Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha give a royal miss to the Rajya Sabha

Celebrity MPs are a rare sight in House

Vishwa Mohan,TNN | Jul 21, 2014, 07.40AM IST
Rekha attended Rajya Sabha on seven days since she was nominated as MP in April 2012.
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NEW DELHI: Celebrity MPs simply give a royal miss to Rajya Sabha - the upper House of Parliament - where they find place as 'nominated' members due to their outstanding performance in their respective professions.

Whether legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar (1999-2005) or painter M F Husain (1986-1992) in the past or cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood actress Rekha now, the 'nominated' celebrity MP has not matched up to the other nominated members who came from professions like academics, civil services, journalism, legal service or science.

Records show that Tendulkar has attended the House only three times while Rekha attended it on seven days since they were nominated as MPs in April 2012.

Though Tendulkar was expected to attend the House more often once he retired from international cricket, he, surprisingly, attended Rajya Sabha only once after his retirement in November last year. The upper House sat for 35 days during three sessions between December 2013 and July this year, but the legendary cricketer attended it only once.

The attendance record (as on July 17) shows that Rekha attended only seven sitting between May 2012 and July 2014. Neither Rekha nor Tendulkar attended any sitting during the ongoing session of Parliament under the new government.

Their absence from the House is noted by other members. Last week, RJD member and former Union minister Premchand Gupta referred to it while speaking in the House and questioned such nominations.

Besides Rekha and Tendulkar, poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar is the other celebrity among the 12 nominated members in the House. Though Akhtar's record is much better than the other two, he remains a mute spectator during most of the proceedings.

Akhtar, unlike his wife and Bollywood actor Shabana Azmi, has hardly participated in any major debate in the House. He was last heard during a debate on amending the Copyright Bill two years ago. Though he can be seen associating with many members during zero hour, his involvement doesn't match his wife's performance.

Shabana was, in fact, among the most vocal celebrities who raised many issues and actively participated in many debates during her tenure (1997-2003).

Other nominated members, who come from different fields, however, are quite active in the House. Records show that the other nine nominated members - including businesswoman and social activist Anu Aga, veteran journalist HK Dua, theatre personality B Jayashree, eminent jurist K Parasaran and noted lawyer KTS Tulsi - have been quite regular in attending Parliament. Though all of them don't regularly participate in debates/discussions, they can be seen in the House more often.

Article 80 of the Constitution allows the President to nominate 12 members to the upper House. Like other members, 'nominated' members too have a tenure of six years. The government nominates persons having special knowledge or practical experience in matters such as literature, science, art and social service.

Educationist and economist Bhalchandra Mungekar, scientist Ashok S Ganguly and former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar are the other nominated members in the present House. Although Mungekar and Aiyar entered the upper House as nominated members, they later accepted Congress membership in Rajya Sabha.

Inter-linking of rivers (ILR) gets fresh push under new government

Uma Bharati makes 34,000 MW power point

Vishwa Mohan,TNN | Jul 18, 2014, 10.02AM IST
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NEW DELHI: A week after finance minister Arun Jaitley pitched for inter-linking of rivers in his budget presentation, saying the move could yield "rich dividends", water resources minister Uma Bharati on Thursday said rivers across the country could be linked in 10 years time if states agreed. 

The Ken-Betwa river link will be the first to be implemented under the new government as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have given their consent. Two other projects, expected to be implemented on priority, are Daman Ganga-Pinjal link spanning Maharashtra and Gujarat and Par-Tapi-Narmada link in Gujarat. 

Replying to a supplementary question in Lok Sabha, Bharati said inter-linking of rivers (ILR) would not only provide electricity to the tune of 34,000 mw but also help in implementation of the ambitious rural irrigation scheme. 

Allaying concerns of members, she, insisted that ILR would be taken up only after getting consent of states concerned and it would be implemented in such a way that uninterrupted flow of rivers and their purity would be maintained. 

Her remarks assume significance in light of the Narendra Modi government's push for the move. Calling for a serious effort in the direction of river inter-linking, Jaitley's budget set aside Rs 100 crore to expedite preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs). 

Presenting his maiden budget on July 10, Jaitley said rivers were the lifeline of the country as they provided water not only for producing food but also for drinking. "Unfortunately, the country is not uniformly blessed with perennial rivers. Therefore, an effort to link the rivers can give rich dividends... It is time that we made a serious effort in this direction," he had said. 

Different state governments have objected to four out of 30 ILR projects. While Kerala assembly last year passed a resolution against taking up the Pamba-Achankovil-Vaippar link, Odisha did not agree to the Mahanadi-Godavari link due to submergence of Manibhadra dam/reservoir. 

Karnataka objected to the Netravati-Hemavati link, saying it wanted to utilize Netravati water as per its own plan. Madhya Pradesh, which agreed to the Ken-Betwa link, opposed the Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal link.

Though ILR was mooted way back in 1982, it was seriously taken up only during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure as prime minister during 1999-2004. It, however, fell off the radar once the UPA came to power. 

The UPA took it up in its last year in office after the Supreme Court in February 2012 directed the Centre to implement the ILR project in a time-bound manner and appointed a high-powered committee for its planning and implementation. 

The full ILR project has two components - the peninsular and the Himalayan. The peninsular component includes diversion of surplus waters of Mahanadi and Godavari to the Pennar, Krishna, Vaigai and Cauvery rivers. 

The Himalayan component, on the other hand, was conceived to build storage reservoirs on the Ganga and the Brahmaputra and their main tributaries in India and Nepal in order to conserve water during the monsoon for irrigation and generation of hydro-power, besides checking floods. 

Army infrastructure along Indo-China border and roads and power transmission lines in naxal-affected states to get faster green clearances

Faster green nod for Army infrastructure close to China border

Vishwa Mohan,TNN | Jul 16, 2014, 05.41AM IST
Govt has decided to give faster green nod for Army infrastructure close to China border.
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NEW DELHI: After giving green approval to all road projects within 100 km of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) along the India-China border, the government has decided to grant similar clearance to other strategic infrastructure including Army stations and ammunition depots in the area. All these projects are crucial for troop movements and related activities near the border. 

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar said this on Tuesday while announcing other key decisions of his ministry which will fast-track road construction and laying of electricity lines in Naxal-affected areas. 

Many road projects have been pending in 117 Maoist-affected districts due to denial of permission to divert forest land beyond five hectares. State authorities will now be able to divert more forest land for "two lane public roads", irrespective of the area of forest land involved in such projects. 

The approval for diversion of forest land for transmission lines will allow power companies to install lines up to the capacity of 1200 KV without getting into the nitty-gritty of the Forest (Conservation) Act. At present, power companies can set up transmission lines only up to 220 KV. 

Both decisions will be beneficial for seven Naxal-affected states including Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Telangana. 

Referring to his ministry's earlier decision for border road projects along Indo-China border, Javadekar said, "Grant of similar general approval for diversion of forest land required for setting up of Army stations, ammunition depots, training centers and other support infrastructure within 100 km aerial distance from the LAC is also under consideration." 

Such infrastructure also include schools, hospitals and residential quarters for defence personnel. 

Though the minister did not disclose details of other projects, he emphasized that the decisions would address "the security and strategic interests of the nation". He also referred to the massive development activities on infrastructural front across the border. 

The 'general' approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 is a kind of 'advance' approval, allowing the defence ministry to go ahead with such projects without approaching the environment ministry. 

"The defence ministry can go ahead after getting basic ground clearance from the respective state governments under the general approval", said an official, adding the move will fast-track those projects along the 4,057 km LAC with China. 

China has at least five fully-operational airbases, an extensive rail network and over 58,000-km of roads in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which makes it possible for it to swiftly move over 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers) to the LAC. 

As far as fast-tracking road projects are concerned, the ministry has extended the provision of diversion forest land for construction of all categories of public roads in 117 Maoist-affected districts beyond existing five hectares. The move will allow construction of two lane public roads in these districts, irrespective of the area of forest land involved in such projects.

Coal cess to fuel Ganga rejuvenation plan of Narendra Modi government

Coal cess to fuel Ganga rejuvenation plan

Vishwa Mohan,TNN | Jul 13, 2014, 03.57AM IST
The cleaning of Ganga river will be funded by cess on coal.
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NEW DELHI: The Modi government will drive its ambitious Ganga rejuvenation plan with the cess on coal that goes into the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF).

Since the Fund is originally meant for financing and promoting only clean (renewable) energy initiatives, the government in its 2014-15 budget has proposed to enlarge its ambit and also increased the cess on coal to make the corpus big enough to finance other activities including Ganga cleaning. 

Presenting the budget on Thursday, finance minister Arun Jaitley had proposed to increase the clean energy cess from Rs 50 per tonne to Rs 100 per tonne. The cess is presently levied on coal, peat and lignite. The money collected from the cess goes to NCEF which currently has over Rs 3,000 crore in its kitty.

READ ALSO: Tourism to be major part of Ganga rejuvenation plan 

Jaitley has also proposed to "expand the scope of purposes of levying the cess to include financing and promoting clean environment initiatives and funding research in the area of clean environment". 

Though the finance ministry did not explain what those clean environment initiatives would be, the fine-print of the budget papers clearly bring out that the amount for the national plan to clean\conserve Ganga would be met from the NCEF. 

The NCEF money remained largely unutilized during the previous government. Since it currently has over Rs 3,000 crore in its kitty, funding the Ganga cleaning mission will not be a problem. 

The government in its budget has set aside Rs 2,037 crore for the 'Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission' called Namami Ganga. Besides, it has also allocated Rs 100 crore for 'Ghat' development and beautification of river front at Kedarnath, Haridwar, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna. 

The finance ministry had also announced to rope in NRIs as important contributors for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet project by proposing to set up an NRI fund to finance special projects related to Ganga's rejuvenation. 

All these programmes will be implemented by the ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation under Uma Bharti. Earlier such activities were handled by the environment ministry under the 'National River Conservation Plan'. 

"For greater efficiency in programme delivery, it has now been shifted to the ministry of water resources," said the budget document. 

This is what Sunita Narain and R K Pachauri have to say on Union budget 2014-15

Environmentalists welcome the budget for green initiatives, but rue absence of direction for real change

Vishwa Mohan,TNN | Jul 11, 2014, 10.33PM IST
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NEW DELHI: Environmentalists and experts of different policy groups on Friday welcomed the Union Budget as far as certain announcements to care for green cause was concerned, but they said that it lacked the direction for real change at this juncture. 

They also appreciated the finance minister Arun Jaitley for setting aside Rs 100 crore for the 'national adaptation fund' on climate change and increasing cess on coal from Rs 50 to Rs 100 per tonne to enlarge the 'National Clean Energy Fund' kitty. 

But they, at the same time, pointed out that the finance minister did not spell out what will be done with the money. Huge amount of fund had either been remained unutilized or been spent on many unsuccessful small projects during the previous government and therefore it remained a big concern for environmentalists and green groups. 

Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said, "The recognition that the climate change is real and the need to adapt is urgent is a very important message of the Budget. While it can be argued that this is too little, it is also a fact that this is a first step to recognize the need to invest in building resilience of poor communities against climate change." 

But, she questioned the absence of direction in the finance minister's statement. She asked, "What will this money be used for?" 

UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chairman R K Pachauri too appreciated the move. He, however, said the Rs 100 crore would need to be scaled up in the coming years and various models of co-finance should be explored with varying centre-state contributions. 

"A designated ministry for handling of this fund needs to be identified and a process for disbursement for support of adaptation activities should be detailed," said Pachauri, chief executive of the Delhi-based TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute). 

Asked about the direction in which the government should move while taking adaptation measures, he said the most critical requirement was to see that we create adequate capacity at every level of the government and every sector of the economy. 

"Clearly, the agriculture is perhaps the most important one," said the IPCC chairman. He emphasized on better management of water resources so that it can be available in water scarcity scenario. "Whole management of water cycle has to improve substantially (under the adaptation measures)," he said. 

Speaking about enhanced clean energy cess on coal, which is used to capitalize 'National Clean Energy Fund', CSE's chief Narain said, "The finance minister did not spell out what will be done with this money. Currently, roughly Rs 3,000-3,500 crore is collected in the Fund, but not much is spent." 

She emphasized that the National Clean Energy Fund is important as it signals the need to make dirty coal more expensive to use. 

"It is even more important as it is money that should be invested in renewable energy projects that meet the needs of the poorest. But this is not done. Instead, the money is frittered away in many small projects," she said. 

The CSE chief also expressed her concerns over "absence of direction" on the issue of transportation. She said, "Transportation is an important focus area, but the Budget 2014-15 does not provide directions that will work." 

"The finance minister sets aside Rs 100 crore for metro projects in Lucknow and Ahmedabad. But the fact is that metro systems cost anywhere between Rs 150 crore to Rs 300 crore per km to build. So, is this Rs 100 crore going to build one km or just go into feasibility studies," she asked. 

Referring to the energy sector, TERI in its reaction over the budget appreciated the finance minister's effort to bring solar energy into focus, but questioned its silence over the other clean energy sources. 

TERI also strongly welcomed the setting up a National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand. 

"The Centre should be multi-disciplinary in nature looking into all aspects of research and implementation linked to the Mountain Ecosystems and people, including glacial, water resources, agriculture, biodiversity and social aspects," it said. 

It also said, "Since it is difficult to build institutions which attain high standards and attract high class talent, the proposed Center should function as a networking arrangement to harness the capacity and talents available in existing institutions."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2013

India's green area grows 5,871 sqkm in 2 years

Vishwa Mohan,TNN | Jul 9, 2014, 05.30AM IST
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NEW DELHI: India recorded an increase of 5,871 sq km in its forest cover in the past two years with West Bengal contributing over 60% of the total rise in green area.

Odisha, Kerala, Jharkhand and Bihar were the other states which contributed to this marginal increase.

Hilly and tribal districts of the country registered an increase in forest cover of 40 sq km and 2,396 sq km, respectively.

The northeastern states, which account for one-fourth of the country's forest cover, recorded a net decline of 627 sq km in 2013 compared to the assessment of green cover in 2011.

Among bigger states, Andhra Pradesh lost the maximum 273 sq km of forest cover whereas Madhya Pradesh lost 178 sq km of green patch in two years.

These facts emerged out of the latest 'India State of Forest Report' (ISFR), which was released on Tuesday by environment and forests minister Prakash Javadekar.

Though India continues to be far behind its target of having 33% of its geographical area under forest, the marginal increase is a positive sign.

Javadekar said, "Decline of forest cover in our northeastern states is, however, a matter of concern. We should not allow this to happen."

Assuring that his government would work hard to further increase the forest cover, he said, "We will make it a mass movement where people would come forward to not only protect the existing green cover but also plant more and more trees across the country."

While there is an increase in total forest cover in the country, there is a decrease in the 'growing stock' both inside and outside forest area. This along with decline in forest cover in northeastern states is also a matter of concern. The report said even in the 'moderately dense' forest section, the net change in forest cover between 2011 and 2013 assessments shows a decline 0.62%.

Forest Survey of India (FSI) has been assessing the forest and tree resources of the country on a biennial basis since 1987. The results of the assessment are published in its ISFR. The latest survey is the result of assessment using satellite imagery during the period October, 2010 to January, 2012.

Although survey is primarily based on satellite data and its authenticity is widely debated, the FSI director general Anmol Kumar on Tuesday claimed, "The satellite interpretation is followed by extensive and rigorous ground truthing".

Kumar added, "In addition, periodic ground data collected by field parties and information from other sources are also used to improve the accuracy of the interpreted image."

Environmentalists and forest conservationists, however, invariably question such method. They also, time and again, pointed out that the FSI reported increase, taking refuge in definition of 'forest cover' and the green patch of 'open area' (mainly outside forest area).

The term 'forest cover' as used in the ISFR refers to all lands more than one hectare in area with a tree canopy of more than 10%. Forest conservationists always question such definition, saying the green cover's accounting cannot be generalized by assessing a small patch of land in particular 'open forest' area as 'forest cover'.

Javadekar, however, appears to look at positive side of the entire report. He said, "In climate change debates, we always go and tell the world here is a country which is increasing its canopy and green cover. Over last one decade, we have added net 2 to 3%. Many countries do not have that. If we are increasing our forest cover, we are going in the right direction."

The minister said India was the only country which published this report after every two years while US does it in five and China in four years.

At present, the total carbon stock in forest is estimated to be 6,941 million tones. The report said, "There was an increase of 278 million tones in the carbon stock of country between the year 2004 and 2011." .............................

Ganga Manthan

Tourism to be major part of Ganga rejuvenation plan

Vishwa Mohan,TNN | Jul 8, 2014, 02.50AM IST
Uma Bharati expressed hope that there would be no shortage of funds as the government was committed for continuous and uninterrupted flow of Ganga from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar.
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NEW DELHI: Ganga will be developed as a major tourist attraction and navigation corridor as part of the government's plan to rejuvenate the river which holds immense spiritual value for people.

An important part of the plan envisages completely stopping inflow of polluted water into the river. The ambitious mission to rejuvenate Ganga will cost an estimated Rs 80,000 crore.

Some of these proposals were shared by different ministers during 'Ganga Manthan' (day-long national dialogue on Ganga) which was also attended by scientists, environmentalists, religious leaders and NGOs.

Views and suggestions expressed at the meeting will be shared with the informal group of secretaries that has been working on a blueprint to develop the river. Final blueprint of the Ganga rejuvenation plan is expected later this month.

Outlining the plan to develop Ganga as a major tourist destination, tourism minister Shripada Naik said his ministry was "exploring the possibility of introducing shikaras on Ganga on the pattern of Kashmir".

Though he did not get into details, his ministry is learnt to be working on a plan which includes river cruising facilities, floating hotels and moving light and sound shows. All these will be part of a comprehensive plan comprising the shipping ministry's proposal to develop a "navigation corridor".

Shipping minister Nitin Gadkari said it was proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and five meters draft (depth) to enable navigation of small ships between Varanasi and Hoogly in the first stage of its development.

He said barrages were proposed to be constructed at every 100 km on the river and his ministry had sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad-Haldia corridor.

"We might get Rs 4,000 crore for this project in its last stage of implementation," Gadkari said.

Noting that tanneries in Kanpur and other cities in Uttar Pradesh dumped polluted water into Ganga, Gadkari said inflow of polluted water must be stopped and it can be done through recycling of all untreated water.

"If we had to take the estimated cost of this entire project, it would take Rs 80,000 crore. Government does not have so much money. We suggested to Uma Bharati (water resources and Ganga rejuvenation minister) that 25-30% of that money will be paid through viability gap while 70% of the investment may be through PPP model," he said.

Delegates during the inauguration of the 'Ganga Manthan-National Dialogue on Ganga' organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga, in New Delhi (PTI photo) 

The minister suggested that private investors may sell the recycled water for use in industries.

Bharati expressed hope that there would be no shortage of funds as the government was committed for continuous and uninterrupted flow of Ganga from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar. She said, "We have had a series of discussions with various stakeholders on the issue and will soon arrive on some positive outcome.".........................