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Archives for : environment

Aadhaar glitches badly hit flood relief distribution

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | ARJUN RAGHUNATH

According to sources, the option of searching Aadhaar using bio-metric identification like finger print was affected.
The adalats being held by the state government at flood affected areas were now using this facility.

 The adalats being held by the state government at flood affected areas were now using this facility.

Thiruvananthapuram: The recent concerns regarding security of Aadhaar has slightly affected the state government’s single window facility to issues various certificates lost by people in the floods.

According to sources, the option of searching Aadhaar using bio-metric identification like finger print was affected. It was learnt that the Unique Identification Authority of India has temporarily frozen the provision owing to the security concerns.

 

However, the UIDAI has provided a facility to search Aadhaar details using multiple parametres like name and date of birth.

The adalats being held by the state government at flood affected areas were now using this facility.

IT secretary M Sivasankar said that though there was an issue a solution was worked out. Hence the adalats were progressing. He also said that about 336 certificates could be issued at the adalat at Green Park auditorium in Aluva on Tuesday.

It was learnt that a senior official from Unique Identification Authority of India  had also come down to Thiruvananthapuram the other day to sort out the issue. Senior officials from state IT department would be also going to Unique Identification Authority of India  office in Bengaluru soon in this regard.

Various certificates like ration card, SSLC book, driving licence, vehicle registration certificates, birth, marriage and death certificate and various certificates issued by the revenue department through the e-District facility could be issued on the spot at the single window facility.

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ArcelorMittal backtracks after accusing Vedanta of environmental lapses #WTFnews

ArcelorMittal said it had mailed the September 15 letter “inadvertently” to Essar Steel’s resolution professional.

Prince Mathews Thomas

A day after ArcelorMittal wrote to the Essar Steel resolution professional accusing Vedanta Ltd of environmental and human rights violations, the Lakshmi Mittal-led company now claims that the mail was shared “inadvertently”.

Both companies, along with Numetal, placed bids for Essar Steel.

In the letter dated September 16, and addressed to Satish Kumar Gupta, the resolution professional overseeing the auction, ArcelorMittal’s Sanjay Sharma said: “We refer to the letter dated September 15, 2018 in relation to Vedanta Limited. An internal draft of such letter was inadvertently shared with you. Please ignore the communication for now. We regret any inconvenience caused to you. Note that we hereby reserve all our rights in relation to the matters referenced therein.”

In a September 15 letter, ArcelorMittal had over six pages of material alleging violations committed by Vedanta.

“We believe that one of the cornerstones of the IBC process is full and complete disclosure of all material facts necessary for the Committee of Creditors to assess the eligibility of the resolution applicants as well as the feasibility and viability of any resolution plan submitted by such applicants,” ArcelorMittal had said.

It then listed the alleged violations under: “(a) environmental law violations committed in India (specifically, Tuticorin and Lanjigarh), Zambia as well as other jurisdictions, (b) illegal mining, (c) disregard for safety standards, and (d) human rights violations.”

Responding to the first ArcelorMittal letter, a Vedanta spokesperson told PTI: “…highly disappointed that such baseless and irrelevant issues are being raised and unfounded allegations are being made with the objective to malign competitors.”

On the second letter, the Vedanta spokesperson declined to comment.

“The way the second letter is worded, shows that ArcelorMittal may use the arguments later on,” said an executive from the sector.

When contacted, ArcelorMittal declined to comment.

The Essar Steel auction is at present being fought in courts, with the Supreme Court expected to resume hearing on September 18. ArcelorMittal had moved the court against an NCLAT order asking it to clear dues to become eligible for the bid.

The dues pertain to that of Uttam Galva Steels and KSS Petron, in which ArcelorMittal had significant stakes. The dues amount to approximately Rs 7,000 crore.

The court will also hear Numetal, which had appealed against NCLAT’s order giving ArcelorMittal three days to clear the dues.

Interestingly, ArcelorMittal hasn’t cleared the dues, but has instead reiterated its commitment to pay. Meanwhile, it has raised its bid for Essar Steel to Rs 42,000 crore. Numetal is said to have bid Rs 37,000 crore, and Vedanta’s bid is approximately Rs 32,000 crore.

https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/companies/arcelormittal-backtracks-after-accusing-vedanta-of-environmental-lapses-2958871.html

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The Kerala model can be implemented across India with the same secular and gender-sensitive spirit

The power of Kudumbashree

Brinda Karat

Kumari died on September 1. She had contracted leptospirosis while doing relief work in Kerala after the floods, away from her own home which had not been affected.

 She was a health volunteer and prominent member of the Kudumbashree Mission in her panchayat in Ernakulum district. Kumari’s work and life symbolises the spirit of Kerala reflected in the inspirational way in which the people of the State have faced the worst disaster in a century.

 United in relief work

Among the heroic stories of selfless community service are those of the Kudumbashree women, who have perhaps not got the attention they deserve. The attention is necessary not just to accord women relief helpers like Kumari recognition and appreciation, but also to understand how such an enormous, effective and well-planned intervention could be made across the State by women through their own initiatives.

 

One got a glimpse of the process at a district-level informal review meeting of around 60 key coordinators of Kudumbashree in Kozhikode, which suffered landslides and heavy rain. 

Women from working class families, women from the lower middle class and middle class, Muslim women and Dalit women were present. They were a microcosm of the 2.43 lakh groups functioning across the State.

Within a day or two of the deluge, the Kudumbashree members started contacting each other to discuss what they should do. They divided themselves into squads of five to six members and started relief work. They were helped by the district coordination team of five women, who were on deputation to the Kudumbashree Mission from the government.

 Within a short span of time, there were 7,000 women volunteers engaged in various tasks. When the situation in their district improved, some of them set out to neighbouring districts like Thrissur and Wayanad to help.

 Many of these women have family responsibilities, but they convinced their families of the urgency of the work at hand and set off with all the equipment required for cleaning which they themselves had collected through sponsorships. Some of them went to relief camps to distribute relief material; others went to tribal areas which had been badly affected by landslides.

 

Volunteers Zarina and Sudha said: “We saw mounds of foul-smelling black mud piled outside the houses blocking the entrances and, in some cases, partially covering the houses.

There were dead animals too. At first we were looked at with suspicion. But when we started working, we saw relief on the tribal women’s faces.

We all worked together. We stood, sometimes knee-deep, in the filthy mud and began removing it. It was difficult work and one group could clean only a few houses in a day. We knew we could fall ill or be stung by poisonous insects or snakes, but we were not afraid.

Tribal women and members of Kudumbashree from nearby areas also joined us.”

 Like Zarina and Sudha, around 4,00,000 women of Kudumbashree self-mobilised across the State to do relief work, including collecting, packing and distributing relief material, cleaning up public spaces and private homes, and counselling affected families and putting them in touch with concerned authorities.

The Kudumbashree State Mission estimates that Kudumbashree groups cleaned up 11,300 public places including schools, hospitals, panchayat buildings, and anganwadi centres, and two lakh houses.

Around 40,000 affected families received counselling and information assistance from Kudumbashree groups. To provide shelter to families rendered homeless by the floods, 38,000 Kudumbashree members opened up their own homes. 

Kudumbashree members also donated 7.4 crore to the Chief Ministers Distress Relief Fund. This scale of voluntary relief work by women is quite unprecedented by any standard.

 

A unique model

How were these women motivated? The Kudumbashree model may provide some answers. Started in 1998 by the CPI(M)-led government, it was envisioned as a part of the People’s Plan Campaign and local self-governance, with women at the centre of it.

 In its conceptualisation, it was markedly different from the self-help group (SHG) movements in many parts of India. While the commonality with other States was in the thrift and credit activities at the grassroots level through the formations of saving groups, the structures differed.

Kudumbashree has a three-tier structure. The first is the basic unit — the neighbourhood groups (NGs). There could be several such units within a ward and they are networked through the area development societies (ADS).

 All ADSs are federated through the community development societies (CDS). There are core committees of elected coordinators at all three levels — at least five in each NG; seven or more at the ADS level, depending on the number of NGs; and around 21 at the CDS level.

Unlike in other States, all the coordinators are elected in Kerala. Each Kudumbashree member has a vote. Direct elections for the NG coordinators are held every three years.

These people, in turn, elect the coordinators of the ADS who elect the members of the CDS. A majority of the members of the coordinator groups have to belong to women below the poverty line or from comparatively poorer sections.

There is reservation for Dalit and Adivasi women. At the district and State levels, employees/officers of the government are appointed on deputation to help the Kudumbashree groups. Thus, there is a socially representative leadership.

This secular composition acts as a facilitator for the secularisation of public spaces. In other States, SHGs came to be dominated by women from better-off families or from powerful castes.

 This led to unhealthy hierarchies in which poorer women and Dalit women were denied decision-making powers. Over the years, as women dropped out from these sections for a number of reasons, the social potential of the SHGs to challenge dominant structures of gender bias at the local level weakened.

 

The micro-enterprises undertaken by the women NGs in Kerala also strengthen community bonds. These include organic vegetable growing, poultry and dairy, catering and tailoring.

The concepts and practices have expanded over the years. Today the community farms run by Kudumbashree groups are acknowledged as a critical avenue for the rejuvenation of agricultural production in Kerala.

 Kudumbashree training courses are quite comprehensive and include women’s rights, knowledge of constitutional and legal provisions, training in banking practices, and training in skills to set up micro-enterprises.

 

The Kudumbashree groups are therefore often seen as a threat by those who would like women to adhere to socially conformist roles.

 In earlier years, women of the Kudumbashree groups had to organise protests when the Congress-led government drastically cut the budgetary allocation of funds and floated a parallel Janashree project. The BJP and RSS have also floated parallel groups, but so far these groups have not been able to make much headway.

Although conceived, initiated and helped by the Left Front governments and supported by Left-oriented organisations, the Kudumbashree groups are not affiliated to any political party. This ‘Made in Kerala’ model can be implemented across India, if it is done with the same secular and gender-sensitive spirit.

Brinda Karat is a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau and a former Rajya Sabha MP.

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Destruction of mangroves affects right to life: Bombay HC

5 Years Jail, ₹1Lakh Fine For Dumping Debris, State Gets 18 Mths To Protect Mangroves On Private Forest Land

Mumbai:

A division bench of Bombay high court on Monday ordered the state to launch criminal prosecution under the Environmental Protection Act against persons and entities who destroy mangroves. The offence attracts a maximum jail term of five years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh. In an important directive, the state has been tasked with replanting mangroves that have been destroyed and restore such plots.

“The destruction of mangroves offends the fundamental right of citizens under Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution of India,” said the judges. “It is the mandatory duty of the state and its agencies to protect and preserve mangroves. Mangroves cannot be permitted to be destructed by the state for private, commercial or any other use unless the court finds it necessary for public good or public interest. The precautionary principle makes it mandatory for the state and its agencies to anticipate and attack causes and consequences of degradation of mangroves,” said the bench.

The bench ruled that land which has mangroves, regardless of its ownership, is a forest and will be designated as a Coastal Regulation Zone 1 Area that entitles it to protection. While state-owned land, including those held by Cidco, MMRDA and other public agencies, would be protected forests, the government has been given 18 months to transfer mangrove plots designated as private forests to the forest department.

The court said the 50m buffer zone around mangrove plots admeasuring 1,000m are designated CRZ 1 area. Now, the court has restrained any development activities in the buffer zone even if the mangrove plot is less than 1,000m.

The high court has further asked the state to implement a series of measures for protection of mangrove areas. A committee has to be constituted within a month under the divisional commissioner. It, along with sub-committees, will be responsible for the preservation and conservation of mangroves and restoration of reclaimed mangrove areas. The state has to establish a grievance redressal mechanism to enable the public to lodge complaints about destruction of mangroves. A website with a facility to upload photographs along with complaints and a toll-free number will have to be set up. The state has been asked to identify vulnerable mangrove areas and take protective steps, including installing CCTV cameras and fencing the area.

The order came on a petition filed by Goenka and BEAG in 2004. In 2005, in its interim order in the matter, the HC had banned hacking of mangroves or construction and dumping of debris and garbage on such mangrove plots.

Since the October 2005 order, the state said it has notified over 15,087 hectares of mangrove land in the seven coastal districts as “reserved forests” and replanted mangroves on over 541 hectares. The state’s mangrove cover that remained stagnant between 2005-2013 at 181 sq km has now increased to 304 sq km.

A triumph for Debi Goenka and BEAG

For Mumbai-based activist Debi Goenka, Monday’s order brings to a close a battle he has fought for a decade and a half to protect Maharashtra’s mangroves from government agencies, private builders and encroachers. “This is a red letter day for the protection of mangroves. The high court has strengthened the interim orders issued earlier, and has taken great care to issue detailed directions that will help protect mangroves, and the buffer zone of 50 metres. Cidco and MMRDA will no longer get away with destruction of mangroves. This order will also ensure that the authorities will have to protect the mangroves,” said the mangrove crusader, who filed the PIL alongside BEAG.

Goenka, who has been a regular presence during the hearing of the PIL as well as various applications filed by agencies for exemptions, credits his legal team led by senior advocate Navroz Seervai for the favourable order. — ST

Implementing order properly will be vital, say activists

Navi Mumbai:

Welcoming the final high court order on stringent protection of mangroves, several activists pointed out that the success of the ruling will depend on the quality of implementation by the local authorities.

“It is good news that the final order of the high court is out, and it grants strong protection to mangroves and CRZ areas. However, I am concerned that the order should be properly implemented. In Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, activists have often complained to forest officials, municipality and also representatives of the court-appointed committee about debris dumping inside mangroves and encroachments, but the official reaction is often not quick,” said environmentalist Sunil Agarwal.

RTI activist Anarjit Chauhan said passing the buck among officials must stop. “The police, Konkan divisional commissionerate, and municipal authorities, among others, must sincerely implement the court orders. Citizens should not be made to run around to ensure mangroves are saved and culprits jailed.”

Petitioner Debi Goenka said he is positive things will change for the better after the order. “If any official drags his feet on protecting the greens, the court can be notified to take action. There are also emails and phone numbers where citizens can lodge their grievances formally.”

TIMES VIEW: The court’s order is significant, and equally important is the mechanism the judges have suggested to implement it. If the lodging of complaints is made easier and problemfree, if technology is brought in to monitor if mangroves have indeed not been destroyed step-by-step by land-grabbers and if the authorities on the ground take serious cognisance of complaints and initiate prompt criminal prosecution , the mangroves which are so critical to prevent flooding can indeed still be saved.

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Gujarat Govt’s ‘High-powered’ Plan to Bail out Adani, Tata, Essar’s Stranded Power Projects

Draft report proposes that “the burden of hardships” be borne by all stakeholders – developers, lending banks, and consumers.
Gujarat Govt’s ‘High-powered’ Plan

A draft report prepared by a high-powered committee appointed by the government of Gujarat has come up with a plan to rescue stranded power projects in the state run by the Adani, Essar and Tata groups. While there have been news reports indicating what the report may recommend, Newsclick has obtained a draft copy of the entire report, which we are placing in the public domain. The three-member committee comprising former Supreme Court judge Justice R K Agrawal, former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India S S Mundra and former Chairperson of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), Pramod Deo, was set up by the Gujarat government on July 3, 2018 to find solutions for the three thermal power plants located in the state that were in financial dire straits.

The three power plants, all of which use coal imported from Indonesia as fuel, have been floundering due to a rise in the prices of Indonesian coal. Having sought and failed to obtain a tariff revision to cover the cost – which the Supreme Court ruled out in a judgment in April 2017 – the power plants had reduced electricity generation significantly, causing a power crisis in the state of Gujarat and elsewhere.

According to a version of the high-powered committee’s report running into 110 pages, marked “privileged & confidential” and as a “work in progress draft,” a package of measures has been proposed wherein “the burden of hardships will have to be borne by all the stakeholders” – that is,  the developers, the lending banks, and consumers. The burden borne by the developers will include all losses incurred by them so far, which will not be compensated to them.

Significantly, earlier offers by Adani and Tata to sell the power plants to the Gujarat government will no longer be relevant – the companies will continue to hold the assets. The lending banks will be expected to reduce their debt burden on the projects to the tune of more than ₹9,000 crore. This would be despite the fact that one of the three projects (set up by the Essar group) is already considered a non-performing asset (NPA), while the two others are considered “stressed” assets by the banks due to their inability to service their debts. Meanwhile, going forward, the consumers of power are expected to bear the increased cost of Indonesian coal with the costs on fuel incurred by the developers being “passed through” to them up in the form of higher tariffs, upto a stipulated limit.

The committee expects that this will be possible after appropriately amending the power purchase agreements (PPAs) governing the sale of electricity from these power plants to state government companies that distribute electricity (discoms) in five states to permit changes in tariffs, despite the Supreme Court having earlier rejected the same proposal of revising tariffs as impermissible under the current contracts. The committee holds (correctly, it seems) that the Supreme Court was merely interpreting the terms of the existing PPAs and that its judgement doesn’t prevent the parties to the contracts – the discoms and the power generators – from mutually amending the PPAs. However, this flies in the face of a crucial aspect of the apex court’s reasoning, which is that it was the low tariffs quoted by the power generators in the first place that enabled them to win the contracts from the discoms. Instead, the committee in effect holds the view that these power plants are “too big to fail” and thus deserve to be “salvaged.”

THE BACKGROUND

The three power plants put together supply roughly 45% of Gujarat’s total electricity demand and also supply power to four other states – Haryana, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Punjab.

Tata Power, through its subsidiary Coastal Gujarat Power Limited (CGPL), runs a 4,150 megawatt (MW) capacity Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) located in Mundra on the coast of Gujarat. The plant supplies power to Gujarat (1,805 MW), Maharashtra (760 MW), Haryana (380 MW), Punjab (475 MW) and Rajasthan (380 MW). Adani Power, runs a similar plant of 4,620 MW generating capacity inside the special economic zone that the group owns in Mundra. This plant supplies 2,000 MW to Gujarat and 1,424 MW to Haryana. The Essar group controlled by Ruia family, through Essar Power Gujarat Limited (EPGL) runs a 1,200 MW capacity power plant in Salaya in Gujarat, and supplies 1,000 MW to the state. Electricity supplied by CGPL and Adani Power collectively account for 22% of Haryana’s total power demand.

All three power plants were built on the expectation that they would use coal imported from Indonesia. At the time, these power plants were being set up in the early- to mid-2000s, this coal was cheaper than domestically-sourced coal. As a result, not only did these companies set up power plants using imported coal in coastal areas, they also entered the coal mining space in Indonesia in order to integrate their supply chain. Tata Power, through its subsidiaries, holds a 30% equity stake in PT Kaltim Prima Coal, an Indonesian coal mining company. Similarly, the Adani group holds an equity stake in the Bunyu mines in Indonesia through its subsidiaries. These mines supply coal to the companies’ respective thermal power plants in India.

These arrangements were all disrupted in September 2010 when the Indonesian government decided to benchmark the price of its coal to international market levels. This resulted in a rise in the cost of coal for these power plants which affected their economic and financial calculations. The companies immediately sought relief from the electricity regulators – Adani Power and the Tata group approached the CERC while Essar approached the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission. They requested that the tariff that they were charging be adjusted to accommodate the increased cost of the Indonesian coal arguing that the “change in law” and the force majeure (act of god) provisions of their PPAs with the discoms should apply.

The CERC in orders dated April 2, 2013 and April 15, 2013 granted the companies relief. While it did not accept that the Indonesian regulations constituted either a “change in law” or force majeure, it nevertheless held that it had the jurisdiction to recommend tariff changes to compensate the companies. The CERC instructed that a committee be set up to calculate how much compensation was due to the concerned companies. Accordingly, the Deepak Parekh committee was set up and its report was submitted in August 2013. The report recommended a package of “compensatory tariff” measures to be awarded to the companies and paid for by the discoms. These recommendations were accepted by the CERC in its order dated February 21, 2014.

The discoms and consumer protection groups (including NGOs such as Energy Watchdog and Prayas [Energy Group]) appealed this CERC order at the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL). At the tribunal, the companies won yet again. APTEL decided through an order passed on April 7, 2016 that the force majeure clause did apply and granted the companies relief accordingly. It instructed the CERC to calculate compensation under the terms of its order, and the CERC released its new calculations on December 6, 2016.

All this came to a head at the Supreme Court. The discoms and the consumer watchdogs appealed the APTEL’s order and within a year, on April 11, 2017, the court ruled against the companies, setting aside the APTEL’s judgement and the CERC’s subsequent tariff revisions. A crucial leg of the Supreme Court’s logic was that since the companies’ had knowingly assumed the risk of a change in the cost of coal when bidding to supply power to the discoms, and had won their bids on the basis of low tariff rates that they had quoted, a revision of tariffs after the fact would vitiate the entire process of competitive bidding. At the time, one of these authors of this article had described the judgement as having raised the ‘bar’ for India’s power sector.

A GROWING CRISIS

Soon thereafter, reports started coming out about the great distress that these power plants were facing. According to the Financial Express, Essar stopped supplying power from its plant on December 15, 2017 and Adani Power stopped supplying electricity on January 20, this year. Both did so without notifying the Gujarat discom and the Gujarat electricity regulator against the terms of their PPAs. The Tata group plant kept operating, and ran up a loss of ₹1,700 crore in the past financial year. To cover up the shortfall in supply, the Gujarat discom was forced to buy from electricity exchanges at a much higher rate in order to prevent a power crisis in the state. Reportsbegan to emerge suggesting that the companies were looking at thousands of crores in write-downs. Seeking to reduce the stress that these projects were causing to their balance sheets, the companies even wrote to the Gujarat government offering to sell a majority stake in their power plants to the government for a token amount of ₹1, provided, of course, that they would be freed of their debt burden.

Meanwhile, another hazard appeared on the horizon for the companies. On Feburary 12, this year, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued a circular giving banks a six-month deadline to identify NPAs on their books and initiate resolution proceedings, failing which the banks would be obliged to approach the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and initiate bankruptcy proceedings against the NPA holders. With these power plants having run into such financial trouble, they were at risk of turning into NPAs and facing the NCLT hammer. Indeed, subsequently, the Essar power plant was declared an NPA. Once such proceedings start, the promoter loses control of the assets in question.

Further light was shone on the subject of power sector NPAs and stressed assets by a reportprepared by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy in March 2018 which described the issues plaguing 34 stressed power assets worth more than ₹1.74 lakh crore.

The RBI’s six month deadline expired last month in August 2018. In a rear-guard action, however, power companies managed to earn a reprieve from the bankruptcy process mandated by the RBI’s circular. A group of power generators approached the Allahabad High Court seeking a stay on the RBI circular and when the high court failed to grant them one, they approached the Supreme Court. On September 11, the Supreme Court partially granted their wish, ordering that until it completes its hearings, the status quo be maintained – that is, the banks couldn’t drag the power producers to the NCLT.

THE GOVERNMENT’S RESCUE ACT

It was in these climes of distress that the Union government stepped in to find a way to rescue the power producers. Immediately after the Supreme Court judgement, the companies began knocking on every possible door seeking a solution to their problem. These efforts included the aforementioned offer to sell the power plants to the government. Solutions were sought by the discoms as well, seeing that the power companies were beginning to cut off power supply.

According to the draft report of high-powered committee (HPC), the government of Gujarat referred the matter to the Union government and on June 20, 2017, the Ministry of Power held a meeting of lenders, developers and officials of the five procuring states to discuss options to resolve the issue. At this meeting, a working group comprising members representing the procuring states and the lending banks was set up, with the State Bank of India (SBI) acting as the convenor. This working group prepared a final report which was circulated by the SBI on January 10, 2018.

Additionally, the SBI also requested the formation of a HPC to review the working group’s report and recommend solutions. The Gujarat government approached the centre once again on the basis of this report in February 2018 and in April 2018, received the permission of the central government to take the lead on finding a solution, as it was the biggest procurer of power from the three power plants. Accordingly, the Gujarat government constituted the HPC in June 2018.

THE RESCUE PACKAGE

The HPC met company officials, discom and state government officials, bank representatives and consumer representative groups, and sought their views and suggestions on how to proceed. Additionally, it took into account data analysis that suggested that despite the increase in cost of Indonesian coal, electricity generated at these power plants remained a cheaper option for the procurer states than other alternatives. Having taken all these views into account, the HPC’s draft report has laid out its recommendations.

The recommendations are based on the principle of “balancing of equities,” whereby the “pain” is “shared by all stakeholders.” Thus the “variable” component of the electricity tariff paid by the procurers, and ultimately power consumers, will increase to accommodate the increased cost of coal. The report states directly that “the fuel cost risk will be mostly borne by the procurers and eventually the end consumers.” This increased tariff is not without limit: the HPC has put a cap on  the cost of coal that can be passed on to the customer at $120 per metric tonne of coal – any amount higher than this will be borne by the developer. This increase in tariff will be offset by a “sacrifice by lenders” of a projected amount of ₹9,215 crore, which will be used to discount the “fixed charge” component of the power tariff by 20 paise per unit or kilowatt hour. (Electricity tariffs are composed of two components – “fixed” and “variable” charges – the first based on the costs incurred in setting up the power plant, and the second based on the costs of fuel which fluctuate.)

The developers, according to the HPC draft report, will bear their share of the pain as the losses that they have incurred on these power plants so far will not be compensated. The HPC suggests that its recommendations be implemented from October 1, 2018, and that no retrospective changes to tariff or “compensatory tariff” can be entertained. However, interestingly, the HPC did not even go into the question of take-over of these power plants by the Gujarat government – a solution that the companies themselves had offered the government prior to this rescue act.

The “bonafide on the part of the developers to continue with the projects” were apparently demonstrated to the HPC by the fact that they have already incurred higher losses than the damages that they would have had to pay if they chose to break the contracts. Neither does the HPC go into the fact that two of the three companies had indeed violated the terms of their PPAs by cutting off power supplies. On the possibility of a resolution through the insolvency process at the NCLT, the report throughout appears to consider it a priority to prevent this eventuality – that is, to “save” the companies from being dragged down the NCLT route.

If the high-powered committee’s final recommendations are comparable to this draft, its recommendations are clear – namely that state governments led by the Gujarat government should change their policies to “bail out” three of the biggest power plants in the country set up by the Adani, Essar and Tata groups. When finalised, will the committee’s recommendations be accepted? And if and when this happens, will such moves go unchallenged?

Time alone can provide answers to these questions.

https://www.newsclick.in/exclusive-gujarat-govts-high-powered-plan-bail-out-adani-tata-essars-stranded-power-projects

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Women farmers suffer due to unequal land rights

Although they are often the actual cultivators, the lack of land rights among women farmers in Odisha has resulted in chronic distress because they are unable to get government loans or compensation over crop loss

Since most women in rural Odisha do not have titles over land, they are provided no compensation by the government against crop loss (Photo by Basudev Mahapatra)

Since most women in rural Odisha do not have titles over land, they are provided no compensation by the government against crop loss (Photo by Basudev Mahapatra)

Since her husband migrated out of Odisha for work, it fell upon Remati Majhi (25) of Dhamnaguda village in Nuapada district to cultivate rice in the fields owned by her husband. But she could neither avail any government loan nor insure the crop because she didn’t have title over the land. So, she had no option but to arrange the required resources through private moneylenders.

To the misfortune of farmers, a severe draught in Odisha resulted in almost complete loss of kharif (monsoon) crop in 2015. The loss forced nearly 140 indebted farmers across the state to commit suicide. Remati was one of those unfortunate farmers.

“As there was complete crop loss and she had borrowed money from private sources to fulfill farm needs, she might have committed suicide, fearing pressure from the moneylenders for repayment of the loans,” Umashankar Majhi, Remati’s husband, told VillageSquare.in.

However, because she didn’t have title over the land she cultivated, the local administration didn’t record Remati’s case as a case of farmer suicide. As per norms of the Odisha government, anybody not having title over the land is officially not counted as a farmer and cannot claim benefits of security coverage or financial assistance schemes intended for welfare of state’s food growers.

Unequal landholdings

Despite this, small and marginal farmers have no option but to grow crops in the fields of medium and large landholders because of the inequitable nature of land distribution in the state.

According to the Odisha government’s report on the status of agriculture, per capita availability of cultivated land in the state has declined from 0.39 hectares in 1950-51 to 0.13 ha in recent times.

Out of total 46.67 lakh operational holdings in the state, marginal and smallholdings account for 72.17% and 19.68%, respectively, according to the 2010-11 agriculture census of India. The total cultivable area in Odisha is 48.52 lakh hectares, out of which 33.68 lakh marginal holdings cover 19.22 lakh ha, and 14.98 lakh ha go to 9.19 lakh smallholdings. The remaining 14.32 lakh ha come under 3.81 lakh medium and large holdings. The latter, with a number of only 6,000, holds 1.32 lakh hectares of land.

Of the total, 1.42 lakh marginal and smallholdings covering 1.05 lakh ha and 11,000 medium holdings covering 39,000 ha belong to women.

In such a land distribution scenario where most of the medium and large landowners happen to be absentee farmers, their land is usually cultivated by marginal and small farmers, who rent the land on conditions of sharing the harvest or against a fixed volume of crop to be grown.

Even though leasing out agricultural land is banned in Odisha, with a few exceptions, farmers continue to do it unofficially with the hope that agriculture on more land would bring them more harvest and make the activity economically viable.

Sharecroppers at risk

“Things go well when the harvest is good. But, with calamities like droughts and floods, a good harvest has remained only in the aspirations of farmers, which has never been realized, at least during the last decade or so,” Sanjay Tiwari, convener of Nuapada-based Krushak Shakti Sangathan that raises issues faced by the farmers, told VillageSquare.in.

In the view of Himanshu Banchhor (40) of Durkamunda village in Nuapada district, “The share cropper or tenant farmer is always at risk.”

Women farmers of Khasbahal are upset because they farm without benefits of any government scheme (Photo by Basudev Mahapatra)

Women farmers of Khasbahal are upset because they farm without benefits of any government scheme (Photo by Basudev Mahapatra)

“When a marginal farmer like me takes land owned by others for agriculture, I know it well that I don’t have title over it to claim benefits of government facilities like loans, input subsidy or crop insurance,” he said. “I need to meet all expenses through private loans with higher rate of interest and the commitment for timely repayment even in an adverse situation.”

In case of severe crop loss, tenant farmers face strong pressure from moneylenders for repayment of loans, whereas the government pays compensation money against crop loss to the landowners, who in fact do nothing on the field. Placed as a loser from both ends, many of the tenant farmers finally sacrifice their lives. This has been the case in most cases of farmer suicide in the state since 2014.

No bill for sharecroppers soon

Explaining the objectives and reasons of the Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act 2016, the NITI Aayog envisaged it as an “Act to permit and facilitate leasing of agricultural land, to improve agricultural efficiency and equity, access to land by the landless and semi-landless poor, occupational diversity and for accelerated rural growth and transformation; provide recognition to farmers cultivating agricultural land on lease for enabling them to access loans through credit institutions, insurance, disaster relief and other support services provided by Government, while protecting fully the land rights of the owners; and matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

Under pressure from farmers’ organizations and in response to the NITI Aayog’s recommendation, the Odisha government, in November 2017, announced that actual cultivators, including sharecroppers, would be paid agriculture input subsidy and compensation against crop loss.

Since absentee ownership of agricultural land is illegal in the state, identification of sharecroppers remained a challenge for the government because the landowners may not come forward to declare their tenant farmers.

So, in order to make the system of leasing out of farmland legal, the existing Land Reform Act needs to be amended, which doesn’t seem to happen soon, after the recent statement of Odisha’s revenue minister which said that “legislation for sharecroppers being a sensitive issue, it needs to be finalized keeping in mind the rights of landlords and sharecroppers.”

“Government will deal with it cautiously,” the minister added.

Women face the brunt

In any case, women are the most to suffer, said Ahalya Patel (50) of Khasbahal village in Khariar administrative block.

As most of the male members of Khasbahal migrate outside as laborers, many women of the village look after agriculture.

“Due to the patriarchal land title system, we are not considered farmers even while growing crops in our family owned fields because our name doesn’t feature in the title papers. We are unable to claim our rights and avail any benefit of government policies because of having no title,” she told VillageSquare.in. “The title remains an issue for women throughout the life, on different occasions.”

The issue, however, is not an isolated one limited to Odisha. In India, more than 70% of women work in the agriculture sector. The percentage is even higher when confined to rural India. Involved as farmers and agricultural laborers, women contribute significantly to food production in the country.

Despite the fact that women represent about half of the global population, produce the majority of global food supply, and perform 60% to 80% of the agricultural work in developing countries, women own less than 20% of land worldwide, according to the World Bank.

Shockingly, women are generally excluded from official data because most do not have title to land. “A woman is not classed as a farmer. She is a farmer’s wife, and her suicide is not included in the figures,” Graham Peebles, Director of the Create Trust noted in his piece Indian Farmers Trapped and Desperate, expressing concern over the miseries women farmers encounter.

Need for social action

Land transfer in India occurs mostly through inheritance and women face severe discrimination from their families in this respect. Several studies show that families are most likely to deny the married daughters, widows and unmarried women their land share. This results in abysmally poor land ownership of women in India varying between 9% and 13%, according to an Oxfam policy brief.

“The issue needs political attention and action in order to bring changes in existing policies to safeguard the rights and interests of women in agriculture sector,” said Vidhya Das of Odisha based non-profit Agragamee, who was an advisor to Supreme Court Commission for Right to Food.

In order to give equal right to women on the land, as Das urged, “Society has to change the mindset towards women and members in a family should come forward to protect the rights of its women folks.”

Basudev Mahapatra is a journalist based in Bhubaneswar. 

Village Square

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Maharashtra – Protest against Government Move to Deprive Poor off Affordable Foodgrains

 

A State wide mass agitation will be held on Sept 21st to protest against the recent directive issued by the Maharashtra Government to deny the poor foodgrains from ration shops guaranteed under the Food Security Act, 2013.

Maharashtra Government had announced a decision on 21st August through the issuance of a GR to start a pilot project in Mumbai, replacing pds with direct benefits transfer. Now money will be deposited directly in the bank accounts of the poor instead of giving foodgrains through ration shops. Now the money will be deposited directly in the bank accounts of the poor instead of giving foodgrains through ration shops.

This has amounted to diluting the Food Security guaranteed to the poor after a long agitation. This is clearly a step towards dismantling the PDS system.    Anna Adhikar Abhiyan, Maharashtra strongly condemns this decision and plan to agitate at taluka and district level across Maharashtra on 21st September 2018 to remind the Government of its Food Security commitment to the Poor.

Various organisations and progressive political parties in the nation had compelled the UPA Government in 2013 to bring the Food Security Act giving the poor people right to get foodgrains at cheaper rate from the ration shops.

The G.R. issued on 21st August has clearly gone against this right guaranteed to the Poor since it will force the poor to buy foodgrains from the market and leave them vulnerable to wide fluctuations in the market. The experience in several states has shown that large scale diversion of funds has happened consequent to the new Aadhar linked DBT system.

This step will dismantle the current foodgrains procurement and distribution system in which the Government was a major stakeholder. With Government absolving itself of the interventionist role in buying and distributing foodgrains, the agrarian economy will fall in the hands of monopoly food aggregating companies furthering corporate interests.

A false narrative has been build that by directly depositing amount in the bank account of the Poor beneficiaries, there will be no scope for corruption. This narrative runs contrary to socio-cultural ground reality is different. According to one of the study, 91% of people in Andhra Pradesh, 88% in Orissa, 90% in Chhattisgarh, and 81% in Himachal Pradesh want only food grain.  It is revealing to note that among those giving priority to cash, most are males. (Infochangeindia.org/agriculture/analysis/the-case-against-cash-transfers.html).

 

While taking this decision, the govt. did not engage other stakeholders such as farmer’s bodies and organizations working at the grassroots and the people’s representatives but has signed a MoU with a US based company/NGO Abdul Latif Poverty Action Lab.  Claiming to be transparent, nationalist and patriot the government of  Maharashtra on the contrary has given in to the hands of foreign NGO  in a very dictatorial manner.

This has clearly been under the pressure of WTO which wants US based aggregating companies to procure foodgrains and sell it at market determined prices. The experience of similar system in several other countries has shown that it has helped the foodgrains aggregating companies and US farmers who are already highly subsidized while creating disadvantages for small farmers, consumers and poor dependent on the PDS to save them from the shock of so called price discovery of food aggregators.

 

Ulka Mahajan (9868232478), Mukta Srivastava (9969530060), Chandrkant Yadav

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Adani groundwater bores investigated amid claims they were sunk without approval

EXCLUSIVE BY MARK WILLACY, ABC INVESTIGATIONS

VIDEO 

Adani says it is abiding by the Carmichael project’s conditions, as an investigation is launched by a state department.

http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/news/video/201809/NOLb_Adani2_1109_512k.mp4

ABC NEWS

The Queensland environment department has launched an investigation into a series of groundwater bores drilled by Indian miner Adani, which conservationists say were sunk without approval.

The environmental group Coast and Country has obtained high resolution satellite and drone imagery which it says shows the “illegal” works at the site of Adani’s controversial Carmichael coal mine project in north Queensland.

“Adani have sunk six dewatering bores,” said the group’s Derec Davies.

“They’ve needed approval, a groundwater approval, for these bores. They don’t have that.

“They’ve drilled into Great Artesian Basin aquifers, they’ve put at risk our groundwater particularly at a time when half the country’s in drought.”

Dewatering bores are used in mining operations to depressurise the coal seam and to lower groundwater levels for open cut and underground operations.

The company has told the ABC that it is abiding by the conditions of the Carmichael project’s approvals.

“Drilling has been undertaken at the Carmichael mine site to take geological samples and monitor underground water levels,” said an Adani spokeswoman.

“This is project stage one activity as permitted under Environmental Authority for the mine, which was issued in April 2016.”

An Adani spokeswoman also said the company had “not been notified of an investigation.”

“Like all resources companies, we have ongoing dialogue with regulators about our operations and regularly submit information to them as required under our various approvals.”

Asked a series of detailed questions about the bores, the environment department said the “bores were recently drilled and were not in place at the time of a recent inspection of the site” by departmental staff.

“The department is now investigating the location and purpose of these bores,” a spokesman for the department said.

Conservationists have repeatedly warned that Adani’s dewatering plans will see groundwater levels plummet, threatening the nearby Doongmabulla Springs, which are recognised as a nationally important wetland.

“It’s very concerning that Adani has apparently started work without confirming through the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan that the aquifer feeding these springs is not going to be disturbed by the mining,” said Jo Bragg from Queensland’s Environmental Defenders Office, which is acting for Coast and Country.

In a statement to the ABC, the environment department said that “the EA for Carmichael Coal Mine states that Project Stage 2 activities cannot commence until [the department] approves the Black-Throated Finch Management Plan (BTFMP) and the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan (GDEMP).”

“Adani Mining Pty Ltd is required to identify the source of the Doongmabulla Springs complex prior to the approval of the GDEMP.”

Adani has lodged a draft GDEMP but it is yet to be accepted by the Queensland Government.

The drilling of dewatering bores is classified as a “Stage 2” activity under Adani’s Environmental Authority (EA).

Mr Davies claims drone footage showed that Adani had performed other “Stage 2” work in contravention of its EA, such as building access roads and clearing trees and other vegetation for the construction of the six bores.

“Through aerial imagery, we can see that Adani have cleared vegetation, put in roads, put in permanent infrastructure to impact our groundwater at a time of great drought and climate change. Adani have put at risk the sensitive, one-million-year-old springs by doing this illegal activity.”

Ms Bragg alleges the bores were drilled before Adani lodged its first Annual Return in March this year to Queensland’s department of environment and science.

“The annual return lodged by Adani does in fact say that they’ve done zero works relating to the site. The persuasive evidence unearthed by our clients is that that this is not true, that in fact project Stage 2 works have commenced including dewatering, including site clearance, including roadworks.”

Last week the Queensland Government announced it would prosecute Abbot Point Bulkcoal, owned by Adani, over the alleged release of coal-laden water near the Great Barrier Reef last year.

http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-12/adani-groundwater-bores-investigated-by-queensland-department/10231752?pfmredir=sm

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UN Begins Talks on World’s First Treaty to Regulate High Seas

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A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 7 2018 (IPS) – After several years of preliminary discussions, the United Nations has begun its first round of inter-governmental negotiations to draft the world’s first legally binding treaty to protect and regulate the “high seas”—which, by definition, extend beyond 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) and are considered “international waters” shared globally.

“The high seas cover half our planet and are vital to the functioning of the whole ocean and all life on Earth. The current high seas governance system is weak, fragmented and unfit to address the threats we now face in the 21stt century from climate change, illegal and overfishing, plastics pollution and habitat loss”, says Peggy Kalas, Coordinator of the High Seas Alliance, a partnership of 40+ non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“This is an historic opportunity to protect the biodiversity and functions of the high seas through legally binding commitments” she added.

The two-week Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), which concludes 17 September, is described as the first in a series of four negotiating sessions which are expected to continue through 2020.

Asked about the contentious issues facing negotiators, Dr Veronica Frank, Political Advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS “although it is still early, we can expect that some of the potential issues that will require attention include the relationship between the new Global Ocean Treaty and existing legal instruments and bodies.”

These will include those who regulate activities such as fishing and mining, and what role
these other organizations will play in the management of activities that may impact on the marine environment in future ocean sanctuaries on the high seas.

“Also tricky is the issue of marine genetic resources, especially how to ensure the access and sharing of benefits from their use,” Dr Frank said.

Asked how different the proposed treaty would be from the historic 1994 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Essam Yassin Mohammed, Principal Researcher on Oceans and Environmental Economics at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), told IPS: “This new treaty is particularly significant because it is the first time the high seas will be governed.”

These negotiations are an opportunity, not just to protect the health of the oceans, but also to make sure all countries ― not just the wealthy few ― can benefit from the ocean’s resources in a sustainable way, he pointed out.

“As important as The Law of the Sea is, it only covers the band of water up to 200 miles from the coast. It does not cover the use and sustainable management of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction,” he added.

While this was acceptable in an era when the technological capacities that enabled people to venture beyond this area were limited, rapid innovation and technological advancement has changed this. Increasingly, economic activities are taking place in the high seas, he noted.

Most are unregulated and pose a major threat to marine biodiversity. It is more urgent than ever to fill this governance gap and monitor and regulate any activity in the high seas and make sure they benefit everyone ― particularly the poorest countries, he argued.

According to the High Seas Alliance, the ocean’s key role in mitigating climate change, which includes absorbing 90% of the extra heat and 26% of the excess carbon dioxide created by human sources, has had a devastating effect on the ocean itself.

Managing the multitude of other anthropogenic stressors exerted on it will increase its resilience to climate change and ocean acidification and protect unique marine ecosystems, many of which are still unexplored and undiscovered. Because these are international waters, the conservation measures needed can only be put into place via a global treaty, the Alliance said.

Dr Frank said the new treaty must create a global process for the designation and effective implementation of highly protected sanctuaries in areas beyond national borders.

Such global process must include the following elements: (a) a clear objective and a duty to cooperate to protect, maintain, and restore ocean health and resilience through a global network of marine protected areas, in particular highly protected marine reserves, and (b) the identification of potential areas that meet the conservation objective.

Asked about the existing law of the sea treaty, she said UNCLOS, which is the constitution of the ocean, sets the jurisdictional framework, ie general rights and obligations of Parties in different maritime zones, including some general obligations to cooperate and protect marine life and marine living resources that also apply to waters beyond national borders.

However, the Convention doesn’t spell out what these obligations entail in practice and puts much more emphasis on the traditional freedoms to use the high seas.

The Convention does not even mention the term biodiversity, she said, pointing out that
the treaty under negotiation will be the third so-called “Implementing Agreement” under UNCLOS – after the agreement for the implementation of Part XI on seabed minerals and one on fish stocks – and it will implement, specify and operationalise UNCLOS broad environmental provisions in relation to the protection of the global oceans.

Dr Frank said this is the first time in history that governments are negotiating rules that will bring UNCLOS in line with modern principles of environmental governance and provide effective protection to global oceans.

The writer can be contacted at [email protected]

UN Begins Talks on World’s First Treaty to Regulate High Seas

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UN Scientific Paper Suggests Capitalism Has to Die in Order for the Planet to Be Saved

capitalism

(EDITOR’S NOTE, 8/28/18, 3:34 PM ETThis headline was amended from “UN Scientific Paper Says Capitalism Has to Die in Order for the Planet to Be Saved” to “UN Scientific Paper Suggests Capitalism Has to Die in Order for the Planet to Be Saved.”)

Capitalism and global sustainability are incongruous with one another, according to a recent paper for the UN’s 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report.

The team of researchers from various academic institutions throughout Finland who wrote the report gave a sobering assessment of the planet’s future if the current economic order continues unabated. Namely, that all rich Western countries have based their societies on an abundance of cheap energy, which the scientists say is no longer a reality.

“Economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle the waste generated by energy and material use,” the paper reads. “[D]ominant economic theories as well as policy-related economic modeling rely on the presupposition of continued energetic and material growth. The theories and models anticipate only incremental changes in the existing economic order. Hence, they are inadequate for explaining the current turmoil.”

Scientists argued that worsening climate change is having a drastic impact on ecosystems and biodiversity, and that symptoms of unchecked capitalism like rising inequality, unemployment, and debt are also contributing to the destabilization of society. In order to guarantee that humanity is able to have a good quality of life on earth for future generations, the paper’s authors argued that new economic systems will have to be created, rather than the standard band-aid approach governments have taken in the recent past.

“Central banks in the US and the Eurozone have resorted to unconventional measures such as negative interest rates and buying up significant amounts of public debt,” researchers wrote. “This has relieved some economic pressure, but … It can be safely said that no widely applicable economic models have been developed specifically for the upcoming era.”

While the paper didn’t endorse any specific economic system to be used in lieu of capitalism, scientists said it would necessary to “transform the ways in which energy, transport, food, and housing are produced and consumed” with the goal of attaining “production and consumption that provides decent opportunities for a good life while dramatically reducing the burden on natural ecosystems.”

Early in the paper, researchers said it would be necessary to implement a global Marshall plan, as Harvard University atmospheric chemistry professor James Anderson proposed earlier this year. Ideally, such a plan would mean cooperation between countries around the globe to collectively restructure society with the end goal of eliminating carbon dioxide emissions entirely. Researchers gave a deadline for the United States and Europe to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2040, and for the rest of the world to be at zero emissions by 2050.

In order to meet this goal, however, scientists cast doubt on the ability of renewable energy sources to be able to sustain humanity’s current energy consumption rate.

The only viable solution to attain a goal of zero emissions is, according to the paper, for humanity to use substantially less energy. Scientists are calling on state governments with forward-thinking leaders to test radical solutions at the macro level, like a job guarantee — similar to what Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has proposed in the past.

“The most suitable jobs for the program would be those that almost anyone can do with limited training. The jobs could be modeled to serve the transition to sustainability and to build capacities to adapt to climate change: for example, installing decentralized energy solutions and preparing for floods,” scientists wrote. “In addition to triggering the transition, the job guarantee would ensure full employment. It would lessen insecurity and the need to compete for environmentally destructive jobs on the individual and the collective level.”

Researchers’ ideas for how to phase out capitalism will likely be included in the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Report, which will come out in 2019. Read the full paper here.

 

Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.

UN Scientific Paper Suggests Capitalism Has to Die in Order for the Planet to Be Saved

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