is covered by 82% of forests, 160 hydro power projects with a total capacity of 60,000MW have been planned. The largest one, Dibang multipurpose project with a capacity of 2,880 MW, will wipe out 4,577 hectares of rich forests alone.

Reconsider clearance to coal mine near Tadoba, says MoEF panel member

According to the REC member, the coal mine stands to threaten an important tiger corridor that connects Tadoba’s tiger population southwards to Indravati Tiger Reserve, Chattisgarh.

Taking note of dna’s story on the potential threat to Tadoba’s tigers due to a coal mine that was given forest clearance in Chandrapur district, a member of the regional empowered committee (REC) of environment minister told dna that the clearance should be reconsidered. The environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) has recommended stage-I clearance for extension of the Durgapur open cast mine run by Western Coalfields, that has a capacity of 2MT per annum. The mine will supply coal to the Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station, run by Maharashtra State Power Generation Company.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to the REC member, the coal mine stands to threaten an important tiger corridor that connects Tadoba’s tiger population southwards to Indravati Tiger Reserve, Chattisgarh. He also added that the information on the corridor was not brought to the notice of the FAC. “The coal mine will potentially disturb the tiger corrdior and also the wildlife that moves around the project site. The mine is also located close to Tadoba tiger reserve’s buffer zone and the blasting work will lead to noise population,” said Suresh Chopane, member of the REC.Chopane added, “The areas around the mine also witnesses human-animal conflict mostly involving leopards.Cutting down the forests may lead to an escalation in incidences of human-animal conflict.” The REC member told dna that since the coal mine is located close to a wildlife corridor, it may also need a wildlife clearance, as per the Wildlife Protection Act. “It seems that crucial information has not been highlighted before the FAC and the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the state forest department needs to be informed about it,” Chompane added.The Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserve (TATR) is the biggest in Maharashtra and its core and buffer areas are home to nearly 56 tigers, according to a study carried out by Wildlife Conservation Trust while the entire Chandrapur region, including TATR, is home to 108 tigers. The region’s environement is already under stress as it is home to several coal mines that are have been a cause of forest diversion and air pollution.

BMS opts out of September 2 labour strike

The BMS, on Friday, was present during a meeting of all the 11 central trade unions and according to sources, they suggested that the strike be deferred.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) announced on Saturday to opt out of the proposed September 2 strike that was jointly called by eleven central trade unions, deciding to give more time to the BJP led government on issues pertaining to improvement in labour policies. The BMS, on Friday, was present during a meeting of all the 11 central trade unions and according to sources, they suggested that the strike be deferred. But it was opposed and the other unions – CITU, BMS, INTUC, AITUC, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, UTUC and LPF – and their affiliates will go ahead with the strike.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The government has said that it will amend key laws and it needs time to do that. They have come forward with a positive assurance and we decided to opt out of the strike because of that. As for the other unions especially those affiliated to left parties, they want to continue in their confrontationist methods,” said Vrijesh Upadhyay against the government’s economic and labour policies.The central trade unions had presented a 12-point charter of demands to the government that included rollback of amendments made to the labour laws and nullifying controversial amendments from the Land Bill, 2015. The unions are also opposing privatization in railways, insurance and defence while also demanding universal public distribution system and increasing minimum wages. The Prime Minister appointed an inter-ministerial committee comprising of Arun Jaitley, Bandaru Dattatreya, Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal and Jitendra Singh. The committee had three rounds of meetings with the trade unions but failed to break ground. AK Padmanabhan, president, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, told dna, “The government has given very vague assurances and we saw no reason to defer the strike.

Maharashtra: Tadoba tiger reserve faces coal mine threat

The Tadoba national park is Maharashtra’s oldest and biggest national park. The ministry’s decision is significant as, just this May, a study carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Trust revealed that 48 tigers inhabited forests outside of the protected areas in Chandrapur district.

In what will be seen as a setback for another critical tiger corridor in the country, the environment ministry’s forest advisory committee has recommended clearance for the extension of the Durgapur open cast mine, run by Western Coalfields, near the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Chandrapur, Maharashtra. The Tadoba national park is Maharashtra’s oldest and biggest national park. The ministry’s decision is significant as, just this May, a study carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Trust revealed that 48 tigers inhabited forests outside of the protected areas in Chandrapur district.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> According to a Greenpeace report, the government has already allowed diversion of 2,558 hectares of forest for coal mining in Chandrapur district since 2000. More importantly, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) considers conservation of tiger corridors vital to prevent segregation of tiger populations and even the state forest department has admitted that tigers and leopards are commonly seen in the area. The open cast mine, with a capacity of 2MT per annum, is located 12.25 km from the TATR and will supply coal to the Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station, run by Maharashtra State Power Generation Company. The mine operations require cutting down of 121.58 hectares of forest. The FAC granted stage-I clearance for the mining project after it commissioned Wildlife Institute of India to chalk out mitigation measures for wildlife protection. The ministry though has not specified the mitigation measures that were accepted before granting clearance. While discussing the project for clearance, it was observed that the forest to be cut down for the mine is located at the western end of TATR south corridor. This corridor connects the tiger reserve to Chaprala wildlife sanctuary and further to Indravati Tiger Reserve, Chhattisgarh. The FAC, though, maintained that the forest diversion will not have any impact on the movement of animals using this corridor, but additional diversion of forest may impair the functionality of the corridor that is under consideration. The Maharashtra forest department’s clearances do not make any mention of tiger corridors, although NTCA has counted the habitat around TATR as a critical habitat for central Indian landscape. Furthermore, according to a site inspection report by the ministry’s Bhopal office, sloth bears, leopards, wild pigs, bluebulls and barking deer roam in the forest to be cut down for the mine. At variance with the FAC’s observations about the tiger corridor, the site inspection report also states that “there will not be much impact on general ecosystem as the area is plain and in continuation of existing mines.” Local activists said this is a continuing trend of granting clearances in critical tiger habitats that will adversely impact connectivity between key protected areas. Activists also questioned whether the project has obtained wildlife clearance under Wildlife Protection Act, as it falls in a tiger corridor. Recently, the NHAI was asked by the NGT to seek wildlife clearance for widening of NH7 project as it cuts through Kanha-Pench tiger corridor.

To secure mining sector, Devendra Fadnavis asks Centre to increase paramilitary deployment

Three major players – Lloyd Steel, Jindal Steel Works (JSW) and Ajanta Minerals – have lined up their projects in Gadchiroli’s mineral rich regions of Surjagarh hills, Damkodvadavi hills and Agri Maseli. Locals are protesting the projects on the grounds that they will wipe out majority of forests without much social and economic benefit.

In a bid to push the stagnant iron ore mining sector in Naxal affected Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday asked union home minister Rajnath Singh to increase deployment of security forces in order to secure the iron rich region. Naxal violence affected Gadchiroli has a forest cover of nearly 78 per cent which has 180MT of iron ore deposits out of the total 270MT iron ore reserves in the state.Fadnavis met the home minister along with union transport and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari, union chemical and fertilizer minister Hansraj Ahir, Gadchiroli MP Ashok Nete and the region’s guardian minister Raje Ambrish Atram. Speaking to reporters after their meeting, Fadnavis said, “Gadchiroli is mineral rich and along with mining we also want to push for setting up of industries to process the minerals. For that, we discussed as to how much additional security is required.” The CM added, “We also want to impart skill training to local tribal youth to include them in this development process and along side a strong road network should also be in place.”<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Three major players – Lloyd Steel, Jindal Steel Works (JSW) and Ajanta Minerals – have lined up their projects in Gadchiroli’s mineral rich regions of Surjagarh hills, Damkodvadavi hills and Agri Maseli. Locals are protesting the projects on the grounds that they will wipe out majority of forests without much social and economic benefit.The naxals inflicted a body blow to mining companies in the region in June 2013, when they shot dead Lloyd Steel Vice President Jaspal Singh Dhillon, 61, a contractor and a Surjagarh resident at Surjagarh, near the company’s steel plant. According to local activists who did not wish to be named, the Surjagarh resident Raju Sedmake was killed as he was seen a conduit of the company, who was trying to persuade villagers to give a nod for the mining project.At present, only Lloyd has obtained licences to mine while JSW is yet to obtain licences to begin work. In the past few weeks, the CM also carried out a review meeting with top police officials, collectors of Gondia and Gadchiroli along with Nitin Gadkari. This meeting was a prelude to the CM’s meeting with the home minister to present the action plan for making an industrial push in Gadchiroli.Speaking to the dna after Thursday’s meeting, Gadchiroli collector Ranjit Kumar said, “Our plans will focus on inclusion of locals in the mining and processing sector by way of providing them employment and skill training. We are trying to push for job creation by attracting investment for steel plants. Along side, we are also extending rail heads and connectivity between the district and Andhra Pradesh.”

Ken-Betwa river link project’s EIA inadequate and flawed, say environmentalists

The Ken-Betwa link project is the first proposed river-linking project in the country. The project involves transferring 591 million cubic metres of surplus water in the Ken basin in UP through a 231.45-km canal to the Betwa river in MP.

In a scathing letter to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), environmentalists and former senior bureaucrats have exposed inadequacies in the environment impact assessment (EIA) of the ambitious Ken-Betwa river link project. The South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), who have authored the letter, sent it to the environment appraisal committee (EAC) of the MoEFCC as they considered the project for the environmental clearance on August 25. The letter has been endorsed by former power secretary EAS Sarma and Ramaswamy R Iyer, former secretary of water resources ministry, who had a major role in drafting the National Water Policy, 1987.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Ken-Betwa link project is the first proposed river-linking project in the country. The project involves transferring 591 million cubic metres of surplus water in the Ken basin in UP through a 231.45-km canal to the Betwa river in MP. Land needed for acquisition is an estimated 6,000 hectares and the cost of resettlement Rs 333 crore. But, according to environmentalists the project will reduce 30% of the Panna Tiger Reserve and almost 10 per cent of the 54,266 hectare of its area will get submerged.The letter to the EAC highlights the violations in the public hearing process that was held in December 2014. According to the letter, a majority of the citizens present at the meeting had opposed the project despite being shouted down by activists of the rulung party. SANDRP notes in detail the inadequacies of the EIA report. The report, SANDRP says, fails to assess impact of reservoir which will effectively cut areas of the Panna tiger reserve to the west and also the notified forests beyond.The EIA says that “no operation and activity is proposed in Panna protected area except the submergence.” But, the dam to be for water diversion will be built inside the Panna national park. As far as enlisting vulerable and threatened species is concerned, the EIA enlists species that are not found anywhere close to the project site. According to the EIA, Philippine pangolin, found only in Philippines is found at the project site along with animals such as slender loris, slow loris and even sagai, all animals not found in the area. The EIA is also completely silent about the existence of Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary in the downstream area, which will be adversely impacted due to the project.”We have sent this letter to the EAC so they are informed abut the incorrect information and flaws in the EIA report. They should apply their mind while considering environmental clearance and we have demanded that a fresh EIA is needed,” said Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP.The river-linking project has garnered significant protests. The project’s impact on Panna tiger reserve even prompted the ex-field director R.Sreenivasa Murthy to write to the Madhya Pradesh state government.

Maharashtra to reduce Western Ghats ESA area?

Even as the deadline to submit final demarcations of eco-sensitive areas (ESA) in Western Ghats is only a fortnight away, four out of the six Western Ghats states are yet to present their reports to the Centre and according to reliable sources Maharashtra, like Kerala, may recommend reducing the ESA area in the state.In March 2014, the environment ministry had issued a draft notification, identifying 60,000 sq km of area in Ghats as ecologically sensitive and the ministry has to finalise the draft in 500 days, which is by September 9. Only Kerala and Goa have given their reports while the remaining four states – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – have yet to submit their ground assessment of the notification, that was based on recommendations of the K.Kasturirangan-led high-level working group. To carry out ground assessment, the state government had decided to form local committees comprising forest officers, revenue officials and gram panchayat members.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While speaking on the issues, Maharashtra evironment minister Ramdas Kadam told dna that most Western Ghat districts have sent in their ground assessments. “District officials from Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Raigad have sent reports of the villages notified as ESAs. Gram Sabhas were organised for this purpose and in most cases, villages have affirmed the boundaries as far as forested areas are concerned. We will be able to send our report before September 9.”But, sources privy to developments said that like Kerala, even in Maharashtra, several villages are likely to omit farmlands and plantations, described as cultural landscapes by the Kasturirangan committee, from the ESA boundaries. This may to lead to reduction in Maharashtra’s ESA area. In Kerala, the government got the Centre to reduce 3100 sq.kms of ESA to de-link farmlands from them.In Maharashtra, the Kasturirangan report identified 17,340 sq km as an ESA, comprising 2159 villages. These are spread across Ahmednagar, Dhule, Nandurbar, Nashik, Pune, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Thane districts. Politicians across party lines in the state have protested both the Madhav Gadgil report and K Kasturirangan report on the grounds that it will halt development.The Kasturirangan report had recommended prohibition on commercial mining and highly polluting industries. It has asked for phasing out of commercial mining from ESA’s by 2018 and has prohibited all red category industries that pollute heavily. As many as 85 different industrial activities fall in the red category. Biodiversity hotspotsThe Western Ghats ares a 1,600km long mountain range running all along the west coast of India. It covers the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat, approximately 1,40,000 sq km. These mountains are home to number of endemic plants and animal species.The Western Ghats consist of 5000 vascular plants. Of these, about 30% are endemic to the GhatsWestern Ghats also have over 450 species of birds 35% of them endemicThere exist 140 mammal species (around 20% endemic) and 260 reptile species (over 60% endemic)The range also has a number of fresh water fishes and a number of invertebratesThe Western Ghats are one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots (Bio geographic regions with sizeable biodiversity endangered by humans)

MoEF has approved 176 ESZ approvals: Prakash Javadekar

ESZ’s are declared around protected areas to regulate activity in and around them and to maintain their ecological sanctity.

In an effort to showcase the fast pace of work in environment ministry under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), environment minister Prakash Javadekar said on Monday that his ministry is in the process of declaring eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) of 176 protected areas across the country. Mocking the functioning of the environment ministry under United Progressive Alliance, Javadekar said, “Ever after the Supreme Court asked for declaration of ESZ’s in 2006, the UPA managed to notify only 15 of them till 2014. On the other hand, I have approved 176 proposals.” In a 2006 ruling, the SC had said that until Centre declared ESZ’s, an area of 10kms from the PA’s would be considered as the ESZ.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>ESZ’s are declared around protected areas to regulate activity in and around them and to maintain their ecological sanctity. In the case of several protected areas and tiger reserves, the ESZ’s are as important as they nurture a similar habitat and witness regular movement of wildlife. ESZ’s are also crucial in the case of urban protected areas as pressures of development are manifold. According to the ministry’s data, India has a total of 624 protected areas (PA) such as national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves and proposals for 445 ESZ proposals have been submitted. Out of these 445, total of 156 proposals are still under scrutiny and 113 are under process in the ministry.The minister also clarified that besides the 176 proposals, draft notification was already issues for 31 PA’s while a final notification was issued for 32 PA’s. The ministry completed the process of declaring ESZ’s only in Sikkim and Goa till now. Even as the minister played up the pace of work in declaring ESZ’s, there was no mention of on what scientific basis ESZ’s were demarcated and reduced. In fact, regarding the recent controversial notification declaring an ESZ of only 1.27 kms around Okhla bird sanctuary, the minister did not specify as to how errant builders were penalized. Conservationists said that the ministry is only in a hurry to declare ESZ’s without paying attention to demarcation, commercial activities carried out around PA’s and implementation. “The ministry has done precious little to implement existing ESZ’s such as the Mandakani basin ESZ in Uttarakhand. With regards to demarcation of boundaries, it is not clear what science has been followed and commercial activities are guiding ESZ declarations.Also, there is an overlap of buffer zones and ESZ’s,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, environmental lawyer and former member of standing committee, National Board for Wildlife .

Andhra Pradesh: National Board for Wildlife shelves proposal to resize Kolleru sanctuary

Last week, the National Board for Wildlife’s (NBWL) standing committee took up the proposal for consideration and after discussing it in detail, have decided to form a working group to study all “aspects of the matter”.

Home of the vulnerable Spot-Billed or Grey Pelican and 223 other avian species, the Kolleru Lake, one of India’s largest freshwater lake and the eponymous wildlife sanctuary are under threat as the Andhra Pradesh government has proposed to reduce the sanctuary’s size. Currently, the sanctuary is spread out across 308 sq kms, +5 feet above mean sea level. The AP government has proposed to reduce it to 135 sq kms and +3 feet above mean sea level.According to conservationists, the AP government’s move is a grave as it favours the interests of commercial aquaculture, whose methods and practices have in the past driven away the numerous bird species that prey on the lake’s fishes. Last week, the National Board for Wildlife’s (NBWL) standing committee took up the proposal for consideration and after discussing it in detail, have decided to form a working group to study all “aspects of the matter”.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>This will be the second time that an expert group will study the contentious issue since one detailed study, not recommending resizing of the sanctuary, was already carried out during UPA-II. The new working group will have Wildlife Institute of India expert R Sukumar, one member from the ministry’s wildlife division and one member from forest department of AP government and they have to submit a report to NBWL with two months.While arguing their case for resizing the boundary, state officials made a detailed presentation indicating that the sanctuary includes about 14861 acres of zirayati (private) lands which is the basis of livelihood of local population. With notification of their land in the sanctuary, their livelihood has been affected and the state is not in a position to provide compensation to them. But the NBWL committee noted that the sanctuary was notified after an order of the high court of Andhra Pradesh and even the Centrally Empowered Committee of the apex court ordered removal of aquaculture fish tanks within the sanctuary area. The apex court had ordered demolition of fish tanks after it was highlighted that pisiculturists drove away birds who would prey on fishes.

NHAI finally agrees to NH7 wildlife mitigation plan

After several flip-flops, citizen protests and pressure from the National green Tribunal (NGT) the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has finally come around to accept a wildlife mitigation plan that will aide movement of tigers and other wildlife across the widened NH7 in the Kanha-Pench corridor. The Kanha-Pench corridor connecting national parks at these two places is considered one of the best tiger habitats in the country and the proposed four-laned NH7 will cut through this corridor. The mitigation plan agreed upon includes building an eco-duct or a landscaped animal overpass in the Madhya Pradesh section, which will be a first in the country, and animal under passses in the Maharashtra stretch.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The development is significant as NHAI had in the past rejected Wildlife Institute of India’s mitigation plan on the grounds that it would increase the project budget substantially. According to sources, the estimated cost of the entire mitigation plan – Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh stretch – will be Rs.515 crores.Earlier this week, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) during a meeting of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) decided to grant wildlife clearance to the expansion of NH7 through the tiger corridor. During the meeting, the ministry and NHAI decided that a eco-duct or a landscaped animal overpass will be built above the main carriageway in the Khawasa and Rukhad section of NH7 in Madhya Pradesh.Sharing the details of the eco-duct, an NHAI official said, “We have agreed in-principal to build four eco-ducts of which two will be of 500m and one each of 800m and 300m in length. There will be 14 other minor structures too. We will spend approximately Rs300 crores on mitigation.” The eco-duct wildlife crossing will be a first of its kind mitigation measure to be adopted the country, made popular in Canada, Netherlands and Belgium.On the Maharashtra side of NH7, it has been decided that three animal underpasses will be built under the vehicular overpass. An NHAI official in-charge of the project in Maharashtra said, “Three animal underpasses will be built with two of 750m in length and one 300m long with a height of 5m each. Although I cannot quote the exact budget for the plan, it will cost an estimated amount of Rs215 crores.” Speaking on WII’s earlier recommendation, the NHAI official from MP said, “WII’s earlier recommendation to build a 2km long underpasses and 2km long elevated flyovers did not seem feasible to us and hence we had asked them to modify it.” The NHAI, though, have also been rapped in the NGT for not delaying a mitigation plan and are due to submit it before the TribunalWildlife conservationists said that mitigation measures should be studied carefully before implementation and authorities should also build pedestrian crossings on high-speed highways. “There is no precedent of a wildlife crossing for tigers anywhere, but mountain lions do use tunnels in California and elephants use crossings in Kenya. It is a recent innovation and it will be really helpful if we implement it properly. Along with it, highways should also have pedestrian crossings,” said Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist, Wildlife Conservation Society. ‘Not feasible’Speaking on WII’s earlier recommendation, the NHAI official from MP said, “WII’s earlier recommendation to build a 2km long underpasses and 2km long elevated flyovers did not seem feasible to us and hence we had asked them to modify it.” The NHAI, though, have also been rapped in the NGT for not delaying a mitigation plan and are due to submit it before the Tribunal

Delhi court allows RK Pachauri to travel abroad for climate change event

According to the court’s order, reviewed by dna, Pachauri has been permitted to travel between August 21 and September 1.

RK Pachauri

A Delhi metropolitan court on Wednesday allowed TERI director-general RK Pachauri, who is accused of sexual harassment by a 29-year old woman employee, to travel to China and Japan later this month in his capacity as the organiation’s head and as a climate scientist.According to the court’s order, reviewed by dna, Pachauri has been permitted to travel between August 21 and September 1. In August, he has been invited to attend a ‘strategic dialogue’ in China on the upcoming Climate Change conference to be held in Paris. Thereafter, he will be meeting Japan’s former environment minister Dr Wakako Hiranaka, who also happens to be a member of TERI’s governing council and ‘other dignitaries’, the order said.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>This is the first time that Pachauri has been allowed to travel abroad in his capacity as the DG of TERI since he was charged with sexual harassment. The climate scientist had resigned from the post of chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change after the accusations against him surfaced. Besides the IPCC, he also resigned as the member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change.Earlier, he was allowed to travel abroad between June 29 and July 9 to attend the funeral of his brother-in-law subject to certain conditions. On the court’s orders, Pachauri has to furnish two local sureties of Rs 2 lakh each along with an undertaking that he has to make himself available to the investigating officer of Delhi police as is needed. Also, he has to intimate the Indian High Commission of India in China and Japan through written communication, after he arrives there.During Wednesday’s court hearing, the investigating officer of Delhi police as well as the counsel of the complainant opposed Pachauri’s application. The investigation officer said that she opposed the application on grounds that he had failed to give satisfactory answers and also because he is required regularly for further examination/interrogation. But, the metropolitan magistrate Chauhan did not heed to either request. Chauhan said that the investigating officer has not specified on which dates Pachauri would be investigated and that made himself available for interrogation at length.

After opposing it in NGT, MoEF grants wildlife clearance for NH7 widening

Announcing the decision to give wildlife clearance to NH7, environment minister Prakash Javadekar said, “The process of four-laning NH7 has moved ahead.

The petitioner in the case has argued that the project will hit Kanha-Pench tiger corridor

PTI
After repeatedly submitting before National Green Tribunal (NGT) and through its letters to the Maharashtra government that a wildlife clearance was not required for widening National Highway (NH7), the environment ministry’s national board for wildlife (NBWL) on Tuesday accorded wildlife clearance to the project.Announcing the decision to give wildlife clearance to NH7, environment minister Prakash Javadekar said, “The process of four-laning NH7 has moved ahead. Mitigation measures have been agreed upon and clearance has been accorded on the basis of mitigation measures.” The minister did not specify what exact mitigation measures have been agreed upon for smooth passage of tigers. But, dna has learnt from reliable sources that the ministry has agreed to build underpass totalling 2.2km in length, substantially reducing it from the original 5.5kms of underpasses that was recommended by Wildlife Institute of India.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The ministry’s decision to take up wildlife clearance of NH7 widening goes against all submissions it has made in an on-going case in NGT. The petitioner in the case has argued that the project will adversely impact Kanha-Pench tiger corridor, one of the best in the country and will also lead to ecological damage due to felling of 20,000 trees.The widening and tree cutting will happen on a 37kms stretch between Mansar and Khawasa.The ministry’s counsel and NHAI counsel have consistently argued in NGT that wildlife clearance is not required as the project does not pass close to any protected areas. Whereas, the Wildlife Protection Act clearly states that in corridors which link two tiger reserves with each other it is essential to take the approval from the NBWL. In fact in a hearing last week, the NGT had rapped the ministry and National Highways Authority of India for the absence of a wildlife clearance. The ministry’s decision on Tuesday seems to follow NGT’s stern stand and its shaky legal grounds.Okhla bird sanctuary eco-sensitive zone finalisedThe NBWL meeting headed by Prakash Javadekar also finalized the eco-sensitive zone around the Okhla bird sanctuary, giving relief to thousands of home-buyers.The decision bring relief to around 60,000 home-buyers in Noida whose homes have not received a completion certificate. Speaking on the decision, Javadekar said, “We have finalized the draft notification and the final notification will be brought out in one week. It is a relief for home buyers who have invested their savings.” The Okhla bird sanctuary has an avian paradise with 400 species recorded at the site. The National Green Tribunal is hearing a matter on construction in the sanctuary’s eco-sensitive zone and had ordered that completion certificates cannot be given to home within 10kms of the bird habitat.The final eco-sensitive zone will stretch up to 100 metres on the eastern, western and southern boundary and up to 1.27km on the northern boundary of the sanctuary till the Delhi-Noida Direct Flyway across the river bed.

Refinery violated law near Kaziranga, MoEF tells NGT

The boundary wall, the petitioner had alleged, was built for a golf course in the No-Development Zone of Kaziranga National Park. In the latest hearing, the environment ministry told the principal bench headed by justice Swatanter Kumar that the forest officials are acting to preserve the bio-diversity at the site.

Backing the claims of a petitioner in the case pertaining to unauthorised construction in Kaziranga National Park’s No-Development Zone, the environment ministry (MoEF) admitted in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) this week that an oil refinery was in clear violation of established laws, rules and conditions. During the last hearing, the petitioner had produced before the NGT’s principal bench photographs and documents of the Golaghat forest division to show that a boundary wall built by the refinery had caused death of an elephant calf and obstructed movement of elephant herds.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> The boundary wall, the petitioner had alleged, was built for a golf course in the No-Development Zone of Kaziranga National Park. In the latest hearing, the environment ministry told the principal bench headed by justice Swatanter Kumar that the forest officials are acting to preserve the bio-diversity at the site. The ministry added that the allotment of the land and subsequent construction of huge boundary wall by the refinery have been proving disastrous to the natural system around the national park. More crucially, the ministry told the NGT that the loss of a critical forest, animal corridors, biodiversity, and eco system cannot be re-created. “The refinery should have developed waste land and built its township… definitely not by destroying an eco-sensitive area,” the ministry said quoting a letter from the local forest division. The boundary wall constructed by the Numaligarh Refinery Ltd. stretches up to 2kms and according to the forest department’s own admission, it obstructs elephant herds and has even caused the death of an elephant calf that hit its head against the wall. Following the submissions of the environment ministry, the Tribunal bench said the details depict the sensitive environmental issues involved and even support the case of the petitioner to a larger extent. The counsel for the refinery said some of the facts in the forest department’s submissions are not correct and asked for time to reply. The NGT has asked the refinery to file a reply by September 9.

No wildlife clearance with NHAI to widen highway in tiger habitat

The NGT bench said that as per Supreme Court’s verdict, every project within 10kms of any national park or tiger reserve requires prior clearance from NBWL.

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has not obtained the statutory wildlife clearance for widening NH7 through the critical Kanha-Pench tiger corridor thus failing to comply with conditions of forest clearance, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has said in a significant order. NGT’s principal bench has been hearing a matter three Maharashtra-based NGOs, who want the four-laning of NH7 – between Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh – to be stopped as it cuts through the Kanha-Pench tiger corridor, one of the best in the country and will involve felling of over 20,000 trees. This critical corridor, according to environment ministry’s own data, is home to 100 tigers, and bisons.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>During the hearing, Srushti Paryavaran Mandal’s counsel had highlighted that the critical corridor is significant for preserving the two-source tiger population and a project in this corridor would require wildlife clearance. The NGT bench, chaired by justice Swatanter Kumar noted that NHAI was given in-principal approval for diversion of 42.24 hectares of forest for the widening work on the condition that they will obtain wildlife clearance from National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). But, NHAI did not comply with this condition.The NGT bench said that as per Supreme Court’s verdict, every project within 10kms of any national park or tiger reserve requires prior clearance from NBWL. The tribunal’s observations are significant in the light of the NHAI’s stand that wildlife clearance was not required since the project passed through a corridor and not a protected area.The bench also highlighted that the Stage-II or final forest clearance was granted for the project this May, even as the appeal against the project was pending the tribunal. “If granting of Forest Clearance is finally set aside by the tribunal, and yet trees are permitted to be felled/cut, the environment and ecology of the area would certainly be disturbed and get adversely affected in a way that its restoration at a later stage would be impossible”, the bench said in its order.The tribunal also pulled up the Maharashtra state government for issuing a working permission for the project without checking and verifying if NHAI had fulfilled the conditions laid down in the forest clearance granted. The NHAI is also to yet finalize a mitigation plan for the smooth passage of animals across NH7 and the tribunal has given NHAI time till August 24 to submit a final mitigation plan for animal movement.

TERI staff uneasy as RK Pachauri continues meetings

After a meeting on July 23, TERI’s governing council comprising of Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Deepak Parekh and Naina Lal Kidwai announced that Ajay Mathur, director-general of Bureau of Energy Efficiency will be replacing Pachauri as its head.

Employees at The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) who had petitioned its governing council for removal of its director-general RK Pachauri, who is accused of sexual harassment, have said that it is business as usual at TERI as Pachauri is meeting with all departments, causing them discomfort. Pachauri is also likely to be the chief guest at TERI University’s Independence Day function in Vasant Kunj, sources said, since he is restrained by the court to enter premises of TERI’s headquarters at India Habitat Centre. Pachauri is the Chancellor of the University.After a meeting on July 23, TERI’s governing council comprising of Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Deepak Parekh and Naina Lal Kidwai announced that Ajay Mathur, director-general of Bureau of Energy Efficiency will be replacing Pachauri as its head. But, a statement released on behalf of TERI did not specify categorically that he was removed, but rather sought to give an impression that it was a planned leadership change.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Employees dna spoke to said that till date, the organisation has not officially communicated to them if there will be a leadership change. “There is apprehension of many of us he (Pachauri) may try to influence those who are in support of the complainant and some who supported fear intimidation,” said an employee of TERI on the condition of anonymity. The employee added, “He has been meeting all departments regularly to discuss fund-raising and is likely to be the chief guest at Teri University’s Independence Day function.” The employees raised their concerns at a time when the complainant wrote a four-page long letter to the Prime Minister drawing his attention to the pace of investigation in the case of alleged sexual harassment.Pachauri is also contesting the report of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) that found him guilty of misconduct and misuse of authority in the Industrial Tribunal. The Tribunal has already stayed the ICC’s report, on the grounds that the principal of natural justice was not followed. But curiously, the case also has TERI as one of the respondents at a time when Pachauri continues as its DG. The Tribunal’s next hearing is in September.dna enquired with TERI’s communications department as to when is the leadership change being effected but did not receive any clear response. Though Pachauri’s lawyer Ashish Dixit declined to give any statement on the issue, close aides of the climate scientist informed dna that Pachauri will continue to serve in his capacity as the Director-General till Ajay Mathur makes himself available to take charge and also as the Chancellor of Teri University.

BJP fails to solve Land Bill deadlock, moves it to winter session

With the Bill deferred, the Centre may have to re-promulgate the Land Bill ordinance, which was first brought in last December. The Centre had a slim hope of bringing out a consensus report on the last day of monsoon session, following the August 3 meeting in which there was agreement to nullify six contentious amendments.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to resolve the deadlock over the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2015 in the joint parliamentary committee thus leaving it with no option but to defer the controversial Bill to winter session of Parliament.After arriving at a consensus in the last meeting to roll back six contentious amendments of the Bill, the committee was to discuss three more clauses and submit a report to the Parliament on August 13. But, on Monday, the meeting saw another round of heated discussion as committee chairman SS Ahluwalia tried to persuade opposition members for a consensus in the final report.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Members of the Congress and Trinamool Congress said that there would be no consensus until the Bill was restored to its original 2013 version, as was passed in the Parliament. Congress MP’s Jairam Ramesh and Rajeev Satav walked out of the meeting, as the Ahluwalia made remarks about tactical delays, but were immediately called back.Further, Trinamool Congress members told Ahluwalia that they need more time to study all the amendments. With too many differences in the committee and little or no time left to adopt the report before the monsoon session ends, Ahluwalia moved a proposal to defer the Bill. This was accepted by all except Samajwadi Party and Nationalist Congress Party.With the Bill deferred, the Centre may have to re-promulgate the Land Bill ordinance, which was first brought in last December. The Centre had a slim hope of bringing out a consensus report on the last day of monsoon session, following the August 3 meeting in which there was agreement to nullify six contentious amendments. These related to consent clause, social impact assessment, exemption of certain projects from provisions of the Bill, on prosecution of officers, definition of private entity and acquisition for industrial corridors. But, the Lok Sabha speaker suspended 25 members of the Congress for disrupting the House and in the subsequent meeting, on August 4, Congress members requested cancellation of the meeting.This left the committee with only Monday’s meeting to draw out a unanimous report.

Golf course boundary wall obstructs elephant movement

The alleged illegality of the boundary wall and the death of a male elephant calf has been well documented by the Golaghat forest division in May this year.

A boundary wall erected for a golf course in the No-Development Zone (NDZ) of the Kaziranga National Park, Assam, that resulted in the death of a male elephant calf and which also obstructs movement of elephant herds has drawn the ire of National Green Tribunal. In an on-going matter regarding illegal activities of stone crushing and brick kilns carried out in the park’s NDZ, the petitioner pointed out these alarming developments.During a hearing on August 5, the petitioner alleged that the Numaligarh Refinery Ltd. (NRL) has illegally built a two-km long boundary wall for a golf course around their township and that this wall has not only obstructed elephant movement, but also resulted in the death of an elephant calf in May.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The petitioner produced photographs of an elephant herd bumping against the said boundary wall. In its order, the NGT’s principal bench chaired by justice Swatanter Kumar said, “The photographs have been placed on record to show that Golf Course has been made right in the midst of the Kaziranga National Park and the animal corridor in Kaziranga National Park are being interfered. That will not only disturb the animals but even effect the environment and ecology of that area.”The bench added, “In the meanwhile, we direct that no excavation work or felling of trees would be carried out in the No Development Zone in the Kaziranga National Park.” On the request of the petitioner, the Numaligarh Refinery Ltd. has now been made a respondent in the matter.The alleged illegality of the boundary wall and the death of a male elephant calf has been well documented by the Golaghat forest division in May this year. The letter of the Assistant Conservator of Forests, to the Divisional Forest Officer said, “The NRL has felled trees that formed part of a dense forest, measuring 5 hectares north of their township and excavated the land for construction of a golf course which is within the No Development Zone. This land is adjacent to the Proposed Deopahar Reserve Forest, and will cause extensive damage to the biodiversity of the land.”In its examination of the elephant calf’s death, the forest division had this to say, “On spot verification it was observed that the elephant calf died due to severe haemorrhage owing to violent thrust. It appears since the corridor was blocked by Numaligarh Refinery Limited Township wall, the elephant diverted to hill terrain and fell down and hit some hard object.” The said wall, it added is clearly causing congestion, and is fragmenting forest habitat; the end result being blockage of the crucial path for elephant movement.Along with the closure of brick kilns and stone crushing units, the petitioner has requested the NGT to direct the refinery to compensate for destruction of the forest land in the NDZ and restore it to the original condition. Green reserve ·The Kaziranga National Park is the largest habitat of the vulnerable one-horned rhinoceros. ·Currently, it does not have a notified eco-sensitive zone that will regulate activity and accord protection to the adjacent areas ·But, in 1996, a No-Development Zone was demarcated to regulate activities around the Numaligarh refinery ·The Karbi-Anglong Elephant Reserve is adjoining to the Kaziranga national park

Hydroelectric projects will adversely impact Tawang biodiversity: Study

The study, carried out by the North-Eastern Hill University, in one of its major recommendations has said that the HEPs located 3,200 metres above sea level should be rejected.

A voluminous study submitted to the environment ministry on the cumulative impact of 13 proposed hydroelectric (HEPs) projects on the Tawang River Basin (TRB), Arunachal Pradesh, has said that the projects will affect unique biodiversity, undisturbed forests and cultural diversity of TRB and will have detrimental impact on habitats of endangered flora and fauna. The study, carried out by the North-Eastern Hill University, in one of its major recommendations has said that the HEPs located 3,200 metres above sea level should be rejected.The 13 HEPs on Tawang river’s main stem and tribuataries — Tsa Chu-I, Tsa Chu-I lower, Tsa Chu-II, Thingbu chu, New Melling, Mago Chu, Nykcharong chu, Rho, Tawang-I, Tawang-II, Nyamjung Chhu, Paikangrong Chu, and Jaswantgarh stage — I will cut into 249 hectares of forest and have a total installed capacity of 2,809.10MW. Being run-of-river projects, they don’t large reservoirs that lead to displacement. Two of these HEP’s, Tsa Chu-I and Jaswantgarh stage-I, are located 3,200m above sea level.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The TRB is located within the Himalayan Biodiversity Hotspot, which is also listed among the 200 Globally Important Eco–regions. It entirely falls in highly active seismic Zone V with a proximity to glacial lakes and it represents a typical Eastern-Himalayan landscape which is prone to soil erosion and landslides.The detailed study has asked each project proponent to chalk out a comprehensive mitigation plan specific to the impact it has on surrounding flora and fauna. In its key recommendations, the report has said that 40 per cent of the main length of Tawang and its tributaries should be free flowing, which means it should be of free of any projects. It has said that 66 per cent of the total geographical area of the river basin should be under forest cover.Tawang is home to the Monpa community and also the famous Tawang monastery. A major part of the community has protested against projects planned in the TRB. Keeping this in mind, the report has recommended that the total population of Tawang at any given point of time should not exceed 57,474 persons, which is 15% more than the present population of 49,977. This, the report says is to protect the culture of ethnic community and to maintain a demographic balance.The TRB is located within the Himalayan Biodiversity Hotspot, which is also listed among the 200 Globally Important Eco–regions and is thus home to endangered and threatened species of both flora and fauna. Scientists have recorded 171 resident bird species and 71 migratory species in the river basin. The threatened species of black neck crane, which makes the river basin its winter home, is considered sacred and as a reincarnation of the 6th Dalai Lama of the Monpas.But, the 760MW Nyamjang Chu project’s barrage is proposed to be constructed near the same spot where the black neck cranes are sighted. Besides the crane, the river basin is home to the vulnerable species of red panda and the endangered Arunachal Macaque monkey.

MoEF, NHAI to submit NH7 mitigation plan for animal movement to National Green Tribunal in two weeks

The NGT has been hearing a matter involving three Maharashtra-based NGOs, who want the four-laning of NH7 – between Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh – to be stopped as it cuts through the Kanha-Pench tiger corridor, one of the best in the country and will involve felling of over 20,000 trees.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) informed the National Green Tribunal on Wednesday that they will be submitting a plan on the mitigation measures for movement of animals across NH7 in two weeks. The NGT has been hearing a matter involving three Maharashtra-based NGOs, who want the four-laning of NH7 – between Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh – to be stopped as it cuts through the Kanha-Pench tiger corridor, one of the best in the country and will involve felling of over 20,000 trees. This critical corridor, according to the environment ministry’s own data, is home to 100 tigers, and bisons.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>During Wednesday’s hearing, MoEFCC informed NGT’s principal bench, that they had a meeting with NHAI, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Maharashtra government and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) last Sunday to discuss the measures to mitigate the impact of NH7 widening on wildlife. Another round of meetings will take place and the ministry and NHAI are to submit a mitigation plan to NGT. According to sources, the NHAI, after trying to downgrade WII’s recommendations, is now trying to work out a compromise to expedite the widening project, which has to begin with felling of thousands of trees.Before today’s hearing, the MoEFCC had remained ambiguous on the mitigation plan prepared by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehra Dun, while the NHAI has been for long been trying to mould the mitigation plan to suit their convenience, cutting it down to size to reduce the expenditure. WII’s original plan involved Rs 750 crores of expenditure as it involved building overpasses and underpasses, but NHAI pared it down to Rs 244 crores and eventually to Rs 4.95 crore. But, after the NTCA last week informed NGT about the tiger corridor’s importance, NHAI did a volte-face and said they are willing to build longer underpasses and the hearing was followed by the Sunday meeting.The principal bench of the NGT, chaired by justice Swatanter Kumar, also made it clear to the MoEFCC, NHAI and Maharashtra government that no trees should be felled until mitigation plans are submitted. This has caught NHAI in a sticky situation as the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court has already allowed felling of trees. In fact, justice Swatanter Kumar got riled up and asked the ministry’s counsel as to how the Nagpur bench of Bombay high court had passed tree felling orders despite an interim stay by the NGT principal bench.

Narendra Modi sarkar open to accept Land Bill committee report

The minister expressed his stand on the issue a day after members of the BJP in the joint parliamentary committee on Land Bill, moved amendments to do away with contentious clauses from the legislation.

Seeking to play down the Bharatiya’s Janata Party’s decision to roll back contentious amendments of the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Minister of Rural Development Birender Singh said the Centre would never sacrifice interest of farmers’ and that it was always open to suggestions. The minister said that the decision to move amendments similar to those moved by Congress cannot be termed as a ‘climbdown’, as they were always open to ‘good suggestions’.The minister expressed his stand on the issue a day after members of the BJP in the joint parliamentary committee on Land Bill, moved amendments to do away with contentious clauses from the legislation.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Singh hinted that the Centre is likely to accept the suggestions and changes made in the report of the joint parliamentary committee. “We are ready to accept all good suggestions made before the parliamentary panel, whether made by political parties or farmer organisations,” Singh said. He was also alluding to the criticism of the Bill by RSS affiliate bodies such as Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.He also said that the need for a new law will be slim. “If there is a consensus in the report, there will be no issue. If there are dissent notes, we will be open to them and examine them. We won’t go ahead with something that will sacrifice the interests of the farmers,” Singh said.He added, “We are sticking to our stand. Even when we referred the matter to the committee, we had said that the process of acquisition had to sped up, but, we were clear that farmers’ interests should not be ignored”During Monday’s joint parliamentary committee meeting, like Congress and other opposition members, 11 BJP members moved amendments to do away with nine contentious amendments including those related to social impact assessment and consent clause. Effectively, this will make the NDA’s Bill similar to UPA’s 2013 law on land acquisition.The parliamentary panel’s meeting on Tuesday though was cancelled after Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 25 MP’s of Congress. The Congress backed by other opposition parties, demanded postponement of the meeting as Congress’ MP Rajeev Satav from Hingoli, a member of the committee was one among the 25 suspended by Mahajan. The committee which was given an extension to submit their report till August 7, will have to seek another extension. The next meeting will be now held on August 10.In the next meeting, the committee is slated to debate three remaining contentious amendments of the Land Bill that and there is likely to be a consensus on the issue.

BJP agrees to roll back controversial Land Bill amendments

Joint parliamentary committee term has been extended till August 7, when the members will have to adopt a report on the Bill and submit it to Parliament

Home minister Rajnath Singh, Sharad Yadav and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad share a light moment at Parliament building on Monday

BB Yadav
dna
In a major turnaround, the Bharatiya Janata Party gave in to opposition pressure and agreed to roll back six controversial amendments of the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2015, including those on social impact assessment and consent clause. A joint parliamentary committee has been examining the Land Bill and the committee recorded stiff opposition to the Bill in writing and during oral submissions. In Monday’s meeting, though, the BJP members moved exactly the same amendments as moved by the opposition parties, indicating that they accepted to make changes to six contentious clauses. This means that the Bill will look almost similar to UPA’s 2013 Land law.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Sources said that the move could be a tactical retreat by BJP that has faced severe criticism while examining the Bill in the joint parliamentary committee.The changes accepted by the BJP related to the consent clause, social impact assessment, exemption of certain projects from provisions of the Bill, on prosecution of officers, definition of private entity and acquisition for industrial corridors. According to sources, opposition members had moved nine amendments and after arriving at a consensus on six, three would be discussed in the meeting on Wednesday. The committee’s term has been extended till August 7, when the members will have to adopt a report on the Bill and submit it to Parliament.Officials said most of the amendments were brought on the request of the state governments finding difficulty in acquiring land, but Prime Minister Modi decided to accept the public opinion against these changes. It is now left up to the states to amend the law to remove any handicaps they face in implementation, they said. Last month, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said that in the event of no consensus on the Bill, states would be given flexibility to create their own land acquisition laws.The government was insisting on the changes in the UPA Land Law enacted in 2013 for the sake of fast economic development. Though the Bill to amend the law was cleared by the Lok Sabha in March, where the government has a huge majority, it was stalled in the Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority. Sources said the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Amendment Bill will be still pushed but only to effect the necessary changes that are not opposed by anybody.During the course of examining the Bill, the joint parliamentary committee received more than 600 memoranda, opposing the Bill’s controversial amendments while a total of 52 depositions were recorded. Of the 52, only two organizations – Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) – supported the Bill’s amendments. The committee also recorded severe criticism on the Bill from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh affiliate bodies such as Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.

NH7 widening: NTCA makes no mention of mitigation measures in their affidavit to NGT

The omission of mitigating measures from NTCA’s affidavit is glaring, as a lot of controversy has brewed over the environment ministry’s and National Highway Authority reluctance to adopt extensive mitigating measures.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), in their affidavit to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the NH7 widening case, made no mention of the mitigation measures suggested by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to facilitate tiger movement. The NTCA had been asked to reply to a petition filed by Srushtri Paryavaran Mandal, who have prayed for quashing of the NH7 widening as it will cut through the critical Pench-Kanha tiger corridor.The omission of mitigating measures from NTCA’s affidavit is glaring, as a lot of controversy has brewed over the environment ministry’s and National Highway Authority reluctance to adopt extensive mitigating measures. The WII had suggested construction of 1km long elevated road and 750m long underpasses to ensure smooth movement of tigers across NH7, in what is one of the best tiger habitats in the country<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In their four-page affidavit to the NGT bench chaired by Swatanter Kumar, NTCA has admitted that the Pench-Kanha corridor landscape is one of the best that exists with two source populations.But during the hearing, senior counsel Pinka Mishra who was representing NHAI, attempted to show the bench that the tiger corridors are not in the purview of notified protected areas. To this, the bench asked NTCA member secretary BS Bonal, if there is evidence of tiger movement. Bonal replied in affirmative. To this, the bench asked him if they had approved any mitigation plans, and Bonal once again replied in affirmative. But, contrary to Bonal’s claims, the NTCA has not approved or finalised any mitigation plan and a proposal is pending with the chief wildlife warden of Maharashtra forest department, sources confirmed.Also, counsel for Srushti Paryavaran Mandal advocate Ritwick Dutta highlighted that despite Bonal’s affirmative reply, NTCA’s affidavit made no mention of the mitigation plan.Curiously, in contradiction to the NHAI’s stand up till now of building only underpasses of 50m, senior counsel Pinaki Mishra, while replying to Dutta’s charge that mitigation measures have not been accepted, said, “NHAI is willing to build 750 metres long underpasses for animals. Dutta also added later, that rather than the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and NTCA, it is the NHAI who is suggesting mitigation measures. TheThe NGT, after being informed that Nagpur high court has allowed felling of trees in an order this week, has said that it will not give up its powes and the interim order, staying tree felling stays. The bench has fixed the next hearing for August 5.

July ends with monsoon upswing, Marathwada sees least rainfall in country

Overall, across the country, the rainfall deficit stands at 3% of the long-period average while July’s monsoon deficit 15% is still higher than the 8% forecasted by India Meteorological Department.

Even as there were strong fears that the El Nino phenomenon will lead to heavy rainfall deficit in July, which sees the maximum rainfall across the country, the month is ending on a positive note as rainfall has picked up again in many parts. The first half of this month was disastrous as the rainfall deficit rose to 33%, but there was a turnaround and by Thursday the deficit had dropped to 15%, giving a much needed impetus to the sowing of Kharif crops, especially in North and North-west India.Overall, across the country, the rainfall deficit stands at 3% of the long-period average while July’s monsoon deficit 15% is still higher than the 8% forecasted by India Meteorological Department. The monsoon upswing in July’s second half saw a manifold increase in the sowing of pulses and oilseeds compared to last year. A total of 72.64 lakh hectares has been covered by pulses while 143.02 lakh hectares has been covered by oilseeds.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The monsoon upswing, though, has not been generous in the southern peninsula. There are clouds of drought looming large over Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. With a 54% deficit, Marathwada has recorded the maximum deficit in the monsoon season and even western Maharashtra and Konkan that usually receives normal to above normal rainfall have witnessed deficient rainfall.Interestingly, an uninterrupted region, beginning from North Maharashtra and comprising of Marathwada, Western Maharashtra, and North Karnataka up to Rayalaseema has all seen deficient rainfall. “The monsoon’s performance in July has been lower than what we had said in our forecast. But, in North India, it has been good while Maharashtra, Karnataka and parts of Andhra have not seen much rainfall. The monsoon has been highly episodic this year,” said LS Rathore, Director General of Meteorology, IMD.Rathore added, “There will be an improvement in the coming days although El Nino will continue to remain strong.” The India Meteorological Department has predicted that the cyclonic storm KOMEN, centred over Bay of Bengal, will bring heavy to very heavy rainfall in Gangetic West Bengal, Odisha, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam till Sunday. Later, it may also bring rainfall Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

NGT raps NTCA for delaying reply in NH7 widening case

During the hearing, on Monday, the NTCA failed to file a reply and none of their officer was present, even as the NGT bench had verbally asked them to be present. The bench also continued its stay on felling trees for the project.

The Delhi bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) rapped the National Tiger Conservation Authroity (NTCA) and warned that an arrest warrant will be issued against its member secretary, for not filing a reply in the case pertaining to widening of NH7 through the critical tiger habitat spread across Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. In the previous hearing of the case on July 3, NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar had given the NTCA and MoEFCC a period of ten days to file replies on the issue of tree felling for NH7. NH7, that connects Varanasi to Kanyakumari across 2,369 kms, is the longest national highway in the country.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>During the hearing, on Monday, the NTCA failed to file a reply and none of their officer was present, even as the NGT bench had verbally asked them to be present. The bench also continued its stay on felling trees for the project. Earlier, the NGT had clearly indicated that the a delay in filing replies is not the fault of NGT and the respondents will be held accountable for the same. Even as 24 days were allowed to file a reply, the NTCA did not file one. The counsel for NTCA, Vikas Malhotra and MP Sahay could not initially answer the Tribuna’s query as to why they had failed to reply. They replied that the NTCA’s draft reply was pending with the MoEFCC. The NGT bench asked the member secretary NTCA to be personally present for the next hearing and warned, that an arrest warrant will be issued against the member secretary NTCA for failing to file its reply in a time bound manner. The NGT bench was hearing the petition filed by three non-governmental organisations, Srushti Paryavaran Mandal, Nature Conservation Society of Amravati and Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai. The NGOs are opposing the widening of NH7 on a 60km stretch between Mansar in Maharashtra and Rukhad in Madhya Pradesh, that is considered one of the best landscapes for tigers in the country and is located near the eco-senstivie zone of Pench Tiger Reserve. An estimated 15,000-17,000 trees each will have to be felled in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for the project. The widening of NH7 has courted a lot of controversy as the MoEFCC has also rejected Wildlife Institute of India’s mitigation proposal, of building overpasses for smooth movement of wildlfie. Instead of building overpasses, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has now decided to only build underpasses for movement of widlife. NGOs against wideningThe NGT bench was hearing the petition filed by three non-governmental organisations, Srushti Paryavaran Mandal, Nature Conservation Society of Amravati and Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai. The NGO’s are opposing the widening of NH7 on a 60km stretch between Mansar in Maharashtra and Rukhad in Madhya Pradesh, that is considered one of the best landscapes for tigers in the country and is located near the eco-senstivie zone of Pench Tiger Reserve. An estimated 15,000-17,000 trees each will have to be felled in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for the project.

Thirty-five lakh people vulnerable in quake prone Uttarakhand: House panel report

The Ministry of Earth Sciences informed the committee that the Himalayan region is seismically active and large earthquakes in the unbroken segments along the Himlayan belt cannot be ruled out.

Like Nepal, the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is highly prone to a potentially devastating earthquake and will expose a population of 30 to 35 lakh to such a calamity, a parliamentary panel report on science, technology and environment and forests has said. Following the Nepal earthquake and studies by geologists from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advance Scientific Research, Bengaluru, indicating a deadly earthquake in Uttarakhand, the panel decided to examine the state’s preparedness of various agencies.The Ministry of Earth Sciences informed the committee that the Himalayan region is seismically active and large earthquakes in the unbroken segments along the Himlayan belt cannot be ruled out.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The parliamentary panel enquired with Uttarakhand state government as to how many people are likely to be affected if an earthquake of magnitude 8 strikes the state. The state government said that five districts of the state fall in the seismic zone-V and were very sparsely-populated. The population ranged from 5 lakhs to 7 lakhs per district and a population of about 35 lakhs was likely to be affected. The committee was informed that there was a need to relocate 400 villages from the vulnerable high-threat regions to safer places. In this regard, Rs10,000 crore have been sought.Taking note of the large population at risk, the committee asked the Centre and state government to expedite the matter at the earliest. The committee also recommended establishing an institutional mechanism for better planning, forecasting and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for dealing with the catastrophe of earthquake that is being predicted in Uttarakhand.The Ministry also said that studies have shown low-level local seismicity in National Capital Region, though, the region is more vulnerable to shaking from large earthquakes in Himalayan region. Pilot projectA total of 100 sensors will be installed in Uttarakhand which will be connected with central recording station which is being established at IIT, Roorkee. These sensors will detect the ground motion radiating from an earthquake rupture and estimate the resulting ground shaking that will occur later either at the same location or some other locations. The sensors will provide New Delhi a lead time of 60-90 seconds in case a major quake occurs in Himalayas.

TERI chief Rajendra K Pachauri sacked by its governing council

Snail pace: The complainant, a 29-year old research associate says police investigation has been very slow and tardy

RK Pachauri

Rajendra K Pachauri, director-general of The Energy and Research Institute (TERI), who was charged with sexual harassment will have to step down after TERI’s governing council (GC) sacked him and appointed Ajay Mathur, currently director-general of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Government of India, as its new chief on Thursday. The decision comes just a week after Pachauri got the court’s permission to resume work as the director-general of TERI’s and visit its offices excepting its headquarters at Lodhi Road and its Gurgaon office. Earlier in February, after an FIR was lodged against Pachauri, a local court had stopped him from entering TERI premises.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Another interesting fact is, the governing council’s press release was sent by Lexicon Public Relations & Corporate Consultants. Pachauri had hired them specifically for the sexual harassment case.The complainant, a 29-year old research associate, had first filed a complaint against Pachauri with TERI’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) on February 9th and later with the Lodhi Colony police station on February 13th while the FIR was lodged on February 18. She had alleged that in her two years of work at TERI she was repeatedly harassed by Pachauri with unwanted sexual advances physically and via e-mail and sms. After probing the complaint the ICC, in May, found Pachauri guilty of misconduct and had asked for disciplinary action against him but that did not happen as Pachauri got the ICC report stayed from the Industrial Labour Tribunal, on the grounds that the probe did not follow natural justice.While Pachauri steps down five months after the FIR was lodged, the complainant, who worked directly under him, has not been to office and said that the police investigation has been very slow and tardy. While speaking to dna, she expressed disappointment that the GC’s statement does not mention explicitly, that Pachauri has been asked to step down for being found guilty of misconduct. “No one has reached out to me till now and the GC’s statement does not clearly state the reason for his removal. They should have had the conviction to state the real reason in their statement,” the complainant said.While staying mum on Pachauri’s removal, the GC’s statement in fact states that the succession issue at TERI was discussed in detail in its September 2014 meeting. It adds that action on the alleged sexual harassment was ‘considered’ but it will respect court action as it has stayed the ICC report that indicted Pachauri. TERI’s GC comprises of high-profile personalities such as Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw chairman, Biocon, Naina Lal Kidwai, country head, HSBC and HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, chairman.The complainant elaborated on the ‘difficult’ five months since she filed her complaint, during which her health declined, there was hostile behaviour from senior TERI officials. “I have been on leave since February 18th. I was scared to face people at work. Despite the complaint, he (Pachauri) was still working and I feared for my safety as I was directly working under him. He has a strong grip on his employees and the police have not even been allowed to access his office mails,” the complainant said.She went on to add that she was discouraged from filing a complaint. “The human-resource head interrogated me about why I was filing the complaint and he was also a part of the ICC. He discourage me and in fact asked me to make my parents speak to Dr Pachauri.” The TERI HR also tried to shunt her to another division, she said, and denied her the opportunity to work from home while the GC did not respond to her mails. “I had written a mail regarding my complaint to Hemendra Kothari, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Deepak Parekh, Henrik O Madsen and Naina Lal Kidwai. Not only did I not receive a response, none of them acknowledged my e-mail.”

Land bill panel meets ministries, questions key amendments

Top bureaucrats from the ministry of rural development and department of land resources, ministry of defence, law ministry, corporate affairs ministry, ministry of housing and urban poverty, power ministry and tribal affairs ministry were asked to explain their position on the Bill.

After two meetings that saw little activity, the joint parliamentary committee on Land (Amendment) Bill, 2015, examined evidences of central ministries’ and the discussion centered around the bill’s contentious amendments and land availability across key ministries. Top bureaucrats from the ministry of rural development and department of land resources, ministry of defence, law ministry, corporate affairs ministry, ministry of housing and urban poverty, power ministry and tribal affairs ministry were asked to explain their position on the Bill.According to sources privy to information majority of the officials, whom the committee had sent questions in advance, seemed unprepared for the discussion. Officials from the department of land resources were asked to explain how and why they decided to dilute the consent clause and do away social impact assessment. Along with it, the committee also examined the scope of the word ‘private entity’ in the Bill and questioned officials why was it not named as ‘private company’ to make it unambiguous. Opposition parties have alleged earlier that using the term ‘private entity’, the Centre is trying to hand over land to industry and corporate houses.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Another source said that most ministries did not back their arguments with data on land availability, which was a major point of discussion. While examining the evidence of defence ministry, members suggested that Centre should use existing available land with defence for their own projects and same should apply for railways, who also has one of the largest land banks in the country.With the committee getting an extension till August 3, sources indicated that the work is likely to be incomplete in the monsoon session.

Maharashtra records maximum animal attack related cases: NCRB report

Snake bites and animal attacks have claimed lives of 9,411 people across the country last year, the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report on accidental deaths and suicides in India has revealed. Maharashtra recorded 294 cases, the maximum among states, of which 92 resulted in deaths.The data shows that snake bites alone claimed 7,846 lives or 83.3% of the total animal related fatalities across all states and union territories. 886 people were killed by animals while 679 people fell prey to animal, insect and reptile bites.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The NCRB data does not specify if the last category also includes deaths due to dog bites.Though the deaths are 333 less when compared to 2013 figures, this year’s data gives a slightly more varied classification of deaths. While the 2013 report comprised two categories of, ‘killed and injured by animals’ and ‘snake bite/animal bites deaths’, the 2014 data has added separate figures on deaths caused by insect/animal/reptile bite.A closer look at the data shows that Madhya Pradesh has recorded the highest number of snake bite fatalities at 1,823, followed by Maharashtra at 971 cases and Tamil Nadu at 722. The high number of snake bites in animal related deaths is a grim reminder that the country needs to step up efforts to provide anti-venom treatment, especially in rural areas where snake bites are an everyday occurrence.Odisha saw the highest number of deaths, 106, due to animal attacks.Given the high density of population, high urbanisation and increasing developmental pressures on forest habitats, Maharashtra often sees a high rate of human-animal conflict.The conflict between humans and leopards, elephants, tigers, wild boars and even sloth bears is common in Maharashtra. In Odisha, the human-elephant conflict is one of the worst in the country and thus it is no surprise that the state has the highest number of animal attack casualties for the second consecutive year.

Green clearance to country’s biggest proposed hydro project challenged in NGT

The environmental clearance (EC) to the country’s biggest proposed hydroelectric project (HEP), the 2880MW Dibang Multipurpose Project (DMP) in Arunachal Pradesh has been challenged in the Kolkata bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT). The petition, filed on Thursday, states that there has been no application of mind while appraising the project. It has expressed concern that the project would cause “irreversible environmental damage and destroy one of the last refuge of pristine biodiversity of one of the mega biodiversity hotspot of the world and immense downstream impacts on livelihood and wildlife in Assam”.

The environmental clearance (EC) to the country’s biggest proposed hydroelectric project (HEP), the 2880MW Dibang Multipurpose Project (DMP) in Arunachal Pradesh has been challenged in the Kolkata bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT). The petition, filed on Thursday, states that there has been no application of mind while appraising the project. It has expressed concern that the project would cause “irreversible environmental damage and destroy one of the last refuge of pristine biodiversity of one of the mega biodiversity hotspot of the world and immense downstream impacts on livelihood and wildlife in Assam”.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The DMP will see construction of a mammoth 278-metre tall concrete gravity dam and it will submerge a vast forest area of 4,577.84 hectares or 45.77 sq km, of which major chunks are community forests. The forest land to be diverted is also a major habitat of endangered species such as tiger, leopard, snow leopard, Himalayan Black Bear, Slow Loris, Himalayan Black bear, Leopard cat and Fishing Cat.Quashing the project’s environmental clearance, declaring the Dibang-Dihang Biosphere Reserve as a ‘No-Go Zone’ for massive HEP’s are the key prayers of the petition. In addition, it has also asked the Tribunal to commission a detailed basin based cumulative impact assessments of HEP’s in the entire Dibang valley through an interdisciplinary expert group for scientific evaluation of sites.The petition highlights two major contradictions and anomalies in the process of granting environmental clearance for the project. Firstly, the petition claims that the MoEFCC granted clearance without following the due process. It says that ignoring an earlier NGT order, no downstream impact and cumulative impact assessment was carried out. Secondly, the petition stresses that the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) twice rejected recommending the project for clearance. But, after the FAC was reconstituted, the project was recommended for forest clearance even though there was no major change made to the proposal.Even the public hearing process, the petition says, has not been taken into account while giving the clearance. Before clearing the project, no public hearing was carried out in the downstream areas of Assam while in Arunachal Pradesh, the Idu Mishmi tribes have strongly opposed the project.The petition has also drawn attention to the seismic vulnerabilities of the region and to the issue of ecological flow of Dibang River. The DMP site lies close to an active Fault Line in the Mishmi Thrust of the Mayudia Group in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. It has a witnessed seismic activities, including the Great Assam earthquake of 8.6 magnitude in 1950. The Environment Impact Assessment of the project makes only cursory remarks on the natural and reservoir induced seismic threats, the petition added.

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