Tens of thousands of eggs laid by Olive Ridley sea turtles this year in Gahirmatha Sanctuary in Odisha, one of the world’s largest nesting grounds, are getting destroyed due to shrinking coastal space.
The ongoing mass nesting of the endangered animals has enthused conservationists, but habitat decline is undoing the gains.
The turtles had largely given the island a miss in 2016, with only 50,000 coming to nest. Since the small island could not host all those that turned up this year, only 50% of eggs may survive.
A female sea turtle scoops beach sand out to lay 80 to 120 eggs, but its effort is undone when a second digs at the same place to lay its own.
In the Visakhapatnam region, the Forest Department recorded 447 nests with 47,000 eggs, the highest so far.
🌐 Centre dithers on Western Ghats issue
The Environment Ministry has dithered, for the second time in three years, from bringing into force a law that will make about 56,825 sq km of the ecologically-rich Western Ghats out of bounds for industrial development.
On February 27, the government resuscitated a draft notification that was first published in March 2014 that specified how much land in various coastal States encompassing the Western Ghats would be earmarked as practically-inviolate.
Because it wasn’t made into a final law — thanks to objections from States — this lapsed in a year and a half and on September 2015, a fresh draft notification with the same numbers was reintroduced. This too would expire on March 4.
The reiterated February notification — open to public comment for 60 days — allows the Centre to create an Ecological Sensitive Area (ESA) in the Western Ghats (WG), a 1,500 km, ecologically- rich strip along the west coast spanning Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Regions declared as the ESA will not be allowed to host mining and quarrying projects and building thermal power plants.
Ever since a committee headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil recommended in 2011 that all of the Western Ghats be declared as the ESA — with only limited development allowed in graded zones— States have forced the Centre to consistently delay imposing the ESA restrictions.
A committee headed by K. Kasturirangan, former ISRO chairman, recommended that only about 60,000 sq km — or about 37% of the WG and a significant reduction from that of the Gadgil committee — be declared as ESA.
Kerala managed to get this down to about 56,825 sqkm after widespread protests and an all-party resolution in the State forced the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to exclude 3,117 sqkm of settlements and agricultural land in the State from the ESA.
Last week, the Chief Secretary of the State wrote to the MoEF that a further 887 sqkm of non-forest land be reduced.
Union Environment Minister Anil Dave is expected to have fresh meetings with States on the issue next month.
🌐 Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal irks China
The China-India border dispute came into sharp focus after the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned New Delhi not to allow the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh — the State which is at the heart of the Sino-Indian dispute in the eastern sector.
China’s sharp response against the visit by the Tibetan leader in exile followed a call by a former Chinese boundary negotiator, who stressed that if the two sides managed to overcome their differences in the eastern sector, the final settlement of the boundary dispute would be well within grasp.
A former official signalled that China was likely to reciprocate in the western sector, which includes the disputed Aksai Chin, if India demonstrated flexibility along the eastern boundary.
The “eastern sector” dispute is over territory south of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh, which includes Tawang.
The McMahon Line was the result of the 1914 Simla Convention, between British India and Tibet, and was rejected by China.
Referring specifically to Tawang, Mr. Dai underscored that the “disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary, including Tawang, is inalienable from China’s Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction.”
“From the perspective of international law, the Simla Accord, as well as the ‘McMahon Line’ which it created, are not only unfair and illegitimate, but also illegal and invalid,” he observed.
Dai highlighted that an Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question, that was signed in 2005 has been “fundamental” in advancing the boundary talks.
He said that this agreement pinpointed that the two countries should make “meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments to their respective positions on the boundary question in order to reach a package settlement.”
🌐 U.S. nixed India’s plea on reforms in medicine
A month after the 140th World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Executive Board meeting, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) response has revealed that the United States government had opposed including agenda items proposed by India, which aimed at reforming medical innovation that currently pump up drug prices to unaffordable levels.
The Indian government — along with 11 South East Asian countries — had proposed a discussion on an ‘Access to Medicines’ report by the United Nations High Level Panel that had recommended reforms in the funding of biomedical research and development.
However, the set of documents released by Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), a not for profit organisation that gives technical advice to governments, reveals that both the United States and the WHO opposed including the proposal by India.
The U.S. government is not just a member- state of WHO but also a big donor.
The 11 member-states — Bangladesh, Bhutan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor- Leste — as well as Brazil, Iran, and South Africa sup-ported the inclusion of the agenda item.
The delays by WHO to place the UN HLP recommendations on the agenda of the WHO’s EB and subsequently at the World Health Assembly have drawn widespread criticism from Asian civil society organisations.
The U.N. Access to Medicines report had recommended solutions for remedying the policy incoherence between justifiable rights of inventors, trade rules and global public health targets.
The report recommended that “governments and the private sector must refrain from explicit or implicit threats, tactics or strategies that undermine the right of WTO Members to use TRIPS flexibilities.”
On March 1, India delivered a statement during WTO TRIPS Council discussions on the Access to Medicines report, urging member-states to discuss the report’s recommendations.
🌐 UN body slams Sri Lanka
Reports of abuses including torture remain widespread in Sri Lanka eight years after the end of a decades-long civil war, the UN said on 3 March 2017, criticising the government’s slow progress in addressing wartime crimes.
Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena swept to power two years ago promising justice for the minority Tamil community and a full investigation into alleged atrocities committed under the leadership of his predecessor.
But UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the island had made “worryingly slow” progress in addressing its wartime past, warning this could threaten lasting peace and stability.
“I urge the government and people of Sri Lanka to prioritise justice alongside reconciliation to ensure that the horrors of the past are firmly dealt with, never to recur,” he said.
His comments came in a new report in which the UN human rights office said the use of torture was “a serious concern”. It pointed to the island’s own Human Rights Commission’s acknowledgement of complaints illustrating the “routine use of torture by the police throughout the country as a means of interrogation and investigation”.
At least 1,00,000 people died in the conflict between Tamil separatists and government forces that ended in 2009. The UN has been pushing for a special court to investigate allegations that government forces killed up to 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of fighting.
Sirisena had agreed to a UN Human Rights Council resolution in October 2015 which called for special tribunals and reparations for victims and gave Sri Lanka 18 months to establish credible investigations.
But the deadline lapsed without those commitments being met. The UN said coalition politics in the unity government Mr. Sirisena formed after ousting former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapaksa were likely to blame for the slow pace of progress.
In its report, the UN urged the government to prioritise the return of private land occupied by the military, adopt laws allowing the creation of a hybrid court, and invite the UN rights office to establish a presence in the country.
🌐 Australia wants India to be a ‘consistent buyer’ of its cotton
Australia, the fifth-largest exporter of cotton, is looking at India to emerge as a consistent and major buyer of the commodity.
An eight-member delegation representing the Australian Cotton Shippers’ Association held meetings in Ludhiana, Mumbai, and Coimbatore between February 27 and March 3.
“We came to promote and enhance the use of Australian cotton,” Matthew Bradd, chairman of Australian Cotton Shippers’ Association, told The Hindu here on Thursday. “We want India to become a consistent buyer of our cotton.”
Australia has close to 1,200 cotton growers and can supply even small quantities to India. China purchased more than 30% of Australia’s cotton production last year. However, this was lower than its usual purchase.
“India is a big market for cotton and spinners in India said they have had good experience with Australian cotton,” he said.
Hamish McIntyre, vice-chairman of Cotton Australia and a member of the eight-member delegation, said India used to purchase 5-7% of cotton produced in Australia every year. In 2016, it shot up to close to 23 % due to a drop in production in India.
Indian textile mills can use Australian cotton as a blend to produce high-value garments. The area under cotton production was increasing in Australia, Mr. McIntyre said.
N. Viswanathan, vice-president of Indian Cotton Federation, said that Australia’s output was limited until last year. India is the largest producer and consumer of cotton globally.
🌐 SC takes govt. to task over farmer suicides
The Supreme Court expressed grave concern over farmers’ suicide due to indebtedness and crop failure and said it felt the government was going in a “wrong direction” in tackling the real problem.
Asking the Centre to apprise it of the policy roadmap to address the burning issue, a Bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar said the issue of farmers’ suicide was of “extreme importance” and paying compensation to the families of such victims “post-facto” was not the real solution.
“Farmers’ suicides have been happening for so many decades and it is surprising that no action has been taken to address the causes behind suicides.”
Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha, appearing for the Centre, told the Bench that the government had initiated many schemes for farmers and the 2015 crop insurance scheme would drastically reduce such fateful incidents.
The ASG said other schemes also needed to be strengthened to make farmers feel that the government would stand behind them in distress.
The court was hearing the plea, filed by NGO ‘Citizens Resource and Action and Initiative’ on the plight of farmers in Gujarat and suicide committed by many there.
The Bench had expanded the scope of the petition to the entire country.
Advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the NGO, said that government policies had been existing since long but the main issue was to implement the schemes on the ground.
He also referred to the studies conducted by renowned agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan and eminent journalist P. Sainath on farmer suicides and suggested that they may also be asked to put forth their recommendations.
🌐 NHRC notice to Delhi govt. over bonded labour
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the Delhi government and the Delhi Police over reports of 26 boys found working as bonded labourers at a factory in north-east Delhi’s Seelampur.
According to media reports, the boys, aged between 8 and 13 years, were rescued from bonded labour at a jeans factory last month.
The job of the children was to cut threads of denim and pack it.
“The task was to pack 10 pieces of the cloth item in 10 minutes and the one who finished last would be beaten up with a hammer by the employer. The victims were forced to work for 22 hours a day,” the NHRC said.
The children would also be allegedly hit if caught dozing off or visiting toilets during work hours.
“Due to lengthy sittings, many of them are not able to walk properly. Injury marks were found on their bodies and one of them could not even open his eyes in the sunlight,” the Commission said.
The rescued boys were all from Bihar’s Motihari district and had been brought to the Capital about six months ago. They may have been victims of trafficking.
Taking suo motu cognisance of the reports, the NHRC issued a notice to Delhi Chief Secretary M.M. Kutty and Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik, asking for reports within four weeks.
They were asked to inform the Commission about the steps taken for the rehabilitation of the children as well as the action initiated against the employer.
The NHRC said the human rights of the victims had been violated, both by the employer and the government.
The Commission also observed that the police and the government had been unable to curb the practice of bonded labour.
The victims are currently living at Mukti Ashram, a children’s home run by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an NGO headed by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi
🌐 Roadmap for second phase of Jal Abhiyan
The Rajasthan River Basin and Water Resources Planning Authority has asked nodal officers of water sector wings to prepare within a week a roadmap for the second phase of the Jal Swavalamban Abhiyan for revival of traditional water sources.
Touted as the country’s largest water conservation campaign to make villages self-reliant in their water needs, the flagship programme has been promoted by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje personally with sustained appeals to various sections such as corporate houses, voluntary groups, religious leaders and citizens, to contribute towards it.
Harvesting of 11,170 million cubic feet of rainwater was carried out in 9,600 watershed structures constructed in 3,529 villages in the first phase.
Rainwater harvesting would be started in the cities as well with the active participation of elected representatives and officers of urban local bodies.
The Abhiyan’s second phase started on December 9, 2016, after the selection of 4,200 watershed works in different sub-divisions.
In addition to a survey through the waypoint software, scientific techniques of geo-tagging and mobile applications are being used for successful completion of works.
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