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NGT gives Odisha last warning to submit Action Plan on elephants


By: Sonali Singh

Bhubaneswar, Dec 4: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its latest order has now given the Odisha government last chance to submit an Action Plan on notification of its proposed 14 Elephant Corridors.

This comes after the state government missed multiple deadlines to submit their Action Plan despite the NGT pressing for the same. The NGT in its earlier order on March had asked the state government to submit an Action Plan with defined time period on Elephant Corridor notification.

The tribunal in March had asked them to submit the same within two months. The defying government however in its tribunal hearing in September too failed to submit the same. In its latest hearing on November the government again expressed its helplessness and demanded extension of time. It cited the time required to consult more stakeholders on the issue for buying more time.

The NGT has now given them the last extension. In its latest tribunal order the NGT said, “Considering that the order for the preparation of the action plan was passed on 26.03.2020 which was more than five months ago, it was expected of the State to have expedited the process to complete the work. However, considering the submissions made by the learned Counsel for the State, in the interest of Justice, we allow the time sought for as a last opportunity,”

The order of the NGT came after the Wildlife Society of Orissa led by wildlife expert Biswajit Mohanty filed a case before the NGT on the matter few years back. The government earlier in 2017 told the NGT that they hired one Asia Nature Conservation Foundation (ANCF) for studying the matter which submitted its report on January 12, 2018. The NGT has asked them state to submit their Action Plan based on the ANCF recommendations.

The government claims that they have identified 14 Elephant Corridors but yet to notify the same. The NGT had asked the government to submit them an Action Plan on the same with defined time period. Shankar Prasad Pani, NGT lawyer told The Blink that if the elephant corridors are notified expansion of mining and industries in such zones could be challenged and the defined corridors can also help in reducing human-elephant conflict.

74% of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao funds lying unused in Odisha


By: Sonali Singh

Bhubaneswar, Nov 29: A massive 74 percent of the funds given by the Union government to the state government for utilization under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme has been lying unused for years, the state Women and Child Development Minister Tukuni Sahoo told the Odisha Assembly today.

In a written reply to an unstarred question, the minister said that since 2017-18 the Odisha government received a total of Rs 392 lakh from the Union government under the scheme but it was able to spend only Rs 102 lakh (26 percent) since then while 74 percent of the funds remained untiliised.

“The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme has been implemented by the central government since the 2017-18. The funds are provided by the central government since the 2017-18 financial year and has been spent in 15 districts of the state,” she said.

The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme aims to address the critical issue of declining Child Sex Ratio. The specific objectives of the scheme included-

preventing gender-based sex selective elimination, ensuring survival and protection of the girl child, ensuring education and participation of the girl child through coordinated and convergent efforts.

The funds were alliocated for 15 districts of Odisha where it was envisioned that the funds could be used to boost ways to arrest unfair sex ratio and favour the school education of girl children.

Handloom, handicraft least exported items from Odisha, Assembly told


By: Sonali Singh

Bhubaneswar, Nov 28: The State Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Minister Dibya Shankar Mishra today informed the Odisha Legislative Assembly that the handlooms and handicraft works from the state are among the least exported items.

The revelation from the government came into the fore, after the minister submitted a written reply to an unstarred question on the exports of good from the state. The minister in his reply said that while metallurgical good and minerals continue to dominate the export basket of the state, the works of craftsmen from the state fail to fetch good returns.

The written statement said that in the last fiscal from the metallurgical goods, the total export revenue stood at Rs 24811 crore, the highest in the state while it was followed by minerals which was around Rs 14627 crore.

However among the 11 goods that are exported from the state, handloom products fetched the lowest exports worth Rs 0.90 crore followed by handicraft items which was at Rs 3.08 crore in 2019-20.

Noteworthy that the state is home to some of finest handloom and handicraft items like Sambalpuri saree, Bomkai Saree, ikat designs, Pattachitra works, Dhokra arts, papier mache works and tribal jewellery among others.

More than half of teaching posts in Odisha varsities are vacant, govt tells Assembly


Blink News Service

Bhubaneswar, Nov 26: The state government in a staggering revelation today said that a massive 53 percent of the total sanctioned posts in 10 state universities are lying vacant, hinting towards the poor state of affairs in the state.

The disclosure was done by none other than the State Higher Education Minister Arun Sahoo. The minister who handles more than one department alone today in a written statement said that the government has sanctioned a total of 1426 teaching posts which comprised posts of professors, associate professors and assistant professors.

Take the example of its premier Utkal University in Bhubaneswar. It has 47 sanctioned posts of professors but only 12 posts are filled and rest 35 are vacant. Out of the 76 sanctioned posts of associate professors it has a large 44 posts vacant.

Same is the condition of other state universities like Ravenshaw University, Berhampur University, Fakir Mohan University, Sambalpur University and others.

Despite recruiting teaching staff in adhoc basis, the state seems to be struggling to get teaching staff in several subjects. Lack of quality of education due to lack of teachers have propelled many citizens to send their children outside state, depriving the state of talented kids and leading to brain drain.

Recognition of third gender a far cry in Odisha state universities


By-Nidhi Sinha

Bhubaneswar, Nov 26: Most Odisha government-run universities in the state are still not giving any recognition to the third gender despite the Supreme Court and related legislations batting for creating equal opportunities for the community.

This is against several central universities and state run universities in other neighbouring states which have recognized them as third gender and also given them option to opt for the same while taking admissions into different courses in Under Graduate (UG) and Post Graduate (PG) courses.

However unlike other progressive states many state public universities like Utkal University and other premier education institutions have not taken any step to provide them option to recognize and declare them original gender. The recent spree of admissions in several universities showed that the educational institutions and the state government is not in a hurry to do the same.

Representatives of the transgender community in the state claimed that most Odisha universities have not dared to opt for their recognistion but some central institutions have done so.

“Most Odisha universities have failed to give any option for the community to declare their gender by shunning the option to create an extra column for the third gender. However central educational institutions like IGNOU have started taking the initiative,” Meghana Sahoo, Secretary, All Odisha Transgender Association told The Blink.

Sahoo also said that the state department of Social Security and Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SSEPD) in the last few months has also written to the School and Mass Education Department and Higher Education Department to recognize the third gender but till now hardly any educational institute has taken such initiative.

This comes against the 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court which batted for gender equality and creation of gender neutral environment in education institutions and other public places. Lately, Delhi University, Calcutta University and Mumbai University among several others followed the league and gave recognistion to the third gender, but Odisha still seems to be reluctant to join the bandwagon.

The Indian Parliament in 2019 also passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill to pave way for equal opportunities for the third gender and non-discriminatory society. It asked the governments to frame rule to ensure equal rights for the transgender in educational institutes too.

After uproar, govt orders changes in its plan to close down smaller schools


By-Pramit Karmakar

Bhubaneswar, Nov 22: The School and Mass Education Department today announced continuing with their plan to merge smaller schools but made some minor changes after political uproar inside and outside the Odisha Assembly.

School and Mass Education Department Minister Sameer Ranjan Das today said that the government decided to merge schools in scheduled tribes only where the enrollment is less than 15 per cent. He also cited the new education policy to buttress the decision taken by the government.

“It has been decided that schools with less than 15 students, will be merged with other nearby schools in schedule areas.  Similarly, schools having less than 20 students in non-schedule areas will be merged with nearby ones. Around 3,000 such schools having an attendance of less than 15 students are functioning in schedule areas,” the minister said.

The minister said that the government has started processing for the merger of as many as 7772 schools in schedule and non-schedule areas. He also indicated that merger of small schools with others would create a good academic environment and lead to quality education. The government has not gone beyond rules, he said.

Senior Congress leader Narasingha Mishra said, “We demand that the government should set minimum 15 students as its norms for schedule areas and KBK areas for merger. Despite our demands for KBK, the minister has not taken care of our concerns. We will raise it in the House again,”

Congress MLA Taraprasad Bahinipati threatened to kill self by slitting throat in front of the Speaker if the government doesn’t change its decision. Similarly, BJP member BC Sethy said that the government’s move would encourage dropouts as the small children will not go to attend classes in their new schools by covering long distances.

8.9L educated youths in Odisha are jobless, govt tells Assembly


Bhubaneswar, Nov 22: The State government in its written statement submitted before the Odisha Legislative Assembly today admitted that a total of 8.9 lakh educated youths from the state are jobless.

The data was furnished by the State Skill Development Minister Pramananda Nayak. He told the House that as per the statistics from the employment exchange live register, a total of 8.96,838 youths having degrees ranging in Under Graduate (UG), Post Graduate (PG), Diploma but are jobless.

These youths with their degrees in hand are said to have approached the government seeking their attention in giving jobs through employment exchanges. These included 1.82 lakh youths with UG degrees, 11,358 PG candidates and 33,747 Diploma candidates.

Several other candidates with BEd, MEd, teachers’ training and others are also without job, hinting towards the massive unemployment existing in the state.

The minister however talked in detail about several old schemes which were used to fetch employment for the youths. The minister said that the State Employment Mission was launched in 2005-06 to help in skill development training while another Skill Development Mission was started in 2016-17.

He also boasted about the Chief Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (CMEGP) which was able to fetch 13,66,116 jobs in the last six year and Defence Recruitment Rallies which helped in getting 5,027 youths getting jobs in the last six years.

Made in India Diwali products fail to fetch profits for Bhubaneswar traders

A shopkeeper waiting for his customers during Diwali shopping. Credit-Pramit Karmakar
By: Pramit Karmakar
Bhubaneswar, Nov 17: Several traders in the smart city soon after hearing about ban on cracker sales, roped in several other alternatives to lighten the spirits of Diwali enthusiasts. Buoyed by the concept of selling ‘Made in India’ products, several traders tried their hands with indigenous products to fight cracker ban implications and compete with Chinese products but in vain.
However marred by the ban, Covid 19 outbreak and loss of income by the middle class due to subsequent lockdowns, this Diwali failed to bring the anticipated wealth to the traders community. Despite several Made in India electronic products entering into the local markets like Bapuji Nagar, the middle class buyers, which comprise the bulk buyers preferred low cost Chinese products while several refrain from spending much this Diwali.
A shopkeeper looks at the crowd for selling his products this Diwali. Credit-Pramit Karmakar
Nevertheless, beyond the electronic market, several middle and low income traders, small size shopkeepers and vendors during this season had roped in several other eye catching alternatives to crackers like special lights, illuminating balloons and several others items, however it failed to attract the customers en masse.
Sroto Saswat Das is a trader at Unit I Bhubaneshwar for the last 10 years. He told The Blink, “Lesser number of people turned up than usual owing to the pandemic. We sell crackers every year but this year we got onto the business of diyas. We purchased and targeted a higher amount of sale in diyas as crackers are banned but in vein,”
Jyotikanta Biswal a trader at Unit I area for the last 5 years. He took up lights for sales this year. He said that post cracker ban, the markets were anticipating good sale of other items but it didn’t happen.
A scene outside Unit II market in Bhubaneswar. Credit-Pramit Karmakar
He said, “The rates were a bit higher and people were lesser, half of the customers were seen busy in bargaining and not willing to pay the prices. The traders and shopkeepers made losses this Diwali season or made a minor profit share unlike previous years,”
However on the occasion of Dhanteras, a day before Diwali several streets were seen jammed during the evening. However as per traditions, most buyers were glued to jewellery shops, furniture shops and the seasonal market trade faced a backlash.
Jewellery shops at Janpath, Master Canteen and others saw good crowd despite the pandemic. Even several volunteers and police force had to intervene to de-congest surging crowd in the roads post 7pm.

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

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


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.

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