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NEWS UPDATE #97


Rina Chandran reports: India’s worst drought in decades is hurting women and lower caste Dalits disproportionately, with impacts ranging from malnutrition to early marriage to prostitution, activists say. The government estimates the drought has affected more than 330 million people – almost a quarter of India’s population – across 13 of the country’s 29 states.

Hunger, child marriage, prostitution: India drought hurts women, low-caste Dalits more
Rina Chandran, Thomson Reuters Foundation
India’s worst drought in decades is hurting women and lower-caste Dalits disproportionately, with impacts ranging from malnutrition to early marriage to prostitution, activists say. The government estimates the drought has affected more than 330 million people – almost a quarter of India’s population – across 13 of the country’s 29 states. “Women are the most vulnerable during drought because it is their duty to fetch water and provide food for the family,” said Varsha Deshpande, a lawyer and women’s rights activist in Maharashtra state, one of the worst hit by the drought.

What does the ongoing drought teach us
Kunal Shah, Hindustan Times
With multiple loopholes plaguing the length of money-flow pyramid, how could one have ensured that the money reached the struggling millions engaged in a range of agricultural and allied activities? If an institution could stand up and deliver a solution to this, it was the Niti Aayog – which states its first function is “to evolve a shared vision of national development priorities sectors and strategies with the active involvement of States in the light of national objectives.” Perhaps it might be a profitable exercise to dwell on the question of what the ‘national development priorities’ actually are. (Also read: El Niño comes to an end, La Niña on the way)

Modi govt wakes up too late to the agrarian crisis
Sayantan Bera, Live Mint
Modi inherited a robust farm economy growing at 4.2% in 2013-14, with bountiful rain in 2013 and production of foodgrains touching record highs. In the first two years of the NDA government, farm output contracted 0.2% in 2014-15 and grew at an estimated 1.1% pace in 2015-16. While much of this can be blamed on a truant monsoon and low prices of key farm commodities hurting incomes, was the centre slow to respond to the agrarian crisis? A look at the three budgets presented by finance minister Arun Jaitley shows that the government took note of the crisis only in 2016.

Centre launches auction of 67 oil and gas fields to unlock hydrocarbon worth Rs 70,000 crore
The Times of India
Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Wednesday launched the auction of 67 small oil and gas discoveries, clubbed into 46 fields, to unlock 30 million tonnes of hydrocarbon treasure worth Rs 70,000 crore as part of the government’s efforts to reduce India’s import dependence by 10% by 2022. This is the first oilfield sale under a transparent, straight-forward revenue-sharing fiscal model instead of the production-sharing regime in vogue till now. As an icing, the discoveries are being offered without any marketing or pricing restriction on explorers — an issue that had inhibited investors and dogged several contracts for fields auctioned till now under the profit-sharing regime.

Bastar police use adivasis to fight adivasis – unleashing violence in the villages
Raksha Kumar, Scroll.in
In recent years, Bastar police has been recruiting surrendered Maoists, and placing them in a special unit called the District Reserve Guard, which leads the way for CRPF patrols. “Since these are local youth, people recollect their names very well,” said Isha Khandelwal, lawyer at the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group. “So, after an incident, they name the DRG youth, giving a cover to the CRPF men.” While the District Reserve Guard was first raised in Kanker and Narayanpur districts in 2008, Dantewada district acquired its own only last year. The other districts in Bastar region also have their own District Reserve Guards. The combined strength of the force in the seven districts of Bastar is 1,700, according to figures released by the Chhattisgarh government. Another 600 posts were sanctioned in February. In 2015 alone, the District Reserve Guard is said to have carried out 644 anti-Naxal operations, according to a PTI report.

PMO Wants to Sidestep Gram Sabha’s Consent for Underground Mining
The Wire
A series of official letters exchanged between the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) and the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) indicates that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is in a clear mood to sidestep the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) in order to permit private underground mining in forest areas. The letters written between June 2015 and December 2015 document a tug-of-war like scenario between the two ministries regarding the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. While the MoTA has repeatedly made its stand clear that gram sabha’s informed consent, as mandated in the Act, was necessary for any diversion of forest land towards industrial projects, the MoEFCC seems to be adamant on diluting this significant clause.

India nears putting GM mustard on the table
Science
Six years after it disapproved cultivation of a transgenic food crop, India’s government is trying again to approve what would be India’s first such crop, a genetically modified (GM) mustard. Environmentalists argue that the mustard, grown for its edible leaves and for cooking oil, could harm local varieties and that the toxicity tests being carried out to evaluate GM mustard’s safety as a food are inadequate. Heightening suspicion, regulators have repeatedly spurned calls to release biosafety data.

Centre’s new wetland protection rules are a joke
Nihar Gokhale, Catch News
While wetlands nationwide are threatened by encroachment and development, the Narendra Modi government’s draft rules show no indications of acknowledging this threat. When Chennai flooded, encroachment of wetlands (marshes, ponds) — with office buildings and houses — were a reason why rainwater submerged the city. While wetlands such as Mumbai’s Sewri are breeding grounds for the magnificent flamingoes. The essence of the new rules is to decentralise wetlands management to states. The Centre will have a say only in ‘exceptional cases’ While the 2010 rules gave some role to states, the draft rules gives them all powers. But in the process, the whole conservation process has been weakened.

India implements two new solar programs
The “Off-Grid and Decentralized Solar Applications” scheme will promote the use of solar home lights, solar street lights, power plants, solar pumps and mini- and micro-grids in rural areas of the country, where a significant fraction of the population remains without access to electricity. India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is providing a Central Financial Assistance (CFA) subsidy of 30% of the system cost to promote the use of solar in these remote locations. (Read article). In partnership with France, India also launched a solar finance program that will lower the cost of finance and facilitate the flow of as much as $1 trillion in investment to members of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). The countries also announced an additional program that aims to make solar technology available for farmers, in order to ensure the flow of affordable finance for solar projects and serve the interests of the farming communities in ISA member countries. (Read article)

20 Questions To Kerala’s LDF Government: Does It Want To Turn Vizhinjam Into A Nandigram And Commit Harakiri?
K.P. Sasi, Countercurrents.org
Is the LDF trying to break its election promises within 24 hours of swearing in? Among the promises of the left, at least three promises have had a major positive impact on the minds of many voters. Those promises are: 1. Development Without Destruction of Environment, 2. Development without Harming People, and 3, Governance Without Corruption. Is the LDF trying to break its election promises within one day of its swearing in? Ramachandran Kadannappalli, the minister for Ports seems to have forgotten these promises in just one day. When the question on Vizhinjam Transit Harbour came up, he has stated with enough confidence that the problems will be solved and the project will be completed in five years since it has a national and international significance. There are certain important questions which the Minister has to answer on this issue. (Also read: New government announces long-term route to organic farming in Kerala)

Sikkim Becomes the First Indian State to Ban Mineral Water Bottles in Govt Programmes
NDTV.com
For effective waste management in an eco-friendly manner, the Sikkim government has restricted the use of mineral water bottles in government programmes and banned the use of foam food containers all over the state. In two recent notifications issued by the home department, the government said there has been rampant use of packaged drinking water during departmental meetings and functions which is creating a huge piles of garbage that adds to the burden of the landfill.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: this petition on White House website aims to bring Union Carbide to the book
Catch News
It has been almost 32 years since the gas leak from the Union Carbide Corp (UCC) factory in Bhopal that killed thouands of people. UCC is yet to face trial before Indian courts. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has not forwarded summons and show-cause notices sent by the courts. Now, a petition on the White House website, aims to bring UCC to the book. The online petition, requests the US government to serve the notices on Dow Chemical, which now owns UCC, to appear before an Indian court on 13 July.

World could warm by massive 10C if all fossil fuels are burned
The Guardian
The planet would warm by searing 10C if all fossil fuels are burned, according to a new study, leaving some regions uninhabitable and wreaking profound damage on human health, food supplies and the global economy. The Arctic, already warming fast today, would heat up even more – 20C by 2300 – the new research into the extreme scenario found. The carbon already emitted by burning fossil fuels has driven significant global warming, with 2016 near certain to succeed 2015 as the hottest year ever recorded, which itself beat a record year in 2014. Other recent studies have shown that extreme heatwaves could push the climate beyond human endurance in parts of the world such as the Gulf, making them uninhabitable.

UN Assessment: Global Destruction of Mother Earth on Fast Track
Common Dreams
With no region of the Earth untouched by the ravages of environmental destruction, the state of the world’s natural resources is in a rapid downward spiral, a comprehensive assessment by the United Nations has found. Published Thursday, Global Environmental Outlook from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) involved the expertise of more than 1,200 scientists and over 160 governments, and exposes through reports on each of the world’s six regions that the rate of environmental deterioration is occurring faster than previously thought—and can only be halted with swift action.

G7 Wants to Kill Fossil Fuel Subsidies by 2025, But We Could Do It ‘Twice as Fast’
Common Dreams
For the first time, the G7 has set an actual deadline for ending massive fossil fuel subsidies: the year 2025. But while it’s great to “finally have an endgame for these perverse incentives,” as Overseas Development Institute research fellow Shelagh Whitley wrote on Friday, “we could easily get there twice as fast.” What’s more, Whitley argued, “In spite of these powerful proclamations, G7 governments continue to prop up a doomed fossil fuel industry.” The G7 group of countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.S., and UK—made the announcement on Friday in Tokyo, at the conclusion of a two-day summit

Solar Surges: Renewable Energy Jobs Topped 8 Million in 2015
Common Dreams
On the heels of clean fuel milestones in Germany and Portugal , a new report finds that the renewable energy industry employed over 8.1 million people worldwide in 2015. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) annual review, that figure marks a 5% increase from the previous year. China led the pack, accounting for 3.5 million jobs. Brazil and U.S. ranked second and third, respectively, for the highest number of renewable energy jobs. The solar photovoltaic (PV) sector shot up 11% and accounted for biggest number of jobs at 2.8 million globally.

Octopus and Squid Populations are Booming – Here’s Why
The Wire
Squid, octopus and cuttlefish populations are booming across the world. These fast-growing, adaptable creatures are perfectly equipped to exploit the gaps left by extreme climate changes and overfishing, according to a study colleagues and I published in the journal Current Biology. Humans have reached and in many cases surpassed sustainable fishing limits, as our growing population demands more food. In terms of the food web, we tend to start from the top and fish “downwards”. Fishermen fish out the top predators first, including large sharks, tuna and whales, and then medium size fish such as cod, hake and halibut that usually live long and grow slowly. The vacant space left by fish may be occupied by other species, with rapidly proliferating animals having a clear advantage. And these animals are cephalopods. Squid, octopus and cuttlefish live in the “fast lane”, growing quickly and typically living for only one or two years.

Humanitarian Aid Rises to Record $28 Billion in 2015
The Wire
International humanitarian assistance given last year totalled a record $28 billion, new figures show in the run-up to the first World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey next week. Independent UK-based research organisation Development Initiatives, which released the data on May 19, said 2015 saw the third consecutive annual rise in funding. Yet despite the record amount given by governments and private donors, needs have outpaced generosity around the world, leaving the UN-led annual appeals with an unprecedented shortfall of 45% last year. One key aim of the May 23-24 summit is to find ways to improve the volumes and effectiveness of funding to help people in crises caused by conflicts and natural disasters.

China Is Executing To Plan: Foxconn Replaces 60,000 Workers With Robots
Zero Hedge
Last month we discussed the fact that officials had approved the latest Five Year Plan for China’s economy. The ultimate goal of the plan is to overtake Germany, Japan, and the United States in terms of manufacturing sophistication by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China… The manufacturing hub for the electronics industry, Kunshan, in Jiangsu province is proving that that initiative is well underway. As the South China Morning Post reports, thirty five companies, including Apple’s key supplier Foxconn, spent a total of 4 billion yuan on artificial intelligence last year, and more companies are going to follow suit… Spurred by the initiative and a desire to cut down on labor costs, Foxconn has reduced its workforce by a whopping 60,000 people thanks to the introduction of robots. Foxconn’s headcount went from 110,000 down to 50,000.

Indigenous Leaders In The Amazon Face Death Threats As Community Files Lawsuit Against Peruvian Government For Violation Of Their Land Rights
Forest Peoples Programme, Countercurrents.org
Leaders of the Shipibo indigenous village of Santa Clara de Uchunya, accompanied by their representative organization FECONAU, filed a constitutional law suit challenging Peru’s regional government authorities for failing to secure legal protection of their traditional lands and enabling its acquisition and clearance by an international agribusiness company. Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC, an agribusiness company affiliated to the Melka commercial group appears to have begun acquiring the lands since 2012. Since that point, satellite images show that more than 5,000 ha of forest have been cleared to pave the way for an oil palm plantation

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