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NEWS UPDATE #132


The Economic Times reports: At least Rs 4 lakh crore of debt held by India’s top borrowers faces the risk of being written off as these companies face an issue with cash flows because of a build-up in non-productive assets during the last five years, credit rating agency Indian Ratings and Research said on Tuesday.

Govt proposes to declare 57k sq km of Western Ghats as eco-sensitive zone
Nitin Sethi, Business Standard
The government has decided to notify 56,825 square kilometres of Western Ghats across six states as eco-sensitive zones where mining, thermal power plants and polluting industries banned and restrictions put on other developing projects and industrial activities. On February 28 the Union environment, forests and climate change ministry put out a draft notification to declare the Eco-Sensitive Zone. The area spread across Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Tamil Nadu is much less than the originally recommended 77,000 square kilometres. (Related: Jairam Ramesh attacks Kerala govt for its decision on proposed Athirappilly hydro-electric project)

IMD predicts ‘above normal’ temperatures this summer, especially across northern India
Scroll.in
The Indian Meteorological Department has predicted a hotter than usual year in parts of India, at least up to June. The minimum, maximum and mean temperatures are likely to be higher in every meteorological subdivision in the country. All parts of the country are expected to be at least 1°C warmer, except north west India, which will be warmer than that. The Met department’s announcement comes after 2016 followed a global trend, being the hottest year on record.

Rs 4,00,000 crore debt risks being written off: India Ratings
Joel Rebello, The Economic Times
At least Rs 4 lakh crore of debt held by India’s top borrowers faces the risk of being written off as these companies face an issue with cash flows because of a build-up in non-productive assets during the last five years, credit rating agency Indian Ratings and Research said on Tuesday. The ratings agency analysed asset funding trends for the top 500 companies in India which showed that 240 out of the 500 companies may be classified as vulnerable with an overall debt of Rs 12.4 lakh crore.

NREGA in Budget 2017: What the government isn’t telling us
Sify.com
There seems at first a significant 25 % rise. However, the reality is that after a series of severe raps from the Supreme Court, during the course of 2016-17, the total allocations were raised to Rs 47,500 crore. Therefore, it was a mere Rs 500 crore that was added over the previous year, a rise of just 1 %. And if we factor in inflation, this year’s allocation does not even match that of the previous year. New financial year would begin with pending liabilities of at least Rs 13,000 crore, reducing further the availability for next year.

How on earth did India come up with these GDP numbers?
Jayati Ghosh, Quartz India
The stately progress of the Indian economy appears to have been completely unaffected by demonetisation, if these data are to be believed. In the third quarter of the year, GDP is estimated to have grown at 7%, bringing the growth estimate for the full financial year to 7.1%—exactly what was predicted in the CSO’s advance estimate, which explicitly did not factor in demonetisation. Effectively, what the CSO’s statisticians are telling us is that demonetisation had no impact on the economy, and the trajectory of economic activity in the quarter in which it occurred continued exactly the same as it would have done anyway. (Related: 1) It’s not just the GDP. There’s also the mystery of 10% growth in consumption expenditure 2) GDP growth: It feels like our government has taken lessons from the Soviet Union in massaging data)

Cyclists & other Non-Motorized vehicles should not be allowed on main roads in Metros – Parl. Standing Committee on Transport
Srinivas Kodali, Factly.in
The Parliamentary Standing committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture has recommended that Non-Motorized vehicles (cyclists etc) not be allowed to use highways and main roads in cities. The committee mentioned that they create a lot of nuisance. In its report presented to parliament on February 8th, 2017 for amendments to Motor Vehicles Act, the bizarre recommendation undermines rights of pedestrians and cyclists. India has always been opposed to the idea of rights to people in cities including opposing inclusion of “Right to City” at the UN Habitat in September 2016.

Bengaluru steel flyover project scrapped by Karnataka government
The Times of India
The Karnataka government on Thursday scrapped the controversial Bengaluru steel flyover project. Bengaluru development minister KJ George announced the cancellation of the steel bridge project, that has been mired in controversy from the day it was conceived. The move comes amidst allegations that kickbacks have been paid to the Congress high command and chief minister Siddaramaiah’s family. The bridge to be built through the greenest parts of the city would have required cutting of 812 trees.

Sadhguru’s Shiva Statue Built Without Getting Legal Approvals, Could Be Demolished: TN Govt
The Logical Indian
Tamil Nadu Govt Authorities have told the Madras High Court that the 112-feet Shiva statue built by Sadhguru’s Isha Foundation and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was built without getting the necessary approvals. The statue was inaugurated amidst protests by locals and activists, who claimed the statue had been built on illegally acquired land and that the construction had done “profound damage to a pristine ecology” of the region.

The Nagarjuna Sagar dam has to maintain 510 feet of water for Hyderabad, and the present water level is at 511 feet and dropping.
Nitin B., The News Minute
Hyderabad may soon be faced with a drinking water crisis, if Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are unable to resolve their dispute over the sharing of Krishna river water. According to reports, the city needs a minimum water level of 510 feet to be maintained in the Nagarjuna Sagar dam, which meets a major chunk of Hyderabad’s water needs. However, the present water level is just 511 feet and is expected to dip further with the onset of summer.

Don’t sign “anti-people” Telangana land Bill, it’s a repeat of govt order quashed by High Court: President told
Counterview
Several civil society organizations have, in a joint representation to the President of India, asked him not to give assent to the Telangana Land (Acquisition) Amendment Bill, 2016, which, according to them, is anti-farmer and anti-people, it because nullifies “progressive” provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013. The letter claims, if the Bill is okayed by the President, it would result in “immense harm to lakhs of small and marginal farmers, landless families and displaced persons, most of who are Dalits, adivasis, women of Telangana.”

Stories From Ennore, Where an Oil Spill Only Piled on to Older, Nastier Disasters
Archana Seker & Dharmesh Shah, The Wire
The port town of Ennore made national headlines recently when a massive oil spill occurred off its coast. But what might seem like a major environmental and public health emergency normally is just another day in the life of the residents of Ennore. The oil spill only brings the perils of rampant and unplanned industrialisation to the fore. The region already houses several coal power plants, cement kilns, oil storage yards and a fertiliser factory. Altogether, these industries discharge toxic waste into the air, land and water.

‘Small Fields’ plan to extract oil and gas has stirred protests in Tamil Nadu’s Cauvery basin
Vinita Govindarajan, Scroll.in
A new movement is gathering momentum across the districts of the Cauvery river basin. It all started on February 15, when the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs chaired by Narendra Modi granted approval to projects to extract hydrocarbon resources such as oil and natural gas in 31 areas across the country. These approvals came as part of the Central government’s Discovered Small Fields policy, launched in 2016. In Tamil Nadu, the project was to be carried out in two places – Karaikal in Pondicherry district and Neduvasal in the Cauvery basin.

Act against Gujarat’s defaulting effluent treatment facilities, follow SC order: Pollution control board told
Counterview
Would a recent Supreme Court order prove to be a “test case” on whether the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) “immediately” act against the industry-driven final effluent treatment facilities provided to the industrial areas of Vadodara and Ankaleshwar as they were allegedly unable to meet the prescribed GPCB norms? Citing the order, a top Gujarat-based environmental body has insisted that not only the Consolidated Consent and Authorization certificate to the two effluent treatment facilities – Narmada Clean Tech (NCT), Ankaleshwar, and Vadodara Enviro Channel Limited (VECL) – should be cancelled.

The little-known Red Star party is making its mark in Bengal with the Bhangar land stir
Subrata Nagchoudhury, Scroll.in
The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Red Star is spearheading an agitation against a power project in Bhangar in the state’s South 24 Parganas district. The police had arrested the two leaders in January in connection with violent protests in Bhangar that claimed two lives that same month. The agitation against an under-construction power grid sub-station in Bhangar, 35 km from Kolkata, turned violent on January 17, and two villagers were killed in firing and mobs set fire to a large number of police vehicles.

Sovan Chatterjee new Kolkata wetlands boss; talks of ‘proper use’ of protected site
The Times of India
Immediately after being anointed chairman of the East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority, environment minister Sovan Chatterjee, who is also the city’s mayor and the state housing and fire minister, has proposed a review of the Ramsar site and argued in favour of “proper utilization” of the land that currently lies barren. Environmentalists are alarmed at the conflict of interest arising out of Chatterjee’s role as mayor, housing minister and environment minister-cum-EKWMA chairman.

Northern hemisphere sees in early spring due to global warming
Tim Radford, The Guardian
Spring is arriving ever earlier in the northern hemisphere. One sedge species in Greenland is springing to growth 26 days earlier than it did a decade ago. And in the US, spring arrived 22 days early this year in Washington DC. The evidence comes from those silent witnesses, the natural things that respond to climate signals. The relatively new science of phenology – the calendar record of first bud, first flower, first nesting behaviour and first migrant arrivals – has over the last three decades repeatedly confirmed meteorological fears of global warming as a consequence of the combustion of fossil fuels.

Scientists confirm Antarctica’s highest temperatures ever, will track climate change using them
Scroll.in
The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organisation on Wednesday announced that had confirmed the all-time record high temperatures in three zones in Antarctica. The new figures are expected to help understand how the man-made climate change is affecting the region and its weather patterns, the WMO said. The highest temperature ever recorded in the entire Antarctic region, which includes all land and ice below 60°S latitude, was 19.8°C on January 30, 1982.

Somalia drought: Hunger, disease kill 110 in two days
Al Jazeera
Somalia’s prime minister has announced the deaths of at least 110 people due to hunger and diarrhoea in the country over the past 48 hours amid a drought in the Bay region. The announcement by Hassan Ali Khaire on Saturday followed the Somali government’s warning last week that the drought amounts to a national disaster. “It is a difficult situation for the pastoralists and their livestock. Some people have been hit by [hunger] and diarrhoea at the same time. In the last 48 hours, 110 people died due to [hunger] and diarrhoea in Bay region,” Khaire’s office said in a statement.

Five rangers die in grim month for wildlife protectors
Jeremy Hance, The Guardian
Five wildlife rangers and three other men working in wildlife protection have lost their lives in four separate countries in the past month, highlighting the numerous hazards rangers and their colleagues face in protecting the world’s wild lands and species. Rangers lost their lives in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and India.

Biologists say half of all species could be extinct by end of century
Robin McKie, The Guardian
One in five species on Earth now faces extinction, and that will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken. That is the stark view of the world’s leading biologists, ecologists and economists who will gather on Monday to determine the social and economic changes needed to save the planet’s biosphere. “The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” say the organisers of the Biological Extinction conference held at the Vatican this week.

Australian consortium launches world-first digital energy marketplace for rooftop solar
Bianca Nogrady, The Guardian
Australian homeowners with solar panels and batteries could soon trade their electricity in a digital marketplace developed by a consortium of electricity providers, energy tech startups, energy retailers and energy agencies. The Decentralised Energy Exchange – or deX – was launched on Thursday with the promise to “change the way energy is produced, traded and consumed at a local level in Australia”. (Also read: India wind power tariff follows solar route, falls to record low)

Indonesia pledges $1bn a year to curb ocean waste
Johnny Langenheim, The Guardian
Indonesia has pledged up to $1bn a year to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic and other waste products polluting its waters. The announcement was made by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs at last week’s 2017 World Oceans Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali. Pandjaitan told delegates at the conference that Indonesia would achieve a 70% reduction in marine waste within eight years.

GMO golden rice shows stunted and abnormal growth with reduced grain yield
GM Watch
A new study reports unintended effects in GM golden rice, which is engineered to produce precursors of vitamin A called carotenoids. Crossing the GM rice with the Indian variety Swarna, a step necessary for commercialization, led to a nasty surprise. The resulting plants were stunted, showed extensive abnormalities in their growth, and had reduced grain yield, as compared with the non-GM Swarna variety.

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