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NEWS UPDATE #160


From The Times of India: At a time when forests are considered as valuable carbon sinks, the Centre’s Forest Advisory Committee is on a forest land diversion spree by recommending massive 91,798 hectare area (918 sqkm) in just eight months from January-August 2017.  In May, 61,278 hectare (613 sqkm) was recommended in one meeting alone.

INDIA

BG-III cotton illegally grown in Yavatmal, where many farmers have died from pesticide inhalation
The Times of India
Even as the farmers in Vidarbha are trying to come to terms with the impact of the use of pesticide sprays which has led to 33 deaths in the region, the issue of smuggling and cultivation of bollgard III (BG-III or round-up ready flex — RRFlex) cotton seeds into country, including Yavatmal district, has come to fore. Multinational Monsanto, the seed giant, was to release the modified Bt cotton with an additional gene into India about six months back. However, history seems to repeat itself. Like how the first Bt cotton was brought to India illegally in 2000 from farmers in Gujarat, this time too the BG-III has made an entry into Vidarbha illegally. According to sources, the BG-III has come to Yavatmal from Andhra Pradesh apart from Gujarat. (Related: Farmers’ rights grossly violated due to lack of awareness on pesticide spraying: NHRC)

India’s new wetland rules threaten to destroy 65% of its water bodies rather than protect them
Scroll
After ignoring repeated directions from the Supreme Court to notify stricter rules to protect the country’s wetlands, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has gone and done just the opposite. On September 26, it published the Wetlands (Conservation & Management) Rules, 2017 – replacing the older rules dating back to 2010. The new rules quite simply provide a framework to legalise the destruction of wetlands. By undoing the protection for India’s already threatened wetlands by playing with definitions, introducing caveats and provisos and shifting jurisdictions and decision-making powers, the ministry seems to have achieved its objective of easing the doing of business in these hydrologically sensitive areas. (Also read: Centre sets up committee to improve management of water resources in Northeast)

Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) on a forest land diversion spree by recommending massive 91,798 hectare area (918 sqkm) in just eight months
The Times of India
At a time when forests are considered as valuable carbon sinks, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) is on a forest land diversion spree by recommending massive 91,798 hectare area (918 sqkm) in just eight months from January-August 2017. The diverted forest area towards 70 projects is equivalent to four times the area of Maharashtra side of Pench Tiger Reserve (257 sqkm). A review of the FAC minutes by Pushp Jain & Terence Jorge of the EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), a Delhi-based resource and response centre that keeps a watch on the environmental and forest clearance processes, shows that in May, 61,278 hectare (613 sqkm) was recommended in one meeting alone. (Related: India unveils third National Wildlife Action Plan for 2017-2031)

India’s criminal wastage: over 10 million works under MGNREGA incomplete or abandoned
Down to Earth
In the last three and half years, the rate of work completion under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has drastically declined, leading to wastage of public money and leaving villages more prone to drought. This could also be a reason for people moving out of the programme. At a time when more than one-third of India’s districts are reeling under a drought-like situation due to deficit rainfall, here comes another bad news. The works started under the MGNREGA—close to 80 per cent related to water conservation, irrigation and land development—are increasingly not being completed or in practice, abandoned. (Related: No compelling reason why NREGA workers should get minimum wages as stipulated by Act: Govt of India panel)

New Delhi looking at granting indemnity to US nuclear power suppliers
The Hindu BusinessLine
The government is likely to address the long pending issue of providing indemnification to American nuclear suppliers that has been one of the main sticking points in the progress of the US-India Civil Nuclear Deal. The government is believed to have assured the US that it is keen to see progress in the negotiations on civil nuclear deal and hence it is “exploring ways” to find a solution that would “indemnify” American nuclear reactor suppliers against liability, sources told BusinessLine. Sources said that both sides are going to hold a series of meetings in the next couple of months on the proposed construction of six Westinghouse AP1000 reactors in Andhra Pradesh, which was announced in 2016. The US-India Civil Nuclear Deal, which was concluded in 2008, has been stuck mainly on the issue of liability.

India’s world hunger ranking slips by three points, worse among BRICS countries, all neighbours except Pakistan
IndiaSpend
With more than a fifth (21%) of its children wasted–low weight for height–India ranks 100 of 119 countries in the 2017 Global Hunger Index (GHI), down three places from 97 last year. Only in three other countries–Djibouti, Sri Lanka and South Sudan–are more than 20% of children wasted. India ties with Djibouti and Rwanda for the 100th rank, and with a score of 31.4 of 100 (with 0 being best and 100 the worst), India’s 2017 GHI falls at the high end of the “serious” category. (Also read: India slammed for slavery, we need to counter: IB to Govt)

India’s unemployment rate 8.2%, highest in 11 months, greater unemployment 15%: Top consultant CMIE
Counterview
One of India’s premier independent consultants, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), has estimated that India’s urban unemployment rate in the week ended October 8 is 8.2 per cent, the highest in the past 11 months. This has happened, says CMIE, despite the fact that the “urban labour participation rate has recovered to its level during the last December-January period.” Explains CMIE, “The rise in labour participation rate and the unemployment rate shows that labour is returning back to the labour markets but it isn’t finding jobs”, adding, “The fall in labour participation rate began soon after demonetisation. We are probably seeing a recovery after about a year.” (Also read: No respite for Indian banks as bad loans hit record $146 billion) 2) Thomas Piketty says India has reached the point at which its politics will have to respond to an ever widening-gap between rich and poor)

How Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana has led to empty fields instead of revitalising agriculture
Your Story
A CAG audit of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, a scheme that promised to reinvigorate the agriculture sector, suggests only 62 percent work was completed. As per an audit of RKVY by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2015, there were deficiencies in the preparation of SAP and DAP. These include lack of agroclimatic study, convergence with other schemes, detailed project reports and involvement of grassroots agency.
(Also read: NCDEX gets 99 farmers producers organisations on board for derivative trade 2) Seven major onion traders in Nashik have been misusing the central government’s 5% subsidy scheme on export of onions by submitting fake and inflated bills, an investigation has revealed)

Food company lobbyists, RUTF backers in Niti Aayog’s working group on nutrition
The Times of India
Many members of the Niti Aayog’s newly constituted Working Group on Nutrition have significant conflicts of interests. Several are representatives of international agencies, which have close ties to multinational food companies including Nestle, Hindustan Unilever, Coca Cola, Monsanto, Mars and Ajinomoto, and which have been pushing packaged therapeutic food to address malnutrition. The government has repeatedly clarified that packaged energy dense food is against India’s policy on malnutrition redressal. Niti Aayog’s own National Nutrition Strategy (NNS) states that policy development and programme implementation should be kept clear of conflicts of interest. (Also read: Stop dharnas, public speeches at Jantar Mantar immediately: NGT to Delhi govt)

Why Deadly, Worsening Flash Floods In Bihar’s Border Villages Don’t Get India’s Attention
IndiaSpend
More than 73% of Bihar’s 94,163 sq km area is flood-prone. The problem is particularly acute in north Bihar, where almost 76% of the population–about 50 million people–lives under the constant threat of floods. Of these, those who live along the India-Nepal border deal with an additional danger — unpredictable flash floods originating from the rivers that flow down from the Himalayas across the border. These flash floods that routinely affect the districts of Pashchim and Poorvi Champaran, Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Araria and Kishanganj are ancient affairs. But, local villagers and the state government officials claim that these floods are becoming more frequent because of climate change. (Related: Are Odisha’s rising heat and humidity fuelling deaths by lightning?)

In Chutka in Madhya Pradesh, a protest brews against yet another nuclear plant
Catch News
Less than 400 kilometres from state capital Bhopal, a small village in Madhya Pradesh is turning into the epicentre of yet another round of protests against nuclear power plants in the country. Chutka in Mandla district is the site of a proposed nuclear power plant of a capacity of 1400 megawatts. However, residents are opposed to the project and are protesting against government’s alleged forceful implementation of the project. The plant is being set up by Nuclear Power Corporation of India in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh Power Generation Company. It received clearance from the Union government in 2009.

Gujarat Fishermen Protest Against Bhadbhut Dam
SANDRP
This Sunday (October 08) has been a sad day for Narmada River and thousands of fisherfolk families who will further suffer due to the Rs 4350 Cr Bhadbhut dam of which PM Modi has laid the foundation Stone. The PM seems to love dams so much! However, the project is facing opposition because it would adversely affect over 12000 fisherfolk families and their livelihoods. Neither they have been consulted, nor there have been any impact assessment, nor any question of compensation or rehabilitation. Raising these concerns, over 100 fishermen took out a boat protest with black flags against the PM laying foundation stone of the dam. They all were arrested and released only after PM left. (Also read: Gujarat Government May Take Over Tata, Adani, Essar Power Plants)

Maharashtra cabinet approves climate change action plan
The Times of India
Nearly a decade after the union ministry of environment and forests mandated that every state prepare a climate change action plan, the government has finally approved the recommendations of TERI. The state government has accepted 14 recommendations. It will set up a panel of experts to oversee the implementation of the policy. One of the main recommendations it has accepted is to protect the area around the origins of a river. Ensure plantation of trees to prevent soil erosion to reduce the intensity of floods. (Also read: IIT team develops system to monitor drought in South Asia)

Harassment of Australian Journalists Latest in Adani Tactic to Scare and Gag Critics
News Click
The ABC team, led by reporter Stephen Long, and their translator were in Mundra, where Adani has built the largest commercial port in the country, in Kutch district late August. They intended to dig up material on Adani’s violations of green norms in and around Mundra, charges of which the company is legally fighting in the Supreme Court. However, after only a day in Mundra they “discovered the power of the company”, as the network states on its website, making no bones about conglomerate’s clout with the state machinery. Police from the crime branch turned up at the hotel where the film crew was staying, the team was stopped from filming any further, questioned for hours, and forced to leave at 4am. (Related: Thousands take to streets across Australia with chants of Adani Go Home)

WORLD

Carbon emissions from warming soils could trigger disastrous feedback loop
The Guardian
Warming soils are releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than previously thought, suggesting a potentially disastrous feedback mechanism whereby increases in global temperatures will trigger massive new carbon releases in a cycle that may be impossible to break. The increased production of carbon comes from the microbes within soils, according to a report in the peer-review journal Science, published on Friday. The 26-year study is one of the biggest of its kind, and is a groundbreaking addition to our scant knowledge of exactly how warming will affect natural systems. (Related: Slow-freezing Alaska soil driving surge in carbon dioxide emissions)

NASA Pinpoints Cause of Earth’s Recent Record Carbon Dioxide Spike
NASA
A new NASA study provides space-based evidence that Earth’s tropical regions were the cause of the largest annual increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration seen in at least 2,000 years. Scientists suspected the 2015-16 El Nino — one of the largest on record — was responsible, but exactly how has been a subject of ongoing research. Analyzing the first 28 months of data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite, researchers conclude impacts of El Nino-related heat and drought occurring in tropical regions of South America, Africa and Indonesia were responsible for the record spike in global carbon dioxide. The findings are published in the journal Science Friday as part of a collection of five research papers based on OCO-2 data.

China halts more than 150 coal-fired power plants
Greenpeace
China is to stop or delay work on 151 planned and under-construction coal plants as Beijing struggles to respond to a flat-lining of demand for coal power. The newly released list implements a target announced by premier Li Keqiang in March to stop, delay and close down at least 50,000 megawatts of coal-fired power plant projects in 2017. The list affects coal power plants with capacity equal to the combined operating capacity of Germany and Japan (95,000 megawatts) costing around US$60 billion (389 billion rmb). (Related: Dutch government: shut down all coal-fired power plants by 2030)

‘Great News for the Climate’ as Banking Giant BNP Paribas Ditches Tar Sands, Arctic Drilling
Common Dreams
In a move being hailed as a win for the climate, banking giant BNP Paribas announced Wednesday that it is severing ties with companies whose main business is connected to shale and/or oil from tar sands, will stop financing transportation projects for such fuels, and will not finance any oil or gas projects in the Arctic region. “In concrete terms,” writes Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, director and CEO of BNP Paribas, “these decisions mean that we will cease providing finance to a number of companies and organizations that are not making an effort to be part of the transition to a less greenhouse gas-emitting economy.” (Related: Coal, oil and gas finance from major development banks totalled $5bn in year after historic Paris climate pact, according to estimates)

Fukushima victims win $1000 compensation each in Japanese court
RT.com
A district court in Fukushima prefecture has ordered the Japanese government and the operator of the troubled nuclear plant to pay compensation to thousands of residents and evacuees affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The court said the authorities had failed to properly control Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operated the power plant. The operator was found guilty of failing to adopt the necessary safety measures despite knowing of a risk of a massive tsunami in the region as early as 2002. According to the court ruling, TEPCO and the government are liable for damages totaling about 500 million yen ($4.44 million). (Also read: Anti-nuclear weapons group wins 2017 Nobel Peace Prize)

WWF report finds 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to meat-based diets which put huge strain on Earth’s resources
The Guardian
The ongoing global appetite for meat is having a devastating impact on the environment driven by the production of crop-based feed for animals, a new report has warned. The vast scale of growing crops such as soy to rear chickens, pigs and other animals puts an enormous strain on natural resources leading to the wide-scale loss of land and species, according to the study from the conservation charity WWF.

75% of World’s Honey Laced With Pesticides
EcoWatch
Raising further concerns about the global food production system, a new study found that bees worldwide are being widely exposed to dangerous agricultural chemicals, with 75 percent of honey samples from six continents testing positive for pesticides known to harm pollinators. “What this shows is the magnitude of the contamination,” the study’s lead author, Edward Mitchell, a biology professor at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, told the Denver Post. He said there were “relatively few places where we did not find any” contaminated samples. (Related: Monsanto banned from European parliament)

Climate Destabilization Causing Thousands of New Species Migrations: Plant, Animal, Insect, Bird
Enviro News
A spate of new research studies has confirmed a disturbing pattern: climate disruption is confusing migratory birds, causing trees to relocate and allowing tropical diseases to spread northward. “Human society has yet to appreciate the implications of unprecedented species redistribution for life on Earth, including for human lives,” states a study, “Divergence of Species Responses to Climate Change,” published May 17, 2017, in Science Advances.

88% land conflicts in South Asia remain unsolved; 47% result in violence
Down to Earth
Eighty eight per cent of the conflicts between communities and companies in South Asia remain unsolved, a report by the Rights and Resources Institute has found. The figure was derived by analysing 51 such conflicts in Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The rate is one of the highest when compared to the rest of the world, and the global average for unresolved conflicts is 61 per cent. The report has compared global and local conflicts since 2001.

Technique developed in Kenya offers a refined way to map tree cover
Down to Earth
Scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, recently pioneered a new approach which uses satellite images and maps to show patterns linked to land use and cover change on a yearly basis. Though the technique was developed in Kenya, it can be used regionally and potentially across the world. What’s important about the new approach is that the maps consist of an array of both physical and human geographic data to explain changes. It can also be used in combination with large-scale climate models, for example to understand how changes in vegetation in East Africa might be affecting climate in other regions of Africa.

Approval given to thirty metre telescope on sacred mountain
Intercontinental Cry
In what its chairperson deemed ‘one of the most difficult decisions the board has ever made’, the Hawai’i Board of Land and Natural Resources last week approved construction of the controversial Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) on top of Mauna a Wakea (Mauna Kea). The Kanaka Maoli also believe the Mauna a Wakea mountain plays an integral role in Hawaii’s water cycle, and use the water collected at its summit for healing and ceremonial practices. They fear these practices could be disrupted by the construction of the TMT and the concomitant possibility it brings of water pollution.

Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler: “We Seem To Be Living In The Riskiest Market Of Our Lives”
Zero Hedge
In an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeanna Smialek, Thaler, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences on Monday for his pioneering work in establishing that humans are “predictably irrational”, said that the stock market’s complacency in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat and political uncertainty at home is disconcerting. “We seem to be living in the riskiest moment of our lives, and yet the stock market seems to be napping,” Thaler said, speaking by phone on Bloomberg TV. “I admit to not understanding it.”

Researchers Find That AI Programs Are Learning Racial And Gender Biases
Technocracy
An artificial intelligence tool that has revolutionised the ability of computers to interpret everyday language has been shown to exhibit striking gender and racial biases. The findings raise the spectre of existing social inequalities and prejudices being reinforced in new and unpredictable ways as an increasing number of decisions affecting our everyday lives are ceded to automatons. As machines are getting closer to acquiring human-like language abilities, they are also absorbing the deeply ingrained biases concealed within the patterns of language use, the latest research reveals.

 

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