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NEWS UPDATE #150


Scroll.in reports: India diverts Rs 56,700 crore from the National Clean Energy and Environment Fund, allocated for the fight against climate change, to the Goods and Service Tax regime to compensate state governments. A CSE report shows crop insurers have only settled 32.45% of claims, made Rs 10,000 crore profit amid the ongoing agrarian crisis.

INDIA

India diverts Rs 56,700 crore from the fight against climate change to Goods and Service Tax regime
Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, Scroll.in
In April, the government included the tax collected on production and import of coal to the GST schedule. With this move, the tax, which was funelled into the National Clean Energy and Environment Fund, was diverted to compensating the states that stand to lose revenue as a consequence of the GST. Now, the finance ministry’s responses to Scroll.in’s queries under the Right To Information Act, 2005, show even the unspent funds lying in the National Clean Energy and Environment Fund have been diverted. The unspent funds amount to Rs 56,700 crore.

Crop insurers made Rs 10,000 crore profit amid agrarian crisis: CSE
Hindustan Times
An independent evaluation of the Modi government’s much-touted crop insurance scheme has showed that insurers gained nearly Rs 10,000 crore in gross profit during the last kharif season, from June to November 2016. However, it settled less than a third of the crop-loss claims filed till early this year. The CSE report cited state-wise data from the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare to show that insurance companies had only settled 32.45% of the claims made till April 2017. While farmers raised claims for nearly Rs 6,000 crore, they were paid less than Rs 2,000 crore. (Related: What crop insurance? India’s farmers have no clue about the covers Centre doles out for them)

Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group
The Wire
The government recently took a decision to quietly tweak the rules relating to special economic zones (SEZs) which has enabled a company in the Adani Group to reap a bonanza of around Rs 500 crore. While a representative of the Adani Group predictably and correctly said that the company had done nothing wrong or illegal, top officials in the Ministry of Finance (including ­finance minister Arun Jaitley) and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce ­(including minister of state Nirmala ­Sitharaman who heads the ministry) did not respond to detailed questionnaires sent by the Economic and Political Weekly over a fortnight ago requesting them to explain the rationale for the government’s actions that apparently favour one particular firm. The Adani Group is headed by Gautam Adani who is understood to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Related: Full text: In an open letter, 155 noted scholars express dismay over actions of trust that runs EPW)

Assam, one of the worst-hit states, witnessed a 60% shortfall in release of central funds for implementing flood management programme
Down to Earth
An area of 7.55 million hectares (ha) of land is affected by floods in India every year and the average annual damage due to floods is Rs 1,805 crore. Even the monsoon season of 2017 has started on a grim note with some of the driest states in the country witnessing unusually high rains, displacing people, killing them and causing damage to infrastructure. Despite the increasing frequency of floods linked to unusually heavy rainfall, there were inordinate delays (two to 21 months) in releasing first instalment of Central assistance for 48 projects in four states even after approval of Empowered Committee (EC). According to the Flood Management Programme (FMP) guidelines, the first instalment of Central assistance shall be released immediately on approval of the scheme by the EC.

Skirting SC ban, Govt says drilling not mining
Jay Mazoomdaar, The Indian Express
Overturning its May 15 decision to “plug permanently” gas extraction wells falling within 1 km of a wildlife sanctuary, the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) cleared it on June 27 based on a legal opinion from the Environment ministry that drilling for oil and gas “is not covered under mining”. Ruling on the Jamua Ramgarh (Sariska) mining case in 2006, the Supreme Court prohibited mining activities within 1 km of all wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. (Also read: Wetlands when realty strikes: Supreme Court fines environment ministry for not following directions)

Sardar Sarovar project comes at too high a cost for citizens
Manju Menon & Kanchi Kohli, DNA
It has already been reported that in early August, the Prime Minister will inaugurate the dam by performing a Narmada aarti with 2,000 priests — a religious ritual that may fruitfully blend politics, development and nature. The February 2017 order of the Supreme Court permitted the Gujarat government’s Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd to close the gates of the dam and submerge 37,690 hectares of homes, farms, and forests by July 31. What is troubling about this project, one might ask, if the apex court, four state governments and scores of experts who have been involved in the decision-making are all agreeable?  (Related:  1) 18,000 families displaced by Sardar Sarovar Dam’s gate closing; Congress, AAP to raise issue in Parliament) 2) Thousands stranded, dams on high-alert: Scenes from the floods wreaking havoc across Gujarat)

India will take at least 6 years to cap toxic emissions from power plants
The Economic Times
India wanted to cap toxic emissions from power plants by December. It’s now discovering that target is at least 6 years from its reach. The nation’s power industry regulator says a countrywide roll out of equipment to lower sulfur dioxide emissions won’t be completed until 2023. And that’s only one of the the four types of pollutants plants must cap. The Central Electricity Authority has asked for the environment ministry’s December deadline to be extended, according to Ravindra Kumar Verma, chairman of the CEA, which is run by India’s power ministry.

Monsanto sway in Agriculture Ministry: GOI fails to submit before Delhi High Court on GMO involving Monsanto
Sandhya Jain, PGurus
In a shocking development, officials of the Union Ministry of Agriculture deliberately failed to submit the Government of India’s views on the Indian Patent Act and Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 (PPV&FR) before the Delhi High Court closed for vacations on June 5, in a case in which the judgement could impact multiple litigations in which the Centre is involved, regarding seed patents and transgenic traits. Any ruling delivered without knowledge of the Centre’s views on points of law and interpretation in this matter could adversely affect the Indian farmer and consumer.

An unusual weather phenomenon explains why eastern and western India are flooding
Mridula Chari, Scroll.in
This heavy rain has developed because of an unusual formation of the monsoon trough, an area of low pressure that generates intense rainfall. Low pressure regions develop frequently over the Bay of Bengal and move West or North West, drawing rain to the northern regions of the country. This year, the pattern has been different, with two separate depressions present at the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal at the same time. “This time, a depression formed over the Bay of Bengal and simultaneously also at the Arabian Sea,” said Mahesh Palawat, chief meteorologist at Skymet Advisory, a private weather forecasting company. “The monsoon trough is now in a dumbbell-like position, which is rare.”

Urbanisation and encroachments have made 24 monuments disappear, says Centre
Scroll.in
The Centre on Monday said 24 protected monuments across the country are now untraceable because of urbanisation and encroachments. Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma said that of the total, eight were centrally protected monuments, PTI reported. Eleven of these missing structures or sites were in Uttar Pradesh, two each in Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and one each in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.

AAP Launches Struggle Against Adani Port In Vizhinjam
Countercurrents.org
First phase of 8 day long campaign exposing the scam in Vizhinjam port project started on 15th July was inaugurated by Aam Admi Party Kerala state convener Adv. CR Neelakandan. As it is clear from the CAG report that the agreement for Vizhinjam International port between Kerala Govt and Adani Group is highly biased and it is nothing but a looting by the private party of the public money and natural wealth of Kerala like Sea, Coast, Fisheries resources, Life and Livlihood of Fisher people.

Teesta project: Panchayats in Sikkim accuse govt of forging their approval
Jay Mazoomdaar, The Indian Express
Three Lepcha gram panchayats of North Sikkim have accused the district administration of forgery and suppression of facts in furnishing consent under the Forest Rights Act for the 520 MW Teesta stage IV hydel power project. In a submission to the Union Ministries of Environment and Tribal Affairs, and the Governor and Chief Minister of the state, the gram panchayats Friday claimed that three out of four gram sabhas held between November 2016 and May 2017 rejected the Rs 3,703-crore hydel project. The panchayats alleged that the district administration did not forward two rejections to the Union Environment Ministry and forged signatures of the members of the third gram sabha to furnish a false resolution in favour of the project.

Anantapur farmers leaving agriculture in droves
The Hindu
Farmers in the Anantapur district continue to leave agriculture at an alarming rate with minor exceptions in the last decade, if the statistics of groundnut seed distribution is anything to go by. The district was once the highest producer of groundnut with seven lakh farmers cultivating it in more than seven lakh hectares a decade ago. According to official figures, more than 3.4 lakh farmers seem to have left agriculture for good while the quantum of seed distributed has gone down by over 50% — 3.44 lakh quintals — to today’s 3.32 lakh quintals. (Related: A Deepening Migration Crisis in Bundelkhand’s Mahoba)

Indian monsoons have strengthened over past 15 years, study shows
Phys.org
An MIT study published in Nature Climate Change finds that the Indian summer monsoons, which bring rainfall to the country each year between June and September, have strengthened in the last 15 years over north central India. This heightened monsoon activity has reversed a 50-year drying period during which the monsoon season brought relatively little rain to northern and central India. Since 2002, the researchers have found, this drying trend has given way to a much wetter pattern, with stronger monsoons supplying much-needed rain, along with powerful, damaging floods, to the populous north central region of India.

WORLD

All hell breaks loose as the tundra thaws
The Guardian
Over the past three years, 14 other giant craters have been found in the region, some of them truly massive – the first one discovered was around 50m (160ft) wide and about 70m (230ft) deep, with steep sides and debris spread all around. There have also been cases of the ground trembling in Siberia as bubbles of methane trapped below the surface set the ground wobbling like an airbed. Even more dramatic, setting fire to methane released from frozen lakes in both Siberia and Alaska causes some impressive flames to erupt. (Related: Methane release from melting permafrost could trigger dangerous global warming)

Study: our Paris carbon budget may be 40% smaller than thought
The Guardian
In the Paris climate treaty, nearly every world country agreed to try and limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and preferably closer to 1.5°C. But a new study published in Nature Climate Change notes that the agreement didn’t define when “pre-industrial” begins. Our instrumental measurements of the Earth’s average surface temperature begin in the late-1800s, but the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-1700s. There’s also a theory that human agriculture has been influencing the global climate for thousands of years, but the mass burning of fossil fuels kicked the human influence into high gear.

Are Pesticides Called Neonics to Blame for the World’s Bees Crisis?
Janakai Lenin, The Wire
Blame for the decade-long crisis in the honeybee industry is often pinned on pesticides. Several studies correlate the two, but the smoking gun was elusive. Now two studies that address the criticisms of earlier studies offer a troubling picture. Neonicotinoids, a new generation of pesticides, have been around since Shell developed them in the 1980s and Bayer began production in the 1990s. They are now the most commonly used insecticides. Ten thousand times more toxic than DDT, they cause rapid paralysis and death. A mere four nanograms of clothianidin, the most commonly used neonicotinoid, kills half of all the honeybees that feed on it.

Pepsico, Unilever and Nestlé accused of complicity in illegal rainforest destruction
The Guardian
Pepsico, Unilever and Nestlé have been accused of complicity in the destruction of Sumatra’s last tract of rainforest shared by elephants, orangutans, rhinos, and tigers together in one ecosystem. Plantations built on deforested land have allegedly been used to supply palm oil to scores of household brands that also include McDonald’s, Mars, Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble, according to a new report.

Water scarcity hotspots shifting
SciDev
Reservoirs, dams and irrigation systems have shifted global patterns of water scarcity over three decades, “causing a distinct pattern of beneficiaries and losers”, according to recent research. The study, published in June in Nature Communications, shows that these interventions have increased water availability for much of the global population, but also created scarcity that mostly occurs downstream. The researchers say it is the first to provide a global accounting of regional and local water impacts caused by human intervention, and whether it has led to a reshuffle of water scarcity hotspots.

Indigenous views collated worldwide ‘for first time’
SciDev
Indigenous people will soon be able to put their opinions across to international policymakers thanks to an initiative which is the first to collate their views worldwide, its developers say. The initiative, known as the Indigenous Navigator, will be officially launched at the UN General Assembly in September. It is the largest-ever attempt to fill the data gap in development specific to indigenous people, who account for some 370 million worldwide and are overrepresented amongst the poor, illiterate and unemployed, according to the project’s coordinator Cæcilie Mikkelsen.

Five park rangers killed in DRC in tragic weekend for wildlife defenders
The Guardian
our Congolese park rangers and one porter have been killed in an ambush in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. A large group of journalists and park rangers were attacked on Friday 14 July in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve by an armed local rebel group. It is believed that the journalists – one from the US, two Dutch, and one Congolese – were covering a story about the work of the rangers in the forest. The attack is thought to have been by Mai Mai rebels from the area who have been carrying out illegal poaching and mining activities.

Religious leaders occupy Australian environment minister’s office to protest Adani’s Carmichael coalmine
The Guardian
Religious leaders from several faiths have occupied the electorate office of Josh Frydenberg today, demanding Australia’s federal environment minister withdraw his support for Adani’s Carmichael mine, and vowing to stay there until he does so. They say that emissions from burning coal from the mine – which would be the biggest coalmine in Australia’s history – would make meeting the Paris commitment of keeping global warming at “well below 2C” above pre-industrial levels impossible.

Trump Furthers War on Science With ‘Illegal’ Nomination of Climate Denier for Top USDA Scientist
Common Dreams
As the administration continues to take a “wrecking ball” to science, President Donald Trump on Wednesday officially nominated climate change denier, conservative talk radio host, and former Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis to the top science job at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The expected nomination drew condemnation from advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which reiterated its statement that Clovis serving as the USDA’s undersecretary for research, education, and economics is illegal.

Fukushima: robot images show massive deposits thought to be melted nuclear fuel
The Guardian
Images captured by an underwater robot on Saturday showed massive deposits believed to be melted nuclear fuel covering the floor of a damaged reactor at Japan’s destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant. The robot found large amounts of solidified lava-like rocks and lumps in layers as thick as 1m on the bottom inside a main structure called the pedestal that sits underneath the core inside the primary containment vessel of Fukushima’s Unit 3 reactor, said the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Did China’s Rapid Growth Come at the Cost of More Inequality?
Thomas Piketty & Gabriel Zucman, The Wire
In the current research, we combine official and non-official sources (including independent estimates of China’s balance sheets) to provide the first systematic estimates of the level and structure of China’s national wealth since the beginning of the market reform process. We find that the national wealth-income ratio increased from 350% in 1978 to 700% in 2015. This increase was mainly driven by the increase of private wealth, which increased from 115% to 487% of national income during the same period.

China Outpaces Competition In Renewable Race
Irina Slav, Oil Price
After the completion in June of what could be the world’s biggest floating solar farm, now media report that during the first half of the year, Chinese companies installed 24 GW of solar capacity, of which 7 GW is distributed. That’s after last year China doubled its solar power capacity, adding almost 35 GW to a total 77.42 GW at the end of the year. The capacity installed in the first half alone equals, Bloomberg notes, more than 50 percent of the total solar installed capacity in the U.S. as of the end of 2016. If the pace of expansion continues, this year will see another substantial increase, maintaining China’s spot as the world’s largest solar power market in terms of number of panels. Solar panel production, of course, is also set for a rise: 25 percent on an annual basis this year, to 60 GW.

Engineers invent the first bio-compatible, ion current battery
Tech Explore
Engineers at the University of Maryland have invented an entirely new kind of battery. It is bio-compatible because it produces the same kind of ion-based electrical energy used by humans and other living things. In traditional batteries, the electrical energy, or current, flows in form of moving electrons. This current of electrons out of the battery is generated within the battery by moving positive ions from one end (electrode) of a battery to the other. The new UMD battery does the opposite. It moves electrons around in the device to deliver energy that is a flow of ions. This is the first time that an ionic current-generating battery has been invented.

 

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