Thursday, June 30, 2016

Project Mausam: Maritime Routes and Cultural Landscapes

Project ‘Mausam’ is a Ministry of Culture project to be implemented by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi as the nodal coordinating agency with support of Archeological Survey of India and National Museum as associate bodies.

Project Launch

The unique idea of this project to showcase a Transnational Mixed Route (including Natural and Cultural Heritage) on the World Heritage List has been well appreciated during the Project Launch by India at the 38th World Heritage Session at Doha, Qatar on 20th June, 2014. The Director General UNESCO appreciated India’s initiative in launching this unique project and ambassadors of several countries including China, UAE, Qatar, Iran, Myanmar, and Vietnam expressed great interest in this multifaceted cultural project. (ATTACH VIDEO)

About the Project

Focusing on monsoon patterns, cultural routes and maritime landscapes, Project ‘Mausam’ is examining key processes and phenomena that link different parts of the Indian Ocean littoral as well as those that connect the coastal centres to their hinterlands. Broadly, Project ‘Mausam’ aims to understand how the knowledge and manipulation of the monsoon winds has shaped interactions across the Indian Ocean and led to the spread of shared knowledge systems, traditions, technologies and ideas along maritime routes. These exchanges were facilitated by different coastal centres and their surrounding environs in their respective chronological and spatial contexts, and simultaneously had an effect on them.
The endeavour of Project ‘Mausam’is to position itself at two levels:
  • At the macro level, it aims to re-connect and re-establish communications between countries of the Indian Ocean world, which would lead to an enhanced understanding of cultural values and concerns;
  • At the micro level, the focus is on understanding national cultures in their regional maritime milieu.
The Project scope falls under several themes to be explored through various UNESCO Culture Conventions to which the Government of India is a signatory with the Ministry of Culture and ASI as nodal agency.

Initiatives till date

Preliminary works on this new project has already been initiated. A monthly lecture series has been organized at India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi in collaboration with IGNCA, National Monuments Authority (NMA), New Delhi and IIC. The first international conference, scheduled in February 2015, is being organized with national and international research partners and collaborators. The Research Unit at IGNCA is in the process of collating data from all identified organisations and institutions and a series of national workshops are planned before the international conference in Feb. 2015. IGNCA has set up a webpage for the Project and more information about the project can be sourced at 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Aditya - L1 First Indian mission to study the Sun

The Aditya-1 mission was conceived as a 400kg class satellite carrying one payload, the Visible Emission Line Coronagraph (VELC) and was planned to launch in a 800 km low earth orbit.  A Satellite placed in the halo orbit around the Lagrangian point 1 (L1) of the Sun-Earth system has the major advantage of continuously viewing the Sun without any occultation/ eclipses.  Therefore, the Aditya-1 mission has now been revised to “Aditya-L1 mission” and will be inserted in a halo orbit around the L1, which is 1.5 million km from the Earth.  The satellite carries additional six payloads with enhanced science scope and objectives.

Image credit: Udaipur Solar Observatory – PRL (Ground-based)
The project is approved and the satellite will be launched during 2019 – 2020 timeframe by PSLV-XL from Sriharikota.
Aditya-1 was meant to observe only the solar corona.  The outer layers of the Sun, extending to thousands of km above the disc (photosphere) is termed as the corona.  It has a temperature of more than a million degree Kelvin which is much higher than the solar disc temperature of around 6000K. How the corona gets heated to such high temperatures is still an unanswered question in solar physics. 
 Aditya-L1 with additional experiments can now provide observations of Sun's Photosphere (soft and hard X-ray), Chromosphere (UV) and corona (Visible and NIR).  In addition, particle payloads will study the particle flux emanating from the Sun and reaching the L1 orbit, and the magnetometer payload will measure the variation in magnetic field strength at the halo orbit around L1.   These payloads have to be placed outside the interference from the Earth’s magnetic field and could not have been useful in the low earth orbit.

Lagrange Points: Parking Places in Space


A Lagrange point is a location in space where the combined gravitational forces of two large bodies, such as Earth and the sun or Earth and the moon, equal the centrifugal force felt by a much smaller third body. The interaction of the forces creates a point of equilibrium where a spacecraft may be "parked" to make observations.
These points are named after Joseph-Louis Lagrange, an 18th-century mathematician who wrote about them in a 1772 paper concerning what he called the "three-body problem." They are also called Lagrangian points and libration points.   
There are five Lagrange points around major bodies such as a planet or a star. Three of them lie along the line connecting the two large bodies. In the Earth-sun system, for example, the first point, L1, lies between Earth and the sun at about 1 million miles from Earth. L1 gets an uninterrupted view of the sun, and is currently occupied by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and the Deep Space Climate Observatory. 

L2 also lies a million miles from Earth, but in the opposite direction of the sun. At this point, with the Earth, moon and sun behind it, a spacecraft can get a clear view of deep space. NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) is currently at this spot measuring the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang. The James Webb Space Telescope will move into this region in 2018.
The third Lagrange point, L3, lies behind the sun, opposite Earth's orbit. For now, science has not found a use for this spot, although science fiction has.
“NASA is unlikely to find any use for the L3 point since it remains hidden behind the sun at all times,” NASA wrote on a web page about Lagrange points. “The idea of a hidden 'Planet-X' at the L3 point has been a popular topic in science fiction writing. The instability of Planet X's orbit (on a time scale of 150 years) didn't stop Hollywood from turning out classics like 'The Man from Planet X.'”
L1, L2 and L3 are all unstable points with precarious equilibrium. If a spacecraft at L3 drifted toward or away from Earth, it would fall irreversibly toward the sun or Earth, "like a barely balanced cart atop a steep hill," according to astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Spacecraft must make slight adjustments to maintain their orbits.
Points L4 and L5, however, are stable, "like a ball in a large bowl," according to the European Space Agency. These points lie along Earth's orbit at 60 degrees ahead of and behind Earth, forming the apex of two equilateral triangles that have the large masses (Earth and the sun, for example) as their vertices.
Because of the stability of these points, dust and asteroids tend to accumulate in these regions. Asteroids that surround the L4 and L5 points are called Trojans in honor of the asteroids Agamemnon, Achilles and Hector (all characters in the story of the siege of Troy) that are between Jupiter and the Sun. NASA states that there have been thousands of these types of asteroids found in our solar system, including Earth’s only known Trojan asteroid, 2010 TK7.
L4 and L5 are also possible points for a space colony due to their relative proximity to Earth, at least according to the writings of Gerard O'Neill and related thinkers. In the 1970s and 1980s, a group called the L5 Society promoted this idea among its members. In the late 1980s, it merged into a group that is now known as the National Space Society, an advocacy organization that promotes the idea of forming civilizations beyond Earth.
If a spacecraft uses a Lagrange point close to Earth, there are many benefits to the location, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Amy Mainzer told 
Mainzer is principal investigator of NEOWISE, a mission that searches for near-Earth asteroids using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft that orbits close to our planet. While WISE is doing well with its current three-year mission that concludes in 2016, Mainzer said, a spacecraft placed at a Lagrange point would be able to do more.
Far from the interfering heat and light of the sun, an asteroid-hunting spacecraft at a Lagrange point would be more sensitive to the tiny infrared signals from asteroids. It could point over a wide range of directions, except very close to the sun. And it wouldn't need coolant to stay cool, as WISE required for the first phase of its mission between 2009 and 2011 — the location itself would allow for natural cooling. The James Webb Space Telescope will take advantage of the thermal environment at the sun-Earth L2 point to help keep cool.
L1 and L2 also “allow you to have enormous bandwidth” because over conventional Ka-band radio, the communication speeds are very high, Mainzer said. “Otherwise, the data rates just become very slow,” she said, since a spacecraft in orbit around the sun (known as heliocentric orbit) would eventually drift far from Earth.
Reference Editor Tim Sharp contributed to this article.

Importance of NSG membership

Membership of the NSG means:
1. Access to technology for a range of uses from medicine to building nuclear power plants for India from the NSG which is essentially a traders’ cartel. India has its own indigenously developed technology but to get its hands on state of the art technology that countries within the NSG possess, it has to become part of the group.
2. With India committed to reducing dependence on fossil fuels and ensuring that 40% of its energy is sourced from renewable and clean sources, there is a pressing need to scale up nuclear power production. This can only happen if India gains access to the NSG. Even if India today can buy power plants from the global market thanks to the one time NSG waiver in 2008, there are still many types of technologies India can be denied as it is outside the NSG.
3. India could sign the Nuclear non proliferation treaty and gain access to all this know how but that would mean giving up its entire nuclear arsenal. Given that it is situated in an unstable and unpredictable neighbourhood India is unlikely to sign the NPT or accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that puts curbs on any further nuclear tests.
4. With access to latest technology, India can commercialize the production of nuclear power equipment. This, in turn will boost innovation and high tech manufacturing in India and can be leveraged for economic and strategic benefits.
For example, India has signed a civil nuclear energy co-operation pact with Sri Lanka. Currently, this entails training people in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including use of radioisotopes, nuclear safety, radiation safety, nuclear security, radioactive waste management and nuclear and radiological disaster mitigation. Should India get access to advanced nuclear technologies, it can start building updated versions of its own fast breeder reactor and sell it to countries such as Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. Bangladesh is currently looking at buying Russian reactors for power generation.
5. Having the ability to offer its own nuclear power plants to the world means spawning of an entire nuclear industry and related technology development. This could give the Make in India programme a big boost.
6. Should India get membership to the NSG, it can block Pakistan from its membership as entry into the grouping is by consensus only. This is one of the reasons why China is pushing to include Pakistan as well as pointing out that India as a non signatory to the NPT cannot be a member. It comes down to a power game—keep India out and deny it access to various technologies. India’s contention is that its nuclear technologies are indigenously developed and it has a clean non proliferation record unlike Pakistan whose non proliferation record was tainted with the revelations that its nuclear scientist A.Q Khan sold nuclear technologies to countries such as North Korea. China’s non proliferation record too is tainted with allegations that it has helped Pakistan on the sly, but given its economic clout the country is unlikely to attract sanctions.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Weakening the watchdog

Appointing MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries has been usual in the past. Along with Delhi government, several other states have been following this. However, with President of India recently declining assent to Delhi govt’s bill on appointment of parliamentary secretaries, the issue has come to the fore once again.
The Delhi government had in March last year appointed 21 of its MLAs as parliamentary secretaries in various ministries to speed up public work.
  • Following criticism by members of the opposition, who called it unconstitutional, the government passed a bill was which intended to provide security cover for those legislators appointed as parliamentary secretaries.
  • Through the bill, the Delhi government had sought an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997. The bill aims to exclude the post of parliamentary secretary from the office of profit and exempt the post from disqualification provisions.
  • The bill was forwarded by lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung to the centre, which in turn was sent to the President with its comments.
What’s the issue now?
At the time of their appointment, the government had said that parliamentary secretaries will not receive any remuneration or perks from the government. But later on, they were allowed use of government transport for official purposes and space in minister’s office. Hence, few people criticized this move and called it unconstitutional.
Who is a parliamentary secretary?
A Parliament Secretary is similar to a Minister of State who assists a Minister in his or her duties.
Why President did not give his assent to the Bill?
The President takes note of Section 15 of the government of NCT of Delhi Act, 1991. It says a person shall not remain an MLA if he or she holds any office of profit under the Centre or government of a state or UT. Also, according to the president, parliamentary secretaries come under the purview of `office of profit’ criteria. Besides, the Lt Governor had said the office of parliamentary secretary is defined as an “office of profit if one looks at the statutes of Delhi” and that as per the GNCT Act, the city can haveonly one parliamentary secretary attached to the office of the Chief Minister.
Constitutional provisions:
Experts argue that the post of parliamentary secretary is in contradiction to Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution which provides for limiting the number of Ministers in the State Cabinets to 15% of the total number of members of the State Legislative Assembly. But, the number ofCabinet Ministers in Delhi cannot exceed 10% of the total 70 seats — that is seven — as perArticle 239AA of Constitution.
Why appointing MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries is not a good move?
  • The idea of modern republics is that no particular organ of state should have a concentration of powers. Different institutions act as a check on the actions of others. However, this move weakens the power of legislative bodies by governments, and thus weakens the principle of separation powers.
  • The idea is that every legislator should be able to carry out legislative duties without any obligation to the government of the day. The latest move is in contradiction with this principle.
  • This move raises questions over the ability of the Assembly to exercise its oversight role over the government. An argument has been made that these parliamentary secretaries will be able to aid the government in being more responsive to citizens’ needs. That argument, however, misses the point of separation of powers. The role of legislators is not to help the government do its job better, but to ensure that it functions in a proper manner. That is, the legislator exercises the role of a watchdog over the government on behalf of citizens and not as an agent of the government.
How Delhi government defends its move?
The Delhi government has based its defence on exemptions. The Constitution specifies that state Legislative Assemblies have the power to enact laws and keep certain offices out of the preview of Office of Profit. The Delhi government argues that as Parliamentary Secretaries are not eligible for any remuneration or perks from the government the post should be exempt from the office of profit.
How is ‘Office of Profit’ defined?
The concept of office of profit finds place in Articles 102 and 191 of the Constitution, which state that an MP or MLA will be disqualified if he or she occupies such an office. The Constitution also recognises that there may be other cases where exceptions may be required and allows Parliament and State legislatures to make exemptions by passing a law. In several cases, courts have examined this issue and concluded that the key question is whether occupation of such office will make a legislator beholden to the executive.
In general, a person is considered to hold an office of profit if four conditions are met:
  1. He holds an office.
  2. The office is one of profit, that is, it carries some benefits.
  3. The office is under the control of the Central or the State government.
  4. The office is not that of a Minister or exempted by an Act of Parliament or State legislature.
Can MLAs be disqualified even if they haven’t received remuneration?
In the Jaya Bachchan vs Union Of India case, the Supreme Court in May 2006 had dismissed actress-turned-politician Jaya Bachchan’s petition challenging her disqualification as Rajya Sabha MP by President A P J Abdul Kalam on the recommendation of the Election Commission for holding an office of profit.
It said that the law on this issue is settled since 1954 and what is material is not whether the person actually received any remuneration or pecuniary gains, but whether the office he or she holds is itself of profit.
Similar cases:
Because a Parliament Secretary often holds the rank of Minister of State, the Calcutta High Court, in June 2015, quashed the appointment of 24 Parliamentary Secretaries in West Bengal dubbing it unconstitutional.
  • Similar action was taken by the Bombay High Court in 2009 for the appointment of two Parliamentary Secretaries in Goa and by the Himachal Pradesh High Court in 2005 for the appointment of eight Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and four Parliamentary Secretaries in the State.
  • In May 2015, the Hyderabad High Court stayed the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries in Telangana. The matter is sub judice in Punjab and Haryana.
What happens if this bill is not approved?
The President’s decision is a major setback to the Kejriwal government and leaves the AAP MLAs a few steps from possible disqualification. In the event of disqualification of the AAP MLAs, by-election to nearly one–third of the seats currently held by the ruling party will be necessitated. Such a development will follow only after the EC completes its proceedings on a petition seeking the disqualification of the MLAs.
What can be done now?
The legislator can escape disqualification only if the office is declared -by law made by Parliament, state legislature or UT -as a post that does not attract loss of membership. The fate of the MLAs will now be decided by the Election Commission that is considering a petition seeking their disqualification.
The role of legislators is critical in a democracy. They are elected by citizens, and have the task of ensuring that the government is acting in the best interests of the public. In this, they are expected to exercise their independent judgements on what constitutes public and national interest. They act as a bulwark against autocratic actions of the executive. Therefore, it is imperative that their independence is protected. Actions that impinge on such independence, such as excessive appointments to executive positions, the anti-defection law and MPLADS, should be reversed. Otherwise, there is a risk of a slow erosion of the institution of legislatures, which could put at risk the very existence of our republic. Our Supreme Court has recognised separation of powers as part of the basic structure of the Constitution, and can therefore strike down even amendments to the Constitution that infringe upon this principle.

Staying power of the pass-fail system

Once again, it is that time of the year when the examination results season may be just ending and the admissions season is in progress, and marked by a cacophony of two contradictory voices — often from the same people — that rose to deafening levels from April to May when the results of various school boards were declared. The first voice celebrated those who succeeded and did wondrously well. Newspaper articles were published on which sections of students did better than the other. Did girls do better than the boys? Did school system ‘X’ do better than school system ‘Y’? Pictures of individual students who topped the examinations were published and their parents, teachers and schools eulogised. Once the general ‘results fever’ subsided, this shrill voice was echoed by private schools which claimed to have taught some of the toppers, with their posters appearing in every possible place, from roadside electric poles to walls.
In general, this celebration of success in an examination goes on for the whole year, till the next results season when the old faces are replaced with new ones to valorise.
Pressure of expectations
More importantly, the second voice is one of lamentation as many students, wilting under stress and pressure, burn out and even commit suicide in this season, simply because they could not fulfil their parents’ expectations.
The loss of these young, and often bright, people must make us ponder. They have moved up all the way from nursery class to high school to fulfil their parents’ ambitions of seeing them grow into engineers, doctors or managers graduating from the so-called top-level institutions in the country. These children must have seen themselves only as exam-cracking “achievers” in order to make their parents happy. They lost out on their childhood play and free time; no pranks with their friends and no experience of the simple joy of just being a carefree child. This loss would have led to a narrow vision of human life guided by the all-important value of “success”; which is just defined as getting a top job. Period. These children, deprived of social development and trapped in an artificially developed world, choose death over struggle when that world suffers a rude shock with exam results that are less than expected.
There is very little recognition that the first voice I talked about creates a powerful environment wherein the trait of parents imposing their ambitions on the children becomes dominant. When they do not turn out to be as successful as their parents want them to, they fade away. This problem has two sides to it: the first is the examination-oriented Indian education system, and the second is competitive and cruel parents.
The ‘crushing weight of exams’
About 80 years ago, the Zakir Hussain report on National Basic Education noted that the “system of examinations prevailing in our country has proved a curse to education”. It pinpointed the malady by saying that a bad system is made worse by awarding examinations a place much beyond their utility. The problem, however, is much older than stated in the Zakir Hussain report.
For this, one has to go back as early as 1904 to the Indian Educational Policy issued by the then Governor General. This colonial document had a section titled “The abuse of examinations” and noted that “[e]xaminations, as now understood, are believed to have been unknown as an instrument of general education in ancient India”. It also claimed that examinations did not have a prominent place even in the Despatch of 1854, commonly known as Wood’s Despatch. The Hunter Commission report of 1882-83, which left examinations and promotions to the next class up to standard eight entirely to the schools, did not recommend any province-level or board exemptions. Still, the educational policy of 1904 noted that examinations had “grown to extravagant dimensions, and their influence has been allowed to dominate the whole system of education in India, with the result that instruction is confined within the rigid framework of prescribed courses, that all forms of training which do not admit of being tested by written examinations are liable to be neglected”. It further noted that the system was adopted on the precedence of English education which itself has “finally condemned” it; however, in India, it was proving to be “disastrous in its influence” on education. The policy recommended reforms that included abandoning public examination at the primary level, “more equitable tests of efficiency”, and “to relieve the schools and scholars from the heavy burden of recurring mechanical tests”.
The Indian Educational Policy of 1913 declared victory and stated that “the formerly crushing weight of examinations has been appreciably lightened”. It further declared that the “principal objects of the school final examination are adaptability to the course of study and avoidance of cram”.
All this shows that the devastating effects of this “curse to education” have been known quite well for over 100 years. There is no commission or committee report after Independence which does not acknowledge the burden of rote learning and the examination system on its students and its futility in assessing their real abilities. They all recommend examination reforms. The recent attempts, after Right to Education (RTE) stipulation, of no pass-fail and no board examinations till completion of elementary education in favour of a continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) are well known.
However, the public education system has completely failed to implement these reforms and the private schools have never paid much attention to them. We have now reached a stage where no one in the country knows how the CCE can be implemented, and how we can measure progress of the child without pass-fail systems. Therefore, there has been a concerted effort to discard this half-hearted foraging into unknown territory as soon as the present government came to power at the Centre. The result is that many States have gone back to their familiar pass-fail system and board examinations at the end of eighth standard if not earlier.
Nexus of forces
The question that stares us in the face is, how is it that we haven’t cleansed our education system of a curse that has been well known for over a hundred years? There is never a single factor behind the persistence of such problems; it always has to be a nexus of forces. Some of the factors that lie within the education system are often mentioned. The lack of seriousness, of resources, teachers untrained in new methods, etc. form the routine list. One reason rarely mentioned is the inconsistency between the prevailing grade-wise curriculum and school structure on the one hand and the idea of progress on the learning continuum inherent in the CCE on the other. The CCE does not suit our authoritarian school organisation, administration and syllabus organisation.
But it seems that the biggest force behind the persistence of this curse and useless examination system is a social one which is grossly under-examined. We are a caste-based and strictly hierarchical society. In earlier times, this hierarchy had the iron-clad stability of the caste system. That determined the place, function, work and life of an Indian even before his/her birth. There are attempts now, which range from constitutional rights to political struggle, to break that mould. It may not have been dismantled yet, but is under tremendous pressure ever since the freedom movement began.
But social hierarchies involve privileges, prestige and goods of life that are cherished by all. None is ready to let go of the privileges one has. As a result, the attempts to maintain the old hierarchy as well as the ways to challenge it look toward education. Education, therefore, becomes a means of fierce competition either to remain in one’s position of privilege or to rise in the hierarchy. It completely stops being a self-motivated way of forming an authentic self and gaining an understanding of the world, and is reduced to a means to beat/best the neighbour. A more open and thoughtful system of education will challenge the hierarchies which are so dear to a caste-minded Indian. The result is that the authoritarian system of pass-fail stays.
The stand of intellectuals
One wonders why the intellectuals in Indian society, and who understand the ills of this education system and the implied curse of examinations, don’t make a beginning to dismantle it. The answer perhaps lies in the often noticed phenomenon of the very people who write scathing papers and offer opinion on the ills of the current examination system, hold seminars and give keynote addresses on it in conferences, taking leave and cancelling all their engagements to be at hand when their own children are to appear in the standard 10 and 12 board examinations. Interpreting this contradiction as a simple lack of commitment to ideals is a superficial understanding even if it has an element of truth. The malady is deeper. In spite of being convinced of the “truth” of their analysis of the education system and the ills of examinations, they see the possibility of privileges their children will get through success in these very examinations; and the dangers of losing the positions achieved by themselves.
To face this situation one requires courage of conviction which scholar Alberuni noted a thousand years ago, albeit in the context of religion, that Indians don’t have. In the context of theology Alberuni notes: “at the utmost, they [Indians ] fight with words, but they will never stake their soul or body or their property in religious controversies”. Not putting at stake their soul, body and property in religious disputes may be considered a welcome openness; but it seems this tendency is applicable to all ideas that might bring change. Indians don’t stake their property and position on ideas that may collide with the existing system. Unfortunately, no change in the system is possible without there being a critical number of people in society who are ready to pay the price to make a beginning. We don’t seem to have that critical number yet. And till we reach that number, our children will continue to commit suicide and their parents will continue to disown the responsibility to push them to do it. And we will all continue to blame the rigid system without noticing that its roots are in our own souls.

Rohit Dhankar is Professor and Director Academic Development, Azim Premji University, Bangalore and Academic Adviser, Digantar, Jaipur.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

India’s only double coconut tree artificially pollinated

                           The palm species bears largest seed known to science

Scientists at the Indian Botanical Garden in West Bengal’s Howrah district have carried out artificial pollination of the only double coconut tree in India, which bears the largest seed known to science.
One of the rare and globally threatened species of palm, the double coconut (Lodoicea maldivica) tree was planted at the botanical garden in 1894 and the artificial pollination is a result of decades of work by scientists of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI).
“The tree took almost a hundred years to mature and when it started flowering, we started looking for this particular palm species in this part of world. We collected some pollen from palms from Sri Lanka but could not successfully pollinate it. Finally, with the help of pollen from another tree in Thailand, the pollination process was successful,” BSI Director Paramjit Singh told The Hindu.
Longest surviving palm
The Double Coconut tree not only bears the largest seed known to science — weighing around 25 kg — but this unique species is also the longest surviving palm which can live for as long as 1,000 years, he says. The palm tree also bears the largest leaf among palms and one leaf can thatch a small hut.
“Successful pollination means that we can have another Lodoicea maldivica in the country. In fact we have two fruits and it might take them another couple of years to mature,” said S.S. Hameed, BSI scientist who has been working on the pollination project since 2006.
This species of palm is diecious (where male and female flowers are borne on different plants). “Fortunately at the Botanical Garden, we had the female plant which can fruit and produce seeds,” Mr. Hameed said. The Indian Botanical Garden which serves as the repository 12,000 trees from 1,400 different species is careful in nurturing the palm.
The palm tree is located in the large palm house of the Botanical Garden which has the largest collection of palms in South East Asia with around 110 palm species.
This rare tree can be found in only two of the 115 Seychelles islands and is also called Coco de Mer (coconut of the sea), says Mr. Hameed
Legend bestows the seed with the power to bring good fortune to its owners. “There has also been a tradition of making kamandals [drinking vessels] from the double coconut by bisecting the shell. It was believed that those who consume water from these kamandals will be protected from poisoning,” Mr. Hameed said. Subsequently, sadhus started using Kamandals and it got its place in religious rituals.


Transparency forms the bedrock of climate change actions, CBIT (Capacity building initiative for transparency fund) is an outcome of the UNFCCC's Paris agreement in 2015 and expected to address the issue of transparency
# To help developing countries monitor and report the progress on their climate actions
# Strengthening of national institutions of participating members in transparency related activities with respect to the Nationally Determined Contributions
# The fund will be set up by the GEF, with financial support from the developed nations like US, UK, Canada etc
# World Bank has been requested to act as the trustee for the fund, who was also a trustee in the initial hand holding of GEF
# Many developing countries lack the necessary capacity to monitor and report their progress on the front of INDCs
# This fund helps developed countries to take on board the developing countries in developing their domestic capacities leading to transparent mechanisms in reporting the progress

Choosing Speed over Diligence

Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, is a man in a hurry. He is fond of boasting about his ministry’s achievements. In the two years that he has headed this important ministry, it is the speed with which projects have been cleared that Javadekar claims as his principal achievement. He was recently reported saying that his ministry had cleared over 2,000 projects in two years, including 349 mining proposals. He said that the waiting period for a project to be cleared had been reduced from 600 days to 190 days and that he aimed to reduce this further to 100 days. Calling this a “revolution,” he went on to boast that this would result in the creation of millions of jobs and spur India’s economic growth.
Apart from the fact that many of such claims made by the Modi government after two years in office have been shown to be short on credible facts and high on bombast, Javadekar’s boasts are reason for alarm, not applause. Either he has forgotten, or has chosen to forget, that the idea behind environmental clearances was to protect the environment, not make way for its destruction. Even under existing rules, most environmental clearances are suspect. They rely on data provided by project proponents, there are direct conflicts of interest, the prerequisite public hearing is often stage-managed, and the process is opaque. This was one of the important observations of the Supreme Court-appointed expert committee on hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand after the June 2013 devastating floods. The committee emphasised that hydro projects in ecologically-fragile areas like the Himalayas could not be viewed individually; they had to be assessed in terms of their cumulative impact on the region. It also noted that the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) of the hydro projects it had reviewed, were unreliable and that many of them had been done on the basis of false information provided by project proponents. It urged that future EIAs ought to be done by an independent agency.
There are other instances of existing environmental norms being diluted. For instance, under Javadekar’s watch, the norm for setting up a mining or an industry project near a protected area or a forested area has been changed—from a distance of 10 km to 5 km. The moratorium on new industries in critically-polluted industrial areas such as Ghaziabad, Indore, Ludhiana, Panipat, Patancheru, Singrauli, Vapi and two other locations has been lifted. The loosening of central controls is evident in the decision to allow state governments to clear projects occupying less than 10,000 hectares without an EIA. Also, mandatory public hearings for establishment of private coal mines with a capacity less than 16 million tonnes per annum have been set aside. These are just a few of several such decisions that suggest that the ministry is anxious to ease environmental clearances rather than make them more rigorous.
The latest information indicating the ministry’s policy direction are the new rules issued regarding wetlands—the Draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2016. These will supersede the existing 2010 rules once approved. The 2010 rules were formulated after extensive consultations with experts and environmental groups. They acknowledged the importance of preserving wetlands which cover only 4.7% of India’s land area but play a crucial role in moderating the impact of floods and cyclones, in storing and purifying water and in recharging groundwater. The wetlands are also repositories of precious and endangered biodiversity and act as carbon sinks. The 2010 rules laid down specific prohibitions on the use of wetlands to ensure that these fragile ecospheres are not further endangered. The new draft rules have no prohibitions, only criteria for what is permitted. Further, the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority will be dismantled and instead states will be free to independently decide how projects near wetlands are to be established. The specious argument forwarded by the ministry is that since land and water are state subjects, wetlands ought to come under the jurisdiction of state governments. But wetlands are not just land and water; these include forests and endangered fauna and much more. By removing central control, the government is literally allowing state governments to do as they wish with wetlands. We have seen the consequences of such a policy. In the 2015 floods in Chennai and Srinagar, wetlands that had been filled up failed to act as buffers.
The ministry under Javadekar has also tried to dilute the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 or the Forest Rights Act (FRA) by arguing that gram sabhas should not have the right to veto important mining projects in forested land. So far it has not succeeded in doing this. Nor has its attempt to trim the powers of the National Green Tribunal been successful. But its record so far, and its choice of speed over diligence in clearing projects, indicates the future direction of environmental policy under this government, one that spells doom for India’s fragile environmental resources.

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