Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Growth without governance

By Vikas Chawla
30 Aug 2010

India can take pride in its high economic growth rate but shoddy implementation of government programmes force majority of citizens to live without basic amenities.

Good governance can be described as a term in which public institutions allocate resources judiciously, monitor implementation of projects and meet the socio-economic aspirations of people. It also involves establishing transparency in government systems to ensure equitable, effective and hassle-free delivery of public services to the citizens.

Post independence, government of India has initiated several programs to alleviate poverty and improve the socio economic conditions. Thousands of crores of rupees have been spent on subsiding food, promoting education, providing low cost housing, improving rural infrastructure, waiving of loans etc. But because of poor governance, inefficiency and corruption, government efforts are not resulting in tangible results on the ground.

The end result is that most Indians lack provision for health, education, food, housing, employment, transport, drinking water, infrastructure, security, pollution control & basic sanitation.
In spite of rapid economic growth, the social sector indices portray a very poor image of India. Some stats are worse than even the war torn sub-Saharan African countries.
More than a third of India's people live below the poverty line

India ranks 171 out of the 175 countries in the world in public health spending

An estimated 72% of Indians still lack access to improved sanitation facilities

Of the 2.5 billion people that defecate openly, some 665 million of these live in India

India currently has the largest illiterate population of any nation on earth

About 49 per cent of the world's underweight children are in India

Dismal scenario in public education
After so many years of independence, 35% of the population is illiterate and only 15% of the students reach high school. That is in spite of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, education cess, mid-day meal, national policy on education and the thousands of crores spent annually in education sector.

Due to poor governance and lack of political will the most critical sector i.e primary education, has been ignored. We have to suffer the ignominy of being the nation with most number of illiterates in the world.
There is a genuine lack of will power in today’s politicians to translate government goals, objectives and policy priorities into tangible economic benefits for poor people.

Politics and Governance
The most surprising factor in India is that people will not necessarily vote for those political leaders or parties which provide or promise good governance. People mostly vote on the basis of identity and it is very easy to sway them. Political parties also engage in vote bank politics and focus more on populist measures rather than focussing on improving the socio economic condition.

more @ http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=1352&idFor=1352

Capacity sans sustainability

By Shankar Sharma
31 Aug 2010

In view of the social, economic and environmental impacts of fossil fuels, and their limited availability, India needs a paradigm shift in its approach towards the energy sector. A detailed critique of Integrated Energy Policy is put up here for objective analysis by concerned experts and stakeholders.

Energy is a crucial sector of our economy, so much so that per capita availability of energy is considered as an indicator of economic prosperity. However, the social, economic and environmental impacts of demand/supply of energy are so huge that only a holistic and objective consideration of all the related issues will enable a sustainable and effective national policy. In this context the recommendations of Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) have been analysed in this critique.

While there are many good recommendations in IEP, the review indicates that IEP has recommended large growth in the installed/production capacity of various energy sources by 2031-32 ignoring the huge deleterious impacts of such a growth on our society. Long term impacts of such growth on environment and bio-diversity have not even been discussed. In this context alone the IEP recommendations have failed in the expectations of a welfare society.

In view of the social, economic and environmental impacts of fossil fuels, and their limited availability, country is in urgent need of a paradigm shift in the way it views the energy sector. The escalating demand for energy must be objectively considered in the correct context of greater needs of the society such as clean air, water and healthy food, and the inescapable limits of the nature in supporting such a demand. In this regard it becomes obvious that the conservation and enhancement of our environment and bio-diversity must not be compromised in order to meet the unabated demand for energy.

Within the energy sector, there is a critical need to: clearly differentiate our needs from wants/luxuries; recognize the fact that fossil fuels are fast running out; focus on improving the energy efficiency to international best practices levels; effectively deploy all the alternatives available to meet the legitimate demand; and harness the renewable energy sources to the optimum extent. Suitable tariff policies, including a feed-in-tariff for renewable energy sources, should be implemented to heavily discourage wastage of a precious national resource such as electricity, and to encourage very high efficiency in its usage and local production.

We should acknowledge that the energy security will not be feasible as long as we fail to manage the effective demand, and as long as we rely heavily on external resources. Inequitable supply of limited energy amongst various sections of our society, which is prevailing at present, must be set right as a priority. In view of the Global Warming impacts on our densely populated society the usage of fossil fuels should be minimised in the short run and eliminated in the long run.

Subsidized electricity by a State Government to any category of consumers should be only by advance payment of one year’s subsidy amount. A comprehensive policy to encourage widespread usage of pubic transport systems should be implemented; usage of private vehicles should be discouraged keeping in view the huge cost of fuel imports and the pollution impacts; old and inefficient vehicles should be eliminated on a rigid time scale.

more@ http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=1354

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How Green can be the Green India Mission?

By Shankar Sharma
26 Aug 2010

The proposed Green India Mission would fail to make significant difference if the policy of sacrificing the existing natural forests for the so-called developmental programmes continues unabated.

One of the 8 Missions under National action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is Green India Mission (GIM). Its draft Mission document states the main objective as doubling the area for afforestation in next 10 years. This mission has a budgetary proposal of Rs. 40,000 crores. As a new initiative the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has sought comments from the public on the Mission document.

While the main objective of the Mission looks very noble the ground realities prevailing in the country indicates that the Mission’s chance of bringing commensurate benefits to the society does not appear to be great. As has been happening since independence, large tracts of thick natural forests of very high ecological value all over the country are continuing to be diverted for non-forest purposes. There are enough indications that this trend will continue in the foreseeable future, thereby threatening the few remaining patches of natural forests in the country. Even if the GIM succeeds in doubling the area for afforestation in next 10 years, the practice of diverting the existing natural forests for non-forestry applications will definitely negate the meager benefits that may accrue from such additional afforestation. Unless the trend of diverting thick natural forests all over the country to non-forest purposes is discontinued, the proposed expenditure of Rs. 40,000 Crores on GIM may become a net loss to the society.

Whereas our society considered it essential to build large number of roads, railways, dams, airports, power plants, mining infrastructure, industries, resorts, townships etc at the expense of forest/green cover, the necessity to maintain a good forest cover is being ignored. Though the forest cover at the time of independence was estimated to be more than 40% of the land mass, and the National Forest Policy recommends that 33% of the land mass should be covered by forests and trees for a healthy environment, our practice of continuing to divert forest lands for various “developmental activities” will bring this percentage much below even the present low level of 24% in the country.

Despite three important Acts of our parliament namely Environmental Protection Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Wild Life Protection Act aiming to provide adequate protection to our natural wealth, the unscientific and unrestricted growth in economic activities within the forested areas has resulted in grave threats to our forest wealth to such an extent that the government has now realised the need for increasing the forest cover.

While there are many illegal activities which are resulting in depletion of forest cover; some activities like permission for monoculture such as acacia and rubber plantations, forest resorts/jungle lodges, expansion of nearby human habitats into forest areas etc are hastening the depletion of forests. Without effectively controlling such activities of forest destruction, GIM cannot have a meaningful role in protecting our environment.

It is almost impossible to notice the diligent compliance of the letter and spirit of Indian Electricity Act 2003, and National Electricity Policy, though salient features such as efficiency, economy, responsible use of natural resources, consumer interest protection, reliable supply of electricity etc would have led to the protection of our natural forests.

A recent statement by MoEF has indicated that about 35% of the coal reserve belts in the country are in ‘No Go’ areas because they are below thick natural forests. But there are also reports of massive lobbying to permit coal mining in such areas too, in order to cater to a large number of additional coal power plants. Bending the relevant rules to permit coal mining in such areas will reduce the thick forest cover of highest ecological value, which can never be compensated by GIM.

World Charter for Nature was adopted by consensus by UN General Assembly in 1982. It has provided some guiding principles for protecting biodiversity. Some key principles so enunciated are: (i) Activities which are likely to cause irreversible damage to nature should be avoided; (ii) Activities which are likely to pose significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; their proponents shall demonstrate that the expected benefits far outweigh potential damage to nature, and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed; (iii) Environmental Impact Assessment should be thorough, be given sufficient time, and be carried out in an open and transparent fashion.

The power sector leads the so called developmental activities having huge impact on our forest cover and the bio-diversity. Large size conventional power projects such as coal based, dam based, or nuclear energy based power plants need large tracts of forest area to set up coal/nuclear mines, power plants, reservoirs, transmission lines, staff colonies etc. Pollutants, emissions and wastes from the power plants also have huge deleterious impacts on quality and size of the total forest area in the country.

In this context it is deplorable that the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) as developed by the Planning Commission has not even discussed the impact of such large increase in total installed power capacity on the forest cover and bio-diversity. IEP has projected an increase of about 500% in the total installed power capacity in the country by 2031-32 comprising increase of coal power capacity from 80,000 MW to 400,000 MW; hydel capacity from about 36,000 MW to 150,000 MW; and nuclear power capacity from about 4,500 MW to 65,000 MW. While the huge impact on our natural resources because of the increase in installed power capacity from a level of about 1,500 MW in 1948 to about 160,000 in 2010 is clearly visible, further increase by 5 times in next 20 years can devastate the entire nature.

A large number of dam based hydel power projects, which are being planned in many parts of the country including almost all the Himalayan and sub-Himalayan states, will also lead to massive destruction of forests, unacceptable levels of interference in the natural flow of rivers, and will also threaten critical bio-diversity
While the huge impact on our natural resources because of the increase in installed power capacity from a level of about 1,500 MW in 1948 to about 160,000 in 2010 is clearly visible, further increase by 5 times in next 20 years can devastate the entire nature.

It is pertinent to note here that the perceived need to increase the power generating capacity in the country has arisen because of the huge inefficiency in making use of the existing power infrastructure. As long as our society fails to undertake necessary steps to make the power sector highly efficient and accountable, the missions such as GIM to increase the green cover and to contain the GHG emission can have only very meager success. This misconception of the need for large additional power capacity has to be corrected urgently by measures such as objectively identifying the legitimate demand for electricity, highest possible levels of energy usage, demand side management, and widespread use of new & renewable energy sources.
The thinking process of many agencies of the government and many regulatory institutions, which consider the forests as expendable to achieve economic development, have to undertake a serious introspection of the scenario in which environmental clearance for hydel projects such as Gundia hydel project in Karnataka and Athirapally hydel project in Kerala within thick forests of Western Ghats are being considered.

In order to protect our forests, green cover and general environment a different paradigm of ‘development’ is needed, and the civil society has to take active participation in decision making processes. If the estimated budgetary provision of Rs. 40,000 Crores on GIM is to be well spent, the ministry of environment and forests will have to take effective steps in conjunction with other concerned ministries and state governments to minimise the destruction of the existing natural forests.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Food storage or wastage?

By Pandurang Hegde
25 Aug 2010

To tackle food storage crisis in India, government should adopt two-pronged approach of encouraging large size foodgrain silos in states with surplus production and de-centralised foodgrain procurement and storage in other regions.

In most storage sites, jute bags packed with foodgrains lie in open
(photo courtesy: NDTV)

The damage of food stocks in Food Corporation of India (FCI) warehouses has made news headlines recently. The Supreme Court (SC) had to intervene to give stern warnings to the government to put an end to destruction of the food grains. It also asked the government to distribute the stocks to the poor and malnourished. This is not the first time the apex court has given such strong warnings. In the past too SC had asked the central government to initiate actions regarding proper food storage, but still no action was taken. It is a national shame that even for routine government function, especially in case of foodgrain storage, the judiciary has to intervene to reprimand the government to perform its constitutional duty.

As usual, the Food Ministry has not taken these warnings seriously. The Food Minister declared in Rajya Sabha that, “All reports on rotting of foodgrains are not factually correct and quite exaggerated. There are only certain cases of damage and we have suspended some officials”.

Despite facing innumerable hardships, the farming community of India has produced good results as the food grains output increased to 231 million tonnes in 2008. As we claim to be a Super Power in waiting, the rampant malnutrition and prevalence of anemic children and women to the extent of 48 percent of population is a definitive indicator that we have failed to feed the hungry. Under such critical circumstances, it is a criminal to waste food grains. Ironically our food storage methods are not only inadequate but also antique and outdated. In tropical climate, there is an acute need to invent methods of food storage that can deal with the high moisture content causing fungus and reduce damage by rodents.

Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) made the Central and State Government aware of the problems of food storage way back in 1956. “If the problem persists after warning was issued more than five decades ago, it only means that Government is not serious in shoring up the storage facilities to keep up with the expanding production” said Dr Parpia, the ex Director of CFTRI. Despite the Government being warned in advance of the impending storage crisis, the intentional neglect on the part of the Food Ministry and the casual approach of the Planning Commission is a clear indicator of non-performance. They have miserably failed to provide policy support towards strengthening the food security.

At present, the food ministry hires space from private operators to store food paying higher rent. At the same time there are reports of state warehousing corporations renting out the storage facility to agricultural multinational corporations, instead of storing the foodgrains procured by FCI. These contradictory facts reveal the failure of the ad hoc policies of the food ministry in dealing with the food storage crisis.

These facts prove the insensitivity of the politicians and the bureaucrats in dealing with the essential commodities like food crops. They neither care for the farmers who produce the food nor are they interested in helping the poor to ease their hunger. The farmers produce food with their hard-earned labor and scarce financial resources, but instead of reaching the hungry stomachs it gets destroyed by the policies of the government.

Though the wastage of food grains is estimated to be Rs 60000 crores annually, in real terms the cost will be much higher. We need to add the costs of growing these crops, input costs for fertilizers, power, cost of water, and the labor costs of farmers. Adding these costs the estimate of the loss incurred by food grains wasted in the country would be around Rs 100000 crores annually. This is two times the food subsidy costs incurred in a year. If we take into account the environmental costs, of soil erosion and effects on water quality, it would be much higher.

The solution to food storage

In order to find solutions to the food storage, the minister of state for food K V Thomas toured China with some FCI officials. Impressed by the Chinese methods of food storage, the minister announced a further study team visiting China to learn about the modern warehousing construction and preservation methods of food storage.
We should definitely adopt good and practical techniques form China, but we should not ignore the time-tested methods of food storage that have been in practice in rural India.

Being an agricultural country, each region in India has evolved storage methods to preserve the food grains. In the villages we have grain gola, made from wood or local material that protects the grain from moisture and rodents. In most cases they use neem leaves or plant based pest resistant methods to repel pests and fungus. However, these silos like structures are small and they are suitable for storing village produce for a year or two. These time-tested methods are being abandoned in recent times as they are replaced with the concrete godowns, with support form central and state government under rural godowns scheme. Lack of maintenance, inadequate means to control moisture has led to failure of these rural warehouse projects.

Production of mountains of grain through intensive methods of high input agriculture calls for a different approach to store the food grain. The creation of grain silos as in the western countries is one of the options to store the food grains. Though it is capital intensive, it helps to prevent the moisture and control rodents. In contrast to this, in majority of the government godowns in India, grain is stored in open in jute gunny bags, which cannot prevent the moisture and can easily be destroyed by rodents and pests.

The best solution in a country like India is to adopt two-pronged approach of decentralized policy of procuring and storage of food grains at village level with community support and large-scale grain silos in regions like Punjab and Haryana. This will help to reduce the losses and increase the life of stored food grains.
Are our policy makers willing to adopt these practices?

More @ http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=1345

Monday, August 23, 2010

Weather aberrations may exacerbate hunger

By Devinder Sharma
20 Aug 2010

The devastation wrought by aberrant weather conditions in several parts of the world has posed a larger question about the implications climate change has for food security of a nation.

Food self-sufficiency becomes critical during a natural calamity (photo
courtesy: Washington Post)
Something terrible is happening to the weather. And it is happening right across our home. From the cold desert of Ladakh to the plains of Bihar and Jharkhand, extreme weather conditions have played havoc. In neighbouring Pakistan, unprecedented floods, including in the arid region of Sindh, have hit more than 14 million people. Latest estimates point to 4 million people rendered homeless.

For some strange reasons, rainfall received due to cloudburst in Leh on a single day was higher than the highest in Cherrapunji. Normally, Leh has been known to receive precipitation in the form of snow only. Although rains had appeared in the Ladakh cold desert for some years now, but such intense downpour defies scientific explanation. In Pakistan, what caused the floods was also a massive downpour, more than what it normally receives in a month.

If you think such weather fluctuations are only happening in India and Pakistan, you are mistaken. Severe drought and wildfires have been raging in Russia for almost a month now. A dense layer of dark cloud hangs over much of Russia. Not only in north-eastern India, parts of Africa and eastern United States are also reeling under a severe drought.

Seemingly disconnected, these extreme weather conditions are being increasingly linked to global warming. While the official machinery grapples to ascertain the extent of damage, scientists are now trying to ascertain the causal reasons. Many believe that such drastic weather aberrations are because of global warming, but the linkages are still not that clearly defined.

Whatever be the reasons, the devastation wrought by aberrant weather conditions in several parts of the world has posed a bigger question about the implications it has for food security. Already, Russia and parts of Africa have lost wheat crop in millions of acres. In view of the loss in harvest, Russia has already banned wheat export. Pakistan is also contemplating food imports to tide over the shortages emanating from the deluge.

In the past too, Australia and Canada had low wheat harvests necessitating large cuts in grain exports. Again, wheat harvest in both these countries had been impacted by distortions in the usual climate pattern thereby pushing global food prices. This only goes to show how precarious and at the same time crucial is for every country to maintain food self-sufficiency.

As has been witnessed earlier in 2007-08, when food prices shot up globally, resulting in food riots in 37 countries, even for countries which had foreign exchange reserves to fall back upon there was no surplus food available in the global markets. While this has necessitated the scramble to scout for fertile land in other countries for crop cultivation and shipping the food back, domestic economic policies are being designed to drive out farmers from agriculture. I don’t understand the logic of farmland grab in foreign countries when agriculture back home is sacrificed for the sake of industry.

Unmindful of the growing threat to food security from resulting global warming, India too is busy acquiring good fertile lands for industrial purposes, real estate and infrastructure. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, 26,000 villages will disappear when all expressway projects are completed. Since 1980, more than 9.8 lakh hectares of tribal land in the country has been diverted for industrial projects. In addition, over 1.5 lakh hectares of land is to be acquired only for Special Economic Zones.

More @ http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=1342

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Silent resistance awakens government

By Ashirbad S Raha
17 Aug 2010

With the government appointed expert panel also finding the proposed Vedanta project hazardous to Niyamgiri hills and the Dongria Kond community residing there for centuries, the tribals' struggle to save their culture, livelihoods and land has got a major boost.

Tribal soldiers of a silent war in a candle light protest in Delhi
(photo: Ashirbad Raha)

Being a tribal, Kunni Kadraka’s natural instinct is to greet a person with an innocent smile. But of late, the smile does not reach her lips. The innocence and cheerfulness in her mind is entangled in fear.

Her dreams and smiles are threatened to be devoured by the voracious appetite of a corporate giant but the hope to survive all odds is still breathing. A battle she started with her folks sans any financial or political support is finally being noticed.

But for Kunni, who lives at Bundel village in Orissa's Kalahandi district, the war is far from over. She is a member of Dongria Kond community that is defending their lands, livelihoods and culture against Vedanta Resources, a mining company listed in London Stock Exchange. The global mining giant has plans to mine about 70 million tonnes of bauxite for commercial exploitation from the environmentally sensitive Niyamgiri Hills.

However, the poor tribals’ consistent struggle against the destruction of their revered Niyamgiri hill by the global company has begun to bear fruit. A four-member panel appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests has reported that the mining giant consistently violated several laws in Niyamgiri, encroached upon government land, yielded clearances wrongly and illegally built an aluminium refinery at Lanjigarh, Orissa.

Though a GDP growth rate obsessed government may find avenues to discard the observations of its own expert panel, but some environmentalists see the latest report as a useful weapon to protect the threatened Niyamgiri hills. Some activists even hope that this stern report could finally lead to the shutting down of the company's project in Orissa.

For Kunni and the entire Dongria kond tribe, Niyamgiri has never been just a hill but their God which they have been worshipping for thousands of years. Perhaps, it is this sentiment that has given them the courage and optimism to continue their fight to save Niyamgiri. This, to them, was a war that had no midway solution.
On being asked about what Niyamgiri means to her, Kunni’s otherwise calm face lights up as she says, “For us, Niyam Raja (Niyamgiri) is our purpose for existence. From our food, water, air to our livelihood, all come from Niyamgiri. It’s our God.”
Vedanta, however, plans to mine their ‘God’... and that too illegally and with muscle power. In fact, to rope in the Konds, it has constantly propagated the idea of bringing 'prosperity' to the tribe.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a journalist who has been following the Niyamgiri struggle for some years says, “Vedanta promises good homes, jobs and ‘better lives’ to the konds for giving up their demand but the company doesn't realise that for these tribals, despite being away from the winds of growth and development, survival has never been an issue. The rivers, streams, forest produce and even medicinal plants of Niyamgiri have sustained them properly and hence there is no question of providing better lives.”

Undoubtedly, the Niyamgiri Hills are extremely rich and significant both culturally and ecologically. Being the source of Vansadhara River as well as a major tributary of Nagavali River (both rivers cater to the drinking and irrigation needs of lakhs of people in south Orissa and Andhra Pradesh), Niyamgiri boasts of miles of some of the most pristine forests in Orissa inhabited by a number of vulnerable wildlife species including tiger, leopards, sloth bear, pangolin and palm civet. It is, however, anybody's guess how bauxite mining will affect the mountain and its flora and fauna.
The last few years have been difficult for the villagers in the region. They accuse the company of intimidating them to give up their cause. Kulesika Basko of Kadraka village in the adjoining Rayagada district says, “Ever since Vedanta has come in, we cannot leave our ladies and the elderly alone in the village. They are always accompanied by some male members. Earlier the men folk would carelessly venture into the forest for collecting the produce but now there is always a fear that the company's hired men might harm our families.” And not to forget the fact the refinery at Lanjigarh that Vedanta has already put in place is alleged of gifting diseases like tuberculosis to the Konds.

And it’s because of these irreversible ecological, cultural, social and societal damages caused by the project that Vedanta is now facing stiff resistance not just by the Konds but an expanding international community that is rallying for the cause.
Supporters like Bianca Jagger, Arundhati Roy, Michael Palin, Survival International, Amnesty and Action Aid, have already been instrumental in bringing to the fore the plight and danger that linger over the Niyamgiri. And the results have been quite remarkable. Over the past three years, major Vedanta shareholders have withdrawn their investments from the company. Most recently, Dutch pensions giant PGGM withdrew investments worth $16 million. Earlier this year, the Church of England sold its shares. In 2007, the Norwegian government divested its shares in Vedanta followed by Martin Currie, a Scottish investment company in 2008, clearly raising questions about the company’s credibility.

“The fact that the international community has recognised the Niyamgiri struggle is the first sign of our victory. It’s a tough struggle but we have all the reasons to feel hopeful. If we can drive out the British rulers and earn our Independence then why can’t we save Niyamgiri,” says Bratindi Jena, Tribal Thematic Head, ActionAid India.

Earlier in March this year, a team of experts from the Indian government had slammed Vedanta for its mining plans in Niyamgiri. The investigation prompted by a series of complaints made to the Ministry for Environment and Forests clearly concluded: “This acquires importance in the context that disruption of the habitat and the way of life of this Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) cannot be remediated or compensated, and may lead to the destruction of the Dongria Kond as a PTG. This is too serious a consequence to ignore.”

More@ http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=1341

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Protect or perish

By Carmen Miranda
13 Aug 2010

With nature's power in full demonstration in various parts of the world, isn't it time to review the environmentally unsustainable economic and development models that we have been following?

India is yet to comprehend the environmental cost of western model of
economic growth (cartoon by Carmen Miranda)
As we watch the news these days, it is like watching a doomsday Hollywood movie about the end of the world as we know it, full of spectacular devastation. The scientific predictions about the effects of climate change are materialising in a terrifying way before our eyes, as we watch the images unfold and listen to the reports in horror and disbelief.

The Earth’s climate is in disarray and becoming extreme, just as climate scientists predicted. Times are changing and the trend is clear - the weather is determining the changes in our times and it is not towards progress and development, but havoc and chaos. Whether scientists link the current events to global warming or not is not the issue. The issue is we are having a good demonstration of nature’s power in action.
Right now, Portugal, Russia and British Columbia are being ravaged by fire, while Pakistan, China and parts of Central and Eastern Europe are facing a deluge of water and in Greenland an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has separated from Petermann Glacier - the largest single ice chunk loss in the Arctic since 1962.

The scale and speed of devastation is frightening; and despite its technological advances and capacity to destroy life and environment, humanity is practically reduced to the capacity of cavemen when it comes to coping with the forces of nature.
The Earth’s climate is in disarray and becoming extreme. The trend is clear - the weather is determining the changes in our times and it is not towards progress and development, but havoc and chaos.

We should become more cautious about defying nature, as in no time all ‘development’ can be wiped out instantly as we have seen on our TV screens, by forces of nature in an unimaginable scale and speed that can instantly take us back to ground zero and eventually to year zero.

Do the frequency and magnitude of these dramatic events act as alarm bells for our policy makers and economists? Can we expect them to make the connections between climate change, development models, economic policies and their impact on the environment? Or they are going to carry on with business as usual, oblivious to it all?

This is the time to double the effort and speed of implementation of India’s National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) 8 missions. Although a highly criticized plan, it is nevertheless the only plan we now have to cling on to, and make it work. However, I suspect that all the good intentions and plans of NAPCC missions are pretty much just on paper, shrouded by the smog and dust from the fast expansion of industries, mining, power plants and deforestation deemed as necessary for economic growth and development – despite having serious impact on climate.

The NAPCC document states from the start that “India is faced with the challenge of sustaining its rapid economic growth while dealing with the global threat of climate change.” I would like to know who exactly is forcing the pace of ‘rapid economic growth’ and is the country really dealing with the threat of climate change? What is the point of somehow managing a rapid economic growth, if the process itself destroys the long term prospects of maintaining that growth and prosperity?

The recent approval of more than 80 new coal based thermal power plants, which are yesterday’s global warming technology, makes it obvious that climate is not a priority for the government. Huge areas of forest land converted for mining and other developments also indicate that climate change is certainly not part of the equation, when weighed against economic growth.

There is no doubt that India’s primary goal is development at all costs. Although all that development could be wiped out instantly by weather events as we have recently seen, there seems to be no sense of urgency in tackling the issue. Absence of clear targets and timetables for action in the NAPCC shows a lack of commitment in dealing with climate.

Isn’t it time to slow down, and reconsider the very economic and development models we are following, which by all accounts are unsustainable and contribute to the environmental degradation and climate vagaries the planet is experiencing?

India must redefine what development and infrastructure investment means. It needs a new road map of development that looks towards long term prosperity, which is more sustainable and concentrates on developing solid foundations for the nation. By solid foundations I mean lifting the estimated 421 million people from extreme poverty, hunger and ignorance, and ensuring water and food security, and building adequate forest cover and a clean environment in the next 10 years.

It is a known fact that all large urban centers in India will suffer serious shortages of water by 2020, and by 2050 the whole country will be affected. Without water, economic growth is meaningless. Extensive deforestation of large surface areas of the earth has resulted in significant changes in water and radiation balance of the planet, which exacerbates changes in the climate, so it also makes sense to be more stringent about forest clearances and more dynamic about afforestation.

Isn’t it high time we pause and reconsider priorities and policies and think about prosperity based on human development growth instead?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Crouching data, hidden forest

By Kanchi Kohli, Manju Menon and Vikal Samdariya
06 Aug 2010

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has taken steps towards transparency and inclusiveness in its conservation approaches, but the forest clearance process remains shrouded under mystery and should be open to public scrutiny.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) revamped its website in October 2009 in an attempt to present itself as a transparent ministry that proactively discloses its decisions and their basis. One cannot deny that the MoEF's website and its press releases are more prompt than ever before. But, does that actually mean one can take what is given to us as the truth?

Let us attempt to examine this in light of the figures that the MoEF has sought to disclose with regards to the forest clearances it has granted. As per the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, if any activity, industry or process requires the diversion of forest land for non-forest purpose, permission needs to be sought from the MoEF prior to the commencement of such an activity. Since 1980, this procedure has ensured that there exists a certain rhythm through which all those who seek to use forest land have a prescribed procedure that they must follow.

Grant of forest clearances is not a mere mechanical activity. Any such land use change proposed has implications on not just the ecological nature of the area in question. Most often, take over of forest land for an industry, mine, dam or even just plantations, has far reaching impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people who live on and off these areas.

So, where do we stand today with regards to the forest land that has been allotted for other kinds of use? If one looks at figures received through Right to Information (RTI), the MoEF claims that between 1980-2009, a total of 11,37,686.70 hectares of forest land has been ‘cleared’ for non-forest use. One fourth of these clearances (not in number of clearances to projects but in terms of the total area) came in the period of 2004-2009. This amounts to 3,55,160.62 hectares of forest land.

But these figures cannot be relied upon for any idea of what is really the state of forest land in the country. Statistics are put out every year in the annual reports of the MoEF, the State of Environment report, and there are heated discussions, debates and disagreements on the total forest cover of the country. However all of these are based on poorly collated data that is full of inconsistencies and errors.

A recent example of this came to light when Kalpavriksh filed two RTI applications seeking data on the diversion of forest land. The responses received in both show contradictory information. Data received from the first RTI reveals that during the 12 month period from April 2008 to April 2009, MoEF allowed diversion of 61,607.82 hectares of forest land (both in principle and final clearance). When compared with the information received under the second RTI which provides data of a 20 month period of total land diverted from April 2008 to December 2009, the figure is reduced to 43,635.66 hectares.

However, the many questions that arise from these discrepancies go beyond reconciling figures on paper? For a bureaucracy such as the MoEF or the Forest Departments of state governments, these may only be challenges of accounting. But these discrepancies in the methods of data entry and book keeping have real consequences for people living on or off forest lands. Numbers are always political. When the Ministry says the country's forest land has increased, what do we have to compare with? Which forest land has missed finding a place in their records, or has landed up as double entry?

For a Ministry that is committed to becoming transparent and inclusive in its conservation approaches, the forest clearance process begs amendments that will make it open to public scrutiny. It has remained firmly shut to the public so far and there is no space for public participation in the processes of cost-benefit analysis, valuation of forests and other steps that are involved in the grant of forest clearances. Not only will the quality of decision making become more democratic by allowing public participation, but the Ministry may perhaps find partners in ironing out its statistical flaws. Ironically, the only official mechanism to ‘see’ the unfolding of FCA processes is the RTI, which in the current case has not helped to find the answer!

The revelations by the MoEF does not render much confidence by which one can make a full claim about the state of the forest land that has been continually diverted.

more interesting reads@http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=1331

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

After much hype, Jatropha bubble bursts

By Devinder Sharma
03 Aug 2010

Projected as the crop of the future, Jatropha was pushed by the industry and the governments with equal force. However, much to the disappointment of the farmers and misery to the poor and hungry, the alternative fuel crop has failed to fulfil the expectations of the world.

Former President APJ Abdul Kalam had extolled its virtues as a bio-fuel crop. Planning Commission had made futuristic projections, and several agricultural universities had come out with package-of-practices for its production in wastelands. Some State governments had even set up separate bio-fuel commissions to promote the crop. It was considered to be a dream crop for farmers as well for replacing petrol.
The dream has however gone bust.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has in a special report categorically debunked the claims, and has warned against the hype and half-truths around jatropha, the oil seed plant touted as a major potential source of bio-fuels. “Although there have been increasing investments and policy decisions concerning the use of jatropha as an oil crop, they have been based on little evidence-based information,” the report said.

The dream was oiled on hype, and of course business interests. The Planning Commission triggered it, and like much of what it does, it actually relied on industrial projections without ascertaining whether bio-fuels could actually be produced on a scale to make any significant contribution to the country's ever growing fuel needs.

In April 2003, the Planning Commission had initiated a proposal calling for a major multi-dimensional programme seeking to replace 20 per cent of country's diesel requirement. In March 2004, the first instalment of Rs 800-crore for the National Programme on Jatropha was released to ‘support cultivation of jatropha in 200,000 hectares’. Under the programme, a total allocation of Rs 1500-crore to cover 400,000 hectares was envisaged for the next five years.

A total of 13 million hectares had to be brought under jatropha plantations by 2013.
European companies had meanwhile taken millions of acres of land out of food production in Africa, Central America and Asia to grow bio-fuels for transport. According to a report by Action Aid, the land diversion from food to fuel by EU companies alone could have been responsible for 100 million more hungry people, increased prices and landlessness. To meet the 10 per cent target envisaged by EU, the total land area directly required to grow industrial bio-fuels in developing countries could reach 17.5 m hectares, over half the size of Italy.

Interestingly, the entire hype was created on the basis of industrial claims. The industries were more interested in land grab, as is now becoming evident. In India, lakhs of acres of land has already been purchased by private companies at almost throwaway prices. Companies like D1 Oils, the London-listed bio-fuels company, which has planted about 257,000 hectares of jatropha, mainly in India, moved in early.
Newspaper reports say that farmers feel they have been cheated. This is what The Independent (Feb 15, 2010) wrote: “In India, forecasted annual yields of three to five tonnes of seeds per hectare have been scaled back to 1.8 to two tonnes. It quoted Raju Sona, a farmer in north-east India who gave up land that usually produces vegetables to grow jatropha. “No one will buy jatropha. People said if you have a plantation then surely you have a good market. But we didn't see such a market. I threw the seeds away.”

The FAO punctures the argument that growing jatropha utilizes marginal lands effectively. The level of economic returns needed to secure private sector investment “may not be attainable on degraded land” considering better gross margins which can be gained on sugarcane and oil palm plantations. It was not as if this was not known. But governments all over, including India, were simply influenced by private companies and the consultancy firms.

To know about the potential of jatropha plants as bio-fuel, I had travelled sometimes back to the Directorate of Oilseeds Research in Hyderabad, a premier research centre of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. Talking to scientists, what I learnt was simply shocking. For many years, they did research on the potential of jatropha, but had abandoned the research project few years ago. The conclusion: it was not a plant suitable for India.

And yet, the Planning Commission launched a kind of a national mission on jatropha. Since the dream has failed, as is evident, shouldn't the Planning Commission be held accountable? After all, it is the tax-payers money that is being squandered, and someone should be held accountable. And what about large tracts of land that the State Governments had transferred to the private companies at a throwaway price? Isn't that another scandal? Shouldn’t that land be taken back?

more@ http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=1330

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Teen pregnancies and contraceptive needs

By Rina Mukherji
29 Jul 2010

Reducing unintended pregnancies among adolescents will not only reduce maternal and newborn deaths, but will also improve the educational and employment opportunities for young women.

Preventing unintended pregnancies among adolescent women can greatly reduce maternal and newborn deaths and disability adjusted life years (dalys), which currently accounts for 16 per cent of all dalys lost among adolescent and young women aged 15-29 years in developing countries, according to analytical fact sheets prepared by the Guttmacher Institute and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). The analysis is based on data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and was presented at the recently-concluded Women Deliver Conference in Washington.

An estimated 2.7 million adolescents become pregnant unintentionally every year. Adolescent mothers account for 12 per cent of all births in South Central and Southeast Asia, 16 per cent of all births in sub-Saharan Africa, and 18 per cent of all births in Latin America and the Caribbean. Almost all unintended adolescent pregnancies in South Central and Southeast Asia occur among married women, compared with an estimated 54 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa and 51 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 15 percent of unmarried adolescents are sexually active and want to prevent pregnancy, as do 11 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, half of all sexually active adolescent women in these two regions who want to prevent pregnancy are unmarried.

There are an estimated 260 million girls and 280 million boys aged 15-19 in developing countries, according to the Population Division of the United Nations.
Although about 818 million women of reproductive age want to avoid pregnancy, 140 million women are not using any form of contraception, while another 75 million use less effective traditional methods.

In all regions, birthrates have declined over the past 30 years, but still vary widely by region. The biggest decrease has been in South Central Asia, where births dropped from an estimated 90 per 1000 women to 73 per 1000 in 2005.
Each year the use of modern contraceptives prevents 3.1 million unintended pregnancies all over the world, including 1.1 million in South Central and Southeast Asia.

Fulfilling all needs for modern family planning would prevent 7.4 million adolescent unintended pregnancies each year. The total cost of meeting the contraceptive needs of sexually active adolescents would be highest - that is $271 million - in low-income countries, which have the greatest need of creating and expanding their health service infrastructures, and lowest in upper-middle and high-income countries, that is, $ 104 million.

Reducing unintended pregnancies will not only greatly reduce maternal and newborn deaths, but will also improve the educational and employment opportunities for young women, and in turn, contribute to the improvement in the status of women, greater family savings, reduction in poverty and increased economic growth. It will also enable young women in developing countries to get longer schooling, gain productive experience in the labour market before marriage and childbearing, and develop the readiness for parenthood.

IPPF and the Guttmacher Institute recommend that contraceptive services be responsive to the special needs of adolescent women, and be provided in a manner that sexually active adolescents are not stigmatized. For this, family life education for the young in school and reaching out to those who are not attending school is suggested.
In every developing country, early marriage and early childbearing are common among women plagued by poverty and with little education. Whether single or married, adolescent mothers are found to have very little monetary resources of their own. Inadequate knowledge of contraception, high risk of sexual violence, and little independence in deciding on the timing or spacing of births make them especially vulnerable. Consequently, adolescents account for 14 percent, or an estimated 2.5 million unsafe abortions that occur in the developing world.

It is estimated that fully meeting the demand for contraception can avert 53 million unintended pregnancies each year, resulting in 22 million fewer unplanned births, 25 million fewer induced abortions, and 7 million fewer miscarriages.

A mandir that composes songs of change

By Ashirbad Raha
29 Jul 2010

Kala Mandir, a leading non profit in handicraft initiatives has been spearheading a silent journey to revive dying art forms in Eastern India and thereby help poor tribals to improve their economic and social conditions.

Grassmat weavers at Janumdih Village (photo courtesy: Kala Mandir)
"Very often, we would go to sleep just by gulping down a glass of water. Two meals a day was luxury that we could not afford. But now I am a happy man who can think beyond his meals and earn enough to sustain my family," says Dinbandhu, a daily wage earner turned grass mat weaver in Janumdih, a small remote village in Potka Block of East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand.

Having left behind his nights of empty stomachs, Dinbandhu now is a proud owner of a mobile phone. It's certainly quite a distance in the language of transformation.
In the same village, there is another story of empowerment waiting to be told.

Year 2005, and Sarla would dig earth, work as a construction labour and continue to worry about her next meal. Year 2010, she starts her day with hope. She smiles more often and confidence shines in her face. She now rides her bicycle and travels through different villages forming self help groups (SHGs) and training women for alternative income generation through local natural resources.
Quite a long way for a tribal woman who would have otherwise spent her entire life fighting poverty and impoverishment.

Sarla and Dinbandhu are just two names from a growing tribe of individuals from remote pockets of East Singhbhum, Seraikela Kharsawan and West Singhbhum districts in Jharkhand who are finding a road to livelihood and so are the traditional artists in these villages who are reaching a window to appreciation and recognition.

Showing them the path, is Kala Mandir, a leading non profit in handicraft initiatives that has been spearheading a silent journey to revive dying art forms. From taking the artists to different handicraft fairs across the country to providing a market linkage to their products and helping their art forms to take shapes as desired by the market through capacity building and training, Kala Mandir has been instrumental in constantly supporting, nurturing and disseminating various art forms for more than a decade now.

But that is just the tip of an iceberg of change. The story lies in how Kala Mandir has managed to weave its aim of infusing life into vanishing art forms with other components of livelihood in a non-profit business model which has now become synonymous to growth and success. Named as Biponi, (a rural mart owned by a federation of SHGs facilitated by Kala Mandir in Jamshedpur) is the platform for these traditional art and craft handicrafts to reach out to the outer world.

Village women of a SHG formed by Kalamandir (photo courtesy: Kala Mandir)
"When we started working for promotion of rural art and craft, we could immediately realize that for them to survive, it was extremely essential to identify market linkages and find a space in the market for such products. And therefore, when the idea called Biponi was conceptualised, it was very clear that the centre would be an interface for the artists to reach out to the outer world," says Amitava Ghosh, Secretary, Kala Mandir.

The aesthetically designed mart is home to bamboo products, grass mats, paper masks, Dokra art products among many others, all of which come from the training centres being run by Kala Mandir in 29 odd villages spread over three districts of Jharkhand. The uniqueness of the model in which Biponi operates lies in the fact that the artists themselves are present to handle the costumers and therefore get a first hand feedback on the needs and requirement of the emerging market trends. Apart from that there is a payment module by virtue of which the artists gets his due within a week and therefore is prevented from any sort of debt trap. Both the features in a way add to ownership feeling to the artists which is a very important element of any rural venture.

And therefore it's not surprising when talking about the success of Biponi as a non profit business model, Mr Ghosh shares, "From an annual turnover of Rs 1, 61,000 in 2006, we have now reached the figure of close to a crore and the demand for these handicrafts is spiralling up further."
A growth of more than 85% in four years is something that perhaps words can hardly define. It can only be felt in the happiness that echoes in Dinbandhu's voice when he says, "We have so much work with us that we hardly get time to sleep."

read more@http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=1326