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NEWS UPDATE #181


HIGHLIGHTS: *14 of world’s 15 most polluted cities in India: WHO *5,000 Gujarat Farmers Seek Permission to Die *Hundreds of Tonnes of Illegal GM Seed Import Takes Place Into India *China, India lead the rise in global antibiotic consumption *Pakistan May Have Just Set a World Heat Record *EU agrees total ban on bee-harming pesticides

Click on headlines to read reports

INDIA

14 of world’s 15 most polluted cities in India, Kanpur tops list
India Today
The second largest city of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Kanpur, attained global infamy on Tuesday after the World Health Organisation (WHO) placed it on top of a list of 4,300 world cities monitored for their air pollution levels in terms of PM 2.5 levels in the year 2016. Worse still for India, the next 13 cities in the list were also all from here, namely: Faridabad, Varanasi, Gaya, Patna, Delhi, Lucknow, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Patiala and Jodhpur. The national Capital climbed down from the fourth spot, where it appeared in WHO 2015 data, to the sixth spot only.

One of 40 ‘Naxals’ Killed in ‘Encounter’ Was Child, Say Villagers, 7 More Missing
Sukanya Shantha, The Wire
The villagers of Gattepalli say they hadn’t heard anything about the encounters. They waited until the end of April 22 for their children to return. When they did not, the eight families travelled around 140 km the next day to visit the police headquarters in Gadchiroli. No information was forthcoming. Talking to The Wire correspondent, the villagers had a lot of questions. “Why did they (police) not tell us when we visited them on Tuesday (April 24),” asked one. “Eight people – one from each family – are in Gadchiroli right now for their DNA tests. The police could have just shown us the list and we could have at least identified and rested (cremated) our child by now. This is cruel beyond comprehension,” said another.

In some places, you have to dig 130 feet down to get groundwater; that’s how bad it is
Down to Earth
Successive droughts and erratic rainfall have led to excess extraction of groundwater. That explains 61 per cent decline in groundwater level in wells in India between 2007 and 2017. Now that the summer is upon us and the IMD forecast suggesting 44 per cent probability of below-normal monsoon this year, groundwater situation is likely to aggravate further. The national capital is the third highest groundwater exploited state in India. Delhi is preceded by Rajasthan with nearly 66 per cent overexploitation rate. Punjab is the highest groundwater exploited state, where 76 per cent of the assessment units being overexploited.

Why do farmers in Gujarat seek right to die? Coercion and ‘illegal’ land acquisition
Down to Earth
A total of 5,259 people, comprising farmers and their family members, in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat has sought right to die as they allege that the land they are cultivating is being forcibly taken away by the state government and Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL)—the state power utility. They have written letters to the President of India, the Prime Minister and the chief minister of Gujarat. On April 1, 10 farmers, mainly from Ghogha taluka, were injured when police fired tear gas shells to disperse those who had gathered to resist GPCL’s attempt at taking possession of their lands for a lignite plant. More than 50 farmers were detained. Since April 8, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) has been imposed in the area, and it will continue till May 16. This prohibits assembly of persons unlawful. (Related: Over 5,000 Gujarat Farmers Seek Permission to Die as Govt Acquires Land for Power Facility)

Lethal dose: Indian farmers are dying because the government is regulating pesticides poorly
Scroll
India sanctions the use of at least 99 pesticides that are banned in other countries, according to activists who filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court in November to have them banned. Not only do the pesticides pose a direct risk to farmers who spray them, but their residue enters the food chain, affecting the health of both humans and animals. In 2002, the Ministry of Agriculture cited the “non-availability of safer/cheaper substitutes” to justify their use. The highest numbers came from Maharashtra where more than 40 deaths in the eastern region of Vidarbha created an uproar, forcing the state government to establish a special investigation team to examine them. The team reported, among other things, that farmers who died had not taken precautions while spraying pesticides – they had failed to cover their mouths and wear protective suits while spraying cotton that had grown unusually high that year. (Also read: Eight terrifying things we found about pesticide regulation and use in India)

Handling farm woes: Uttarakhand HC suggests giving legal status to MSP by bringing a suitable law
Times of India
Giving boost to a long pending demand of farmer organisations from across the country, the Uttarakhand high court has suggested the Centre and the state government to “provide legal status to Minimum Support Price (MSP) by bringing a suitable legislation” – the step, if taken, will make it a legal right of farmers to get the support price of their produce. The court, while disposing of a public interest litigation (PIL) on redressal of farmers’ grievances in the backdrop of incidents of suicides in Uttarakhand, on Thursday also directed the Centre and the state government to implement “broader recommendations” of the MS Swaminathan committee on providing higher support prices on all notified crops to farmers. (Also read: 227 villages in three districts of Rajasthan declared Schedule Areas)

Farmers’ groups call for 10-day village shutdown
The Hindu
The Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, an umbrella body of 110 farmers’ organisations, has declared a 10-day ‘gaon bandh’, or village shutdown, from June 1, to draw attention to the ongoing agrarian crisis. Farm produce, especially perishables such as vegetables and milk, will not be supplied to cities during this period, the leaders of the shutdown said. Meanwhile, former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha joined the Mahasangh on Friday.

Hotter than normal: trends show that it is true for both summer and winter temperature
Down to Earth
Interestingly, Himalayan states such as Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim have seen the highest increase in annual mean minimum and maximum temperature over the last few decades. States such as Haryana and Himachal Pradesh have registered a 4.8°C and 4.5°C departure from normal. The current heat wave conditions fall in the line with the historical trend. (Also read: Forest fires in India increased by 125 per cent in last two years)

Eco-sensitive regions could see flurry of construction activity as draft CRZ notification suggests
Down to Earth
The draft notification on coastal regulation zone (CRZ) was released by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) on April 18 based on the inputs received from coastal states and union territories and the recommendations made by Shailesh Nayak committee. The coastal regulation zone refers to regions in proximity of India’s 7000-km-long shoreline where buildings, tourism facilities and industrial projects are highly regulated. One of the biggest misses in the new CRZ, 2018 notification is perhaps allowing “nature trails and eco-tourism activities” in CRZ-1 regions “provided they conform to state-approved coastal zone management plans”. The CRZ-1 is considered the most ecologically sensitive areas such as mangroves, coral reefs and sand dunes.

The myth of 15 million jobs
Mahesh Vyas, The Indian Express
Surjit Bhalla has invented an estimate that 15 million jobs were created in 2017 (‘Robust job growth, not fake news,’ IE, April 28). This is an invention; it is not a discovery or an inference by honest statistical analysis. It is an invention because Bhalla unnecessarily patches selective estimates of two completely incomparable sources of data on employment. Note that the two sources are completely incomparable and the patches are of cherry-picked data — apparent selections of convenient estimates from two different sources. (Also read: On May Day, rural workers in Jharkhand protest stagnating NREGA wages, payments rejection due to aadhaar)

Experts feel that India’s action plan to tackle air pollution could lose wind before take off
Mongabay
The Indian government has acknowledged air pollution as a national issue and proposed a National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to address it. The proposed programme aims to strengthen the air quality monitoring network, focus on rural areas and monitor indoor air pollution. It also pushes for indigenous studies to understand health impacts of air pollution. Experts feel that the draft programme plan is high on words but lacks targets, a clear strategy and milestones. It also relies heavily on technology and leaves too much to state governments to implement. They also feel that the plan lacks teeth to ensure compliance. (Related: Public health concern finally bends the sales curve of diesel cars – India aligns with the global trend)

20 mn tonnes of potential food production hit by land degradation
Hindustan Times
The world is losing 20 million tonnes of potential food production because of land degradation a year because 23 hectares of dryland is lost per minute to drought and desertification, according to environment minister Harsh Vardhan. The country, however, has no specific policy to tackle the problem. “In India, total land area under land degradation is 96.40 million hectares, which is 29.32% of the country’s total geographical area,” Harsh Vardhan said at a workshop in Delhi on Tuesday.

Regulators Pass Buck to Each Other & Other Ministries While Hundreds of Tonnes of Illegal GM Seed Import Takes Place Into India
India GM Info
Ministry of Commerce & Industry’s data shows that India has been importing seeds from countries for crops which are overwhelmingly genetically modified in these countries. Over the last decade, India imported maize seed totalling more than 528 tonnes from Argentina and more than 20 tonnes from USA. Of the overall maize cultivated in both these countries, more than 90% maize is genetically modified. India also imports maize seeds from other GM maize producing countries such as Spain, Brazil and Philippines. Similarly, India has imported more than 129 tonnes of sugar beet seed for sowing from US over the last decade. Of the overall sugar beet cultivated in the USA, more than 90% sugar beet is genetically modified.

China, India lead rise in global antibiotic consumption
SciDev
Antibiotic consumption worldwide soared by 65 per cent from 2000 to 2015, a rise driven by higher consumption in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), particularly India and China. According to a study published last month (26 March) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, high-income countries (HICs) — led by the US, France, and Italy — showed a six per cent increase in total antibiotic use. But antibiotic consumption rates by population actually decreased by four per cent: from 26.8 defined daily doses (DDDs) to 25.7 per 1,000 inhabitants per day. (Also read: At least 28 Rajasthan villagers duped into being a part of illegal drug trials; probe ordered)

Govt to revive drying springs in Himalayan region, pilot study begins in Dehradun
Hindustan Times
Thousands of dried up springs across the Himalayan region will be revived as part of the government’s programme aimed at recharging groundwater and ensuring safe drinking water in villages where these bodies are the primary source of clean water. The Union ministry of water resources and Central Ground Water Board are planning to hold a national workshop involving 12 states in the Indian Himalayan region to discuss issues related to the sustainable development of springs and strategies for their renovation, rejuvenation and augmentation, officials said. (Also read: Kashmir’s mega power project in Bandipora brings ruin upon villages where apple orchards have been ruined, houses are crumbling)

Narendra Modi okays diversion of 77 ha of forest land for bullet train
The Hindu
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given in-principle approval for the diversion of 77 hectares of forest land for the ₹1.08 lakh crore bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The clearances have come with a rider that the remaining deficiencies on pending claims under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, in proposals submitted by Gujarat and Maharashtra, must be ironed out at the earliest. The two States have also been told to coordinate closely with the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) to speed up the project.

Sardar Sarovar dam: ‘BJP-created crisis’ leaves Gujarat’s lifeline wilting
The Week
With the Gujarat government having stopped Narmada waters for irrigation from March 15—citing less rainfall in Madhya Pradesh as the reason and the need to provide drinking water supply—at least 1 lakh farmers are staring at crop failure, leading to a cumulative loss that can run into crores of rupees. What irks the farmers is that till last year-end, they had no inclination of such a situation and once the new year began, the government announced that it would not be giving water for the summer crop. Interestingly, by then, the Assembly elections were over and the BJP, which was on a sticky wicket, managed to hold on to power with 99 seats.

Adani Power violates wildlife protection norms, says CAG report
Down to Earth
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s report on the economy of Gujarat, which was tabled in the Gujarat assembly on March 28, unearthed several grave violations of section 29 of the Wildlife Protection Act. Scrutiny of 44 proposals, asking permissions to undertake activities in protected areas of Gujarat,showed that clearance conditions had not been fulfilled. These 44 proposals were approved by the Supreme Court andthe National Board of Wild Life between February 2008 and August 2016. (Also read: 1) Kerala asks Adani Group to pay Rs 18-crore compensation for delays in Vizhinjam seaport project 2) CBI Closed Probe Into Adani Group Over-Invoicing Due to ‘Jurisdictional Issues’)

World’s smallest terrestrial fern found in Western Ghats
Down to Earth
Indian botanists have discovered a fern that’s as big as a human finger nail making it the tiniest terrestrial fern known to mankind till date. The fern, scientifically termed as Ophioglossum malviae, is merely 1 cm long and has different physical and genetic characters compared to other known species of ferns. Mitesh Patel and Dr MN Reddy, who discovered the fern, were on a botanical expedition to the Western Ghats – one of the richest biodiversity hotspots of India – in September of 2016 when they stumbled upon a plant that resembled Ophioglossum parvifolium, a previously known species of fern, but was too small to appear familiar to botanists. (Also read: 1) Less than 8 Great Indian Bustards left in Maharashtra: Wildlife Institute of India 2) Thar Desert was once ever tropical forest, new fossil discovery reveals)

Hyderabad in troubled waters on chemical, salt content
Times of India
Groundwater, which is precious during summer, is highly polluted in parts of Hyderabad. Researchers have described its quality as “worst”. Apart from high salinity levels, the turbidity of groundwater ranges from reddish brown to yellowish. Areas within the core city with highly polluted groundwater are Bholakpur, Musheerabad, Ramnagar, Nallacheruvu, Peerzadiguda and Uppal. The groundwater in the areas abutting the river Musi is contaminated with salts and chemicals.

Indian scientists study dust holes that dot the Himalayas for the first time
Down to Earth
The glaciated tops of the Himalayas are among the most hostile environments. Howling winds pierce the otherwise deathly silence as they add an intimidating score to the white monotony of ice. Yet scientists are now discovering that even in these inhospitable conditions exist pockets of unique biological and chemical organisms that might not only be having an impact on how systems with permanent ice and snow cover are changing, but could also indicate what kind of life could evolve in the ecosystems left behind by the melting glaciers.

WORLD

Pakistan May Have Just Set a World Heat Record
Earther.com
Temperatures reported to have cracked 50.2 degrees Celsius (122.3 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday in Nawabshah, located about 127 miles northeast of Karachi. If confirmed, that could make the measurement not just the hottest ever recorded for April in Pakistan, but the hottest ever reliably recorded for April anywhere on Earth. Heatstroke caused dozens of people to faint as Shaheed Benazirabad district and Larkana sizzled at 50.2 and 49 degrees Celsius, respectively, on Monday.

One of the most worrisome predictions about climate change may be coming true
Washington Post
Two years ago, former NASA climate scientist James Hansen and a number of colleagues laid out a dire scenario in which gigantic pulses of fresh water from melting glaciers could upend the circulation of the oceans, leading to a world of fast-rising seas and even superstorms. Hansen’s scenario was based on a computer simulation, not hard data from the real world, and met with skepticism from a number of other climate scientists. But now, a new oceanographic study appears to have confirmed one aspect of this picture — in its early stages, at least. (Also read: An alarming 10 percent of Antarctica’s coastal glaciers are now in retreat, scientists find)

Scientists struggle to explain a worrying rise in atmospheric methane
The Economist
The latest increase in atmospheric methane is mysterious. A dip in carbon-13 implies that biological sources are driving the change. But which? One big worry is the Arctic. The soil their contains methane equivalent to 2.3 times all the carbon dioxide humanity has emitted since the 1800s. If it were released it could set off a vast new burst of global warming. But methane-rich Siberian air (see map of average atmospheric methane levels in January 2016, above) shows no sign of rising any faster than the rest of the world. (Also read: Climate change could alter ocean food chains, leading to far fewer fish in the sea)

One in eight bird species in the world faces extinction: study
Down to Earth
One in every eight bird species in the world are facing extinction. According to The State of the World’s Birds report, as of the 2017 update, 1,469 bird species or 13 per cent of the total or one in eight is threatened with extinction. “It is now widely acknowledged that we are in the midst of a mass extinction event, the sixth such episode in our planet’s 4.5 billion year history and the first to be driven by the actions of a single species— humans,” says the study. (Also read: Corals are dying everywhere, except in this Northern Red Sea warm-water refuge)

Air pollution inequality widens between rich and poor nations
The Guardian
Pollution inequality between the world’s rich and poor is widening, according to the latest global data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which shows that 7 million people – mostly in developing nations – die every year from airborne contaminants. Overall, nine in 10 people on the planet live with poor, even dangerous, air, says the WHO report, which is considered the most comprehensive collection of global air quality data. But levels of contamination vary widely depending on government actions and financial resources.

Goldman prize awarded to South African women who stopped an international nuclear deal
The Guardian
Winners of the world’s leading environmental award faced down Vladimir Putin and the country’s recently deposed leader, Jacob Zuma, to overturn a multibillion-dollar nuclear deal. This is the true story of the two South African winners of this year’s Goldman environment prize who tapped their roots in the anti-apartheid struggle to take on and beat an agreement by their nation’s recently deposed leader Jacob Zuma and Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

EU agrees total ban on bee-harming pesticides
The Guardian
The European Union will ban the world’s most widely used insecticides from all fields due to the serious danger they pose to bees. The ban on neonicotinoids, approved by member nations on Friday, is expected to come into force by the end of 2018 and will mean they can only be used in closed greenhouses. Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed, in part, on the widespread use of pesticides.

Record levels of plastic discovered in Arctic sea ice
The Guardian
Scientists have found a record amount of plastic trapped in Arctic sea ice, raising concern about the impact on marine life and human health. Up to 12,000 pieces of microplastic particles were found per litre of sea ice in core samples taken from five regions on trips to the Arctic Ocean – as many as three times higher than levels in previous studies. Researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) found fragments of packaging, paints, nylon, polyester and cellulose acetate which is commonly used in making cigarette filters in every sample they took in 2014 and 2015. (Also read: 1) ‘Wake-up call’: microplastics found in Great Australian Bight sediment 2) Microplastics on agricultural lands may threaten farm productivity: study)

Greenpeace investigation claims palm oil supplier to major brands behind further deforestation
Telegraph
A supplier of palm oil with links to major brands including Unilever, Nestle, PepsiCo and Mars, has been destroying rainforests in a protected area of Papua, Indonesia, a Greenpeace investigation claims. Palm oil is a vegetable oil found in a wide variety of consumer goods. Global appetites for the commodity have been associated with large scale deforestation in areas including Indonesia and Malaysia. Video and images gathered by the environmental campaign group’s helicopter appear to show the clearance of 4,000 hectares of rainforest within the PT Megakarya Jaya Raya concession between May 2015 and April 2017.

Bangladesh allows nearly 200 polluting factories near Sundarbans
Down to Earth
Tinkering with the law, the Department of Environment, Bangladesh, has permitted at least 190 industrial plants in the ecologically critical area (ECA) around the Sundarbans, claiming that those factories have taken enough precautions on pollution. Contesting this, environmental experts and activists suggest that the factories significantly increase the risk to the ecology of the Sundarbans and should be immediately relocated from the ECA.

Melbourne’s water supply at risk due to ‘collapse’ of forests caused by logging
The Guardian
Melbourne’s water supply is at risk because decades of logging and forest loss from large bushfires has triggered the imminent collapse of the mountain ash forests in Victoria’s central highlands, ecologists have said. The Victorian government was warned of the likelihood of ecosystem collapse by Australian National University researches in 2015. New research led by Prof David Lindenmayer of ANU, published in PNAS journal on Tuesday, has found the ecosystem has already begun to undergo a “hidden collapse”.

California wins against Monsanto in appellate court
SF Gate
A state appeals court on Thursday backed California’s listing of the widely used herbicide glyphosate as a possible cause of cancer and the state’s prohibition against discharging it into public waterways. The chemical is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, popular with farmers as well as homeowners. Citing new findings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, state health officials added glyphosate to their list of potential carcinogens in July 2017 under Proposition 65, a 1986 initiative that requires warnings of exposure to products that pose a risk of cancer or reproductive harm. (Also read: Colorado counties sue Exxon, Suncor over climate change)

Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets
The New York Times
The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media. To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise. Health experts say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

UN staff pension fund mired in ‘dirty profits’ from firms guilty of rights abuses
The Guardian
The United Nations is facing calls for a full review of its staff pension fund after the Guardian uncovered that it has around a billion dollars invested in companies whose activities are or have been incompatible with core UN principles and programmes. Established in 1948 by the UN general assembly, the fund provides retirement, death and disability benefits to employees. At present it has 203,050 beneficiaries and a market value of $64bn (£45bn), of which nearly $1.5bn is invested in 24 publicly traded companies. Many of those companies have been or are being prosecuted for corrupt practices, implicated in human rights abuses or in environmental catastrophes. (Also read: UK moves to trace tax-avoiding overseas shell firm owners)

World Bank Wants To Make Workers More Like Robots
Clean Technica
The World Bank is preparing its latest World Development Report, due to be unveiled this fall. “High minimum wages, undue restrictions on hiring and firing, strict contract forms, all make workers more expensive vis-à-vis technology,” the report says. If workers are expensive to get rid of, fewer will be hired. “Burdensome regulations also make it more expensive for firms to rearrange their workforce to accommodate changing technologies. Rapid changes to the nature of work put a premium on flexibility for firms to adjust their workforce, but also for those workers who benefit from more dynamic labor markets,” the draft says.

 

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