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Archives for : environment

Mumbai: 70 years after independence, electricity reaches Elephanta Island

Mumbai: How many years has it taken successive governments to install a light bulb at Elephanta Island? The answer is 70 years, which probably counts as the most poignant of all light bulb jokes. On Thursday, this picturesque location just 10 km off Mumbai was finally electrified by undersea cable.

The 1,200-odd inhabitants who live on Elephanta were dressed in festive finery as CM Devendra Fadnavis arrived to inaugurate the MSEDCL power supply. A flick of a switch lit up several LED bulbs which had been installed in homes, canteens and pathways.

“A few households in the three villages of Shetbunder, Rajbunder and Morabunder that paid for connections have received individual meters. The rest will soon subscribe,” said Dattu Gharat.

Residents claim the island did have electricity during British rule but supply lines were reportedly torn down after 1947.Former CM Sharad Pawar had allocated funds but nothing came of it.

The tourist island has waged a long struggle with poor infrastructure. Elderly women like Janabai Gharat climb 120 steps to the historic caves to collect rain water for drinking. There is no school or doctor. “A medical emergency requires us to travel out,” said housewife Namita Gharat.

“We wind up our business at dusk. Children go to school in Uran or Mumbai and are forced to study only in the daylight hours. We cook by candlelight, charge big batteries by generator supply in the evening, and use that battery to power cellphones,” said Bhakti Bhuvad, a young bride from Dombivli who married into a family in Elephanta.

“We bring blocks of ice from Mumbai and dig pits in the ground with sawdust and sand. This is how we freeze cold drinks and Bisleri water for tourists. And when we charge a little more than MRP to cover these costs, we are labelled cheats. In a World Heritage Site thronged by foreign tourists, outsiders cannot stay overnight because there are no hotels… Every single item is brought from the mainland,” said the elderly Dattatraya Ghone.

So, a wave of relief swept the islanders Thursday. “Past experiments with solar power ended up in the junkyard. Hope the undersea power lines will not let us down,” said Shubhangi Mayne.

These travails may soon be a thing of the past. A certain loss of innocence was unmistakable, though. Elephanta was drowning in laser lights and loudspeakers as the inauguration ceremony started at dusk. “People are discussing plans for a shopping centre. Cellphone towers will come up too and so will ATMs. It will be like Mumbai,” said the senior Gharat.

POWER TRIP: It took 70 years for the island to be electrified

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Chhattisgarh govt cancels tribal rights over forest lands #WTFnews

Forest Rights Act allows government to divert forest lands for other purposes only after prior consent of the tribals through gram sabhas

The latter is a 100 per cent subsidiary of Adani Enterprises and RVUNL is a Rajasthan government enterprise.In an order passed on January 8, the government had cancelled the community land rights of the in the village, given under the (FRA).

The government, in the order, stated that the villagers had been using their legal rights over the forest land to stop work of mining in their village, which falls in the Parsa East and Kete Besan coal block. It is the first such order to come to light in India, where community rights of have been cancelled after being granted through the process laid down in the Business Standard reviewed the January 8 orders cancelling the land rights of the in the village.

The government and the district authorities, however, did not respond to the queries.The does not provide for revocation of either community or individual land rights once granted under the law. The law and the attendant regulations provide only for the government diverting the forest land for some other purpose after prior consent of the through their gram sabha. Under the FRA, are empowered to claim individual and community rights over forestlands they have traditionally hold on. The gram sabha of Bhatbarra did so and in September 3, 2013 they were handed over the lands by the state government.After that, the village became aware that the coal block could remain susceptible to mining despite the Supreme Court orders cancelling earlier allocations. In October 2014 the gram sabha (village council) of Ghatbarra, along with 19 other villages, took out a formal resolution opposing the mining in their lands.

Under the FRA, the gram sabha is the only authority empowered to decide the future of traditional tribal lands.The also requires that the claims and rights of all and other forest-dwellers are settled before the government looks to remove them under section 4(5) of the law and other rules.But the central government gave the clearance to divert the land for mining in 2012 without settling the rights. Business Standard reviewed the orders of the environment ministry.

One set of orders said the land would be diverted only once the rights of the and others had been settled. But then later orders (called stage 2 forest clearance) handed over the land for mining without ascertaining that the rights had actually been settled.The state government in its order dated January 8 notes (translated from Hindi): “When the administration tries to get diversion of forests done for the Parsa East and Kete Besen open coal block, the villagers, using the context of the land rights given by the collector to them, create barriers and protest to stop work.”The order notes that this was investigated by the forest department. The conservator of forests of Surguja found that the land rights were given to in 2013 while the forest clearance to RVUNL had been given in 2012.

He concluded, therefore, the community forest rights given to the could be cancelled.The district administration along with the tribal affairs and the forest department based on latter’s conclusions passed an order saying, because the land had been given in 2012 to the company for mining, it no longer classified as forestland in 2013 when it was given to under the  Consequently, the three set of authorities collectively decided that the government order handing over rights to in 2013 is cancelled.

The block has been caught up in a legal fracas over the forest clearance for other reasons as well. In 2014, the Green Tribunal (NGT) had

cancelled the forest clearance noting that the environment ministry had not looked at the impact of coal mining on biodiversity in the region, including presence of protected species such as the elephant. It asked the environment ministry to take a look again at the case. But the stay on operations was removed by the Supreme Court even as the NGT orders to relook at the clearance continued to operate. Since then the ministry has not taken a decision on the matter, records show.

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Soil Satyagraha against Chutka nuclear power plant project

 Feb 22, 2018, 05:45 IST

Officials from a private company visited Mandla to collect soil samples but farmers from 3 villages banded together in protest and stopped it.Officials from a private company visited Mandla to collect soil samples but farmers from 3 villages banded tog… Read More
BHOPAL: Up in arms against the Rs 17,000 crore Chutka nuclear power plant project, famers in Mandla district have stopped researchers from collecting soil samples for tests.
Officials of a Mumbai-based private company had visited Mandla to collect samples, but farmers from three districts banded together in protest and stopped it.

On Tuesday, senior Congressleader and former CM Digvijaya Singh had supported the protest, writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reconsider the decision to set up a 1400MW nuclear power plant here. It would affect bio-diversity of River Narmada, said Singh, who is on a 3,400km parikrama of the holy river.

“Narmada is the lifeline for tribals of Mandla for ages as they earn their livelihood by fishing. I found that the river area is shrinking and getting polluted. In such a situation, establishing a nuclear power plant will not only destroy bio-diversity of Narmada river, but would also prove disastrous for this waterbody,” he wrote.

Singh has alleged that permission of the affected gram sabhas wasn’t taken for the project. “Despite their (gram sabhas’) protests, the compensation was deliberately deposited in the accounts of affected persons in a bid to carry the project forward,” he claimed.

Villagers are being displaced in stark violation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, Singh says. He quotes Section 4 of the Act that says Gram Sabhas need to approve all development work in a village, identify beneficiaries, and issue certificates of utilisation of funds.

Besides, he points out, Mandla district is close to Jabalpur that is prone to earthquakes.

Villagers have launched a Satyagraha against the N-plant project. Kunda village, one of the three affected by the project on the banks of Narmada, has not only passed resolutions rejecting the government proposal, but also nominated three persons to move court, said sources.

The site is about 100km from Jabalpur and the famous marble rock formations on the Narmada and a mere 35k from Kanha National Park. Most of those affected are tribals, who were earlier displaced by ‘Bargi Dam’ in the 1990s. Being displaced again rankles them.

“How can the government be so ruthless as to displace villagers twice? Moreover, Bargi dam was constructed for irrigation, to help farmers. Giving up the site for a nuclear plant will only pollute the water with hazardous waste discharge,” said Rajkumar Sinha, convener of an organisation for those affected by the dam.

“On the one hand, the government claims it is trying to save Narmada and on the other hand, it is allowing a nuclear plant on its banks.”

Sinha and the other protesters claim that the Centre and state government have joined hands to push ahead with the project, ignoring its “dangerous consequences”.

In 2014, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited had declared the Chutka plant safe. An environmental impact assessment report filed by the corporation says the project is in low seismic activity zone-II and is “environmentally benign, techno-economically viable and sustainable”.

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More than 30 per cent of world’s organic producers are in India

But they are mostly marginal farmers sharing only 2.59 per cent of total area under organic cultivation

                    Going by the average, each organic farmer in India does cultivation on less than two hectares of land. Credit: Samrat Mukherjee
 Going by the average, each organic farmer in India does cultivation on less than two hectares of land. Credit: Samrat Mukherjee

India has the largest number of organic producers in the world, according to the World of Organic Agriculture Report 2018 published in February. With 835,000 certified organic producers, it is home to more than 30 per cent of total number of organic producers (2.7 million) in the world.

Uganda (210,352) and Mexico (210,000) are the second and third largest organic producers.

However, when it comes to area under certified organic cultivation, India contributes only 2.59 per cent (1.5 million hectares) of the total area (57.8 million hectares).

China has around 50 per cent and India has 30 percent of total organic cultivable land in Asia.

The 19th edition of the World of Organic Agriculture report claimed that organic agriculture area, and its products value has increased. The data was collected from 178 countries by the research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), the State of Sustainability Initiative (SSI), and International Trade Center.

Organic agriculture is defined as a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It depends on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.

The organic products worth $90 billion were sold globally in 2016. The USA, Germany and France enjoy the largest share of market in organic produce. Switzerland tops in per capita consumption of organic produce, followed by Denmark and Sweden.

According to the latest data shows that current area under organic cultivation, which is a significant increase from just 11 million hectares in 1999, is still 1.2 per cent of the total agriculture land.

Australia, according to the report, has largest organic agriculture land (27.1 million hectares), followed by Argentina (3 million hectares) and China (2.4 million hectares).

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Landmark Swedish Court Judgment against Nuclear Waste Repository #mustshare

Courtesy: MKG

MKG, the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review has made an unofficial translation into English of the Swedish Environmental Court opinion on the power industry’s Nuclear Waste Company SKB’s license application for a final repository for spent nuclear fuel in Forsmark, Sweden.

The court said no to the application because it considered that there were problems with the copper canister that had to be resolved now and not later. The translation shows the courts judicial argumentation and why it decided not to accept the regulator SSM’s opinion that the problems with the integrity of the copper canister were not serious and could likely be solved at a later stage in the decision-making process.

The main difference between the court’s and the regulator’s decision-making was that the court decided to rely on a multitude of scientific sources and information and not only on the material provided by SKB. It had also been uncovered that the main corrosion expert at SSM did not want to say yes to the application at this time that may have influenced the court’s decision-making. In fact there appear to have been many dissenting voices in the regulator despite the regulator’s claim in the court that a united SSM stood behind its opinion.

The court underlines in its opinion that the Environmental Code requires that the repository should be shown to be safe at this stage in the decision-making process, i.e. before the government has its say. The court says that some uncertainties will always remain but it sees the possible copper canister problems as so serious that it is not clear that the regulator’s limits for release of radioactivity can be met. This is a reason to say no to the project unless it can be shown that the copper canister will work as intended. The copper canister has to provide isolation from the radioactivity in the spent nuclear fuel to humans and the environment for very long time-scales.

It is still unclear how the process will proceed. The community of Östhammar has cancelled the referendum on the repository, as there will be no question from the government in the near future. The government has set up a working group of civil servants to manage the government’s handling of the opinions delivered by the court and SSM. SSM has told the government that it is ok to say yes to the license application.

The court has stated that there are copper canister issues that need to be considered further. The nuclear waste company SKB has said that it is preparing documentation for the government to show that there are no problems with the canister. Whether the government thinks that this will be enough remains to be seen. This is likely not what the court had in mind. The government would be wise to make a much broader review of the issue. There is a need for a thorough judicial review on the governmental level in order to override the court’s opinion. Otherwise the government’ decision may not survive an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court

There are eminent corrosion experts that are of the opinion that copper is a bad choice as a canister material. There is also increasing experimental evidence that this is the case. One problem for the court was likely that SKB has hesitant to do the required corrosion studies that show that copper does not corrode in an anoxic repository environment. The 18-year FEBEX field test shows that copper corrodes relatively rapidly with pitting corrosion. SKB says that all corrosion is due to in-leaking oxygen but it is now clear that experimental systems containing copper and clay become anoxic within weeks or months so this explanation is not valid.

MKG has for long wanted SKB to retrieve the next experimental package in the LOT field test in the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory. SKB had refused. The remaining packages have now been heated for 18 years. When a 5-year package was retrieved in 2006 it was discovered that there was “unexpectedly high corrosion”. There is clearly a need for more lab and field test results to decide whether copper is a good and safe choice for a canister material.

The court’s decision-making shows the importance of a democratic and open governance in environmental decision-making. It is important that the continued decision-making regarding the Swedish repository for spent nuclear is transparent and multi-faceted.


Summary of the court’s decision (translation), 180123 >> (MKG’s unofficial translation into English)

Summary of the Court’s statement, 180123 >> (in Swedish)

The Environmental Court’s statement to the government, 180123 >>(in Swedish)

News on the SSM web site about the regulator’s opinion to the government, 180123 >>

News on the SSM web site with a comment on the court’s opinion, 180125 >>

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India – Private hospitals making profits of up to 1,737% on drugs, consumables and diagnostics

Rema Nagarajan| TNN | 


  • The study shows that hospitals, and not drug makers, are the major beneficiaries of profits from drugs and consumables
  • According to the analysis, hospitals were pushing the industry to print higher MRPs to get bulk supply orders
  • This expenditure constitutes almost half the billed amount and is not part of the ‘estimate’ given by hospitals

Representative imageRepresentative image

NEW DELHI: An analysis of bills from four reputed private hospitals in Delhi and NCR by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has revealed that they are making profits of up to 1,737% on drugs, consumables and diagnostics and that these three accounts for about 46% of a patient’s bill.

The analysis, released on Tuesday, noted that “the major beneficiaries of profits in all these cases because of inflated MRPs have been hospitals rather than drugs and devices’ manufacturers”.

The NPPA noted that most drugs, devices and disposables were used and sold by the hospitals from their in-house pharmacies and patients didn’t have the choice of buying them from outside where prices could be lower. Institutional bulk purchase by private hospitals, in most cases by their own pharmacy, makes it easier for them to indulge in “profiteering on drugs and devices even without the need to violate the MRPs”, since these are already inflated, stated the NPPA.

According to the NPPA’s analysis, hospitals were effectively pushing the industry to print higher MRPs to get bulk supply orders from them. “This is a clear case of market distortion where manufacturers after accounting for their profits print inflated MRPs to meet the demands of a distorted trade channel without getting any benefits from this ‘artificial inflation’ and patients have to incur huge out-of-pocket expenditure in hospitalization cases,” stated the NPPA.

The biggest margins2

The expenditure on drugs, devices and diagnostics, constituting almost half the billed amount, is not part of the ‘estimate’ or ‘package’ (in case of implants) given by hospitals unlike procedures (about 11% of the bill) or room rent (12%), which are “the more visible components”, stated the NPPA.

The NPPA’s analysis came after complaints of overcharging by families of some patients who died from dengue+ and other ailments. Patients in all cases had complained that the initial estimate of expenditure got inflated by three to four times, NPPA said. It said the hospitals involved had requested anonymity. Sources said the request was honoured since these practices are widely prevalent.

The profit margins for the hospitals were highest on consumables, ranging from almost 350% to over 1,700%. On drugs that are not under price control, the margins ranged from about 160% to 1200%. Those on drugs under price control were between 115% and 360%.

Pointing to the huge margins on non-scheduled devices like catheters, canulas and syringes, the NPPA release said these were a case of “clearly a case of unethical profiteering in a failed market system”.

The biggest margins

With the law not providing for controls or monitoring of the price of consumables, their share in bills was double that of scheduled drugs and constituted about one-tenth, stated the analysis. Since most consumables have not even been listed as drugs, “the NPPA can neither monitor the MRPs nor bring the disposables/consumables under price control even in public interest under extraordinary conditions,” the authority lamented.

Similarly, diagnostics services and other hospital charges are beyond the purview of NPPA and the central government and can be regulated only by state-specific laws, it pointed out. It noted that diagnostics constituted more than 15% of the total bill. In random checks by NPPA, it was found that the charges were invariably higher than in many independently run diagnostic centres.


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The Big Indian Corporates Milk the System That In Turn Milks the Farmers

Current corporate NPAs, if recovered, could clear farmers loans across India

 NEW DELHI: One diamond dealer Nirav Modi loots a bank of Rs 11,400 crores and takes off with the government not even blinking an eye. At least not in any manner that is visible to the public at large. But this is just a fraction of the Rs 11.5 lakh crores of Non Performing Assets (NPAs) owed by corporates to the banks, that if paid back would clear the loans of the distressed farmers across the country.

Agrarian experts have been doing their maths since the Nirav Modi fraud, more so as the excuse being pedalled by governments to farmer bodies is that there ‘is no money’ to deal effectively with this crisis. It has taken escalation of the struggles in each state to extract some funds from the state governments for the acute agrarian distress, and even so the amount allocated has been insufficient or attached with impossible conditions. The central government has refused to part with a penny for the farmers, maintaining silence in the form of defense.

The ‘no money’ excuse clearly does not wash in the face of the monies taken away by Nirav Modi with total ease by exploiting the Letters of Undertaking innovation. And despite supposed audits by any number of agencies including the Reserve Bank of India entrusted with the security of banks and taxpayers money.

As agrarian expert Devinder Sharma told The Citizen, a basic idea of the damage done could be assessed from the statistics from the states, say Maharashtra. After a major struggle that had farmers camping on the streets of the state last year, the Fadnavis government announced the allocation of Rs 34,000 crores for loan waivers that was expected to benefit 89 lakhs farmers keeping the ceiling at 1.5 lakhs. As Sharma said, Rs 11,400 crores taken away from the Punjab National Bank by Nirav Modi was one third of this amount. And by conservative estimates would have brought relief to at least 30 lakh farmers in the state that has seen a spate of suicides in the past years.

In Punjab ,the state government announced Rs 9500 crores as the fund for waiving loans. Less than the money provided through a series of Letters of Undertaking by the Punjab National Bank to Modi. The Amarinder Singh government kept the ceiling at Rs 2 lakhs, with the funds thus expected to aid 10 lakh farmers. However, till date, as Sharma said, only 170 crores has been released. There is ‘no money’ despite the big promises by the Congress government that used the agrarian distress as one of its campaign issues.

All India Kisan Sabha President Ashok Dhawale took this argument a step further. He pointed out that just a handful of corporate owe the banks (Non Performing Assets) Rs 11.5 lakh crores. He said of this Rs 2 lakh crores was officially written off by the Modi government. But if even the remaining Rs 9.5 lakh crores is realised, it would clear the bad loans of almost all the farmers in the country.

Dhawale said it was well known that the former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan had to leave as he was insisting that the NPAs be recovered. “He was clear that without this the entire banking system will collapse,” Dhawale said. He said that the handful of corporates included Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Gautam Adani amongst a few others.

Significantly the issue has been raised in Parliament as well. Janata Dal(U) Rajya Sabha MP Pawar Verma raised this, referred specifically to the Adani Group in the House in 2016. He said that the company got “unimaginable favours” and that its debt at that time stood at Rs 72,000 crores. At that time Verma said, “Yesterday it was mentioned that the entire amount that the farmers need to pay as crop loans is Rs 72,000 crore. The Adani Group itself owes to the banks Rs 72,000 crore.” This was reported in some detail in the media.

Dhawale said it was essential for the government to break its silence on the issue of agrarian distress and loan waivers, and come out with concrete measures. He said that the state governments were always crunched for resources, and in the past too the central governments had to bail the farmers out in time of deep crisis. The VP Singh government waived loans up to Rs 10,000 per farmer across the board. This was a high figure in 1989. In 2008 the Manmohan Singh government also intervened for the farmers albeit with a five acre ceiling that favoured the sugar belt in Maharashtra. The Modi government, Dhawale pointed out, has resisted all efforts, and looked the other way despite the intense agrarian distress.

Just two days ago Punjab lawmakers in an interaction with the families of the farmers who had committed suicide had little by way of suggestions but more by way of advice to the poverty stricken families: curb spending, do not waste money. If this as reported by the local media is anywhere close to the truth it shows the complete apathy of the ruling elite to the distress that has had farmers killing themselves when all efforts to eke out a living fail. Mass protests across Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka have drawn reluctant response from the governments, and silence from the central government that has shown no signs of intervening to help out the farmers in distress.

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​ Maharashtra government failing in its commitment to address housing shortage

Utilised only 0.444% of the total fund allocated under ‘Housing For All’ scheme for the current fiscal year

Mumbai | 20th February, 2018: Like every year, Maharashtra government failed to utilise funds allocated for constructing affordable housing as part of its ambitious plan to curb homelessness from the state. A total of Rs. 1,381.951 crore were allocated for the current fiscal year under the ‘Housing For All’ scheme out of which 0.444% were spent on housing, remaining 99.556% is unspent as on today.

   FY 2017-18      In Rs. Crores
Name of the scheme BE Expenditure in treasury % spent % unspent
22162996-Housing for all- Grants to Implementing Agencies (60% Central share) 1125 5.001 0.444 99.556
22163007-Housing for all- Grants to Implementing Agencies (40% State Share) 256.95 0 0 100


Though, the Maharashtra govt have an ambitious plan of constructing 1.9 million housing so as to address housing shortage in Maharashtra, in reality only 23,000 houses have been constructed till date as per the latest report by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affair. These 23,000 houses are in fact houses constructed under the old housing schemes like RAY, CLSS etc but now have included under the current ‘Housing For All’ scheme. BJP government whether at center or in state is good at showing dreams but fails in realising them especially when poor is going to get benefits. ‘Housing For All’ looks like a distant dream given the present pace with which housing being constructed.

However, it is a different thing that even the full utilization of funds might not be able to address the problem of housing/homelessness as our analysis of the present housing scheme-‘Housing For All’ or ‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana’ finds certain loopholes.

‘Housing For All’ or the ‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana is more or less formulated on the same lines as were previous housing schemes were made. Hence, it contains the same loopholes. Our analysis of the ‘Housing for All’ suggest that a large chunk of population that is either homeless or not living in dignified housing or slums, will not be able to get the benefits of this scheme. Two of the four provisions (‘Credit Linked Subsidy’ and ‘Affordable Housing in Partnership’) of ‘Housing For All’ scheme are basically modeled to facilitate in purchasing of affordable housing. As per the latest information received through an RTI, alone in Mumbai there are around 20 lac families having an annual income less than Rs. 1lac. Under the prevalent rates, no housing under any affordable housing segment can be availed to a family belonging to this income level.  The third provision of PMAY is ‘in-situ slum rehabilitation’ based on the ‘cut-off-date’ model which means that some of the member of a slum will be held ineligible hence not getting the benefit of the scheme. Lastly the ‘Subsidy for beneficiary-led individual house construction/enhancement’, which is available to only those people who owns a piece of land. The last provision is at least not for slum dwellers who never own a piece of land. In a nutshell, the poorest of the poor might not get housing under PMAY.

The existing approach to address the housing problem will not work. There is a need for overhauling the housing schemes and policies so as to ensure that poorest of the poor have a protection of minimum and a dignified housing.

Conclusion and recommendations: 

The latest report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing recommends Indian government to formulate a law in order to address the housing problem:

“However, the Special Rapporteur is concerned that short-term schemes will not be sufficient to address the housing situation of those who are most disenfranchised and discriminated against with respect to housing. As a next step, and in keeping with the political commitments made under the New Urban Agenda,55 India needs an overarching, visionary and coherent piece of legislation based on human rights. A national housing law that aims to address growing inequalities and offers a long-term road map is essential. In addition, the economy of India is and will continue expanding, which suggests that it will continue to have the necessary resources to implement the right to adequate housing across the country.”

India has recognized and ratified housing as a basic human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. But in the paucity of a law, the housing rights of the most marginalized section of the society living in informal settlements or slums have violated innumerous times across India. Shift from considering housing a commodity to a necessity for every citizen is required.

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GOP sides with Monsanto, threatens to cut off WHO funding for agency that labeled glyphosate as a carcinogen

Several Republicans once again side with Monsanto and put American’s health on the line.

Image Credit: The Intercept
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Republican lawmakers are once again questioning science.

At a House Science Committee hearing on Tuesday, several Republicans sided with Monsanto in their questioning of the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) classification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen. Lawmakers are going so far as to threaten to cut off the agency’s funding over it’s claim that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s major pesticide, Roundup, potentially causes cancer in humans.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) claims that the IARC’s findings are “unsubstantiated” and “not backed by reliable data”, a claim disputed by independent scientists.

Smith stated, “The selective use of data and the lack of public disclosure raise questions about why IARC should receive any government funding in the future.” Smith’s citations for this claim include government officials and a former scientist for the pesticide industry.

A review by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in December that glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer at typical levels of exposure.

The IARC’s program that investigated the affects of certain chemicals, including glyphosate, on humans, relied on studies where high doses of chemicals were fed or injected in rats and mice. The EPA’s studies on the other hand often rely on industry-funded studies, look at the long-term threat pesticides and herbicides pose based on anticipated uses.

Monsanto has been in full-panic mode since the IARC released their conclusion. The mega-corporation filed a suit against California when the state moved to require a warning of the potential cancer threat on the packaging label for Roundup. Monsanto also meant more than $4.3 million in lobbying last year along.

Jennifer Sass, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council who testified at the hearing, says that the attacks on the IARC “can be traced to the ‘playbook’ of the tobacco industry for discrediting findings related to active and passive smoking.”

“Fundamentally, this hearing is about the ability of a public health agency to call a carcinogen a carcinogen, even if it makes a huge amount of money for a powerful corporation,” Sass said. “Are we willing to sell out the public’s right to know about harmful chemicals in the places we work, live and play, just so that Monsanto can sell more glyphosate?”

Fortunately, some lawmakers remain in the IARC’s side. In a report released shortly before the hearing, Democrats on the House Science Committee expressed that the efforts of Monsanto and Big Ag, “Appear aimed at corrupting and disrupting any honest, thorough and complete scientific evaluation of glyphosate and its potential adverse impact on the public’s health.”

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India – 2.6 million dry toilets and 13,384 manual scavengers. Do the math

#GenderAnd: The law against manual scavenging can be successfully implemented if the State accepts that the practise of manual scavenging exists.

The media has finally started to report on manual scavengers suffocating to death in sewage holes, but a story that continues to slip is the state’s blatant neglect of home and community-based manual scavenging, 95 per cent of which is done by Dalit women. Manual scavenging is a caste-based division of labour handed down over generations of women, who are bound by this oppressive system to clean dry toilets of people living in their own villages or urban neighbourhoods.

Women married into families of this caste suffer the torture, mental and physical pain of this inhuman practice. They lift and carry heavy loads of excrement in cane baskets to designated sites of disposal. In the heat of summer and during the rains, the excrement leaks on to their faces and bodies. The stench and working conditions are unbearable.  Their menfolk are expected to carry out other “polluting” tasks, including disposing of dead animals, cleaning placentas after delivery, and various funeral-related activities. Despite hundreds of testimonies of subjugation, oppression, sexual harassment and marginalisation that these women have narrated to the State, many governments continue to prolong their state of denial.


After the long struggle of manual scavengers and people’s movement, “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013” was passed by the central government. The Act prohibits employment of manual scavengers, construction of insanitary latrines, and rehabilitation of manual scavengers with one-time cash assistance, scholarship for their children, and a residential plot with financial assistance for constructing a house. One of the important components of the law is identification of manual scavengers across the country through surveys. Up until October 2017, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has identified only 13,384 manual scavengers (4375 in urban and 9014 in rural) in 11 states of India. Of these, 12,640 received the one-time cash assistance (Rs 40,000) from the government and 4,643 received vocational training.

95 per cent of home and community-based manual scavenging is done by Dalit womenNow compare these dismal numbers with what the State reports on itself. According to the Census of India (2011), there are 7,94,390 dry latrines where humans clean excreta — 73 per cent of these are in rural areas whereas 27 per centare in urban areas. Apart from these, there are 13,14,652 toilets where human excreta is flushed into open drains. A total of 26 lakhs [2.6 million] dry latrines exist in the country where the practice of manual scavenging still continues.

According to Socio-Economic and Caste Census (2011) of rural India, 1,80,657 rural households surveyed were engaged in manual scavenging. Highest numbers of manual scavengers were identified in the state of Maharashtra. Madhya Pradesh was second followed by Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Karnataka, Punjab, Daman and Diu and Bihar. The same caste census reported that the states of Goa, Assam and Chandigarh had no manual scavengers. Manipur, Lakshwadeep and Himachal Pradesh had one. Delhi reported just six manual scavengers. Surveys and evidence collected by civil society organisations expose the rampant practise of manual scavenging in many of these states.

What can be said with conviction and evidence is that the Government of India, both at the state and Centre, continues to violate their constitutional responsibility of implementing the law, and only pay lip service to empowering Dalit women. The sole basis of the successful implementation of this law exists on the condition that the state accepts that the practise of manual scavenging exists and commits to the holistic rehabilitation of the community. The law depends on district collectors, municipal commissioners and taluk and panchayat chiefs to responsibly enumerate the number of manual scavengers still engaged in this inhuman practise.

This will mean, that these offices of authority will have to admit to their role in perpetuating the practise and invest in sanitation systems that are free from human interface, which by itself is a very tall order. In most cases, the mandated district vigilance committees whose job it is to oversee the economic and social rehabilitation of manual scavengers, as well as monitor registration of offences (under the Act), their investigation and prosecution, have either not been formed or are dysfunctional. When formed, they exclude experienced civil society organisations and women.

One of the important components of the law is identification of manual scavengers across the country through surveys. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)The central government recently announced its plan to conduct a fresh survey in 164 districts of India. While this is a welcome move, before embarking on this humongous exercise, it will be good to reflect and learn from the mistakes made in the last five years. First and foremost, there is a need to understand that eradication of this inhuman practise requires a change in the mindset of state officials who are responsible for its implementation. It requires a commitment to ensure that every woman and man engaged in this division of labour, not just receives a cheque of Rs 40,000, but are provided with rehabilitation that gives these families a real chance and the power to lead their lives with dignity. This includes free decent housing, relevant vocational training, financial assistance for self-employment opportunities and free education and scholarship for the children of these families. If the government is able to identify all the women and men who till this date are victims of the caste-based oppression and provide them with alternate options, it will not only be empowering them, but also making amends for its own sinful history

2.6 million dry toilets and 13,384 manual scavengers. Do the math

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