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NEWS UPDATE #196


HIGHLIGHTS: *India’s massive land grab in the name of Compensatory Afforestation *India eases green norms for realty *Russia signs pact for six nuclear reactors in India *Maharashtra slaps Rs 1,200 crore fine on Monsanto, others *Crucial IPCC report on climate change expected on Monday *‘Climate wrecker’ United States pushes its regressive agenda at IPCC talks

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INDIA

The Great Indian Land Grab Being Carried out in the Name of Compensatory Afforestation
The Wire
Compensatory afforestation opens up a hornet’s nest – in addition to decimating the rights of forest dwelling communities the programme reconfigures what we know to be ‘forests’ themselves. It unleashes an unprecedented land grab and makes a growing fund of over $6 billion available to a rapacious post-colonial forest bureaucracy. What’s worse is that the programme achieves all this under the ruse of afforestation. Under this Act, afforestation takes place without the consent of local communities. The Act allows consultation as the only necessary and sufficient condition for afforestation instead of consent, which is a stronger and more binding legal condition.

MSP Hoax: The latest move yet again falls short of the farmers’ demand for 50% more than the total cost of production
News Click
Amidst the usual tiresome fanfare, India’s agriculture minister on Wednesday announced the minimum support prices for six Rabi (winter) crops. These prices will be paid by the government to farmers if it procures any of this produce when they come to the market next year. As has now become the standard practice for the Modi government, the new MSP rates are being touted as being in excess of 50% of the cost of production. This is a hoax because what the government is taking as ‘cost of production’ is actually not the full cost. It leaves out important components, like rent and interest and depreciation costs.

NGT saw red, government plans to ease green norms for realty
The Indian Express
Against objections by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Union Environment Ministry last week approved changes in the Environment Impact Assessment Notification to exempt realty projects below 50,000 square metres of built-up area from seeking prior environment clearance (EC). As per the proposed amendments, approved last week, new buildings or expansion projects less than 50,000 sq m would not require prior EC and can be constructed “under the supervision of the state government” through urban local bodies or development authorities. At present, all building and construction covering 20,000 sq m and above are subject to environmental clearance given by the state-level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority. (Also read: NGT overrules Centre’s  notifications that exempted mining of minor minerals in up to 25 ha area from prior public consultation and EIA)

Chhattisgarh’s ‘No-Go Area’ for Coal Mining Faces the Prospect of Being Opened Up
The Wire
Parsa is one of 30 coal blocks in the Hasdeo Arand, an intact area of dense forest cover in central India. In 2009, the entire area was termed as a “No-Go Area” for coal mining based on a joint study conducted by the Ministry of Coal and Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). Since February 2018, Parsa OCM has come up before the EAC on three separate occasions. Although deferred twice for want of additional studies, the proposal is being continually pursued despite several regulatory violations, faulty gram sabhas and pending recognition of forest rights. The push for getting clearances is not just limited to the Parsa coal block and extends to many more in the area. If any are granted, it will be disastrous for the ecological fragility of the region and destroy the lives and livelihoods of thousands.

The bullet train may trigger social conflict and have significant environmental cost
Mongabay
December 2018 is the official deadline for the land acquisition for the bullet train project but till now not even one percent of the required land is acquired. A court case is already going on in the Gujarat High Court against the land acquisition process undertaken by the Gujarat government. Despite documents showing that the project has the potential to cause social conflict and have adverse environmental impacts, the complete and final social and environmental impact assessment reports are yet to be made public. The lack of transparency by the administration is one of the main grouses of the communities affected by this project. With 2019 elections less than one year away, the farmer and tribal rights groups protesting against the project are asking political parties to clarify their stand on the project. They state that they may not vote for the political parties supporting the project. (Also read: This “model” project in Delhi has side-stepped both urban planning and environmental laws)

India revives its largest test for uranium contamination in groundwater
Down to Earth
India has put its largest ever groundwater testing for uranium contamination on high gear. Started by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in 2014, the testing drive, which had slowed down, has again picked up in recent months. The drive is to be finished by 2019 and has a target of checking 0.12 million groundwater samples. Till early 2018, just 10,000 samples had been tested in the project where the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) is a key partner. The project, which BARC is keeping under wraps, is crucial as several scientific reports have in the recent past pointed at rampant uranium contamination in India’s groundwater. It accounts for 85 per cent of the country’s drinking water supplies.

Maharashtra Slaps Rs 1,200 crore fine on Monsanto, Others for Supplying Inferior BT Cotton Seeds
News Click
In a significant step, the Maharashtra agriculture department recently sent notices of Rs 1,200 crore in fines and compensations on around 90 top global and Indian firms for allegedly hawking poor-quality bio-tech cotton seeds, officials said here. This fine-cum-compensation will benefit around 11,50,000 distressed farmers who suffered near-total loss during the cotton season of October 2017-March 2018 after they used BT (Bollgard II varieties) cotton seeds supplied by these top companies. Leading the pack is the erstwhile US giant, Monsanto Company, now under acquisition by Germany’s pharma major, Bayer Group, and other big names in India which buy the BT technology from them.

27,000-strong march heads for Delhi from Gwalior
The Hindu
Nearly 27,000 farmers, labourers and tribals under the banner of Ekta Parishad launched a protest march to Delhi from Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior on Thursday in protest against unfair distribution of land and allotment of their land to corporates. The decision to undertake the approximately 350-km-long march — Jan Andolan 2018 — was taken after talks with Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan failed on Wednesday. “There is a complete lack of concern from the government. Now we will march to Delhi to continue our dialogue on a better land reform policy,” said P.V. Rajagopal, chairman of Ekta Parishad.

‘Enter at Your Own Risk’: Angry Farmers Warn BJP Leaders in UP
News 18
Anguished by the recent lathi-charge on farmers on the UP-Delhi border, farmers of Rasulpur Mafi village in Amroha district have put up a signboard outside the hamlet warning BJP members to enter at their own risk. The board, photos of which have been shared widely on social media, reads “Kisan Ekta Zindabad. BJP waalo ka is gaon me aana sakht mana hai. Jaan maal ki raksha swayam karen. Kisan Ekta Zindabad (Long Live Farmers’ Unity. People from the BJP are strictly not allowed in this village. You are responsible for your safety. Long Live Farmers’ Unity)”. (Related: Kisan rally: Farmers stopped at Delhi-UP border; police use water cannons, tear gas)

Adani power plant gets 142 hectares more forest land
Times of India
The state government on Friday finally gave a green signal to divert 141.99 hectares forest land near Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR) for country’s third largest power plant, Adani Power Maharashtra Limited (APML) in Tiroda in Gondia district.
The said land in Kachewani and Mendipur villages is equivalent to roughly 103 football fields and is barely 8-9km from Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR). Of the 141.99 hectares, 24.06 hectares is protected forest (PF) and 117.93 hectares is zudpi jungle.

Tamil Nadu farmers resume stir against hydrocarbon extraction move
The Times of India
Local farmers have returned to protest mode against Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) and Vedanta after Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas gave permission to the companies for hydrocarbon extraction in delta regions. The agitators led by Tiruvarur DMK leaders said the extraction would sound a death knell to agriculture in the delta districts and the livelihoods of farming community. The district DMK functionaries kicked off the demonstration at the behest of party president MK Stalin.

Higher average temperatures linked to chikungunya risk in India
Mongabay
The risk of transmission of chikungunya in India increases with a steady spike in average temperatures in the south Asian nation, a climate-based modeling study has said. Researchers suggest the susceptible regions for the disease may shift towards non-endemic areas in India due to population movement and availability of suitable eco-climatic conditions for the mosquito vector. Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne viral disease, is transmitted to humans by the bites of infected female mosquitoes, most commonly, the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus species which can also transmit other mosquito-borne viruses, including dengue.

In Modi’s India, the Real Champions of the Earth Are Fighting for their Space
Dunu Roy, The Wire
Curiously, all the real practitioners of sustainable development, who live below the limit – fishermen, sewerage workers, small farmers, indigenous peoples, waste-pickers, Dalit manual scavengers, Muslim artisans, butchers, women, backward castes, Buddhists, Ramdasis, Kabirpanthis – have been relegated to the bottom of the Vedic hierarchy for centuries by the Code of Manu. The organic and natural division of labour was converted by Vedic theorists into an artificial and unnatural segregation that has remained rigid and unyielding over the course of generations.

WORLD

‘Climate wrecker’ US pushes its regressive agenda at IPCC talks
Down to Earth
The US has questioned the science and methodologies used to present the impacts of climate change at 1.5°C. It argues that climate models “have over-estimated the rate of global warming since 1990s” and this logic must be used to discount the estimates of future warming. It has questioned the overestimation of loss of species, increase of average mean temperatures, biome, and sea level rise as a result of increased global warming. US has also objected to the use of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) within the ambit of IPCC. Moreover, it misrepresents facts to argue that poverty and climate change may not be necessarily linked. It cites India and China as examples.

Why the next three months are crucial for the future of the planet
The Guardian
Two forthcoming major climate talks offer governments an opportunity to respond to this year’s extreme weather with decisive action. This week, scientists are gathering in South Korea to draw together the last five years of advances in climate science to answer key questions for policymakers. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) celebrates its 30th birthday this year with what is likely to be a landmark report to be released on Monday 8 October. What is expected to emerge will be the strongest warning yet that these unusual occurrences will add up to a pattern that can only be overcome with drastic action. (Related 1) World ‘nowhere near on track’ to avoid warming beyond 1.5C target 2) What did the last IPCC report say, from Down to Earth)

NASA’s Earth Observatory issues early warnings for crop failures
NASA
The maps on this page show Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) anomalies, one of several satellite-derived products used to assess crop conditions. NDVI measures the health, or “greenness,” of vegetation based on how much red and near-infrared light the leaves reflect. Healthy vegetation reflects more infrared light and less visible light than stressed vegetation. The top map shows one of the areas where crop conditions for 2017/18 was most affected: Afghanistan. Sparse rain and snowfall in Afghanistan over the past year have created drought conditions that are reducing crop yields. Reports say more Afghans have been displaced by drought conditions than conflict this year. The biggest decrease in vegetative greenness occurred in northern Afghanistan, where approximately 20 percent of the country’s total wheat is grown.

Thousands of anti-coal protesters celebrate German forest’s reprieve
The Guardian
Thousands of anti-coal demonstrators descended on Germany’s Hambach forest on Saturday to celebrate an unexpected court victory that suspended an energy company’s planned razing of the woodland to expand a giant opencast mine. The ancient forest near Cologne has been occupied by activists for the past six years and has become a symbol of resistance against coal energy in Germany, a country that despite its green reputation remains heavily reliant on this dirty fossil fuel. Young people, families and pensioners flocked to a field next to Hambach forest a day after a court in Münster said it needed more time to consider an environmental complaint against RWE’s upcoming clearing operations. Organisers said 50,000 people had turned out for what they called the region’s “biggest ever anti-coal rally”. (Related: Protesters march in UK’s Preston for jailed anti-fracking activists)

Hurricane Florence caused up to $22 billion in damages. Climate change made the storm worse.
Vox
The floodwaters are finally starting to recede from Hurricane Florence, a storm that dumped upward of 35 inches of rain in places and more than 10 trillion gallons across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. The storm was a 1,000-year rain event, damaging thousands of structures, including toxic animal waste containment sites, which sent bacteria and hazardous chemicals into the water. At least 50 people died as a result of Florence and damages estimates run as high as $22 billion. Hurricane Florence also saw scientists trying to figure out the influence of climate change much faster, almost in real-time. And what they’ve found is this: Human activity vastly increased the amount of rain the storm produced and expanded the extent of its flooding. (Also read: Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100)

World Rivers Day 2018: A glance at the most hazardous rivers in the world
News Nation
World Rivers Day 2018 falls on September 30 this year. Every year, the World Rivers Day is observed on the last Sunday of September to “celebrate the world’s waterways”. World Rivers Day “highlights the many values of rivers and strives to increase public awareness and encourages the improved stewardship of rivers around the world”. Unfortunately, due to reasons such as heavy industrialisation, lack of public awareness, and weak government policies that failed to check pollution of rivers, water bodies in many parts of the world today face dangerous situation. Here is a look at the five most hazardous rivers in the world: River Ganges, India; Yamuna River, India; Citarum River, Indonesia; Yangtze River, China; Mississippi River, USA.

Brazil dam disaster: firm knew of potential impact months in advance
The Guardian
Six months before a dam containing millions of litres of mining waste collapsed, killing 19 people in Brazil’s worst environmental disaster, the company operating the mine accurately predicted the potential impact of such a disaster in a worst-case risk assessment. But federal prosecutors claim the company – a joint venture between the Brazilian mining giant Vale and the Anglo-Australian multinational BHP Billiton – failed to take actions that they say could have prevented the disaster. The prosecutors instead claim the company focused on cutting costs and increasing production.

US plan to genetically alter crops via insects feared to be biological war plan
The Guardian
Government-backed researchers in America are aiming to use virus-carrying insects to genetically engineer crops – raising fears the technology could be used for biological weapons. A new article in the journal Science explores the shadowy program funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). The program aims to disperse infectious, genetically modified viruses that have been engineered to alter the chromosomes of crops – using insects to spread the viruses to the plants. Researchers have budgeted more than $45m to pursue the genetic engineering scheme, in a program dubbed Insect Allies. (Also read: Trump Administration Prepares a Major Weakening of Mercury Emissions Rules)

Scientists say halting deforestation ‘just as urgent’ as reducing emissions
The Guardian
The role of forests in combating climate change risks being overlooked by the world’s governments, according to a group of scientists that has warned halting deforestation is “just as urgent” as eliminating the use of fossil fuels. Razing the world’s forests would release more than 3 trillion tons of carbon dioxide, more than the amount locked in identified global reserves of oil, coal and gas. By protecting and restoring forests, the world would achieve 18% of the emissions mitigation needed by 2030 to avoid runaway climate change, the group of 40 scientists, spanning five countries, said in a statement. (Also read: How Wildfires Are Polluting Rivers and Threatening Water Supplies)

Excess nitrogen fertilisers hamper germination, root growth in rice: study
Down to Earth
Excessive use of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium based fertilisers is causing environmental contamination and abuse of fertiliser subsidies. Now Indian scientists have identified rice cultivars that are efficient in nitrogen use. The study also shows that excess of nitrogen compounds such as urea and nitrate in the soil can increase the time required for germination of rice seeds and also limit their root length. The study has been published in journal Frontiers in Plant Science. Researchers surveyed 21 rice varieties and categorised them as slow (Panvel 1, Triguna and Vikramarya) and fast (Aditya, Nidhi and Swarnadhan) based on time they took to germinate. It was found that all varieties take longer to germinate in soils supplemented with additional nitrogenous compounds.

Two New Species, and Two Genera, of Lizards Found in India’s Western Ghats
The Wire
In a recently published study, researchers say Calotes – the genus to which garden lizards belong and are found in the Western Ghats – are actually related to three different clades, groups of organisms that share a common ancestor. In all, they have found two new genera and two new species, both of lizards. Of these three groups, two are endemic to the Ghats, and which the researchers have named new genera called Monilesaurus (‘lizards with a necklace’) and Microauris (‘lizards with small ears’). They identified two species not known earlier within the genus Monilesaurus and named them as Monolisaurus acanthocephalus (‘spiny headed’) and Monolisaurus montanus. The former is from the Meghamalai hills while the latter dwells in the wet, green high-elevation forests of Kundremukh to the Nilgiri hills of the Ghats. (Also read: Microbes Were Just Found in ‘Dark Biosphere’ Where They Shouldn’t Exist)

Orca ‘apocalypse’: half of killer whales doomed to die from pollution
The Guardian
At least half of the world’s killer whale populations are doomed to extinction due to toxic and persistent pollution of the oceans, according to a major new study. Although the poisonous chemicals, PCBs, have been banned for decades, they are still leaking into the seas. They become concentrated up the food chain; as a result, killer whales, the top predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Worse, their fat-rich milk passes on very high doses to their newborn calves. PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system. The new research analysed the prospects for killer whale populations over the next century and found those offshore from industrialised nations could vanish as soon as 30-50 years.

Purus-Madeira: journey to the Amazon’s newest deforestation frontier
Mongabay

In August, Mongabay contributor Gustavo Faleiros and filmmaker Marcio Isensee e Sá visited the unique biodiverse Amazon forests located on the divide between the Purus and Madeira river basins, where a decades-delayed plan to improve the BR-319 highway is gaining momentum, bringing environmental transformation. In this first dispatch, we profile Realidade, a small village in the Brazilian Amazon where loggers, businessmen and land grabbers are still in the early stages of occupation. Although deforestation here isn’t yet as fast or serious, as in Pará, Mato Grosso and other states, business growth rates are among Brazil’s highest. With scientists warning that further Amazon deforestation could worsen climate change, bringing extreme drought and a shift from rainforest to savanna in the region, analysts urge that the vast Purus-Madeira moist forest ecoregion be conserved.

 

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