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COVID 19, cracker ban prove a double whammy for traders in Cuttack

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A trader at Nayasadak in Cuttack selling his products. Credit: Pramit Karmakar

By: Pramit Karmakar

Cuttack, Nov 12: At a time when the COVID 19 outbreak has led to loss of business for Cuttack traders, the recent ban on crackers has proved to be a double whammy for them during this Diwali.

Several traders indulged in Diwali fire crackers trading are now baffled with the new rules which have added to the woes of already aggrieved business men and small shopkeepers  who used to wait for the festival season with baited breath for a plum business. Several traders told The Blink that they used to do a business of upto Rs 5 lakh-Rs 6 lakh during Diwali which now only seems to be a Herculean task.

Several markets areas now in Nayasadak and others in the Silver City which were earlier hosting an array of crackers of different varieties have now either compromised on their earnings while some others have been trying to use some alternative ways to make the best use of the festive season.

Ashish Kumar Majhi is a seasonal shop owner for the last four years at Nayasadak. He said that earlier, he used to sale crackers worth Rs 5 lakh. He said, “This year the shop owners were expecting a sale for  days of crackers to compensate for our losses of lockdown and pandemic. We applied for the licence too but the government cancelled it due to the pandemic. We had paid the advance also, though it was reimbursed still we had to bear some losses,”

Several denizens in Cuttack are thronging the market for Diwali shopping. Credit: Pramit Karmakar

He also added, “This year I am selling Made in India lights but the sales are not very encouraging. I had anticipated the slow sale trend owing to the loss of income of middle class group due to the pandemic so had bought the products 50 per cent only,”

Ganesh Agarwal is another shop owner for the last 20 years in the same area. He said, “Though we sale products for every occasion like Rakhi, Holi, Kartik Purnima, the maximum sales are done during Diwali. This year we are seeing a drop in our sales as the rates are a bit higher due to the pandemic and people are checking on their expenditure too,”

He also added, “I have ordered 30 percent lesser stock anticipating lesser sales.  We deal in idols, garlands, stickers, candles, diyas and varieties of worship materials. Prices of our products have increased upto 20 percent overall and transportation of products have increased upto 30 percent,”

Nevertheless, several other traders in the city have now found other alternative ways to woo the customers and to lighten their coffers. Many shops have now come up with attractive lighting, local diyas and several other decorative items while other sectors of the market are now busy offering special offers to boost their sales at a time when their competition from online markets are rising and the subsequent lockdown and shutdowns have put a dent on their incomes.

The citizens too have planned to celebrate this Diwali cracker free but at the same time planning their own way to celebrate the festival in their own way. Many citizens especially the businessmen of Cuttack have reported a slash in their total income due to the COVID 19 outbreak.

Asutosh Bhartia is a businessman from the city batted for giving priority to health than celebrations. “Like every year we are shopping for this Diwali but keeping in mind about all the government norms and regulations of social distancing, sanitization and mask. As the market has a hike in price for about 20 to 25 percent we have kept in mind to lit lesser diyas in home and shop,”

Several customers admitted that this time the prices of the products in the market have gone up.

Odisha, Chattisgarh rope in drones, alert systems to reduce elephant-human conflicts

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By  on 10 November 2020

  • Odisha and Chattisgarh host 71 percent of the elephant population from eastern zone of India.
  • As per reports, in last 6 years, 527 people have been killed by elephants in Odisha alone.
  • The states have been experimenting with seed balls, drones, alarm machines and more with the aim of reducing elephant-human conflict.

Badrinath Das lives in Bentapada village in the Athgarh Forest Division in Odisha. His community has in the past witnessed several instances where elephants have come into their paddy fields and raided the crops. The repeated destruction of their fields has now led them to experiment with a technique of using ‘seed balls’ that could perhaps reduce such interactions with elephants in the future.

Das is a member of the Bentapada Van Surakshya Samitee (VSS), a Joint Forest Management Committee (JFMC). State forest departments support local forest dwelling and forest fringe communities to protect and manage forests and share the costs and benefits from the forests with them through a JFMC; the approach was introduced by the Indian government through the National Forest Policy of 1988.

Villagers at Athgarh working on producing seedballs. Credit: Special Arrangement

Last year, with the intervention of the local forest department, Das and around 25 community members chipped in to experiment with the production of seed balls of bamboo plants to deal with the challenge. The forest department had been experiment with bamboo seed balls and informed that this method could help in increasing the food reserve for elephants in the forest, which in turn would restrict their movement and they wouldn’t need to come to the fields in search of food. The department has provided the seeds of Dendrocalamus genus of bamboo plants (Salia) and imparted some training to the volunteers of the villages.

The experiment that started during last year’s monsoon season is still on; and buoyed by its success, the department has scaled up the initiative this year.

“We get the seeds from the forest department. We keep the seeds in warm water. We then mix it with clay, cow dung, and insecticide and fashion them into balls. In areas where we cannot go, we throw the seeds there to boost plantation. We have seen the growth of several bamboo plants outside our village after this experiment,” Das said.

Athgarh division is prone to human-elephant conflicts. “This year we are covering all the villages close to the 38 reserve forest areas. This is a simple technology. We distribute seeds free and the affected community members make seed balls out of this. Around 60 percent of seed balls germinated into shoots. We have found that the bamboo species and its shoots are much sought after by the elephants,” Sasmita Lenka, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Athagarh said.

Lenka said that the first level of success is that more than half of the seed balls germinate into plants and added that the results of the experiment in mitigating human-elephant conflicts could become more visible in the next five years but she is hopeful of good outcomes.

An elephant crossing path identified by the forest department in Satkosia Tiger Reserve in Odisha. Photo by Manish Kumar.

Odisha is trying out different approaches to mitigate human-elephant conflicts and so is its neighboring state-Chhattisgarh. Radio collaring of animals and app-based tracking and alert systems are in place, although experts are skeptical.

Odisha, with Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and part of southern West Bengal forms the central Indian elephant habitat at times extending to Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. This landscape is spread over an area of 21,000 sq km and supports 3128 elephants. The central Indian habitat is the most fragmented and degraded elephant habitat in the country due to encroachment, shifting cultivation, and mining states the Right of Passage report.

Human-elephant conflict is very high in the central Indian landscape and although the area supports less than 10 percent of the elephant population of the country, it accounts for almost 45 percent of all human deaths due to interactions with elephants in India. According to the 2017 elephant census, Odisha has a total of 1976 elephants in the state while Chhattisgarh has a total of 247 elephants. In the East Central Region, Odisha has the highest number of elephants. Odisha and Chattisgarh alone are home to 2223 jumbos (71 percent) out of the total 3128 jumbos the entire eastern region has.

According to written data given by the Environment Ministry in Lok Sabha, in 2017-18 Odisha reported the highest human deaths caused by elephants in the country while in 2018-19 it reported the third-highest death toll. Chattisgarh was fourth in 2018-19 human death tolls from elephants. Assam and Jharkhand were among the top.

The Chhattisgarh government has also experimented with the idea of seed balls but it is not targeted towards elephants alone. “We are also using seed balls but to enrich the forests. We are using fruit and plant-bearing seed balls that help in habitat enrichment of the jungles that help all animals,” P.V. Narasingha Rao, Chhattisgarh Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) told Mongabay-India.

However, the Chhattisgarh government’s prevention and mitigation repertoire also features the use of integrated mobile applications and elephant movement warning systems in selected forest divisions and in villages that are most vulnerable to human-elephant conflicts.

For instance, as many as 10 villages in the Jashpur forest division, along the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border have fixed siren systems. These villages are most prone to elephant raids. These siren systems are connected with the Sajag app that tracks the movement of elephants. “If the jumbos are within a radius of two km, the sirens are blown, alerting the villagers to take timely action,” Jashpur DFO Srikrishna Jadav said.

The siren system will apply to Mahasamund, Jashpur, Sarguja, Raigarh, and Dharmagarh Forest Divisions in Chhattisgarh; several have started setting it up. Jadav explained that elephants usually do not directly harm humans; they often destroy paddy or sugarcane crops but if agricultural produce is placed within the vicinity of houses, the elephants target them, endangering local communities in the process. In Raigarh forest division, another human-elephant conflict hotspot, the department has roped in individuals to be ‘trackers’ to keep a vigil on elephant movement and inform the local Forest Range Officer for required action, said Raigarh DFO Manoj Pandey.

New technology

Both the states are now in their nascent stages of radio-collaring of elephants, though the plan has now expanded.

H.S. Upadhaya, PCCF (Wildlife), Odisha government said that it has already started using drones to track the movement of elephants but for a better technology it has tied up with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bhubaneswar. “We started drone surveillance in selected areas in the state but we have collaborated and funded IIT-Bhubaneswar to make the technology more robust. The team is now researching a better surveillance system. We also started solar fencing of reserved forest areas and started SMS-based alert warning systems for the villagers of Angul division. We are expanding the SMS alert in some other areas too,” he said.

Like Chhattisgarh, the Odisha government has also come up with a mobile app called ‘Anukampa’ but it is meant to report human and animal casualties and receive timely compensation from the government.

However, both the states are yet to notify elephant corridors. The Odisha government has proposed the corridors before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in a case but is yet to notify it.

Experts observed most Indian states have failed to notify elephant corridors. They believe that elephant corridor notification can make compliance with wildlife conservation rules more stringent.

Elephant siren system installed at Tapkara range in Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh. Photo by Special Arrangement.
Elephant siren system installed at Tapkara range in Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh. Photo by Special Arrangement.

Sankar Prasad Pani, a lawyer with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) said that notification of elephant corridors can provide legal recognition to the areas akin to protected areas such as a sanctuary, reserve forest, tiger reserve, and eco-sensitive zones. This, he said, can prevent mining industries from encroaching on corridors and reduce conflict.

“As of now the same do not have any legal binding, hence projects through the corridor can be approved and the projects can hardly be challenged in a court of law as there is nothing illegal in diverting elephant corridors in absence of specific statutory notification to that effect,” he said.

Odisha has, meanwhile, demanded expansion of two out of three elephant reserves – Mahanadi Elephant Reserve and Sambalpur Elephant Reserve – as per the recommendations of the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (ANCF), Bengaluru to better protect its elephants.

Experts skeptical

Biswajit Mohanty, a wildlife expert and environmentalist from Odisha, had filed a case of elephant corridor notification before the NGT and said that the government has spent significant money on sponsoring studies but failed in implementing their suggestions.

“The state has commissioned several studies and formed several expert committees to recommend ways to save elephants and reduce their conflict with humans. The first such commission was formed in 1991. They are not even implementing study recommendations that were given 20 years ago. They are more into studies but fail to implement their recommendations,” he said. He also criticised the government over using barbed wire fences, declaring most elephant deaths due to diseases, and failing to notify elephant corridors.

Similarly, Raigarh-based environmentalist Ramesh Agarwal from Chhattisgarh also said that the results of government initiatives hardly have yielded good results in the state. “This is true that funds are being allocated and spent in works like watchtowers, check dams, etc for elephant tracking and to reduce conflicts. However, hardly we see the results on the ground. We hear of elephant-human conflicts in Sarguja, Korba, Raigarh quite often. Many villagers complain of their standing crops being destroyed,” he said. He also questioned the huge amounts spent on these works which could have been done at lower costs as per his assessment. He said that the local forest department when asked by him through RTI to give data on the location of check dams and money spent on them, often tried to shield data citing reasons.

This story was first published on Mongabay India. You can read the original story here.

Pvt labs in Odisha promote ‘COVID antibody test’, docs less enthusiastic 

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By: Pramit Karmakar 

Bhubaneswar, Nov 8: At a time when several private labs are advertising and giving good offers to encourage people in Odisha to undertake COVID 19 antibody tests, doctors claim that it not very much needed by the masses.

Antibodies in human bodies help in fighting against invasion of foreign particles like bacteria and viruses. The test is now used to measure the amount of antibodies formed against COVID 19 to find out if a person was exposed with the viral disease in the past or not.

“An antibody test is also known as ‘serology test’. It is used to screen antibodies in human blood. Your body makes these when it fights an infection, like COVID-19. So whenever we will do an antibody test it will let us know weather we were infected by the virus or not,” Dr Ashok Mohapatra, former director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Bhubaneswar said.

He also explained that the same principle of use of antibody is utilized for the development of a vaccines against any disease. It mimics the natural immune system of the human body to fight against diseases. Dr Mohapatra however cautioned that the antibody tests are usually not done unless required for some research work.

Other doctors from the state also said that although it is used to inform the persons about their exposure in the last few months, they are not prescribed by doctors for the general masses. They can however opt for the tests voluntarily.

Dr Alakta Das, is a gynecologist and obstetrician from Utkal Hospital in Bhubaneswar. She told The Blink, “If a person wants to know their immunity status or weather they are infected or in doubt, the antibody test works there. If the test is positive and you have high antibodies in your blood that means you were infected and if you have low amount then you are yet to be infected.”

She also added the main difference in an antigen test and an antibody test as, an antigen test detects weather we are recently infected or not and an antibody test shows our past infections between one to two months.

Dr Das also implied, “People are very curious weather they have COVID-19 or not. Nowadays the infection is also reported twice irrespective of antibodies in their body in some individuals. It basically depends on the level of antibodies, so the antibody test can be useful in many times of no use. Antibody test has no role in predicting the future infection or rate or prognosis.”

Experts claim that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) during the COVID 19 outbreak also started serological tests (antibody tests) in different parts of the country including Odisha to assess the levels of exposure of the human population with the virus. Such tests from the government side in selected group of high risk people were done in Bhubaneswar, Ganjam, Cuttack, Gajapati and Puri. That was used by the Indian government agency for research work.

Talcher-India’s largest coalfield set to expand, green cover in Odisha under threat

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By  on 6 November 2020

  • During the recent auctions of coal blocks, close to 30,000 acres of land in Odisha was put for coal mining auctions.
  • Of the nine coal blocks put up for auction in Odisha, eight are in Angul district alone which is already facing ill impacts of coal mining carried out till now.
  • The locals who have suffered due to high levels of pollution caused by current mines are now scared that new mines would lead to a transition which is only going to spell trouble for them.

Chhendipada area in Angul district of Odisha is marked by large patches of green cover comprising forests of large tree species like Sal and others. The forest department has also installed signboards at several areas on the Angul-Deogarh road crossing through Chhendipada, warning (and also certifying) the travellers that these forests host elephants.

An elephant crossing path in Angul-Deogarh road in Chhendipada. Photo by Pramit Karmakar.
An elephant crossing path in Angul-Deogarh road in Chhendipada. Photo by Pramit Karmakar.

Notwithstanding the rich flora and fauna it harnesses, this zone, adjacent to the Bamur Forest Range, is also rich in coal reserves and falls under the Talcher coalfield. Talcher coalfield is known to be India’s largest repository of coal and often referred to as the ‘black diamond’ of the state.

Talcher region is known in the country for hosting the largest deposits of power grade coal. According to Mahanadi Coalfield Ltd (MCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Ltd (CIL), Talcher coalfield hosts the highest geological reserve of coal in India measuring upto 51.220 billion tonnes.

The coal from Talcher is supplied to southern and western Indian states for power generation. The central government and the Odisha government are now working towards developing rail lines between Talcher with Paradip port in Odisha to boost its transportation to other states via sea-route.

In June Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the auction of 41 coal blocks of India to boost the economy that was impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Of the 41, nine are from Odisha and of those eight are in Angul district alone and fall under the Talcher coalfield.

All these coal blocks like Chendipada IChendipada IIWest Radhikapur and others are almost adjacent to each other and pose the same threat to the rich biodiversity as well as to the farming land which may soon be destroyed. But the question is whether the transition will lead to any improvement in the lives of the local people.

“The soil of Chendipada is fertile while it also has a good quality of forests. It also has a good population of elephants, deer and wild boars. Chhendipada landscape comprises farming as well as forest lands. Due to the coal mining proposals, the greenery, human habitations are likely to vanish from the area like the other big mines of Talcher,” Dilip Sahu, a resident of Chhendipada and district president of Odisha Jungle Manch of Angul district, told Mongabay-India.

A coal mined region in Talcher. Credit-Pramit Karmakar

“Some people are raising their voice against coal mining and many are likely to give away their land and villagers to the mining firms and government due to the better prices of the land given for the prized land. This area has already seen serious opposition from people for some coal blocks like Machkatta for which the mining firm had to backtrack,” he said.

Sahu said that the forests of Chhendipada host elephants which are even seen in the day while wild boar and deer are also rampant in the forest areas. He stated that sal trees are predominantly present in the forest areas of the proposed coal blocks. In 2019, a leopard was also sighted in Chhendipada forests.

Forest clearance related documents of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of an auctioned mined claimed that the region is home to plant species such as acacia, bahada, barabakulia, mahul, teak, neem, eucalyptus and 15 other species.  The vegetation there is classified as tropical moist deciduous forest type.

Villagers of Chhendipada said that by the virtue of the underground coal reserves and anticipation of land acquisition, the land prices in the area have gone up. Janaki Sahoo, a villager from Barpada village said that land is an important wealth now for the villagers.

“In the past few years, we have seen an escalation of prices of the land here. Several people bought land there due to the rich coal repository. Several middlemen emerged into the area and land became a new wealth for the people of Chhendipada,” Sahoo told Mongabay-India.


Read more: [Video] Is mining in India ‘just’ for the environment and communities?


Government to acquire a huge tract of land 

With the learning from the earlier experiences of coal mining in Talcher, villagers expect a large number of villages, farming land, forest lands to be taken away by the government and the mining firms to pave way for the excavation of land for coal mining. Most of the opencast coal mining planned for the area is set to degrade the topsoil by drilling and causing massive in-depth blasting of the mining zone.

Close to 32,000 acres (130 square kilometres) of land including 1,384 acres of forest land in the nine coal blocks in Odisha have been chosen for allocation for commercial mining. Experts claim that close to 15,000 families are likely to see displacement from their original place due to the mining activities when the land would be acquired from them. They also raise questions of the vanishing of local canals and adding pollution burden to the nearby Brahmani river.

“Most of the coal blocks are located in densely populated areas fearing displacement of at least 15,000 families. The government’s own data shows that many small streams and nallas like Shingada, Goudani, Tikira, Gambhari which used to feed the local agricultural land and the nearby rivers will vanish for all time to come and have an impact on the major rivers like Brahmani,” Sankar Prasad Pani, a lawyer at the National Green Tribunal (NGT), told Mongabay-India.

Experts point to the impact that the proposed mining can have on nearby water bodies.

“Brahmani River is the most polluted river in Odisha which passes through Angul district and the prime reason for this is coal mining. The new proposed mining in nine new blocks will add to the water scarcity in the region. A number of local streams draining into Brahmani are most likely to be lost forever into the mining areas, affecting the water availability and quality of water of Brahmani,” Ranjan Panda, a water  expert from Odisha, told Mongabay-India.

Chotiahati village in Talcher which is within 200 metres from railway siding. Photo by Pramit Karmakar.
Chotiahati village in Talcher which is within 200 metres from railway siding. Photo by Pramit Karmakar.

He said that at a time when India committed towards promotion of renewable energy in the Paris Agreement, it should refrain from relying largely on coal for energy. “Coal mining has serious implications on the groundwater levels, local water bodies and the ecology. It paves the way to make the region water-scarce besides its potential to cause air pollution,” Panda said.


Read more: Assam’s tribal communities lost land and forest to mining


Lessons from the past

At present, there are 10 coal mining projects undergoing in Talcher. Many of the projects were expanded by fully displacing several villages.

For instance, Rakash village in Angul district is another village which is now all set to be engulfed into coal mining. Land acquisition is almost done and full partial payments have also been made.

70-year-old Ishwar Chandra Bagata from the Rakash village said, “We are going to be displaced to a village named Bolepur.”

“We have heard that plotting of the new area has been done. We will soon be displaced to the other village due to the expansion of coal mining activities. Most of us have received compensation while few are yet to receive the second instalment.”

A defunct coal mined area in Chhendipada. Photo by Pramit Karmakar.
A defunct coal mined area in Chhendipada in Angul district. Photo by Pramit Karmakar.

Several villages in the past in Talcher have been fully taken over and razed for mining displacing thousands of original inhabitants of the area and the expansion spree is still continuing in India’s largest coal reserve zone. Many of them have been shifted to new areas with the promises of better amenities, compensation for land and houses.


Read more: Multiple phases of mining in Ballari take a toll on its people and the environment


Rampant pollution

Most of the villagers lying in close proximity of the operational mining areas have suffered the most during the coal mining activities. Rampant air and water pollution have made the lives of several villagers in close proximity miserable and also affected their health conditions.

In addition to coal mining activity, the complementary industries and units like rail siding (where the coal is loaded into trains), coal washeries and others also add much air pollution and make the lives of people living nearby miserable.

Chotiahati village in South Balanda, which is close to the railway siding in Talcher, suffers serious air pollution. Thousands of trucks loaded with coal but uncovered move around the village throughout the day and thus there is always a cloud of black dust.

“A lot of dust is created due to the movement of trucks loaded with coal as most of them are uncovered. The mining company is sprinkling water on the roads but due to regular movement of trucks, the water gets dried very fast creating a dark black cloud of coal dust throughout the day,” complained Mangal Gagarai, a resident of the Chotiahati village.

The village is inhabited by incoming migrants and the tribal population of Ho community. It comprises several kuccha houses and unpaved roads. Dust from the railway siding settles down on the roofs of their houses. Several villagers complained of breathing issues due to air pollution, a consequence of mining activities at Talcher.

Not only air pollution, but contamination of water is also visible in the area. Tentulei is another village in Talcher which bears the brunt of mining-related activities. The villagers explained to Mongabay-India that how fertile land in the village is ruined due to the blackish industrial waste effluent coming out from the nearby coal washery that enters their agricultural fields and village lands and ponds, polluting them with toxic water.

A villager at Tentulei in Talcher shows wastewater from a coal washery entering their village. Photo by Manish Kumar.
A villager at Tentulei in Talcher shows wastewater from a coal washery entering their village. Photo by Manish Kumar.

Studies conducted in the region have hinted towards a heavy toll that the coal mining has taken on the human population, especially their health and livelihood.

study on Talcher coal mining by a team of National Institute of Technology (NIT), Rourkela and financially supported by the NITI Aayog claimed that though the mining activities boosted the economy it forced the population there to live in a highly polluted environment. It also highlighted that many farming lands were taken for mining and it was the landless villagers who suffered the most.

The government officials claim that they are taking adequate steps to control pollution in the district especially in mining-affected areas. Siddharth Shankar Swain, who is the Collector of the Angul district, told Mongabay India that the district administration had been ensuring that all trucks plying on roads are covered on top, their wheels are washed during exist points and water is sprinkled in the mining-affected areas regularly.

“We also undertake discussions with the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) and other stakeholders on how to reduce pollution in the area. In the next meeting of the District Mineral Foundation (DMF), I have made discussing pollution mitigation as an important agenda for the meeting,” he said. He, however, added that for the new coal block allocations not much work has started now but the socioeconomic survey of some of the areas would start soon.

This story first appeared on Mongabay India. You can read the original story here.

After good ranking spree, Odisha faces jolt of lower ranking on ‘Public Affairs’

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Blink News Service

Bhubaneswar, Nov 2: The Odisha government which had been flaunting its good rankings in disaster management and other sectors now seems to be on a backfoot.

The recently-released Public Affairs Index 2020 by a Bangalore-based think tank Public Affairs Centre has put Odisha at the bottom two on three parameters of governance, putting questions against the tall and hyped claims made by the Naveen Patnaik-ruled state.

“The Public Affairs Index (PAI 2020) is a scientifically rigorous, data-based framework
that measures the quality of governance at the subnational level and ranks the states
and Union Territories (UTs) of India on a Composite Index (CI),” the think tank said in a statement.

The study focused on three dimensions of sustainable development-Equity, Growth and Sustainability as the goals of governance.  While the southern states topped the list in sustainable development governance, the coastal state of Odisha proved to be a laggard.

While Kerala topped the list with 1.389 points, it was followed by Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. However, Odisha was ranked second lowest with -1.202 points while Uttar Pradesh was ranked worst with -1.462 points.

“It is interesting to note that continuing with the trend established in PAI 2019, the top four states in PAI 2020 are South Indian states. Haryana, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, which is similar to PAI 2019, feature at the bottom of the rankings,” the report said.

Interestingly, most of the Aspirational districts that have been identified by the NITI Aayog fall within this particular cluster, similar to last year.

It also added, “Measuring governance is a challenge. This issue becomes increasingly complex especially in a diverse country like India, where each state is socially, culturally, economically and politically different. PAC thus identified three broad pillars namely Growth, Equity and Sustainability that encapsulate governance,.”

Recent cyclones teach why coastal cities need resilience and climate adaptation

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By-

  • Cyclone Nisarga hit the western coast of India on June 3. It comes close on the heels of cyclone Amphan that impacted the eastern coastal states in India.
  • The extreme weather events that have come to Maharashtra and West Bengal and their coastal capital cities, against the backdrop of environmental degradation, are overlapping with COVID-19 which is widespread in these areas.
  • The two cyclones highlight the urgency for climate adaptation and resilience in India’s coastal cities.
  • COVID-19 recovery offers a chance to further climate action by giving due importance to sound environmental responses, plans, and policies.

Impacts of two tropical cyclones, cyclone Nisarga in Maharashtra and Gujarat and cyclone Amphan in West Bengal and Odisha, have reinforced the urgency of climate adaptation and building resilience into urban and environmental planning for coastal megacities.

The two states and their capitals (Maharashtra/Mumbai and West Bengal/Kolkata) are currently grappling with overlapping disasters (extreme weather events and COVID-19), against the backdrop of environmental degradation with choking rivers and wetlands and mangroves that buffer from cyclones shrinking due to urbanisation and expansion. Exposed to rising sea levels and high population density, the low-lying cities are prone to flooding during the monsoon which has set in.

Nisarga made landfall near Alibaug in coastal Maharashtra’s Raigad district on June 3 as a severe cyclonic storm with a wind speed of 100-110 kmph gusting to 120 mph. Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, narrowly escaped the cyclone’s fury. It caused minimal damage to life and property said National Disaster Response Force chief R.N. Pradhan, according to media reports.

Mumbai is India’s most populous city with 20 million residents. The state currently accounts for one-third of India’s COVID-19 cases. In addition to the pandemic and cyclone, locust swarms have been sighted in parts of eastern Maharashtra, in what is said to be the largest locust swarm in close to three decades.

Damaged conditions in Shrivardha, Raigad district along Maharashtra's coast after Cyclone Nisarg made landfall. Photo by Asim Undre.
Damaged conditions in Shrivardha, Raigad district along Maharashtra’s coast after Cyclone Nisarg made landfall. Photo by Asim Undre.

On the opposite coast of India, barely a fortnight ago, cyclone Amphan barrelled into coastal West Bengal, Odisha (and neighbouring Bangladesh) fueled by unusually warm waters of the Bay of Bengal. It became one of the strongest cyclones in the recorded history of the north Indian Ocean.

Climate scientist Roxy Mathew Koll, lead author of IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate said that the impact is more when multiple extremes come together. “We call them compound events. Some of the heaviest rains occurred during cyclone Amphan. Some parts of Kolkata recorded about 200 mm in 24 hours which is like a month’s rainfall. That happened not only due to the intensity of the cyclone but also because we have more moisture in the atmosphere due to warmer climatic conditions,” Koll, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology told Mongabay-India. “These compound events are increasing and are largely affecting the tropics where you have the vulnerable populations who do not generally have access to early warning systems and the benefit of long-term climate change policies and vision in terms of adaptation and mitigation,” said Koll.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), by the 2070s, Asian port cities like Mumbai and Kolkata, could be most at risk, in terms of population and assets exposed to coastal flooding. Half to two-thirds of Asia’s cities with 1 million or more inhabitants are exposed to one or multiple hazards, with floods and cyclones the most important.

The frequency of cyclones is more in the Bay of Bengal than in the Arabian Sea: four tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal while the Arabian Sea experiences one.  The total systems of cyclonic storms formed in the Bay of Bengal over an 80 years span (1933 to 2012) exceed those of the Arabian Sea because it is relatively colder than the Bay of Bengal, so fewer systems are formed. “However, rapid warming is making it fertile for cyclone formation. This could be one reason for an increase in the number of cyclones in the Arabian Sea,” said Koll.

Experts have stressed that COVID-19 recovery presents a strategic opportunity to transition to a sustainable world by advancing the climate agenda, considering climate implications in economic recovery programmes and giving due attention to sound environmental responses, plans, and policies.

Cyclone Nisarga entering the Maharashtra coast. Map by IMD.
Cyclone Nisarga entering the Maharashtra coast. Map by IMD.

Protecting natural defenses

Impacting communities, cyclone Amphan also damaged one-third of the mangroves in the Indian Sundarbans, named as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention in 2019.

Sujoy, a school student who lives along the shrinking East Kolkata Wetlands in Kolkata, a periurban ecosystem that is also Ramsar site, said the cyclone also damaged the green cover around the wetlands. Sujoy learned about the ecosystem services provided by EKW, as part of activities in the Disappearing Dialogues project that aims to assist the preservation of existing heritage, culture, and environment of regions that are disintegrating. “A substantial portion of the trees were uprooted which will impact the tranquility that we used to experience,” Sujoy of Kheadaha Higher Secondary school, told Mongabay-India.

In Mumbai, a 66 square km of mangrove cover cushions the city’s coastline, but it is under continuous threat from the consequences of rapid urbanisation and population surge, Mongabay-India had earlier reported.

Activists have been fighting for the cause of natural protectors like mangroves and salt pans even as flooding incidents regularly occur in the coastal capital of Maharashtra. Ahead of World Environment Day on June 5, a Mumbai-based NGO drew attention to the disappearing mangroves and wetlands in an online petition addressed to the Prime Minister and Maharashtra’s chief minister’s office. The petition also pointed to the World Health Organisation manifesto for a green and healthy recovery from COVID-19 that discusses protection and preserving nature as the source of human health, and building healthy cities.

Climate adaptation expert and IPCC author Anjal Prakash reiterated the findings of the Madhav Chitale committee report following the July 26, 2005 Mumbai/Maharashtra flood during which Mumbai received the highest ever rainfall recorded in one day in any city. The recommended corrective actions, including protecting mangroves, must be followed through by the local authorities, he said.

“The report had highlighted inadequate drainage systems, rapid development, and loss of water bodies that used to act as flood control and discharge of effluents in the Mithi river. They have laid out a roadmap in terms of what you could do,” said Prakash with the Bharti Institute of Public Policy of the Indian School of Business.

IPPC author Joyashree Roy asserted it is not about lack of money but about the right economic planning towards sustainable development and choices for appropriate policies.

“Since 2007 Kolkata was the only state in India that had the privilege of having IPCC dissemination meetings at regular intervals to get first-hand knowledge and reports from IPCC secretariat. But the policymakers did not take it with due seriousness. Amphan was not just another event in the city. It was for communicating urgency,” IPPC author Joyashree Roy, told Mongabay-India, referring to Amphan’s impact on Kolkata.

Making school children aware of the East Kolkata Wetlands’ ecosystem and heritage. Photo by Disappearing Dialogues.

Making physical assets climate resilient

We have to make physical assets climate-resilient, said Roy, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand. “We need different sets of building codes for various disaster-prone areas and they need to be implemented for all houses.”

“What we also need are locally built safe drinking water sources that can be even ground water-based because the need is very less. For agriculture, we need better water efficiency systems so that water demand decreases.”

Following the 2015 floods in Chennai and Mumbai and the December 2015 Paris Agreement, Kolkata Municipal Corporation, in 2016 became the first city in India to prepare a comprehensive roadmap to move the city towards a low carbon and climate-resilient future, with the UK government’s support.

review article that examined the quantification, management and climate change impacts of flood risks in Surat, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata, said the region (Kolkata city) is undergoing land subsidence, and this can be a boosting mechanism for future floods in the region.

Although the population in the region has adapted to flood risks as it is not very severe and long-lasting, adaptation strategies can change in the wake of severe floods induced by climate change scenarios, the review suggests. In an attempt to make the city more resilient to climate, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation is testing a sensor-based flood forecasting and early warning system.

Among the four cities, Mumbai followed by Surat (Gujarat) are most vulnerable in terms of flood risks associated with anthropogenic activities. Another factor which exacerbates flood risk in all these cities is the lack of proper drainage and sewerage system. An assessment of climate change impacts on Mumbai observed that by 2080 the likelihood of floods similar to the 2005 flood is more than double.

The study said that for the four cities, future planning and management of flood risks in these cities should also include economic minorities for the sustainability of city environments. It also underscored the implementation of early warning systems combined with information technology in flood risk management and adaptation strategies.

IIT Kharagpur’s Saptarshi Ghosh who examines social media in the context of disasters said a lot of useful content is posted over online social media in the aftermath of a disaster that can be used in two ways: to help immediate post-disaster relief operations and to enhance preparedness for future disaster events. “We can identify vulnerable regions, what resources are usually needed in the aftermath of a disaster in an Indian city, etc.”

Working with collaborators from IIT Bombay, Ghosh used case-studies of two flood events in Indian cities – the 2015 Chennai floods and the 2017 Mumbai floods — and showed how content posted on Twitter can be used in the two ways: post-disaster relief and future disaster preparedness.

Tidal creeks, mangroves and high-rise buildings are located cheek by jowl in Mumbai. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier/Mongabay.

Community collaborations, education, and climate resilience

Stepping up climate change education is also a key mitigation tool and the UNESCO states education is an essential element of the global response to climate change. India’s National Policy on Disaster Management calls for disaster education in schools to develop a culture of preparedness and safety, besides implementing school disaster management plans.

But monsoon floods damage and destroy thousands of schools each year in India. In 2017, considered as South Asia’s (India, Nepal, and Bangladesh) worst flooding in years, at least 18,000 schools were damaged or destroyed. India’s policy also stresses on discouraging “the need to use the premises of educational institutions for setting up relief camps.”

However, school buildings do double up as relief camps during disasters and in 2020, they have been converted to quarantine shelters to deal with COVID-19 cases during the lockdown.

Artist and art educationist Nobina Gupta who runs Disappearing Dialogues that engage with school students said the need of the hour is also to support and aid the community towards trajectories of self-resilience.

“Even within such adversity (Amphan), we came across multiple examples of local efforts and ingenuity to better the general condition of the area. Regardless of state support and administrative help (which has been very little), people themselves have stepped up to create local solutions using their own practices. They are themselves cleaning the streets, repairing broken houses, sheltering the homeless community members,” Gupta told Mongabay-India.

“Rebuilding using traditional practices and knowledge are key strategies, which we also intend to support. For all these activities, social institutions like schools are extremely important – we hope our links to the school children and the staff would serve as a valuable entry point to organise the local community in this fight for survival.”

Banner image: Workers undertaking emergency operations in Kolkata after Cyclone Amphan struck the city. Photo by Tirthankar Das.

The story first appeared on Mongabay India. Read the full story here.

Show proof of lack of suppliers, prices as reasons for tender cancellations, Nayak dares BJD

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By-Staff Writer

  • Senior journalist and Odisha Congress Spokesperson Satya Prakash Nayak says BJD gave half-based clarification on procurement row.
  • Asks BJD, Odisha government to show that multiple tenders were cancelled to no suppliers or due to their pricing of masks.
  • Criticised Sasmit Patra for keeping mum on issues like shunning GeM platform and incentive rule violation 

Bhubaneswar, June 12: Senior journalist Satya Prakash Nayak and Odisha Congress spokesperson Satya Prakash Nayak has now dared the Odisha government and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) to make public notes of the several cancelled tenders for procurement of masks for fight against COVID 19.

Nayak said this in response to BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra’s clarification on the alleged procurement scam which Nayak said was ‘half baked’ and a way to shun answers on specific queries and concerns raised against the procurement of 30 lakh masks at the MRP besides giving 50 per cent incentive to a Tamil Nadu-based supplier of masks.

“I want the BJD or the state government to make public the notes of cancelled tenders for the reasons on why they were cancelled. Let them proof that those were cancelled due to lack of suppliers or due to the higher prices they were charging compared to the Tamil Nadu-based firm which is now under lens in the whole procurement controversy,” Nayak said.

Nayak said that during the whole press conference conducted by BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra he remained mum on the important concerns like-why the Government E Marketplace (GeM) was not used for procurement, why incentive was given to the suppliers upto 50 per cent while the procurement manual restricts the incentive to 5 per cent.

“Patra seemed more interested in defending the suppliers but he remained mum on important issues like cancellation of tenders, shunning GeM portal for procurement and violation of incentive rule,” Nayak said.

Nayak said that the government as per its own rule must furnish the list of nodal officer which should be as per rules appointed for procurement from GeM portal and also demanded the letter an official must submit to the government when it goes for procurement outside the GeM portal citing reasons for the same.

Patra yesterday conducted a press conference where he cited the data from other states where procurement of masks was done upto Rs 16/piece and even data from some state which bought it beyond that. Nayak however said that the data furnished by Patra was misleading and half-baked.

“Your data was highly disputed and wrong. You are citing procurement data of states like Gujarat and Karnataka which bought it for more than Rs 16/piece. But this was done when he ceiling rule of the government was not announced (on March 24). And if they bought it for above Rs 16/piece it was illegal. You cannot cite illegal procurement of other states to support your argument,” Nayak said.

The war of words between BJD, BJP and Congress have now escalated while the issue is now also been taken up in other platforms too. The BJD spokesperson, State Health Minister Naba Kishore Das have categorically refuted the allegations of any wrong doings and said that all procurement was done as per the law.

Procurement row: Documents show Odisha govt flouted its own crafted rules

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By-Staff Writer

  • State Finance Department in 2012 issued order to pay for government orders through centralised digital payments.
  • Odisha govt however recently boasted about giving government officials blank cheques for procurement.
  • Finance department also issued orders to procure from GeM portal citing its low cost and authentic transparent nature.
  • Orders were also issued to give written statement by the officials who opt to procure it beyond GeM to cite reasons for not taking the GeM route.

Bhubaneswar, June 11: The war of words among the political parties in the state seems to have escalated in the matter of alleged irregularities in the procurement of masks.

However the Odisha government existing guidelines and official circulars released in the past highly contradict the whole procurement procedure adopted by the government. Several of the methods adopted by the Odisha government under the leadership of IAS officer Hemant Sharma as the head of procurement committee seems to be controversial and dubious, documents suggest.

According to an official circular issued by the Department of Finance in 2012 all government procurement transactions should be done through electronic and digital means and the physical methods should be shunned. However as per Sharma, some officials were said to be carrying blank cheques of taxpayers’ money, a payment mode that was discouraged by the Finance Ministry close to eight years ago.

Another contradiction was related to the tenders and shunning of the Odisha government of the Government E-Market place (GeM), constituted by the Central government to weed out corruption and provide better prices for supplies to government agencies. Another notification issued by the Finance Department claimed that for all possible government procurement the government must use the GeM portal citing its lower rates and trusted government certified place to procure items for the government.

However, as per the details of documents available, the government chose a Tamil Nadu-based supplier by procuring items from them allegedly besides the GeM route. The Odisha government cancelled a GeM tender into this regard and some other open tenders too and ended by procuring the supplies from a Tamil Nadu-based firm.

However another clause of the Finance Department was that if a government officer thinks that a better price is available outside GeM portal or the commodity is not available on GeM, they can order it from outside by also give a written statement on the matter for the reasons for the same. However in the present case such written statement seems nowhere.

Political parties have now escalated their tirade against the ruling parties and demanded clear and specific replies from the government. Odisha Congress spokesperson Satya Prakash Nayak blamed the whole Empowered Group of Ministers and the bureaucrats involved in this alleged dubious procurement for sidelining norms and orders of Central government as well as state government.

Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) President Niranjan Patnaik moved to the Governor Ganeshi Lal and submitted his memorandum into this case. The party has now threatened to move to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the office of Lokayukta into the matter.

The Odisha BJP has also been attacking the government for its non-transparent mean of procurement. It also has asked the government to come out clean into the matter.

Rajya Sabha MP and BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra however today responded to the allegations citing them political. He furnished the rate at which different other states bought the masks and defended the stance of the government. He also said that earlier the availability of masks was not in abundance. He claimed that there was no wrongdoing into the matter.

Public health experts bat for adding COVID cess on tobacco products

0

Staff Writer@Blink

Bhubaneswar, June 11: At a time when the threat of the global pandemic of COVID 19 has created ripples in the Indian economy and put the future at stake, several public health experts now believe that adding COVID 19 cess on tobacco products can have dual benefits.

According to a group of health professionals and economists akin to the additional COVID cess levied by the Odisha government and states on liquor sales, additional cess should also be extended to tobacco products.

They are appealing for a COVID cess on cigarettes, bidis and smokeless tobacco products that can provide revenue of Rs 49,740 crores (497.4 billion) which could cover about 29 per cent of the stimulus package.

According to Dr Rijo John, Economist & Health Policy Analyst, Unprecedented financial resources will be needed for the country to recover from the economic shock COVID has created. Even though imposing additional taxes on the general public might not be a viable policy option when consumption needs to be boosted, special COVID cess on tobacco, could be a win-win as it will discourage tobacco consumption and reduce COVID related risks while bringing in substantial revenue for the government.

A Re 1 COVID cess per stick of bidis and significant tax increases on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products are expected to generate additional tax revenue to the tune of Rs 50,000 crores, he said.

“There is ample evidence about bidis being the killer and not the pleasure of the poor. These should be made not affordable for the poor to save them from a lifetime of misery and suffering. Imposing cess on all tobacco products, including bidis, is a winning proposition for Government as it will provide the much needed additional tax revenue for COVID 19 stimulus package for providing relief to the people of the country while motivating millions of tobacco users to quit and preventing youngsters from initiating tobacco use,” Dr Harit Chaturvedi, Chairman of Max Institute of Cancer Care.

MASK SCAM: Centre’s ‘incentive ceiling rule’ ignored to give more profits to supplier

0

Staff Writer@Blink

Bhubaneswar, June 9: Attacks from different quarters have now escalated against the state government for their alleged involvement in controversial “mask scam” and their dubious deals relating to the procurement of masks at large scale.

Editor of Satyapatha and Odisha Congress spokesperson Satya Prakash Nayak has put forth a number of documents to put the government under lens for their alleged mischievous deal of the government in procurement of 30 lakh masks.

Nayak yesterday night in his new revelation claimed that the Odisha government violated the Finance Ministry’s “Manual for Procurement” by giving large scale incentives despite procuring the masks from a supplier who sold it to the government at the highest possible price.

“The Finance Ministry has a manual for procurement which claims that the government cannot exceed the incentive beyond five percent. However in this case, first the government purchased the masks from taxpayers’ money at the highest possible price and then added 50 per cent incentive if the stock is delivered within one week,” he said.

According to Nayak, the government despite availability of competitive prices and 137 other Union government-certified suppliers chose a Tamil Nadu-based supplier which sold the masks at the highest possible rate.

“What happened to the negotiation power of the government? IAS office Hemant Sharma based on his negotiation and procurement expertise was given the task of leading the procurement panel. Sharma, his panel and the whole government failed to even negotiate for Re 1,” he said.

Nayak said that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs had included masks under Essential Commodities Act and fixed the ceiling price. “The Centre never told the state to buy it at Rs 16/piece. It said that the ‘retail price’ of masks should not be above Rs 16/piece. But the government bought the consignment from the Tamil Nadu-based firm at maximum retail price when they bought 30 lakh such units. So instead of “wholesale rate’, the government opted to use the use the taxpayers’ money to get it at retail price,”

Nayak said that there were several suppliers even from Tamil Nadu who were selling it to as low as Rs 3 per piece to Rs 12/piece but the government chose the supplier who provided it at the highest rate. “Even in the supplier’s website none of their masks cost Rs 16/piece,”

Nayak also claimed that the government repeatedly cancelled tenders for the process into the matter hinting at some conspiracy. The government is meanwhile also said to have shunned the transparent government procurement platform-“Government Market Place”-GeM (preferred and pushed by Union government).

“GeM has no human interference and very transparent platform for government procurements. If the government would have gone through that channel nobody ever could have raised any fingers at the government. In GeM you cannot have any under the table works but government evaded this transparent platform which had several government certified mask suppliers,” Nayak said.

Not only Nayak but the State BJP has raised their attack against the state government. BJP leader and Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha MP Aparajita Sarangi has also raised questions against the Naveen Patnaik government. She urged the government to come clean on the issue and not vouch for any state-specific firms for supplies.

Meanwhile the Nationalist Lawyers Forum has also filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Orissa High Court seeking an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

State Health Minister Naba Kishore Das has meanwhile been denying any wrong doing while BJD leader Subhash Singh has asked the opposition parties not to do politics in the fight against COVID 19 and block the procurement process.

 

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