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Climate Change Crisis: Why Fatuhi Khera In Punjab Changed From Cotton To Rice

Fatuhi Khera_Punjab_620

In Fatuhi Khera, Punjab, crop losses following a deluge in 2009 prompted a switch from growing cotton to paddy in 75% of the acreage that was earlier under cotton. Since paddy withstands water logging better than cotton, farmers see its cultivation as a means to protect their income against losses emanating from excessive rainfall during the monsoon.

Mount Abu: Harsimranjit Brar, 26, has an unforgettable childhood memory of his family’s fields in Fatuhi Khera, a village in Punjab’s Sri Muktsar Sahib district. Just before harvest, it would be a sea of white fluff. Brar’s father, a seasoned farmer, used to cultivate cotton on a 40-acre plot every kharif (monsoon) season.

All that changed after a deluge in 2009 submerged their land under 4-5 feet of water, wiping out their cotton crop, recalled Brar, now an inspector with the Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation Limited. Three days of rain damaged the cotton crop in 60-70 villages of the around 238 villages in the district.

It took months for the standing water to percolate into the saturated ground. “The damage to our land was so substantial that it washed out the possibility of growing any crops in 2010,” he said.

To avoid a repeat of the disaster, in 2011, Brar’s father and elder brother decided to grow paddy–parmal, as it is called in Punjab–on 9 acres of their land because paddy can withstand water-logging.

The family has now switched to paddy on 38 of 40 acres. In the district itself, 75% of the acreage dedicated to cotton is now used for paddy, Brar reckoned.

“Monsoon rainfall used to be spread across the season but we had started to see more downpours followed by dry spells,” Brar said. “Downpours invariably led to water-logging. We strongly felt we needed to de-risk our income.”

The farmers of Sri Muktsar district chose to play it safe; elsewhere farmers might choose to deal with climate change differently. In semi-arid regions, for example, “farmers adopt more risky cash crops such as cotton instead of more resilient dryland cereals or pulses, in the anticipation of higher returns but at a very high risk of failure”, said Anthony Whitbread, a research programme director at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).


To withstand climate change, farmers need adequate support by way of know-how and practical assistance for adoption of drought- or heat-tolerant crop varieties (cultivars), soil and water conservation technologies, said Anthony Whitbread, a research programme director at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

For instance, this 2010 ICRISAT study examined a change in the cropping pattern in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra–from cereal crops (except maize) to pulses and other cash crops such as sugarcane and cotton.

India is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change. It has increased the frequency of downpours as well as the gaps between rainy days during the monsoon, as IndiaSpend reported in January 2018 and February 2018.

Extreme rainfall shocks could reduce farmer incomes in the kharif and rabi seasons by 13.7% and 5.5%, according to theEconomic Survey, 2017-18. To reduce the impact of these shocks and to double farmer incomes, as the government wants to, the following are vital, according to Whitbread: “adequate support by way of know-how and practical assistance for adoption of drought- or heat-tolerant crop varieties (cultivars), soil and water conservation technologies, changing sowing dates and so on”.

Farmers’ observations mirror scientific predictions about climate change

In Punjab, 97% of the agricultural land is irrigated while in Madhya Pradesh, this percentage stands at 40%, leaving farmers more vulnerable to fluctuations in the monsoon. Despite this, farmers in both states have felt the effect of climate change.

Over three-quarters of the 150 paddy farmers in Punjab were sure that climate patterns have changed, Brar found in a 2016 survey he conducted for his master of science (MSc) degree in five districts–Hoshiarpur, Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar, Ludhiana, Faridkot and Sri Muktsar Sahib. This covered the the north-east, south-west and central parts of the state.

One in five farmers in the study was somewhat sure that climate change had happened. However, they differed on how it manifested. Eight in 10 farmers believed climate change had raised temperatures, seven thought the rainfall pattern had changed, four felt a rise in air pollution, nearly four perceived a fluctuation in the hours of sunshine, two thought droughts had become more frequent and less than one believed that floods occurred too frequently.

A couple of these observations match scientists’ predictions for climate change in the coming decades, as we will see in the following sections.

Arid pockets of western India may see increased rainfall

Between now and 2050, India is likely to see an increase in the baseline mean, minimum as well as maximum temperatures and these could have a warming effect that could raise sea levels, said Whitbread.

By the 2050s, some regions of India are likely to see more rainfall, in contrast to the African continent that is getting drier, he added. These predictions are based on 20 general circulation models, climate models simulating the future change in precipitation and temperature around the world. The highest increase in rainfall by 2050 is predicted in the arid western parts of India while the south and parts of the Gangetic plain bordering Nepal may see moderate increases.

However, this prediction comes with a rider: “Large uncertainties exist in quantifying precipitation changes,” said Whitbread. “Rainfall during the monsoon months will be uncertain; rainfall could be inadequate after the onset of the monsoon or involve pronounced dry periods juxtaposed against heavy spells. Since the number of rainy days is not projected to correspondingly increase, India could see more extreme events.”

There is little advice on how to adapt: Farmers

Jabalpur district in Madhya Pradesh has the largest area of rainfed agricultural land in the state–235,058 hectares. In its Shahpura block, where 45,274 hectares of the land is rainfed, seven in 10 farmers listed the lack of knowledge about ways to mitigate the effects of climate change as their biggest challenge, in a 2015 survey conducted by Amrita Singh, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Jabalpur, for her MSc degree.

All the farmers featured in the survey were aware that they should delay the sowing of the kharif crop because monsoon now tends to start late. About eight in 10 had some idea of measures such as ensuring adequate drainage and avoiding the use of fertiliser during heavy rainfall to avoid nutrients leaching into groundwater. Six in 10 farmers were aware that selecting a suitable cropping pattern could help deal with the current vagaries of nature.

While farmers in Shahpura acknowledged that government and non-government bodies were holding agricultural extension activities to equip farmers with information about dealing with climate change, more than half complained about the non-availability of information in local languages. This plea for information is universal.

Brar is of the opinion that technical know-how is sparse and what is being shared is not customised. “Drafting an advisory for a state or large region ignores the fact that the characteristics of land differ from area to area,” he said.

“We need to strengthen the agro advisories covering market information and other know-how being circulated to farmers,” agreed Anil Sharma, assistant director (TV and radio) of the Centre for Communication & International Linkages, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. He suggested the use of the internet to disseminate the advisories because rural Punjab is net-savvy.

Farmers need better seeds to cope with climate change

Left to their own resources to adapt to climate change, nine in 10 paddy farmers Brar surveyed in Punjab had switched to growing shorter duration varieties of crops while eight were relying on the weather forecast–these are two of the most popular measures. Less than one in 10 farmers had opted to change their cropping pattern, a potential outcome of climate change with drastic implications. If farmers switch en masse from a food crop to a cash crop, the quantity and variety of food available to the country would be adversely impacted.

More than half the respondents wanted the government to develop crop varieties that are insect- and disease-resistant; close to half wanted varieties that are resistant to water logging and almost a third wanted varieties that could cope with temperature variations and water stress.

Indian scientists have developed drought- and heat-tolerant varieties of certain crops but farmers don’t seem to be aware of all that is available.

Harsimranjit Brar_620

Harsimranjit Brar, from a farming family in Sri Muktsar Sahib, Punjab, feels that farmers need more technical know-how on climate relevant to their situation. State-wise or regional advisories ignore the fact that the characteristics of land differ from area to area.

For instance, ICRISAT has developed the ICGV 91114, a strain of groundnut with better drought tolerance, that has been shown to increase pod yield by 23%, net income by 36% and reduce yield variability by 30%, in a farm impact study conducted in 2011 in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh.

In 2016, the Odisha State Seed Certification Limited procured about 54 tons of the ICGV 91114 from the seed-producing farmers in four districts to distribute to other farmers in the subsequent season. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka also produce the ICGV 91114 seed for distribution to farmers. But this is still little considering that the top five groundnut producing states in 2015-16 were Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

“Apart from low awareness, diffusion of our new technologies in farmers’ field is slow because of the non-availability of seeds in the market,” Swamikannu Nedumaran, a senior scientist with ICRISAT told IndiaSpend. He believes that this is due to the limited attention paid to developing and distributing seeds for dryland crops and promoting them through price support.

Dryland crops are a traditional source of income for thousands of small farmers in rainfed regions. “There is much more focus across the country on the major food crops such as paddy, wheat and maize,” said Nedumaran.

Poor access to technology compelling small farmers to switch crops

In Madhya Pradesh, soybean covers 45% of the state’s total cropped area during the monsoon. This was the case in Raisen and Hoshangabad districts too, till a few years ago.

Of late, frequent and heavy monsoon rains in the two low-lying districts have caused crop failures and prompted a shift from soybean and pulses to paddy, said Nalin Khare, professor and head, Agricultural Extension, Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Jabalpur.

“Water stagnation from unpredictable rainfall affects soybean more than paddy,” he said.

Soybean became a favourite crop of farmers “mainly because of [its] short duration (90-105 days) with high net return”, reads the2015-16 Annual Report of the directorate of pulses development, Bhopal, a body under the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare.

However, the report tells us that “soybean production was more drastically declined during kharif 2015 due to excess rains at vegetative phase [the period of growth between germination and flowering], long dry spell at seed filling stage [when the seed develops in the pod] and infestation of yellow mosaic virus [a viral disease affecting plants] and other insect pest”.

In certain districts, the soybean crop loss in 2015 was 60-70%.

During agricultural extension activities in Madhya Pradesh, farmers have been taught how to use the ridge and furrow method and raised bed system to protect the soybean crop from heavy rainPurushottam Sharma, a senior scientist (Agricultural Economics) with the Indian Institute of Soybean Research, Indore, told IndiaSpend.

The state government is trying to make available the required tools for this system through professionally-run hiring centres established for the purpose. “But as the reach of these hiring centres is limited, far-flung farmers are still deprived, keeping the adoption of these protective methods low,” he said.

Brar is grateful for the government subsidies farmers in Sri Muktsar Sahib received a few years ago to bore tubewells. “A tubewell priced at Rs 100,000 to install cost us only Rs 9,000,” he said. However, he acknowledged that this benefit has not been extended to all the needy farmers, many of who cannot afford electricity.

Sri Muktsar Sahib_620

Harsimranjit Brar’s family in Sri Muktsar Sahib, Punjab, is grateful for the government subsidies that reduced the cost of a tubewell from Rs 100,000 to Rs 9,000. However, he acknowledged that this benefit has not been extended to all the needy farmers, many of whom cannot afford electricity.

Why India can’t delay developing and implementing climate change strategies

Globally, climate change has already extended the growing season in some middle and higher latitude areas that were earlier too cold for the cultivation of most crops, such as the northern precincts of Russia, according to this 2013 study published in the journal Economics. In contrast, Southern Russia, one of the world’s breadbaskets, would suffer a decline in wheat yield as the climate becomes drier, it predicted.

Russia’s bumper wheat harvest in recent years is partly attributable to record temperatures boosting yields, this April 2018 Bloomberg report noted.

In India, while agriculture in parts of the country might benefit from the 5% to 20% increase in rainfall expected by the 2050s, the adverse effect of rising temperatures across the country and the mixed effect of rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide would also need to be factored into future plans.

The combined impact of precipitation, temperature and carbon dioxide will depend on the crop variety grown, crop management practices and location, said Nedumaran.

ICRISAT crop simulation models of the impact of climate change suggest that maize, sorghum and groundnut yields may increase due to higher rainfall, but rising temperature will decrease the yield of crops, especially rabi (cool) season crops such aschickpea, particularly in south India.

Gram, soybean, onion and castor could benefit from the higher atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, while rice, wheat, maize and sorghum could see a decline in yield, according to a recent modelling study.

(Bahri is a freelance writer and editor based in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.)

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Mumbai – Residents of Mahul rejects BMC’s Rs.29 cr package for them

Demands rehabilitation in true sense

Mumbai | 11th July: Maharashtra government assured Bombay High Court that Mahul is safe and habitable, ignoring the health issues frequently faced by people living in the region. This assurance is in fact actually fraudulent and even contradicts the government’s own previous statements and studies.

The Pollution Control Board’s report on the high level of pollution in area and the NGT’s observations are proof that the place is uninhabitable. The housing minister has stated categorically that the place is uninhabitable. Police personnel and BMC staff have refused accommodation in Mahul because of the grave health hazards. In spite of this the Maharashtra government has been relocating people from various localities to Mahul.

More than hundred people have already died in Mahul in a period of three years. Most of them became ill after being forcibly relocated here and contracted illness from the extreme pollution and became incurably sick and many eventually died. More and more are complaining that they have contracted severe illnesses after moving to Mahul due to unacceptably high levels of various pollutions.

Mahul is amongst the most industrial dense locations. 3 of the nation’s oldest and largest refineries, one of the largest fertilizer producing complex of RCF and Tata’s many thermal power turbine units are all located there. Additionally Mahul has amongst the largest storing facility for process chemicals, many of which are listed as carcinogenic. The housing complex the Gov has set up is in violation of the regulations of the MoEFguidelines and the Courts’ orders. The safe zone distance from the hazardous facility – recommended minimum is 25 kilometers away- has not been adhered to. The MMRDA housing complex is literally at the boundary of the BPCL refinery at a mere 35 meters- a far cry from the mandated distance as prescribed by even the government agencies.

Given the concentration of the facilities and the scale of operations any evacuation plan will be inadequate in case of an emergency leading to leakage of gases or fire. There is a constant threat to health and life of Mahul residents. In 2003 Mahul was identified as a toxic hotspot similar to what Bhopal was after Union Carbide/Dow disaster.

A study conducted by NEERI found that the level of VOC-Benzene was 158 ug/cum during day time and 248 ug/cum during on 05-01-2018 in Mahul against the permissible limit of 5ug/cum by NAAQS, 2009. This means that the level of Benzene is 3,160% to 5,160% higher than the permissible limit. Exposure to this level of Benzene is life threatening. The ground around the complex is seeping with VOC and this gets into the water pipelines leading to serious diseases.

The Bombay High Court’s order to make Tansa pipeline encroachment free led to those residents being evicted. The Court ordered the government to properly rehabilitate the eligible Tansa residents. However, the government, instead of rehabilitating in the true sense, dumped them in Mahul where even the basic amenities are absent. Additionally there is the extreme pollution causing hazard to life and health there too. The absence of basic amenities like schooling, hospitals, employment opportunities have further made life there in Mahul hell for the residents. The residents say that absence of amenities notwithstanding, it is the extreme health hazard that makes them want to move out of Mahul.

The government move to spend Rs.29cr on bettering the amenities there will be a complete waste as the health hazard due extreme pollution continues to plague Mahul. Pollution is the major reason for the residents wanting to vacate Mahul.

Bilal Khan     Rekha Ghadge    Anita Dhole   B.R. Ver

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India – 55,000 trees to be axed for second Goa airport #WTFnews

55,000 trees to be axed for second Goa airport
An uprooted tree.
State seeks urgent permissions to meet September 2019 deadline even as activists allege that the actual number is close to 90,000; NGT to take up the matter on July 10.

The Goa government has proposed cutting nearly 55,000 trees to construct the state’s controversial second international airport. The state moved an application before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in New Delhi on July 3, seeking urgent hearing to permit the felling. The tribunal’s principal bench is expected to take up the matter on July 10.

This is the first time the state has revealed the total number of trees to be axed for the upcoming airport in Mopa, a village near the Maharashtra border in North Goa. In 2016, the state government selected GMR Group to build and operate the airport on a public-private partnership model and work began in September 2017. Activists allege that 55,000 trees is a misrepresentation – in reality, it’s 90,000.

“During land acquisition in 2007, the district administration had counted over 90,000 trees. These are small forests being cut without forest clearance,” said Abhijit Prabhudesai, general secretary of Federation of Rainbow Warriors (FRW), an environment NGO opposing the airport. The official number reduced after the state government, in 2016, narrowed the definition of a ‘tree’ under state laws, he said.

Acting on reports from villagers that trees were being cut without any permission, the NGT first stayed the felling in November 2017. On February 6, 2018, the forest department permitted felling of 21,700 trees, but this was stayed in March by the Bombay High Court’s Panaji bench as the trees had not been individually numbered. On the court’s directions, the state’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Ajai Saxena, in April, ordered numbering of the trees before cutting them.

In June, the HC directed the state to approach the NGT to approve the felling, leading to the recent revelation. Saxena did not respond to multiple calls and messages from this newspaper.

The number of trees has come as a surprise as the environment impact assessment (EIA) of the project prepared in 2014 had described the site as barren. The EIA has also been criticised for ignoring the presence of protected wildlife, including Goa’s state animal gaur, leopard, pangolin and giant squirrels at the site, which is a table-top plateau surrounded by dense forests.

In 2015, FRW had challenged the environment clearance before the NGT, where the case is being heard. During the hearings, the state received a clearance for 1,133 sq m of reserved forest area, in addition to the trees now coming under the axe.

Nearly 1,600 trees had already been felled before the February order was stayed. The state is desperate to ensure that the airport is ready by its September 2019 deadline. According to Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, the state –that had planned to finish the exercise before the monsoons set in – would face losses worth Rs 15 lakh per day if the deadline is missed.

“They know they cannot legally cut so many trees so they are doing it illegally. I have seen them cut trees and bury them. There is no law here only dadagiri with the help of the police,” said Sandip Kambli, a Mopa villager who has opposed the airport.

The government’s affidavits before various courts have claimed that the project is being personally monitored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who laid the foundation stone in November 2016.

The project was conceived in the 1990s to address the anticipated congestion at the current airport at Dabolim. Although it is centrally located, it comes under the Indian Navy; hence, its timings and further expansion are restricted. Mopa airport has faced a state-wide campaign criticising the need for a second airport, considering it would threaten the tourism business in South Goa and cause ecological damage.

The Bombay High Court had stayed the felling of trees in March this year as they had not been individually numbered. In June, it asked the state to approach the NGT

The Bombay High Court had stayed the felling of trees in March this year as they had not been individually numbered. In June, it asked the state to approach the NGT

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Saving tigers, killing people #SundayReading

States are evicting and murdering Indigenous people in the guise of biodiversity conservation.

Indigenous women from the Rabha tribe, pictured during prayer. Many Rabhas were evicted from the Buxa-Chilapata forests after the creation of a national park [Photo credit: Global Forest Coalition]
Indigenous women from the Rabha tribe, pictured during prayer. Many Rabhas were evicted from the Buxa-Chilapata forests after the creation of a national park [Photo credit: Global Forest Coalition]

From forced eviction to restrictions on access to resources, conservation practices have long been tied to violence against the indigenous peoples that live in forest areas. In recent years, we witnessed an exponential increase in conservation-related violence across the world.

Today, as conservation efforts become more and more militarised, state-sponsored actors are not only evicting and restricting the movements of indigenous community members, but also killing them for allegedly trespassing on their own ancestral lands.

In India, conservation violence seems to be on the rise.

On June 5, a 40-year-old villager named Roopchand Sonwane was beaten to death by Forest Department Officials in the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, near Pench Tiger Reserve. Sonwane was simply collecting firewood, but officials suspected he was preparing to fell teak trees so they detained him and took him to a forest ranger’s residence. At the residence, they beat up and killed the villager and later burned his body to destroy evidence.

In November 2017, two people were killed and five others injured when police opened fire to disperse protesters demanding compensation before they move out of areas near the Kaziranga National Park as part of a state-sanctioned eviction drive. 


Myanmar denies villagers access to ancestral lands

Also in November last year, over 700 families were rendered homeless by a similar eviction drive in the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary located in the northeast Indian state of Assam. A posse of 1,500 policemen carried out the eviction razing houses, demolishing schools and places of worship, and injuring women and children in the process.

Since 2007, Forest Department Officials shot and killed at least 13 villagers in the Buxa National Park, a Tiger Reserve situated along the foothills of the eastern Himalayas in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. Officials claimed the killed villagers were part of a so-called “timber mafia”. 

Elsewhere in the Indian states of Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, coercive relocation of forest communities is continuing in the protected areas of NagarholeAchanakmar, Udanti, Tadoba Andhari Tiger ReserveMelghat, and Pench.

For decades, India’s Forest Department officials – aided and abetted by the omnipotent National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) – have been implementing a violent policy of “people-less conservation” resulting in human rights violations.

But, of course, people-less conservation is not a problem specific to India. Across the world, governments have long been using the need for the conservation of land and wildlife as an excuse to remove Indigenous communities from their homes, sometimes with the support of large international conservation groups

Targeted relocation and eviction of indigenous and local communities living in biodiversity-rich ecosystems for conservation, have, over the years, brutalised, belittled and decimated them. Communities have gone extinct, their traditions, language and culture vanishing forever.

Take the example of San and Bakgalagadi people who have been removed from their ancestral lands to make way for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana or the Miwok people who were forced to leave the Yosemite National Park in California. Maasai of eastern Africa were similarly pushed off their traditional grazing lands to make way for the parks that foreign tourists enjoy today. The Dongi-Dongi people were evicted from their homes in Sulawesi, Indonesia and the Banding Agung were removed from the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra.


African tribes losing ground to conservation

One study estimates that as many as 14 million people in Africa alone have become “conservation refugees” since the beginning of modern conservation efforts in the 19th century. In India, the government also admits pushing over a million people out of National Parks, mostly to protect tigers.

Today, most governments around the world imitate this Western style of people-less conservation and continue to disregard community-based conservation systems where communities can coexist with wildlife.

But globally, there is a wealth of knowledge and documentation around Community Conserved Areas (CCAs) where local communities have championed biodiversity protection. 

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that forest communities and indigenous peoples actively conserve and restore biodiversity in their territories, with women often taking the lead in such conservation efforts. Studies show that such conservation governance systems are often more effective in protecting biodiversity than systems that prioritise formation of state-controlled conservation areas.

Moreover, when protected areas overlap with the traditional territories of indigenous communities, they harm the communities’ health, livelihoods and spiritual wellbeing. Protected areas threaten essential aspects of the communities’ resilience, such as their autonomy and self-management.

Community-based conservation systems protect the land and wildlife while also taking local people’s rights, knowledge, culture and skills, as well as their right to land and territory into consideration.

Indigenous communities have conserved their territories for millennia through their own customary practices. They are closely connected to these ecosystems.

Therefore, the mainstream, militarised conservation model supported by states like India and often big international conservation NGOs must change. It must give way to a more humane and community-centred, managed and governed model of conservation that will not only protect our forests and conserve biodiversity, but will also secure livelihoods, provide shelter and ensure the well-being of millions of people who call forests their home.

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Monsanto’s Loss of Patent Over Bt Cotton is a Victory for Farmers and Indian Seed Companies

Varnika Chawla

The Delhi High Court in its decision on 11 April 2018 ruled that Monsanto, the American seed giant building its monopoly on agriculture across the world, cannot assert patent rights over Bt cotton in India. The case presents an interesting and complex situation, and a dilemma between utilitarianism and capitalism.

Bt cotton is a genetically modified plant cotton variety which expresses pest resistant traits—the plant containing Bt trait produces an enzyme which is resistant to attacks from the pink bollworm.

The controversy began in 2008 when Monsanto was granted Indian patent number 214436 titled “Method for Transforming Plants to Express Bacillus Thuringiensis Delta-Endotoxins.” Multiple objections had been raised by the Indian Patent Office from the date of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application submitted by Monsanto in 2001.

Various Indian seed companies, including Nuziveedu, entered into sub-license agreements with Monsanto in 2015, wherein they were granted the right to produce seeds using “Monsanto technology” for a commercial purpose. Monsanto terminated these agreements within a year in light of issues regarding value of trait fee to be paid. Subsequently, it filed a suit for infringement against Nuziveedu and other Indian seed companies claiming unauthorised use of its technology in the production of Bt cotton seeds by the Indian companies. Nuziveedu filed a counter claim for revocation of Monsanto’s patent, contending that the patent was against section 3(j) of the Indian Patents Act, which provides that “plants and animals in whole or any part thereof other than microorganisms but including seeds, varieties and species and essentially biological processes for production or propagation of plants and animals” are excluded subject matter and cannot be patented.

The Judgement

A division bench of the Delhi High Court dismissed Monsanto’s suit to the extent that it sought enforcement of the subject patent. It held that “Monsanto’s patent falls within the exclusion spelt out by section 3(j) of the Patents Act; the subject patent and the claims covered by it are consequently held to be unpatentable. Nuziveedu’s counter claim is, therefore, entitled to succeed and is consequently allowed.” The court further held that Monsanto can apply for registration under the Plant Varieties Act and claim a benefit-share under the same.

The court relied extensively on European jurisprudence to hold that the exclusion of transgenic plants and seeds propagated after hybridisation from patentability under section 3(j) is in line with India’s obligations under Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and congruent to article 53(b) of the European Patents Convention, which provides for exceptions to patentability. It drew the conclusion that transgenic plants which express Bt trait produced as a result of hybridisation (which is an “essentially biological process”), are excluded from patentability by virtue of section 3(j). Consequently, Monsanto cannot assert patent rights over the gene that has thus been integrated into the generations of transgenic plants through such essentially biological processes.

This decision has been a welcome relief for farmers and Indian seed companies. Firstly, Monsanto can no longer assert monopoly rights over seeds and claim high trait value on the same. Secondly, as farmers will no longer have to pay increased costs as demanded by Monsanto, they can reduce their debt which is a major socioeconomic concern, especially with increased farmer suicides in India’s agrarian society. Lastly, the high court ruling, by directing Monsanto to register under the Plant Varieties Act, also ensures that protection guaranteed to farmers and researchers under the act is maintained. This signals the adoption of a socialist approach of ensuring the greatest good of the greatest numbers, given that over 50% of India’s economy is still agrarian in nature (Madhusudan 2015).

Impact on Indebtedness and Farmer Suicides

Monsanto’s patent over Bt cotton had led to high pricing of the genetically modified (GM) crop, which consequently resulted in an increased burden on farmers. Further, one of the promises of GM technology (as being promoted by the government) was that the technology would help in the conservation and protection of the environment by way of minimising dependence on chemical herbicides and pesticides. However, as was observed by the Rajya Sabha in its 301st Committee Report, the use of insecticides for sucking pests, on the contrary, increased steeply both in value and quantity, as sucking pests replaced the pink bollworm, when Bt cotton grew from 12% of the total cotton area in 2012 to 95% of total cotton area in 2015. With such a phenomenal increase in area under Bt cotton cultivation, farmers were forced to pay almost triple the price of regular seeds for Bt cotton seeds, increasing indebtedness and reliance on high yield, especially as Monsanto refused to collect trait value as fixed by various state government (and subsequently even central government) cotton price control orders.

This increase in indebtedness led to an increase in farmer suicides, in light of failure of crop yield (Gruère et al 2008). As discussed by Gruère et al, the causes of indebtedness include changes in cropping patterns caused due to the development of plant resistance to pesticides and hence increased spending on pesticides, a shift in the agrarian economy from low-cost food crops to high-cost cash crops, a lack of access to institutional credit facilities, and a general shift of focus of government policy away from agriculture. Since the introduction of Bt cotton into the Indian agricultural economy, Monsanto has already collected over Rs 5000 crores from farmers in the form of trait fee under license agreements. While farmer indebtedness has been a phenomenon plaguing Indian society since before the introduction of Bt cotton, the potential role of Bt cotton varieties in the increase in farmer suicides in particular years in certain states, especially during the peak of its introduction in 2004, is observed by Gruère et al (2008).

The evidence collected by various academicians shows that Bt cotton was not always effective in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, India’s leading cotton producers. This could be due to several reasons including the high price of seeds, and the use of inadequate seeds or varieties. While institutional factors could have possibly played a role, the extent to which they affected farmers cannot be predicted especially in an economy where debt reliance has been largely on non-institutional channels.


Justices Ravindra Bhat and Yogesh Khanna, by recognising Monsanto’s contribution to Indian agriculture, tried to strike a balance between public interest and individual proprietary interest. If Monsanto registers its varieties under India’s sui generis system of protection of plant varieties (the Plant Varieties Act), it can claim benefit share for use of its varieties, as is currently claimed by all other Indian seed companies. Allowing Monsanto’s patent would have led to harmful consequences of imposing additional burden on the already-strained Indian farmer who is the ultimate payer of royalty charged under license agreements. Further, the protection of Monsanto’s variety under the Plant Varieties Act also ensures that the burden of payment of trait fees does not fall upon the farmer, who is protected from infringement under the Act. This is a right unique to and especially required in developing economies such as India. The judgment therefore ensures that India remains true to its fundamental constitutional identity, while still maintaining a market which welcomes foreign technology, pursuant to its economic policies. Monsanto’s appeal before the Supreme Court is currently pending and is to be heard in July 2018.


([email protected]) is an Associate at the Law Chambers of Kapur and Trehan, practicing at the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India.

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Urban ‘forests’ can store almost as much carbon as tropical rainforests

Most people would never think of London as a forest. Yet there are actually more trees in London than people. And now, new work by researchers at University College London shows that pockets of this urban jungle store as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests.

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and urban trees are critical to human health and well-being. Trees provide shade, mitigate floods, absorb carbon dioxide (CO₂), filter air pollution and provide habitats for birds, mammals and other plants. The ecosystem services provided by London’s trees – that is, the benefits residents gain from the environment’s natural processes – were recently valued at £130m a year.

This may equate to less than £20 a year per tree, but the real value may be much higher, given how hard it is to quantify the wider benefits of trees and how long they live. The cost of replacing a large, mature tree is many tens of thousands of pounds, and replacing it with one or more small saplings means you won’t see the equivalent net benefit for many decades after.

The trouble with measuring trees

Trees absorb CO₂ during photosynthesis, which is then metabolised and turned into organic matter that makes up nearly half of their overall mass. Urban trees are particularly effective at absorbing CO₂, because they are located so close to sources such as fossil fuel-burning transport and industrial activity.

This carbon storage potential is an extremely important aspect of their value, but is very hard to quantify. A 120-year-old London plane tree can be 30 metres tall and weigh 40 tonnes or more, and some of the carbon in its tissues will have originated from Victorian coal fires.

Measuring the height of a tall tree is difficult, because it’s rarely clear exactly where the topmost point is; estimating its mass is even harder. Typically, tree mass is estimated by comparing the diameter of the trunk or the height of the tree to the mass of similar trees (ideally the same species), which have been cut down and weighed in the past. This process relies on the assumption that trees of a certain species have a clear size-to-mass ratio.

But a fascinating property of trees is how variable they can be, depending on their environment. So inferring the mass of urban trees from their non-urban counterparts introduces large uncertainties.

Lidar over London

The UCL team use a combination of cutting-edge ground-based and airborne laser scanning techniques, to measure the biomass of urban trees much more accurately. Lidar (which stands for light detection and ranging) sends out hundreds of thousands of pulses of laser light every second and measures the time taken for reflected energy to return from objects up to hundreds of metres away.

When mounted on a tripod on a city street, lidar builds up a millimetre accurate 3D picture of everything it “sees”, including trees. The team are using lidar methods, which they pioneered to measure some of the world’s largest trees, and applying them to trees in the university’s local London Borough of Camden.


The UCL team used publicly available airborne lidar data collected by the UK Environment Agency, in conjunction with their ground measurements, to estimate biomass of all the 85,000 trees across Camden. These lidar measurements help to quantify the differences between urban and non-urban trees, allowing scientists to come up with a formula predicting the difference in size-to-mass ratio, and thus measuring the mass of urban trees more accurately.

The findings show that Camden has a median carbon density of around 50 tonnes of carbon per hectare (t/ha), rising to 380 t/ha in spots such as Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery – that’s equivalent to values seen in temperate and tropical rainforests. Camden also has a high carbon density, compared to other cities in Europe and elsewhere. For example, Barcelona and Berlin have mean carbon densities of 7.3 and 11.2 t/ha respectively; major cities in the US have values of 7.7 t/ha and in China the equivalent figure is 21.3 t/ha.

A story to tell

Trees matter, to all of us. Recent protests in SheffieldCardiffLondonand elsewhere, over policies of tree management and removal show how strongly people feel about the trees in their neighbourhood. Finding ways to value trees more effectively is critical to building more sustainable and liveable cities.

Measuring trees in new ways also helps us to see them from a new perspective. Some of these trees have incredible stories to tell. Just one example is an ash, tucked away in the grounds of St. Pancras Old Church, one of London’s (and indeed Britain’s) oldest Christian churches.

The tree has an extraordinary arrangement of gravestones around its roots, placed there when the railway was built from St Pancras in the mid-19th century. The job of rehousing the headstones was apparently given to a young Thomas Hardy, working as a railway clerk before going on to achieve literary fame. The UCL team’s 3D lidar data are helping monitor the state of this “Hardy Ash” tree in its dotage. This is just one of the ways new science is helping tell the stories of old trees.

Disclosure statement

Mathias Disney receives funding from NERC National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) for travel and capital funding for lidar equipment; NERC Standard Grants NE/N00373X/1 and NE/ P011780/1, CNRS Nouragues Travel Grants Program, ESA BIOMASS calibration/validation funding.

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Jaggi Vasudev backs Sterlite, says ‘lynching large businesses is economic suicide’ #WTFnews

“Am not an expert on copper smelting but I know India has immense use for copper,” Jaggi Vasudev said.

Spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev, known as Sadhguru, has spoken up in defence of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. Jaggi Vasudev gave an interview to an English TV channel on Sunday, and after several people reacted to his comments during the interview, he took to Twitter on Wednesday to back the Vedanta-owned company.

Jaggi Vasudev, who runs the Isha Foundation, tweeted, “Am not an expert on copper smelting but I know India has immense use for copper. If we don’t produce our own, of course we will buy from China. Ecological violations can be addressed legally. Lynching large businesses is economic suicide.-Sg”



Am not an expert on copper smelting but I know India has immense use for copper. If we don’t produce our own, of course we will buy from China. Ecological violations can be addressed legally. Lynching large businesses is economic suicide.-Sg @Zakka_Jacob @CMOTamilNadu@PMOIndia

His tweet came after a recent interview with CNN News18’s Zakka Jacob. When they touched on the topic of the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi and the subsequent protests, Jaggi Vasudev said, “Now you close down an industry because of political pressure…This is not right. You compel the industry to find ways to ensure pollution doesn’t happen. I am sure there are ways to do it… You close down business after business like this, where will you take this country?”

Just days ago, yoga teacher Baba Ramdev, too, tweeted in support of Sterlite after meeting with Vedanta’s Executive Chairman in London. And much like Ramdev’s tweet, Jaggi Vasudev’s tweet, too, made no reference to the pollution caused by the company, because of which it was shut down by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. He also made no reference to the police shootout, that left 13 people dead and injured several others on the 100th day of the protests against the plant.

Rather than looking at the social impact of the protests, his comment merely focussed on economic aspect of shutting down a single plant. Moreover, it is ironical that he chose to use the words ‘lynching’ and ‘economic suicide’ to describe the shutting down of a company, without mentioning the fact that 13 people were killed in the police firing.

Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation has been embroiled in a controversial legal battle over its facility in Coimbatore since 2012. It has reportedly received demolition notices from the state government in the past. The Vellingiri Hill Tribal Protection Society has sought demolition of the alleged unauthorised structures constructed by the foundation, so as to restore the wetlands at Ikkarai Boluvampatti Village.

Animal rights activists have also been engaged in a running battle with the Isha Foundation. They allege that the construction work by the Foundation has adversely impacted the ‘elephant corridor’ in the western region of the state. However, Jaggi Vasudev has repeatedly claimed there is no such thing as an ‘elephant corridor’.

Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi has been in the eye of a storm for several months now, as the people of Thoothukudi started protesting against the pollution by the copper smelter. Several documents show that Sterlite did not follow environmental norms, especially regarding the height of the chimney stacks, as well as the green belt required around the plant in order to reduce the effects of the effluents released by the factory.

On the 100th day of the protest on May 22, as thousands of people gathered, the police resorted to shooting at the protestors in a bid to quell the protests after some agitators reportedly resorted to stone pelting.

Visuals from Thoothukudi showed some of the police officers in plainclothes taking aim with snipers and shooting at the protestors. In the shootout, 13 civilians were killed, including a minor girl, Snowlin.

Sterlite’s smelter was shut down on May 28, after the TNPCB declared they were not following environmental norms

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People across India are losing faith in Modi’s economic policies: CSDS survey

The ‘Mood of the Nation (MOTN) Poll by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) has said that a large number of Indians are unhappy with the economic policies of the Narendra Modi government.

The survey is based on interaction with 16100 people spread across 19 Indian states and Union Territories, including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu among others.



Among the many economic anxieties, the survey reveals that a large number of people in the country are worried about employment , taxes and their personal financial situation.

“We find that unemployment continues to be the main concern for most voters. For the third straight MOTN survey, one in every four voters (a plurality) saw lack of jobs as the biggest problem facing the country. What’s more, nearly three in every five voters (57%) said that finding jobs in their area has become more difficult during the last 3- 4 years.”

One should remember that PM Modi had come to power with a promise of generating 2 crore jobs in 5 years. Around 13 million (1.3 crore) youngsters join the queue of job-seekers in India every year. Out of these, only a few lakh are getting absorbed in the economy. The rest are either forced to opt for higher studies – a tactic to delay being seen as unemployed – or simply apply for governments jobs. Recently 2 lakh people applied for 1,137 vacancies for the position of constable in Mumbai police. Many among these applicants were reported to be holding degrees in engineering, medicine and business administration.

The MOTN survey says that “ Among people who think it’s more difficult to find jobs now, only 27% were found to be voting for the BJP (overall average of the BJP is 32%); this same figure was 33% in January (BJP’s average vote share then was 34%).”

Apart from unemployment, Modi government is getting unpopular due to the problems generated by Goods and Services Tax (GST).

“While nearly one-fourth of the respondents (24%) had found taxes under GST to be harsh in the January round of MOTN, in the current round, this figure has jumped to more than 40%. While unavoidable changes in question placement could have had some effect on the responses received, a substantial rise such as this cannot be ignored,” says the survey.

Another factor that is troubling people in the country is their concern about falling total household income. The CSDS survey says that the number of people worried about their falling incomes has has nearly doubled from 14% in January to 27% now.”

The CSDS report adds “The NDA government’s claims of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas’ is no longer convincing many voters. Only 30% or three in every ten were found to be of the opinion that development has been for all sections. Back in January this figure had been much higher at 39%. On the other hand, a far greater percentage now believes that the development that was promised by the BJP in 2014 has been limited to benefiting only the rich (42% as against 36% in January).”

But who benefits from rising anti-Modi sentiment?

Not UPA. The rise in farm distress and the hardships experienced by traders community due to GST, seem to be benefitting regional parties more than the UPA parties, says the survey.

“The NDA continues to suffer among farmers and traders, even though the benefit of their unpopularity accrues not to the UPA but to other regional players.”

NDA’s vote share among the farmers, has fallen by “3 percentage points since January (from 40% to 37%), while other political parties (barring UPA) have benefited with a 5-point increase (from 23% to 28%).”

Similarly, the benefit of NDA’s fall among traders is also reaped by other political parties, the survey adds.



The survey clearly suggests that the Modi wave that swept the country in 2014 is no longer in place. People have begun questioning the economic policies of PM Modi and have begun to analyse whether they are benefiting from them or not. However, the Congress-led UPA is still not benefiting directly from such a scenario and over the next one year, the Opposition will have to consolidate its position through alliances with regional parties and present a real economic alternative to the Modi government.


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BJP bids to revive Goa iron mining, bypass Supreme Court ban #WTFnews

The ban is hurting the state’s political and economic interests, but reversing it could create political problems

Goa. known for its pristine beaches, could see a ban on iron ore mining lifted. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Goa. known for its pristine beaches, could see a ban on iron ore mining lifted. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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India – Outlawed practice of manual scavenging sees a fourfold growth

Growth has remained the buzzword in Indian polity for decades now. It started after the unprecedented economic crisis that the country faced in early 1990s and never really went away after that. It, rather, almost consumed the other big word- development, which now returns to election rallies and then disappears again until the next elections.

Ironically, overuse of the concept of growth to delude the citizenry into believing that things are going fine has been so rampant that the mere mention of the term growth seems to evoke a positive response. Should one not be happy then, at this new, fourfold growth in the number of Manual Scavengers- engaged in the dehumanising practice of manually cleaning human excreta and other such filth?

An inter-ministerial task force of the government of India has found 53,236 people involved in manual scavenging in India, a four-fold rise from the 13,000-odd such workers accounted for in official records until 2017. Sadly, the numbers, though shocking, can only be a gross underestimation of the real number as the survey was conducted in only 121 districts out of more than 600 districts in India. Further, the survey excluded those involved in cleaning sewers and septic tanks flouting an order of the Supreme Court of India that counts them as manual scavengers. In addition to this sham, the survey does not include the data from the Railways, the largest employer of manual scavengers. Finally, the underreporting is also witnessed from the fact that while the national survey puts the number of scavengers at 53,000, the same for the state governments is only 6,650, a definite proof for underreporting.

The increase in the number of manual scavengers comes despite the fact that the practice has repeatedly been outlawed – first in 1993 by an act titled The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 passed by the parliament of India. Two decades later, the parliament of India replaced the act with a far more stringent act titled The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.

The Supreme Court of India too has repeatedly outlawed manual scavenging and ordered the Union government as well as all state governments to enforce the provisions of the 2013 Act strictly. It did so most comprehensively in its order in Safai Karamchari Andolan and Ors. Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. Case (citation: 2014(4) SCALE165). In this order, the Court did not merely outlaw the already outlawed inhuman practice but also ordered the states to put an immediate end to the same while categorically expanding the definition of manual scavenging as to deny the authorities the loopholes they often manipulated to keep sewer workers and septic tank cleaners out of the manual scavenging list.

It brought everyone who cleaned dry latrines (the toilets without flushing needing manual removal of excreta), brought sewer workers and the septic tank cleaners under the ambit of the act and fixed command responsibility for implementation of the law with the chief executive officer (or equivalent authority) of the local civic body. It also ordered immediate rehabilitation of those found engaged in the practice and fixed compensation for the manual scavengers who lost their lives doing the dirty work.

Yet, as is evident by the increase in the number of manual scavengers as per government’s own data, it is evident that the law has been flouted even by the government agencies. Further evidence for the same comes from the fact that perhaps not even one Chief Executive Officer of any civic body has ever been convicted despite cases of manual scavenging getting exposed from across India. In fact, the government of India itself acknowledged 323 cases of death due to manual scavenging from across the country in 2017 alone in a reply given by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to the Lok Sabha in December last year.

It is perhaps time for the judiciary to start following up on its own orders as the executives have made it clear that they will not. If it cannot, it will better scrap the law rather than turning them into cruel jokes for those whom they are supposed to save.

Samar is Programme Coordinator – Right to Food Programme Asian Legal Resource Centre / Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

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