Category: current affairs

March 18,HIndu news crunch

Here is a water crusader Ayyappa Masagi has turned almost 26,000 hectares of dryland into wetland, rejuvenated thousands of ponds, lakes and borewells, and successfully executed rainwater harvesting projects for nearly 170 industries in and around Bengaluru. A look by M.A. Siraj (more…)

March 17, Hindu news crunch

Missing the spirit for the body It is time that the Censor Board lost its authority to effectively ban films

Pulapre Balakrishnan

The Central Board of Film Certification, the ‘Censor Board’ to most Indians, has done it again. It has turned down yet another film. This one, Ka Bodyscapes directed by Jayan Cherian, has the distinction of having been viewed thrice by the Board. By its act the Board has lowered its credibility, and by association that of the Indian republic in whose name it acts. It is time that its authority to effectively ban films should go. This not because of its provenance — it is after all a vestige of colonialism — but because by refusing to certify the film in question, it has revealed itself as tendentious, driven by prudery, ignorant of India’s history and unmindful of the Constitution. The narrative circle As Ka Bodyscapes cannot be viewed in the cinema hall, and I was not fortunate enough to view it in the private screenings that have taken place in India, I must rely on descriptions of those who have watched it and on the statements of the Board that have made their way into the public domain via the media. So what is the film about? We get an idea from the writ petition filed in the High Court of Kerala seeking restraint on the CBFC’s virtual ban. We are told that it revolves around three characters. Haris is a free-thinking artist who also happens to be a Muslim. He is in a relationship with Vishnu who comes from a family of right-wingers and is a Hanuman-bhakt himself, which presumably makes him Hindu but does not bring acceptance from his family. They have a friend in Sia who comes from a conservative background and is as Muslim as Haris is. She chooses feminism and faces flak for it. On behalf of the director, the petitioners clarify that the film is about societal attitudes towards individual freedom and is not a critique of religion. Finally, the film is set in Kozhikode, a city the rooted cosmopolitanism of which belies its size. Now, what are the Board’s objections? I rely on what is reported in the media. Thus, on March 3, it was reported in The Hindu that the Board has objected that: “… the film is glorifying the subject of gay and homosexual relationship, nudity accentuating vital parts of male body (in paintings)… The film is explicit of scene offending Hindu sensibilities depicting vulgarity and obscenity through the movie.” There is also recourse to the trope of ‘law and order’. It is extraordinary for an order from a public body that there is no trace of reasoning to be found in all this. The Board appears innocent of both our storied past as a people or of the Indian Constitution. Temple sculpture celebrates sexual union of every kind, which only the philistines miss. Moreover, there is no stricture against the depiction of nudity in Hinduism. Further, the Board appears to not have heard of court judgments which categorically reject the argument of ‘law and order’ as a criterion for banning a film. As for religious sensibilities, the Constitution gives an individual the freedom to practise his or her religion but not the right to be protected from any reference to it that may be interpreted as giving offence. All practices are open to scrutiny and no ‘religious immunity’ is on offer. India is a secular republic and, accordingly, no special rights are accorded to religion. Therefore, all Indians are subject to the laws of the land. Moreover, political rights are due only to individuals. It is by a strange anthropomorphosis that sensibility is assigned to a whole religion. A more sensational instance of this was when Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was banned under the Customs Act. By taking recourse to religion, the Board has left it easier to challenge its ruling. It is true that in India religious identity is often an ascriptive marker of persons, and it is difficult to get very far away from it. But the role of public institutions in a democracy is to wean society away from this practice by weighing in on behalf of individuals trying to break free of oppressive social custom so long as this does not violate the freedom of others. It is not obvious that Ka Bodyscapes comes even close to achieving the last. If religions are to be granted sensibility and the religious is the only identity a person is allowed to have, in this instance India’s religions must find the film affirming, because when forming intimate associations with persons of other religions, we seemingly recognise one another’s religion. But, actually, all this is utterly irrelevant in the context as religion should have no role to play in determining the sexual lives of people. The CBFC cannot be allowed to get away with the pettiness that it hides behind the fig leaf of religion. Its beef clearly is with “glorifying the subject of homosexuality”, by which prospect the Board is clearly shocked. It cannot be unaware that much of what Bollywood does is the untiring propagation of the heteronormative ideal in human relations. The Board has taken the law into its own hands as there is no legal stricture on the representation of homosexuality in any form. It has gratuitously gone the extra mile. Even Macaulay had contended himself with the somewhat blunt shield of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which is applicable to all Indians. It is a reflection of the career of cultural fascism in India that the rights of Indians of an alternative sexual orientation can be taken away so casually. The right at stake is that of affirmative representation. There are three ways of seeing Ka Bodyscapes. The first one is the construction that it is an affront to religion. Of the three, it is the most simplistic. Consider the imagery of Indra’s youthful companions, the marut, as men in the sky who relish one another’s bodies. Devout Hindus are not upset by this picture as they treat it as beside the point of their belief. The Board reveals its lack of understanding of so confident a religion when it rushes unsolicited to its defence. The second is to see it as a story of friendship between a Hindu and a Muslim directed by a Christian. The academic secularists would be made happy by this characterisation, but it gives primacy to religion, which is what the film is trying to get away from. The most promising way of seeing the film is to see it as showing how Indians are rejecting social strictures to follow their instincts. I am entirely open to the possibility that whenever I do get to watch Jayan’s film I might find it unappealing. Many films on the same theme clumsily purvey stereotypes, are historically inaccurate and politically naive. However, accounts are that this one at least presents gay relationships in a self-affirming way for a change. On other screens In its design to torpedo the project, the Board may have unwittingly done more for the gay movement in India than they care to, for as Oscar Wilde had put it, “There is only one thing worse in the world than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” And, it may have scuttled the possibility of Ka Bodyscapes being watched in the cinemas, but there’s always Amazon. Pulapre Balakrishnan is professor of economics at Ashoka University, Sonipat and Senior Fellow at IIM, Kozhikode

Leaving no one behind The Vision 2030 document should formulate a disability-inclusive development agenda

Ankit Rajiv Jindal

The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) is formulating a Vision 2030 document. This document is coterminous with the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), all 17 of which equally affect persons with disabilities as they do any other citizen. The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People conducted a seminar in December 2016. The government, the private sector, and leaders from various development fields participated to take stock of the current situation and deliberate on how disability could be integrated in Vision 2030. A starting point was that the government, the NITI Aayog, and all the associated stakeholders should interpret the provisions of the SDGs in line with the requirements and spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). What may a road map for creating a disability-inclusive development agenda look like? A starting point Disability is still seen as an opportunity for dispensing charity rather than as a development or a human rights issue. The knowledge of MPs and State legislatures must be refreshed on the rights, needs and issues of persons with disabilities based on the changing disability landscape, the UNCRPD, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. The NITI Aayog must invest effort in building awareness for NGOs, academics, civil society, the private sector, etc., in order to articulate a disability-inclusive development agenda. Persons with disabilities must be seen as integral to the decision-making process and not as an afterthought. They must be mentioned in the outcome metrics defined for each goal, target or indicator, and these matrices must elaborate specific strategies for persons with disabilities. There must be seven-year checkpoints for ministries or departments to assess the outcomes. Fair and adequate representation of disability groups during the consultation process is imperative. The NITI Aayog has mapped each goal to a nodal ministry and each target with the government’s key programmes and departments to make these targets accountable and realise them within a specified time period. However, disability is an issue that cuts across several ministries; it is not just a subject for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Our analysis indicates that there are 26 ministries where there needs to be a dedicated focus towards persons with disabilities and a specific cell to address their concerns. Specific budgets need to be allocated across initiatives and ministries to address the needs of persons with disabilities. The NITI Aayog too must have a dedicated cell which acts as a focal point and works with all ministries to monitor implementation and track progress across all initiatives for persons with disabilities. The document must insist that data for persons with disabilities are appropriately collected, maintained and disaggregated. This must include all government initiatives that capture any data related to population or human resources or human development, including employment, education, poverty and hunger. While reporting from the SDGs’ point of view, the NITI Aayog must ensure that the process of data collection and disaggregation for disability must not be relegated to the silos of seven targets which explicitly mention persons with disabilities, or the additional six targets which mention people in vulnerable situations. In addition, there are universal targets, which must also be achieved for persons with disabilities. Our analysis indicates that there are more than 85 targets across 15 goals encompassing more than 100 indicators where there is a need to collect, analyse, disaggregate and report data for persons with disabilities. All data must be available in the public domain, and published in an accessible format and in a timely manner. It is important for India to have the addition of a universally accepted disability question(s) on all existing data instruments. The UN recommends the Washington Group Short Set of Questions on Disability, while India has been using a different question. A standard question needs to be developed, taking into account the socio-cultural sensitivities of people with disabilities and their families. The NITI Aayog should call for a national-level consultation with cross-disability groups and arrive at a consensus on the right question, which should then be unified across all data instruments of all sources of demographic information, including the impending Unique Disability ID, the population census, civil registration, sample surveys conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation, Sample Registration System and for all social schemes. The overarching principle of Vision 2030 is to “leave no one behind”. We, as disabled citizens, are anxious to learn how this crucial document, which will encompass the SDGs 17 goals and 169 targets, will be inclusive of our needs and aspirations. Ankit Rajiv Jindal is a marketing specialist, social entrepreneur and a disability rights activist.

left, right, centre Are injectable contraceptives advisable? The government is aiming to control women’s fertility rather than uphold their reproductive rights

Sulakshana Nandi is national joint convener, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (Peoples’ Health Movement, India)is national joint convener, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (Peoples’ Health Movement, India)

Instead of putting its efforts into improving the delivery of existing contraceptive methods, the government has recently chosen to introduce the injectable contraceptive, depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), which is known to have adverse effects on women’s health. The articulation of population as a ‘problem’ or talking in terms of a ‘population explosion’ is deeply problematic, for it brings with it the spectre of ‘control’ and eventually, in a country like ours, control over women’s body and fertility. Countries that have achieved lower fertility rates have done so due to economic and social development and improvements in public services, including health services. Simply put, if a family is convinced that their one child or two children will not only survive but be healthy, they won’t have more children. Women, even rural women, today want fewer children. However, they are forced to have more children due to several reasons that range from economic compulsions, lack of negotiating power within the family, to limited access to health services including contraceptive services. Women’s groups and various health groups have been cautioning the government for decades against introducing injectable contraceptives in the public health system. Case against injectables First, there are concerns regarding the preparedness of the government health system to implement this contraceptive method. DMPA may be easy to administer, but health workers need to be capable of assessment before administering it and of managing side effects that some women may experience. Also, DMPA requires administration once every three months. The Government of India guidelines on the injectable contraceptive mention side effects like menstrual changes, irregular bleeding, prolonged/heavy bleeding, amenorrhea (stopping of menstruation), weight gain, headaches, changes in mood or sex drive, and decrease in bone mineral density. Moreover, studies from Africa have shown that the risk of HIV infection may increase for women who have been administered injectable contraceptives. Second, the government needs to introspect whether existing methods have been made available to people through informed choice, in a safe manner. Gaps in the system Regular stock-outs of oral contraceptives and condoms, lack of training to the auxiliary nurse midwife or ANMs on intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUCDs), instances of lack of informed consent for post-partum IUCD, and the rampant violation of the guidelines for sterilisation, which in 2014 led to the deaths of 13 women, all reflect gaps in implementing and monitoring such programmes. It is strange that while the existing contraceptive methods are not being provided properly, the government has gone on to introduce a method that raises so many questions and may prove to be more complicated in its implementation. Why didn’t the government put all its efforts into promoting male vasectomy, for instance, which is a safer option and less of a problem for women? By introducing DMPA in the public health programme, the government also has to answer whose interests are actually being served. There are serious concerns that some agencies are pushing this for profit. Experience from the private sector, where these contraceptives had been made available previously, shows that very few women had opted for injectable contraceptives. The government should have been more cautious in introducing this method. It appears that by introducing injectable contraceptives under the guise of ‘expanding the basket of choices’, the government actually aims to control women’s fertility rather than uphold their reproductive rights. As told to Anuradha Raman

This is about expanding the basket of choices. Injectable contraceptives are just an option

S.K. Sikdar is commissioner of the family planning division of the Health Ministryis commissioner of the family planning division of the Health Ministry

The Health Ministry is in the process of introducing injectable contraceptives in the National Family Planning Programme (NFPP), with the aim to expand the basket of choices available to women. Introducing modern methods of family planning is a major part of the reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health (RMNCH+A) strategy to improve maternal and infant health indicators, with a special focus on delaying the first birth and the spacing between births. Including injectable contraceptives in the NFPP will ensure access to preferred contraceptive methods for women. Stress on quality Every new programme has to go through a cycle of proper training and capacity-building. Under RMNCH+A, we are trying to ensure that Indian women make an informed choice when they pick a type of family planning or spacing method. After Bilaspur (where 13 women died in a government-run sterilisation camp), we have tried to improve the quality of sterilisation services, a fact that the Supreme Court too appreciated in its 2006 judgment, which set guidelines for female and male sterilisation services on that case. We take quality assurance seriously and are thus in the process of doing away with the camp approach in a phased manner. We have already introduced a permanent cadre of counsellors, to ensure there is information provided to the couple on all the contraceptives available in the basket of choices. Nobody can force this on women in this country, coercion is against the law and the programme is not target-driven. Injectable contraceptives are just an option. We are trying to change the fact that female sterilisation remains the more popular choice, accounting for over 75% of contraceptive use in India. It disempowers them. Sterilisation should be the last choice and we are trying to ensure that clients understand the consequences of undergoing a sterilisation operation in a language that they understand through our counsellors and service providers. ‘Drug vetted’ As far as the debate around the side effects of the injections is concerned, this drug has been rigorously vetted. The World Health Organisation and most professional bodies have advocated its use. Our programme focuses on telling women about all the choices she has available, depending on her situation. We have post-partum methods, spacing methods for new parents, and the programme aims to help women select the option most suitable for them, depending on their situation in life. There has been concern about the effect of an injectable contraceptive on bone density and it has to be categorically stated that the bone marrow density is reversible. Global data show that the average number of doses a woman takes is around two to four at a stretch, which is sufficient for her to space her next birth, thereby giving her time to recover from the stress of childbirth and a chance for the child to get the attention she needs to grow. We are also introducing injectable contraceptives in a phased manner. They will first be available only in medical colleges and district hospitals and then move downwards. The Health Ministry took this decision to not compromise on quality. We will only make injectable contraceptives available when we have the capacity to deliver counselling at the health facility. Further, the Ministry is painfully aware that male participation needs to increase. There is a programme specifically designed to increase male participation. Meanwhile, women still need to be offered all the choices that are available. As told to Vidya Krishnan

The real conversation we should be having is about prioritising men’s participation in family planning

Poonam Muttreja is executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a not-for-profit organisation working towards gender sensitive policies and programmes for family planning is executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a not-for-profit organisation working towards gender sensitive policies and programmes for family planning

Family planning is a crucial public health programme, directly linked to the health of women, children and families. The government has estimated that if the current unmet need for family planning could be fulfilled within the next five years, India can avert 35,000 maternal deaths and 12 lakh infant deaths. The real conversation we should be having is about prioritising men’s participation in family planning. We need to stop referring to family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights as women’s issues. They are as much men’s issues, society’s issues, moral issues, ethical issues, and issues of social justice and human dignity. Address gender bias Sustained engagement of men in health and family planning not just as clients of family planning and reproductive health services, but as responsible partners to women is the only way to address the severe gender bias in the programme. In 2005, the National Family Health Survey-3 (NFHS) revealed that 1% Indian men were opting for sterilisation services. In the last 10 years, this number has gone down to 0.3%. We need more doctors trained in providing vasectomy, more counselling for men instead of addressing only women. Evidence suggests that the involvement of men in family planning has many benefits. It can act as a catalyst towards improving maternal and child health indicators, increasing contraceptive uptake, and enabling women to exercise their autonomy and reproductive rights. However, the acceptance of male methods of contraception is marred by many myths and misconceptions, such as loss of virility and libido. To address these challenges, a systematic integrated approach with information, education and communication activities for men aimed at dispelling myths and misconceptions could result in a better uptake of contraceptives and an increased shared responsibility towards family planning. New methods, new fears In 2015, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) announced the introduction of three new contraceptive methods — Progestin-only Pills, Centchroman and injectable contraceptives — to the basket of contraceptive choices. However, the introduction of DMPA has led to concern in terms of the possible side effects of the injectable contraceptive and the likelihood of women making uninformed choices. The Population Foundation of India has advocated strongly with the MoHFW to ensure full preparedness, including the training of service providers, for the roll-out of all new methods. It is critical to address the concerns raised on quality of care and counselling services. The roll-out of injectables must be done by sharing evidence-based information on the benefits and side effects to ensure that a woman makes an informed choice. There is a direct correlation between the number of contraceptive options available and the willingness of women to use them. Studies indicate that an addition of a contraceptive method leads to an increase of up to 12% in contraceptive usage. Given that NFHS-4 data show that the use of contraceptives has declined, we must ensure that women and men are provided with more choices of contraception. Women should not be bound to use a method due to lack of contraceptive choices, which would be a direct violation of rights. An expansion in the basket of choices is an effort to ensure that family planning doesn’t become coercive due to lack of choices, and can cater to the needs of all individuals, keeping in mind affordability and accessibility. As told to Vidya Krishnan

An unedited mutation While it might appear that we’ve cured ourselves of our eugenic baggage, science soldiers on

Author: Jacob Koshy

Whenever there’s progress in the field of genetics, there’s cause for worry. For some years now, these mixed feelings are being evoked by a gene-altering technology called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), which refers to a suite of gene-editing techniques. It can be used to target specific stretches of genetic code and to edit DNA at precise locations, permanently modify genes in living cells and organisms, and possibly correct disease-causing mutations. So far, all of the CRISPR-related research is focussed on plants, animals and lifeforms far removed from the human universe. Last week, a team from China reported intriguing results from CRISPR-modified human embryos. According to the New Scientist, the team has corrected genetic mutations in a few cells in three normal human embryos using CRISPR. Previous attempts have always been on abnormal human embryos and success rates (typically less than 10%) were too low to be viable. In this study, normal embryos, tweaked by deleterious mutations introduced by genetically diseased sperm, were corrected. The numbers involved are still low, but the fact that normal embryos seemed to be more receptive to gene-editing is a queasily exciting development. Improving the human stock Historians of genetic engineering technology, most recently Siddhartha Mukherjee, have warned that societies, nations and other human collectives have been obsessed with improving the human stock. While it might appear that we’ve cured ourselves of our eugenic baggage, science soldiers on to find genes for disease, and the modern personalised genetic test, now also available to the Indian affluent, hopes to warn Indians of possible genetic disorders in their unborn. Notions of ‘disease’ keep changing and while a warning about the fatal familial insomnia (that causes you to die of sleeplessness) may make a decision to abort easier, would a genetic basis for autism or early coronary heart disease make it morally compelling for a couple to terminate a foetus? Beyond ridding the body of known disease, would CRISPR-led tweaks to, say, increasing expression of certain genes that improve athletic endurance be acceptable, a kind of womb-level doping? Another complication is that CRISPR-led attempts to correct certain genes can sometimes lead to nearby, off-target genes also getting altered (mosaicism). In the quest to correct aberrations, would it be worth the risk to fix what isn’t broken? The Committee on Human Genome Editing said in a report last month that gene-editing techniques were too risky to be made widely available. While scientists and ethicists may have so far made the right political noises about restraining gene-editing technology, bruising patent battles are already under way over intellectual property rights to the CRISPR technology. That means commercial interest in it is already so high that there is enough incentive for commercial interests to organise lobbying efforts and bring in legislation to offer gene-editing as a product. CRISPR, yet, can’t excise the Orwellian.
Umwelt/ Ethology In German, Umwelt means “surroundings” and refers to how an organism mentally frames its world. The biologist, Jakob von Uexk�ll, coined the concept to argue that extrapolating human-centric models of the brain to understand animal cognition was a flawed approach. The eyeless tick, for example, climbs onto a grass stem and sensing butyric acid on the skin of a mammal, lunges, has its fill of blood, lays its eggs and dies. Its life-goal and approach to achieving it constitute the tick’s umwelt. Viewed this way, marking dogs, dolphins and chimpanzees as ‘smart’ and others as ‘dumb as dodos’ would not only be false but meaningless.

U.S. trade nominee for ‘aggressive’ steps on IP IPRs have been a bone of contention between U.S., India

Author: Varghese K GeorgeWASHINGTON

Incoming U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer told lawmakers this week that he would take “aggressive” measures to protect intellectual property rights in India. IPR protection has been a bone of contention between India and the U.S. for years now, and several American companies and lawmakers have been pressing the administration for stricter measures. First question At the hearing for his confirmation as USTR in the Senate Finance Committee, the first question that Mr. Lighthizer faced was on India, from Chairman Orrin G Hatch. “Now what can you do differently to secure intellectual property rights protection in the country of India?” Mr. Hatch asked. Lighthizer said, “I think we need a policy that is as aggressive as we can have. There are a whole lot of areas where we are at risk in intellectual property protection; including with India. Slow and inefficient patent protection, theft of intellectual properly, insufficient property protection.” New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez said: “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to build greater economic ties with India, but I have a real problem with their lack of protection of intellectual property rights…” Watch list The USTR annual report on IP rights has kept India on priority watch list for years now, even as U.S. companies have sought stricter measures. Sec 3 ( d ) of India’s Patent Act prevents pharmaceutical companies from continually extending patents by making minor changes in the product and American companies find India’s compulsory licensing provisions harsh. The new trade policy released by the USTR earlier this month calls for measures to increase market access for American products and services. American policy makers have problems with India’s copyrights laws too, but India maintains that its IPR regime is compliant with WTO standards. “There has been only one instance of issue of a Compulsory License (CL), which should not warrant a discussion on unilateral trade sanctions especially as the action was TRIPS compliant,” said Ridhika Batra, Director USA at Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “The provision of 3(d) in the Indian Patents Act and CL provisions have worried international pharmaceutical companies since the amendment to the Indian Patent Act in 2005, that it may encourage other developing and even some developed countries to introduce similar provisions in their laws. Such bilateral pressures are now seen globally as pressure tactics on developing countries driven by a few ‘big’ international pharma companies,” Ms. Batra said. “Indian policy framework is driven by the needs of its people,” she said, adding that while all its policies are within the framework of international treaties and agreements, “each country is sovereign and may adopt or reflect or emulate as per its specific requirements.”

Start-up firms may soon find it easy to wind up Once notified as ‘Fast Track’ they can close in 90 days

Author: Special CorrespondentNEW DELHI

To enable faster exit for start-ups and to bring the winding up process in line with global best practices, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) has written to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) to notify start-ups as ‘Fast Track firms.’ “Once this is notified, start-ups shall be able to wind up their business within a period of 90 days from making an application for the same,” according to a government report (dated March 15) on start-ups. Debt structures The DIPP is the nodal Central government body for the Start-up India initiative, while the MCA is the concerned authority for notifications on winding up of companies. Fast Track firms will be start-ups with simple debt structures or those meeting certain criteria that will be specified. The ‘Bharat Navodaya: Start-Up India Reform Report’, released on March 6, had recommended expediting the company winding up process in India, “which is currently long-drawn and requires substantial documentation.” The Report was prepared by the Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy-chaired Alternative Investment Policy Advisory Committee (AIPAC) following a request from capital markets regulator SEBI. It pointed out that winding up in the U.K. can be initiated by downloading a simple form and calling for a shareholders meeting. “In Singapore, a simple online application is needed to be made by a director or Company Secretary following which, the process is quite straightforward. Most economic zones in UAE allow for winding down of the business in two to three days.” Notification The report said expediting the company winding up process in India would require the notification of Sections 304-323 of the Companies Act, 2013, relating to voluntary winding up. “The benefits of voluntary winding up operations involve no court supervision,” it added.

Strong votary: There are many areas where there is risk to IPR, according to Robert Lighthizer. REUTERS

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march 16,hindu news crunch

It’s complicated Turkey and the EU nations can’t afford to wait till the referendum to de-escalate tensions (more…)

March 15,HIndu news crunch

Experts unravel mystery behind plant wilting Study by group of researchers finds heat bursts were behind the 2015 phenomenon in places close to the coast (more…)

march 14,hindu news crunch

For a bold foreign policy National interest is not served by avoiding problems left over by a previous global order

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March 13,hindu news crunch

Allowing for a sibling How the Chinese took advantage of the easing of the one-child policy would ascertain the two-child policy’s impact

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March 12,Hindu news crunch

Ganja attracts Shivamogga farmers as drought wilts paddy and ginger hopes Rains have repeatedly failed over the hills, and agents of drug peddlers come regularly with cannabis seeds to draw naive, cash-starved growers

Author: P.M. Veerendra Shivamogga

An agent enters a village bordering the verdant Western Ghats forests of Shivamogga district, in the guise of being a scrap merchant or ginger dealer. Acquaintances are made, and a proposition is put forth: start cultivating lucrative ganja (cannabis) instead of the low-profit paddy. With drought taking its hold in the area and the prices of agricultural produce crashing, many farmers in the region have taken up this proposition — often, at the cost of forests. These agents have set the stage for them: cash advances and ganja seed packets. All that the farmer needs to do is to plant them amidst their maize or ginger fields or in the neighbouring forest areas. The market and demand for this has been set up in urban centres of Bengaluru, Mangaluru and Mumbai. Chethan (name changed), a farmer in a hamlet in the Anandapuram grama panchayat limits, took up the offer after his traditional means of livelihood started to buckle. “When the cultivation of paddy and ginger could no longer sustain us due to the persistent drought, it became inevitable to take up ganja cultivation,” he said. He was arrested last year after his cultivation was discovered, and now has returned to his village on bail. Roiled region The persistent drought in the region — despite being one of the traditionally high rain-fall receiving area of the state — has seen many more farmers shift to this clandestine cultivation. Superintendent of Police Abhinav Khare said that in the five months since October 2016, 44 cases related to illegal cultivation and transportation of marijuana had been registered in the district — a significant spike of 33 cases booked under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 2015. This has led to 89 people being arrested, 400 kg of ganja seized, and even the booking of two habitual offenders under the Goondas Act (Karnataka Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-Offenders, Gamblers, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders and Slum-Grabbers Act) “We are probing the links of those arrested to a wider drug-peddling racket,” he said. Agrarian distress A major contributing factor to this shift towards the illegal cultivation is the drought. The past two monsoons have seen a rainfall deficit ranging from 26% to 37%, leading to over 530 hectares of areca plantations drying up. Ganja cultivation is also high-risk, high-return. Paddy was being cultivated under rain-fed method, however, and the prices do not justify the input costs. According to the Karnataka Agriculture Prices Commission, the cost of cultivation of 100 kg of paddy here is ₹2,800. The prevailing market rate is around ₹1,500. Even ginger, which saw an eight-fold rise in acreage after prices hit ₹15,000 per 100 kg, has now slumped to barely ₹2,200. In comparison, a kilo of ganja powder — from barely 20 plants — can give around ₹20,000, according to sources. K.C. Basavarajappa, a social activist, said ignorant small and marginal farmers were liable to be sucked into the racket. Forests suffer A consequence of this is that forest fringes are often targeted. Officials said farmers looking to avoid the criminalities associated with cultivating cannabis on their lands, were burning portions of forest land to clear a patch for cultivation. Forest Department officials suspect the fire in the Ambligolla reserve forest on February 18 — which resulted in 250 acres of forest being reduced to cinders — was done by potential ganja growers. The suspicion comes out of experience. In 2012, 500 acres were burnt in the Shettyhalli Wildlife Sanctuary and the next year, excise and police officials found ganja cultivation in those patches. Coincidentally, these cleared portions are seeing a rise in applications for regularisation of unauthorised cultivation of forest/government lands under the Forest Rights Act or under the Bagair Hukum scheme. Channabasappa K., Additional Deputy Commissioner said these applications were being rejected, and the police and excise departments requested to provide information on their arrests to weed out these applications. The hills and mountains of the district provide a fertile ground for cannabis cultivation, and it has seeped into a few traditions of the region. Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, the Scottish physician and geographer with the British East India Company, had noted ganja cultivation during his travels in the late 18th century. A mixture of flowers, ganja seeds and semi-liquid jaggery is a drink made by farmers (similar to bhaang in the North). These used to be prepared in the region in moderate quantities during the harvest season.

Weed patrol: Police personnel with ganja plants seized during a recent raid in Shivamogga district.

Passport digitisation still a far cry State struggling with the manual system for submission of police verification report

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March 11,Hindu news crunch

‘Lost’ Chandrayaan-1 found orbiting Moon Radar tech helps to spot spacecraft

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March 10,Hindu news crunch

Punjab varsity develops new Bt cotton varieties 3 GM seed options to help farmers cut cultivation costs

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March 9,Hindu news crunch

Trial court verdict in Saibaba case raises legal questions SC has held that mere membership of banned outfit won’t make a person criminal (more…)