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NEWS UPDATE #177


HIGHLIGHTS: *India seeks to change forest policy to promote industrial plantations *Modi govt to amend labour laws *India has world’s highest inhabitants without safe water *Centre clears ambitious Neutrino Lab *Global carbon emissions hit record high in 2017 *93% of Bottled Water Tainted With Microplastics *California aims for world’s most progressive farm animal welfare law

INDIA

Modi govt amends labour rules to encourage contract jobs
Live Mint
The Narendra Modi government has modified labour rules to encourage fixed tenure or contract jobs across all industries, signalling a shift in its employment generation strategy from job security to job creation. The changes, made through a gazette notification dated 16 March, come at a time when the government is looking to address the problem of jobless growth—a major political challenge for the government ahead of the general election due in 2019. The new rules allow companies to hire workers on contract for a fixed term, extending the labour contract rules first introduced in 2016 for the textiles and apparel industry. (Related: RSS-affiliate BMS criticises Modi government, says immediately withdraw fixed term job notification)

Centre seeks to change forest policy to promote industrial plantations in natural forests
Scroll
The Union government has drafted a new National Forest Policy. If approved, the policy will allow the corporate sector to grow, harvest and sell trees on government-owned forest lands. So far, this is explicitly banned under the existing National Forest Policy, which was laid down in 1988. If the new draft National Forest Policy is approved, however, it will permit the government to amend environment laws and allow industry to take over patches of forest lands. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has put the new draft National Forest Policy up for public comments till April 14. (Related: How are you utilising green funds worth Rs 75,000 crore? SC asks Centre)

India has world’s highest inhabitants without safe water: report
Live Mint
India is home to the highest number of people—163 million—in the world without access to clean water, and faces serve challenges on water resources due to climate change, says a new study by WaterAid, a global advocacy group on water and sanitation. The report, The Water Gap – WaterAid’s State of the World’s Water 2018, ranked India on the top of 10 countries in the world with 163.1 million inhabitants living without access to safe water close to home. Eritrea tops the list of countries with lowest access to water by percentage of population with just 19% of the people in this coastal nation having access to clean water. (Related: 1) Groundwater level falling in almost 50% area of Maharashtra 2) Bhopal’s groundwater level at lowest in decade as summer sets in 3) From April 15, pay Rs 2000 fine for wastage of water in Chandigarh 4) 36 per cent cities to face water crisis by 2050)

Government launches Sand Mining Framework
The Hindu
To help states deal with the issue of sand mining, including demand-supply deficit and illegal extraction, the government on Tuesday launched a framework prepared after intensive consultations with all stakeholders. The Sand Mining Framework was launched by Union Minister of Mines Narendra Singh Tomar at the third National Conclave on Mines & Minerals in New Delhi. The framework addresses the issues of state objectives, demand-supply assessment, measures to sand availability, allocation model, transportation and monitoring mechanisms. (Also read: Sand Shortage Spurs Wage and Development Crisis in Bihar)

Environment ministry allows state authorities to deal with EC violation cases
Down to Earth
In a move that could push back environmental compliance, the Union environment ministry has issued a notification on allowing re-assess of developmental projects that have violated environmental clearance (EC) requirements. The reassessment means the project will be ‘relooked’ at for fresh ECs by Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) at the Centre and state levels, depending on the project’s size and capacity. The March 8 notification is an amendment of a March 14, 2017 notification, which gave a six-month window period to project proponents, operating without obtaining a prior EC, to apply for the same. Such proposals were to be dealt only at the Centre.

Centre Grants Environmental Clearance to Ambitious Neutrino Lab on ‘Special’ Basis
The Wire
The India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), billed as the country’s “largest science experiment”, has received a long-awaited clearance from the environment ministry, bringing the project one step closer to starting construction. The INO was proposed over a decade ago, and received cabinet approval in 2015, with construction work for the project set to begin a year later. However, multiple roadblocks erupted soon after: the people of Theni district, Tamil Nadu, where land had been earmarked for the project, rose in protest with the support of local politicians and environmental activists. The primary charge being levelled against the INO was that it hadn’t obtained the requisite clearances to enter construction phase. (Related: Team Behind Planned Neutrino Observatory Disputes Recent Media Reports on Ministry Clearance)

Critical Wildlife Habitat guidelines issued; NTCA order superseded
Down to Earth
On March 6, 2018, the Ministry of Tribal Affairswrote a letter to the Principal Chief Secretaries of all states to represent the ministry in the Expert Committee for determination of Critical Wildlife Habitats. MoTA’s letter came in response to the guidelines prepared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for determination and notification of CWH within national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Through this letter, MoTA made it clear that it has accepted the guidelines and does not desire any changes in them. This has raised the hackles of forest rights activists, who are criticising this decision to accept MoEF&CC’s guidelines without making any revisions or inviting comments from public.  (Also read: National Tiger Conservation Authority red flags railway line through tiger reserve)

Micro-irrigation: North Block stymied Rs 5,000-crore fund for a year
Financial Express
A dedicated Micro-Irrigation Fund (MIF), proposed nearly 14 months ago in the Budget 2017-18, hasn’t become operational as yet as its proponent, the Union finance ministry, couldn’t decide if the state governments are to be given interest subsidy on the MIF loans. According to official sources, the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC), headed by the expenditure secretary, had approved the plan only on February 23, 2018. It is for the agriculture ministry now to seek the Cabinet’s approval for creation of MIF at National Bank for Agriculture And Rural Development (Nabard). (Also read: Centre preparing a legislative amendment to clarify the definition of illegal mining)

Meghalaya RTI Activist, Who Went After Cement Firms, Found Murdered
NDTV
A right-to-information activist who was working to expose alleged misuse of public funds in Meghalaya was found dead in the northeast state, police said on Tuesday. Poipynhun Majaw had been filing applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to check alleged corruption in public projects in Meghalaya’s Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council. Recently, using replies he got from the authorities under using the RTI route, he had alleged that cement firms have been mining in the area without permission from the council. East Jaintia Hills has over a dozen cement plants. (Also read: Uttar Pradesh village fighting for forest rights razed to ground for third time: “Mysterious” fire led to the incident)

Agitation against NH bypass: House of Vayalkilikal leader attacked
The Times of India
The house of Suresh Keezhattur, who is at the forefront of the agitation against the National Highway bypass through the paddy field at Keezhattur near Thaliparamba in the district, came under attack in the early hours of Thursday. The attack comes at a time when Vayalkilikal, the collective of the local residents of Keezhattur, has decided to strengthen their agitation against the bypass and the new campaign with the support of various political parties and environmental groups is scheduled to begin on March 25. The agitators were arrested and the shed erected by them as part of the agitation was later set on fire allegedly by the CPM, to facilitate the survey last week. (Also read: Greens plan mass protest to save Kerala’s Chaliyar River)

‘Govt releasing precious Narmada water into desert’
The Times of India
Congress leaders have alleged that the state government officials wasted thousands of litres of Narmada water by releasing it into the desert to avoid damage to main canal bringing water to Tappar Dam near Bhachau in Kutch. Ashok Jhala, leaders of the opposition from Congress in the Bhachau municipality alleged that on March 16 the branch canal for transporting Narmada water to Tappar dam of Kutch was damaged due to heavy flow of water from the main canal affecting water supply to towns like Adipur, Anjar, Kandla and some parts of Gandhidham. (Related: Gujarat has guzzled 68% of its groundwater)

Why does Kosi river cause devastating floods so often? Answer lies in massive siltation: study
Down to Earth
Kosi, the sorrow of Bihar, has remained an enigma for engineers to policymakers for the number of avulsions it had have till date causing huge floods every time. It was as recent as 2008 when it breached the embankment in Kushaha (Nepal) and shifted 108 km eastwards. The cause behind the woes for those living along the banks of Kosi could be 1,082 million tonnes of silt that has been deposited in it in the last 54 years. This has come out in a study conducted by professor of earth sciences at IIT Kanpur, Rajiv Sinha. (Also read: Dumping of debris continues unabated in Yamuna, activists question role of police)

During Macron’s visit, agreement for Jaitapur signed without diligence: former Union Power Secretary
Dianuke
Dr. EAS Sarma, India’s former Union Secretary in Power Ministry wrote this open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, highlighting the lack of diligence in signing the Framework Agreement for Jaitapur nuclear power project during the recent visit of the French President Emmanuel Macron. We are reproducing the letter below. (Related: Russia’s Nuclear Projects in India Face Financial Crisis, Media Censored to Hide this Truth)

1.3 million farming households may lose livelihood due to shipping, navigation in Ganga-Brahmaputra: Study
Counterview
A new study “Expanding Tradable Benefits of Trans-boundary Water: Promoting Navigational Usage of Inland Waterways in Ganga and Brahmaputra Basins”, has raised the alarm that any changes in their water flow from growing shipping and navigation will affect the livelihoods of the nearly 1.3 million farming households and tens of thousands of fishing households dependent on the rivers. The study says that if the development of inland waterways is not properly regulated, this could damage fish and dolphin sanctuaries due to dredging, river water pollution due to oil spillage and waste disposal also pose real challenges in Bangladesh and India. (Also read: Kashmir Village’s worst nightmare about Kishanganga power project turns real)

Delhiites breathe in five times more SO2 than a decade ago
Down to Earth
The concentration of toxic gases present in Delhi’s air has increased manifold in the past decade, says Economic Survey of Delhi 2017-18. In fact, the air the residents of the national capital breathe now has five times more sulphur dioxide in it than a decade ago. In 2008, the amount of SO2 found in the air was 5 μg/m3 (microgram per cubic meter), but in 2017 this number touched 23.36 μg/m3. And that’s not it. The air also has much more nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. (Related: Government Offices, Including PMO, Buy Air Purifiers to Combat Air Pollution in Delhi)

Alarming! Bengaluru, India’s tech hub, may soon run out of water, says study
Financial Express
India’s tech hub, Bengaluru, may soon run out of water like Cape Town in South Africa, which is facing a severe water crisis, a statement from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said on Wednesday. “Bengaluru is one of the 10 metropolitan cities in the world that are quickly moving towards ‘Day Zero’ (when the cities will completely run out of water),” said the statement quoting a study by the CSE’s “Down To Earth” magazine. While the number of water bodies in Bengaluru has reduced by 79 per cent due to unplanned urbanisation and encroachment, the built-up area has gone up from 8 per cent in 1973 to 77 per cent, it stated. (Also read: NGT slaps Rs 5L cost on Mantri Techzone for lake buffer zone violation)

A knowledge hub for medicinal plants
The Hindu
The use of Indian medicinal plants for drug discovery and therapeutics just received a boost. A database of such plants has been built by a Chennai-based team led by Areejit Samal of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. By documenting 1,742 Indian medicinal plants and 9,596 chemicals that plants use to thrive and ward off threats (phytochemicals), this database has the distinction of being the largest so far. This is a first step towards validating and developing traditional systems of medicine that use plant extracts.

Fresh plea in Supreme Court on population control
The Times of India
A fresh plea was on Wednesday filed in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Centre to ensure strict population control measures by adopting a two-child policy. The petition, filed by Delhi BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, also sought a direction to the Centre to take appropriate steps to make two-child norm a mandatory criteria for contesting parliamentary, state assembly and local body elections, forming a political party, becoming political office bearers and applying for jobs in the executive and judiciary and receiving government aids and subsidies.

India Is The World’s Biggest Postwar Arms Importer
Zero Hedge
India actually spent the most on arms imports over the past five years according to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).India’s arms imports went up 24 percent between 2008-12 and 2013-17. Its spending has been fueled by tensions with Pakistan on one side and China on the other. Even though India does have a domestic arms industry which has produced the Tejas fighter jet and Dhruv helicopter, it has lagged behind both China and Russia in the development of capable weapon systems.

WORLD

Global carbon emissions hit record high in 2017
Reuters
Global energy-related carbon emissions rose to a historic high of 32.5 gigatons last year, after three years of being flat, due to higher energy demand and the slowing of energy efficiency improvements, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said. Global energy demand rose by 2.1 percent last year to 14,050 million tonnes of oil equivalent, more than twice the previous year’s rate, boosted by strong economic growth, according to preliminary estimates from the IEA. Energy demand rose by 0.9 percent in 2016 and 0.9 percent on average over the previous five years.

At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system
Technology Review
Instead of the roughly 1,100 megawatts of carbon-free energy per day likely needed to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 ˚C, as the 2003 Science paper by Caldeira and his colleagues found, we are adding around 151 megawatts. That’s only enough to power roughly 125,000 homes. At that rate, substantially transforming the energy system would take, not the next three decades, but nearly the next four centuries. In the meantime, temperatures would soar, melting ice caps, sinking cities, and unleashing devastating heat waves around the globe. (Related: Electric car makers to hit a massive roadblock due to shortage of natural resources required for production: Report)

The Arctic’s carbon bomb might be even more potent than we thought
The Washington Post
Research released Monday suggests that methane releases could be considerably more prevalent as Arctic permafrost thaws. The research finds that in waterlogged wetland soils, where oxygen is not prevalent, tiny microorganisms will produce a considerable volume of methane, a gas that doesn’t last in the air much more than a decade but has a warming effect many times that of carbon dioxide over a period of 100 years. “What we can definitely say is that the importance of methane was underestimated until now in the carbon studies,” said Christian Knobloch, a researcher at Universität Hamburg in Germany and the lead author of the study. (Related: February 2018: 40°F Hotter Than Usual at Arctic Outpost and Climate Scientists Are Freaking Out)

Study Finds Timely Emissions Reductions Could Prevent 153 Million Air Pollution Deaths This Century
EcoWatch
A study published in Nature Climate Change Monday shows that acting quickly to curb greenhouse gas emissions would also reduce the air pollution that is already a major urban killer, thereby saving millions of lives within the next 40 years. The study was led by Duke University with funding from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and participation from Columbia University. It found that if decision-makers act to reduce emissions by 180 gigatonnes of carbon this century, consistent with limiting warming to two degrees Celsius without relying on carbon-capture technology, as many as 153 million premature air pollution deaths will be avoided. (Related: World’s great forests could lose half of all wildlife as planet warms – report)

EU Leaders Put Foot Down over Climate, Telling Trump: ‘No Paris Agreement, no trade agreement’
Enviro News
In June of 2017, President Donald Trump announced the United States would leave the Paris Climate Agreement (the Accord/Agreement) unless the terms were changed to be more favorable for America. That decision has become a point of contention in trade negotiations with the European Union (EU). But last week, European leaders sent a strong message to Trump: no Paris Agreement, no trade deals. “One of our main demands is that any country who signs a trade agreement with EU should implement the Paris Agreement on the ground,” said France’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Baptiste LeMoyne, drawing a hard line in the sand. “No Paris Agreement, no trade agreement. The U.S. knows what to expect.” (Related: Climate science on trial as high-profile US case takes on fossil fuel industry)

‘Shocking’ Study: 93% of Bottled Water Tainted With Microplastics — View List of Culprit Brands
Enviro News
A new report out of the State University of New York at Fredonia, released in March 2018, found 93 percent of the bottled water it tested was contaminated with microplastics, leaving many consumers stunned. Commissioned by the nonprofit journalism project Orb Media, researchers examined 259 bottles from 11 brands with 27 lots. According to the study, a lot is “an identification number assigned by a manufacturer to a particular production unit”. The bottles came from 19 locations in 9 different countries and included international brands: Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Nestlé Pure Life, and San Pellegrino; and national brands: Aqua (Indonesia), Bisleri (India), Epura (Mexico), Gerolsteiner (Germany), Minalba (Brazil), and Wahaha (China).

Europe faces ‘biodiversity oblivion’ after collapse in French birds, experts warn
The Guardian
The “catastrophic” decline in French farmland birds signals a wider biodiversity crisis in Europe which ultimately imperils all humans, leading scientists have said. A dramatic fall in farmland birds such as skylarks, whitethroats and ortolan bunting in France was revealed by two studies this week, with the spread of neonicotinoid pesticides – and decimation of insect life – coming under particular scrutiny. With intensive crop production encouraged by the EU’s common agricultural policy apparently driving the bird declines, conservationists are warning that many European countries are facing a second “silent spring” – a term coined by the ecologist Rachel Carson to describe the slump in bird populations caused by pesticides.

Despite Government Pledges, Ravaging of Indonesia’s Forests Continues
Yale Environment 360
Nearly seven years after the declaration of the moratorium on logging, however, the initiative has failed to stem the loss of forests and peatlands across the Indonesian archipelago. Satellite monitoring shows that palm oil and paper plantations continue to expand, with at least 10,000 square miles of primary forest and peatland — the equivalent of five islands the size of Bali — disappearing since the moratorium went into effect, according to one analysis. In 2015, a massive El Niño-fueled fire event — linked to burning for land-clearing — was believed to be the worst in Indonesian history, emitting an estimated 1,750 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere — nearly twice what Germany does in a year, according to The Global Fire Emissions Database. (Also read: Marine heatwave set off ‘carbon bomb’ in world’s largest seagrass meadow)

Greenpeace Calls Out Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, and Others For Failing to Disclose If Their Palm Oil Is Destroying Rainforests
Greenpeace
At the start of this year, Greenpeace International asked 16 companies to publicly disclose the mills that produced their palm oil, as well as the names of the producer groups in charge of these mills. Of these 16 brands, eight agreed to comply with these requests – Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Mars, Mondelēz, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble (P&G), Reckitt Benckiser, and Unilever. The remaining eight companies – Ferrero, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, PZ Cussons, and Smucker’s – refused to disclose who produced their palm oil, which Greenpeace says conceals “the extent of their complicity in rainforest destruction.” (Also read: Greenpeace aActivists confront krill fishing vessels in Antarctic to protect penguins and whales)

‘Great Pacific garbage patch’ sprawling with far more debris than thought
The Guardian
An enormous area of rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean is teeming with far more debris than previously thought, heightening alarm that the world’s oceans are being increasingly choked by trillions of pieces of plastic. The sprawling patch of detritus – spanning 1.6m sq km, (617,763 sq miles) more than twice the size of France – contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, new research published in Nature has found. This mass of waste is up to 16 times larger than previous estimates and provides a sobering challenge to a team that will start an ambitious attempt to clean up the vast swath of the Pacific this summer. (Also read: ‘Dead zone’ in Gulf of Mexico will take decades to recover from farm pollution)

Last male northern white rhino is put down
The Guardian
The last male northern white rhinoceros has died, leaving only two females with which conservationists hope to save the species from extinction. Sudan, the “gentle giant” who lived in the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya, was put down on Monday after the pain from a degenerative illness became too great. He is survived by his daughter and granddaughter. To try to preserve the species, genetic material was collected from Sudan before he was euthanised. Staff at the park hope that, through “advanced cellular technologies” and IVF, his death will not signal the end of the species. (Also read: Over 600 eggs of endangered Asian giant softshell turtle discovered in Cambodia portion of Mekong River)

‘History in the making’: California aims for world’s highest farm animal welfare law
The Guardian
A proposed law would ban the sale of any eggs, pork or veal that comes from an animal that spent its life in a cage. If passed it would be the most progressive farm animal welfare law in the world. The law is only possible thanks to the quirky US ballot measure system which allows organisations and individuals to bypass politicians and put potential laws directly to a vote by the general population – as long as they can get enough signatures to support the measure in the first place. In California that means collecting a tremendous 365,000 signatures.

Guyanese campaigners mount legal challenge against three oil giants
The Guardian
Three major oil companies preparing to drill off the shores of Guyana, where a string of discoveries have sparked a rush for crude, are being challenged by a group of citizens who say their dash for oil is illegal. Lawyers acting for the Guyanese campaigners are to lodge the latest challenge in a court in Guyana this week. They are funding the battle against oil giants Exxon Mobil, Hess Corporation and Nexen, a subsidiary of Chinese national oil, through the . Offshore drilling off the coast of Guyana is seen as one of the most sought-after prospects in the world for oil companies.

Radar returns to remote sensing through free, near-real-time global imagery
Mongabay
Satellite imagery has transformed how we assess changes in forest cover. They cannot, however, see though clouds. The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), which uses remote sensing data to highlight deforestation hotspots in the western Amazon and activities that cause forest loss, has addressed this challenge with an alternative, 80-year-old technology—radar. MAAP now combines medium- and high-resolution optical data with the power of radar imagery to enable its team to monitor deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon year-round, in near real-time.

China Is Days Away From Killing the Petrodollar
International Man
China is introducing a new way to buy oil. For the first time, it will allow for the large-scale exchange of oil for gold. The Shanghai International Energy Exchange is introducing a crude oil futures contract denominated in Chinese yuan. It will allow oil producers to sell their oil for yuan. As of March 26, countries around the world will have a genuine, viable way to opt out of the petrodollar system. It goes live on March 26. Ultimately, I think people will look back and see the Golden Alternative as the catalyst that killed the petrodollar. (Also read: “There’s No Cash To Spend” – Elorza Becomes Largest Venezuelan City To Launch “Community Currency”)

 

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