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2004 Tsunami: Tamil Nadu observes 12th anniversary of tragedy

Chennai: The 12th anniversary of the killer tsunami that caused massive destruction in Tamil Nadu in 2004 was observed across the state with people mourning the dead and fishermen keeping off the seas.

Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar and Handloom Minister OS Manian paid tributes in Chennai and at Nagapattinam, respectively.

Special prayers and floral tributes besides remembering the loved ones by pouring milk into the sea marked the day, even as many recalled that fateful day on December 26 when tidal waves swept away their loved ones along the coast.

Prayers and tributes were held in Chennai and Nagapattinam, with the latter bearing the brunt of the killer waves, besides others, including Cuddalore and Kanniyakumari.

Women poured milk into the sea as a mark of respect to the departed ones while candle light and floral tributes were paid by people for their relatives who were consumed by the sea.

While many remembered their surviving the ordeal, others recalled how the waves swept away their close relatives.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Fishermen did not venture out to sea for their vocation on Monday.

At Nagapattinam, when the clock struck 9:17 a.m, people rose to observe a minute’s silence to pay homage to the persons who lost their lives in the tsunami.

District Collector S Pazhanisamy and other officials participated in silent marches, candle processions and floral tributes.

At Vailankanni, a special mass was conducted at the Shrine Basillica in memory of the tsunami victims. A silent procession was also held.

At Nagore, tributes were paid to those who were buried in the land owned by the Dargah. The graveyard of the dargah of Saint Hazrath Syed Shahul Hameed Quadir Wali at Nagore, which is more than 500 years old, witnessed mass burials 12 years ago.

Memorials were also held in neighbouring Karaikal.

Hundreds of fishermen from 12 affected villages in the district took out silent processions,placed wreaths and lit candles at the memorial sites. Puducherry Agriculture Minister Kamalakannan,District Collector P Parthiban and other officials paid floral tributes at Nandalar memorial site.

In fishing hamlets such as Pattinacherry, Karaikalmedu and Kottucherrymedu, people hoisted black flags in memory of the departed and decorated photographs of victims with flowers.

Triggered by earthquake in Indonesia, a massive tsunami struck the Tamil Nadu coast on December 26 morning, a Sunday, causing massive damage to life and property across the state.

Nagapattinam faced the maximum fury of the natural disaster even as other coastal districts like Chennai, Cuddalore and Tiruvallore suffered.

Nearly 7,000 people died on that fateful day.

The government later rolled out series of rehabilitation schemes for the affected people.

First Published On : Dec 26, 2016 14:59 IST

Demonetisation: Agri output may remain high, but subdued farm income to hit rural consumption

The impact of demonetisation on agriculture is an indirect one. There are two cropping seasons in India. The monsoon crop, which is kharif, was in the midst of harvesting while the winter crop, or rabi, was in the first stages of sowing when the announcement was made. A good monsoon ensured that the kharif crop across all commodities was good, while the moisture retention meant that the rabi crop would follow suit. The demonetisation exercise began on 8 November, which was at the confluence of these two phenomena and had implications for both the activities.

The kharif crop requires labour for harvesting and has to be supported by the logistics structures in the form of transportation and storage to the final selling point which is the mandi. As every link in this chain is almost entirely settled in cash, the absence of currency in the system has affected the overall post-harvest activity. Hence, while the harvest has been very good which will get reflected in the production numbers, the products have often been sold at a very low price thus affecting the incomes of farmers which in turn impacts spending power. The RBI did react to the situation once the impact was assessed and gave priority to the supply of cash to the rural areas with the limits being enhanced for these purposes. The problem was hence addressed to an extent.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

The rabi crop has gotten impacted to begin with due to the non-availability of currency to buy seeds and fertilizers. While the use of kisan cards is fairly satisfactory, a substantial part is still dealt with cash as the kharif income is used for purchase of seed for the second season. Second, the logistics support in rural India has come to a standstill as while the RBI intervention has led to an easier flow of cash to the farmers, the same has not happened for the support services. Transport operators in particular were affected. Third, employing labour for sowing has also been a challenge for crops like wheat, chana and mustard, which are the main rabi crops. This has raised some concern on the future prospects of the crop.

The area under cultivation under rabi crops is higher at 519 lakh hectares compared with 490 lakh hectares at the same point last year. For all the three main crops, wheat, oilseeds and pulses, area under cultivation this year so far till 16 December has been higher and would not under normal circumstances provoke concern. However the non-availability of currency for these transactions has raised some apprehension even though the final sowing numbers would be better than last year.

In particular wheat prospects have been monitored quite closely as it is expected that with the absence of rains in winter the progress of the crop will be affected. This in turn can affect the final output, which is a problem considering that private estimates have put the output for 2015-16 to be lower than 2014-15 thus leading to decline in stocks. The official numbers put 2015-16 output higher by 7 million tonnes though procurement was 5 million tonnes lower, which is unusual. This is one reason as to why the government has withdrawn the duty on import of wheat so that overall stocks are augmented.

The farm sector was to witness a turnaround this year on account of a good monsoon with growth of around 5 percent expected after two years of drought. The story had been progressing according to plan but the distortion caused by demonetisation, which meant the drying up of cash in the rural economy, has cast a cloud over this optimal situation. While overall growth will definitely continue to be high at probably between 4-5 percent which is only marginally lower than expectation, the lower value of the crop due to lower prices for kharif output in case of pulses and horticulture would impact the income of farmers.

It may also be pointed out that it was expected that the rural spending contribution to growth would be significant after two years of negative growth. Now, the cash crunch has compounded the problem as it has resulted in lower realisations for farmers as they have received lower prices on account of distress sale at the mandis. The implication is that there will be a hiatus between rural and urban spending and the lag can be one or two quarters.

The demonetisation scheme has affected agriculture and linked activities not just in terms of affecting output at the margin, but also lowering potential income as this sector is almost fully cash driven. Until such time that the situation normalises, which will take between 3-6 months before cash is freely available, the farmers would be under stress. This will show not just in consumption demand for industrial goods but also linked activity like transport, packing, labour used in planting and harvesting. There would hence be a multiplier effect on income and consumption.

The writer is chief economist, CARE Ratings. Views are personal.

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 10:55 IST

Demonetisation: Concerns on farm output minimal, but rural demand may feel the heat amid cash crunch

The impact of demonetisation on agriculture is an indirect one. There are two cropping seasons in India. The monsoon crop, which is kharif, was in the midst of harvesting while the winter crop, or rabi, was in the first stages of sowing when the announcement was made. A good monsoon ensured that the kharif crop across all commodities was good, while the moisture retention meant that the rabi crop would follow suit. The demonetisation exercise began on 8 November, which was at the confluence of these two phenomena and had implications for both the activities.

The kharif crop requires labour for harvesting and has to be supported by the logistics structures in the form of transportation and storage to the final selling point which is the mandi. As every link in this chain is almost entirely settled in cash, the absence of currency in the system has affected the overall post-harvest activity. Hence, while the harvest has been very good which will get reflected in the production numbers, the products have often been sold at a very low price thus affecting the incomes of farmers which in turn impacts spending power. The RBI did react to the situation once the impact was assessed and gave priority to the supply of cash to the rural areas with the limits being enhanced for these purposes. The problem was hence addressed to an extent.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

The rabi crop has gotten impacted to begin with due to the non-availability of currency to buy seeds and fertilizers. While the use of kisan cards is fairly satisfactory, a substantial part is still dealt with cash as the kharif income is used for purchase of seed for the second season. Second, the logistics support in rural India has come to a standstill as while the RBI intervention has led to an easier flow of cash to the farmers, the same has not happened for the support services. Transport operators in particular were affected. Third, employing labour for sowing has also been a challenge for crops like wheat, chana and mustard, which are the main rabi crops. This has raised some concern on the future prospects of the crop.

The area under cultivation under rabi crops is higher at 519 lakh hectares compared with 490 lakh hectares at the same point last year. For all the three main crops, wheat, oilseeds and pulses, area under cultivation this year so far till 16 December has been higher and would not under normal circumstances provoke concern. However the non-availability of currency for these transactions has raised some apprehension even though the final sowing numbers would be better than last year.

In particular wheat prospects have been monitored quite closely as it is expected that with the absence of rains in winter the progress of the crop will be affected. This in turn can affect the final output, which is a problem considering that private estimates have put the output for 2015-16 to be lower than 2014-15 thus leading to decline in stocks. The official numbers put 2015-16 output higher by 7 million tonnes though procurement was 5 million tonnes lower, which is unusual. This is one reason as to why the government has withdrawn the duty on import of wheat so that overall stocks are augmented.

The farm sector was to witness a turnaround this year on account of a good monsoon with growth of around 5 percent expected after two years of drought. The story had been progressing according to plan but the distortion caused by demonetisation, which meant the drying up of cash in the rural economy, has cast a cloud over this optimal situation. While overall growth will definitely continue to be high at probably between 4-5 percent which is only marginally lower than expectation, the lower value of the crop due to lower prices for kharif output in case of pulses and horticulture would impact the income of farmers.

It may also be pointed out that it was expected that the rural spending contribution to growth would be significant after two years of negative growth. Now, the cash crunch has compounded the problem as it has resulted in lower realisations for farmers as they have received lower prices on account of distress sale at the mandis. The implication is that there will be a hiatus between rural and urban spending and the lag can be one or two quarters.

The demonetisation scheme has affected agriculture and linked activities not just in terms of affecting output at the margin, but also lowering potential income as this sector is almost fully cash driven. Until such time that the situation normalises, which will take between 3-6 months before cash is freely available, the farmers would be under stress. This will show not just in consumption demand for industrial goods but also linked activity like transport, packing, labour used in planting and harvesting. There would hence be a multiplier effect on income and consumption.

The writer is chief economist, CARE Ratings. Views are personal.

First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 10:55 IST

Foodgrain output in the country may scale peak next year

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The agriculture sector is all set to bounce back leaving two years of drought behind and may well pull off record foodgrain output of 270 million tonnes in 2016-17 on good rains, but farmers’ woes may continue due to adverse impact of notes ban and low sales realisation.The farm growth is estimated to rise at over 5% this fiscal, from 1.2% in the previous year, on the back of record kharif foodgrain production at 135 million tonnes (mt) and likely bumper output in the ongoing rabi season, helped by good monsoon in most parts of the country.”The agriculture sector has done well during the year. We received good monsoon after facing the drought year. Kharif in general was very good and rabi sowing has been brisk. We are hopeful of bumper production this year,” Agriculture Secretary Shobhana Pattanayak said in an interview.Although agri-experts have raised concerns about impact of demonetization on rabi crops and the likely effect of forecast of warm winter on wheat crop, the secretary said the government is not “downgrading” the target for 2016-17 crop year. “Our target is to achieve foodgrain production of 270 million tonnes while our last peak production was 265.04 mt in 2013-14 crop year (July-June),” he said.”Agriculture sector growth was lower last year because of drought. But from that level, we will move higher.” On farm sector growth, NITI Aayog Member Ramesh Chand said: “It will be spectacular growth after facing two drought years. We are expecting a growth of 5.5% this year.” The growth rate of agriculture and allied sectors will be 5.3% even if wheat productivity throughout the country is lower by 3% due to rise in temperature, he said.Asked about adverse impact of demonetization on farmers, Pattanayak said there is not much impact as the credit system has been strong in rural areas and farmers have become more resilient over the years. “Our farmers have witnessed very strong drought in last two years and yet they have bounced back. I don’t think it has really impacted,” he said. However, farmers’ organisations as well as former agriculture minister Sharad Pawar have expressed deep concern about impact of demonetization, saying farmers are unable to buy quality seeds and fertilisers for their rabi crop and are also facing problems in selling crops for want of demand.Despite record kharif production this year and expected good crop in the rabi season, farmers’ conditions continue to be grim due to lower sales realisation, with domestic and global commodity prices staying depressed. The demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes has also affected the domestic demand of fruits and vegetables, forcing farmers to sell their produce at throwaway price.About farmers’ woes, agri-economist Ashok Gulati said: “This year, production is likely to bounce back and therefore, much better than last year. However, farmers are already under debt. And prices of cotton, basmati rice and, with demonetization, many fresh fruits and vegetables are depressed. Because of that, despite higher production levels, farmers have not gained much.”2016 began on a sticky note as the country’s overall foodgrain output remained flat at 252 mt in 2015-16 crop year due to second straight year of drought. Pulse output fell to 16.5 mt resulting in high prices for most part of the year that kept the government on its toes, which took various steps to cool prices and bring relief to consumers.The measures like domestic procurement and import to boost local supplies helped ease the prices of tur and urad from about Rs 200 a kg, but chana continues to rule high. As per the official estimate, wheat output rose to 93.55 mt, from 86 mt, but FCI’s procurement fell sharply and domestic prices of wheat and its products began to rise towards the end of the year. The government scrapped import duties on wheat to boost domestic supply. To provide relief to farmers hit by the cash crunch, the government has given them an additional two months to repay their crop loans due in November-December and said prompt repayment will be eligible for the extra 3% interest subsidy.The government had earlier allowed farmers to buy seeds through old Rs 500 notes from central and state-owned seed companies as well as from ICAR and central varsities. It had also asked fertiliser companies to sell soil nutrient on credit basis to farmers. To check food inflation, import duties on palm oils and potatoes were reduced. Stock limit on sugar mills were also imposed to check prices although improved domestic rates helped industry clear arrears to farmers.The year also saw the successful rollout of the landmark National Food Security Act (NFSA) across the country. Programmes like new crop insurance scheme and eNAM to link all 585 mandis on an electronic trading platform were announced to augment farmers’ income.In this year’s budget, the government raised agri-credit by Rs 50,000 crore to Rs 9 lakh crore for the current fiscal and levied 0.5% Krishi Kalyan cess on all taxable services to fund farm initiatives. Eminent scientist M S Swaminathan hailed the new schemes, but stressed on proper implementation. He also wanted the government to pay farmers 50% more than the production cost as part of the minimum support price (MSP).Expressing concern over poor implementation of agri schemes, Gulati, the former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, said: “The government should focus completely on agriculture and try to implement some of the programmes properly.”The year also witnessed the government fixing the maximum retail price and royalty for cotton seeds, including Bt cotton, based on its order issued at the fag end of 2015. The move was opposed by biotechnology firms while the domestic seed manufacturers were in favour of the decision.Global biotechnology major Monsanto threatened to re-evaluate its India business. It plans to introduce new products, besides entering into the legal battle against this order. However, NCP supremo Pawar recently attacked the NDA government for taking such a move, saying “Indian agriculture is being brought back to licence and control raj which is detrimental to the growth of the sector”. “The government of the day should not have hostility to improve systems and technologies,” he said, adding that the government is overly “cautious” on the technology front. In May, the agriculture ministry had come out with a notification to regulate the cotton seed market with provisions for compulsory legislations and capping of royalty rates at up to 10% of the retail price. But it was forced to withdraw this notification amid protest from biotech companies.Genetically modified (GM) mustard, developed by the Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, was in news throughout the year as regulatory body GEAC was vetting the proposal for commercial cultivation amid strong protest from green activists as well as RSS-backed Swadeshi Jagran Manch.Amid uncertainty over the government’s likely stand on GM crop cultivation, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Director General Trilochan Mohapatra said: “From the research side, the transgenic crop which we have developed should be ready, irrespective of whether the government will release them for commercial cultivation or not.” Five transgenic crops — brinjal, tomatoes, banana, castor, shorgum — are ready for large-scale field trials (BRL1), he said, and many GM crops are ready for confined trials.It will be interesting to see the government’s approach in the new year towards allowing cultivation of GM crops, particularly in food crops. At present, the government has allowed commercial cultivation of Bt cotton and there is moratorium on Bt brinjal due to protest from green activists.In 2017, the ongoing legal battle involving global MNC Monsanto, the government and the domestic seed industry will be keenly watched as the outcome will shape the future of regulations for selling GM seeds.

Expedite release of drought relief funds: Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah to Centre

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Friday called on Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, and requested them to sanction at the earliest drought and flood relief funds of over Rs 5,000 crore to the state. Siddaramaiah met the two Union ministers separately.State minister TB Jayachandra and special representative of the Karnataka government in New Delhi, Appaji CS Nada Gouda were also present.According to sources, Siddaramaiah updated the Home Minister about the impact of drought and floods on agricultural crops as well as the farming community, and urged him to take action at the earliest to release the central aid. The Chief Minister had also sought an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but he failed to get it.In the meeting with the Union Home Minister, the Chief Minister informed that the state had already submitted a memorandum seeking a central aid of Rs 4,702 crore for drought-hit farmers in the 2016 kharif season and Rs 386 crore to take up relief works in flood-hit areas of the state.A central team, which visited the state last month to assess the situation, has already submitted the report and based on which the Agriculture Ministry has prepared a note.In a separate meeting with the Union Agriculture Minister, Siddaramaiah raised concerns about delay in releasing central aid to drought-hit farmers in the state.According to the sources, the Home Minister is expected to soon call a meeting to decide on the quantum of relief funds to be released to Karnataka from the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF). Karnataka is facing drought for the sixth consecutive year and has declared 110 talukas of 25 districts as drought-hit during the 2016 kharif season. Siddaramaiah also met Congress President Sonia Gandhi and conveyed birthday wishes to her.

Post demonetisation, Narendra Modi turns focus on vikas, of and for the poor

While the economic rationale of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to scrap high denomination currency notes is still being weighed by people and analysts, it has become increasingly clear that the step was motivated by political objectives. Coming at almost the mid-point of his tenure, Modi decided that he could no longer plod along and chose to change the script dramatically. The prime minister revived the populist and socialist pre-liberalisation sentiment that the rich are evil and the poor are intrinsically honest, as routinely projected in popular cinema of the era. This explains the now famous recent Modi quip: “Gareeb chain ki neend so raha hai, aur ameer needs ki goli khareendne ke liye bhatak raha hai [While the poor are sleeping peacefully, the rich are desperately trying to get hold of sleeping pills].”

In recent weeks, Modi made several claims that his efforts were to benefit the poor but these appeared more rhetorical with little policy backing. But the decision on 28 November to table the Bill bringing amendments in Income Tax laws is the first indication of the policy of the government. The government’s statement prefaces the raison d’être of the amendment to the existing law with the declaration: “Evasion of taxes deprives the nation of critical resources which could enable the government to undertake anti-poverty and development programmes.” The word growth — Modi’s mantra through his electoral campaign and for the major part of his tenure thus far — is significantly not used even once, lest it conveys a pro-rich tilt. The focus is now on development or vikas, of and for the poor.

File image of Narendra Modi. APFile image of Narendra Modi. AP

File image of Narendra Modi. AP

The government announced institution of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, levy of a new cess and an additional deposit scheme for those declaring cash kept in the shadow of licit income (operative phrases for the latter two also being Pradhan Mantri and Garib Kalyan once again to ensure that Modi’s personal signature never fades from the initiative). The statement declares unambiguously that the amount that will be collected from people declaring hitherto undisclosed income “is proposed to be utilised for the schemes of irrigation, housing, toilets, infrastructure, primary education, primary health, livelihood, etc., so that there is justice and equality.” It goes without saying that spending on housing, sanitation, infrastructure, education, health and livelihood would be all directed towards the poor. In one sweep, Modi is trying to shed the pro-corporate image that has dogged him for several years.

There is no doubt that the Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Bill, 2016, aims to achieve at least three objectives. Firstly, demonetisation has undeniably dealt a severe shock to the economy and there is unanimity that remonetisation will take several months. In the interim, the official and dramatic push towards cashless transactions, though aimed at minimising damage can at best ease inconvenience caused to people while negotiating daily chores, but cannot be a solution to the crisis that has begun to become visible in different sectors of the economy. Reports of job losses have already started pouring in several thousands and there is evidence that what is being noticed is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Because the real estate sector was probably most dependent on shadow economy, the impact of demonetisation on the sector will be severest. After agriculture, this sector is the second largest employer in the unorganised sector. If fears that the sector will come to a grinding halt — with demand being initially be met by available inventory — come true, there will surely be large scale losses. The PM Garib Kalyan Yojana has the potential to step into this void by starting welfare schemes in infrastructure and housing sectors. Modi has the opportunity to make welfare programmes a priority and thereby also provide jobs to the hordes of unemployed.

Secondly, because large-scale construction of roads and other infrastructure projects, urban and rural housing affordable for the poor, construction of more schools, hospitals and health centres cannot executed efficiently by government agencies, Modi will turn to the private sector and these projects will be the new drivers of the Indian growth economy. That Modi has to turn to welfare programmes to revive his flagging hold on his tenure and alter the politico-economic script half way into the tenure, is ironical given his taunt at MNREGA for being schemes for “digging ditches”. Thirdly, the amendment to the I-T laws will enable Modi to claim among people that he has made a determined effort to unearth black money and fulfil his promise of 2014.

But for securing the support of masses on a sustained basis and not being dependent on his predominantly middle-class voter base, Modi has to ensure speed in execution. An assessment of the government’s earnestness in pursing welfare programmes for the poor can be made only after it has made fair progress. There are reasons to remain sceptical because the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana was actually launched in April 2015 as a scheme to conduct workshops to inform and educate people — mainly party MPs — about schemes launched by the government especially for the poor and backward classes.

Not much was heard about it after it was launched with much fanfare by Modi in the presence of party stalwarts. That fate — not a very rare occurrence in the Modi regime — cannot befall the latest initiative without disastrous consequences for Modi. If the Prime Minister seeks to politically benefit from demonetisation, smooth rollout and consistent execution of the plan are essential. But, even this initiative will have to be backed by additional policy measures. The character of the roadmap ahead that the Prime Minister has drawn will determine if he succeeds in his objective or not.

The author is a Delhi-based writer and journalist. He authored Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984. Tweets @NilanjanUdwin

First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 15:58 IST

Israel’s experience and technologies can help transform agriculture in India

Israel President Reuven Rivlin was in India in November on a six-day visit. The two countries pledged cooperation in the fields of agriculture, research, trade, defence, tourism and education. Ram Fishman writes about the importance of young Israelis and Indians working together to change the perception of agriculture in India.

Over the last 10 years, I have had the good fortune of meeting hundreds of small-scale farmers all over India. I came to appreciate their hard work, eagerness to progress, and the difficult physical and economic environment in which they work.

Farmers bitterly complain about these hardships, but they always light up when I mention that I am Israeli. Even in the remotest of villages, farmers are somehow well aware and appreciative of Israel’s agricultural achievements. Unfortunately, however, very few of those who adore Israel’s technologies also use them in their own farms. A tremendous potential therefore remains largely unfulfilled.

Indian agriculture has made incredible progress over the last few decades, but it needs to undergo a deep transformation. It must make more efficient use of scarce water resources, lest they deplete. It must make more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers, lest they continue to pollute water and sicken children. It must make more judicious use of pesticides, lest they continue to poison farmers. And it must diversify.

File photo. AFP.

Representational image. File photo. AFP.

Israel’s experience and its technologies can help, so the growing agricultural cooperation between the two countries is heartening. Several Indian states have opened Centres of Excellence with the Israeli government. Cooperation in the private sector is also growing.

Last week, an Israeli business and academic delegation, led by President Reuven Rivlin, was hosted by President Pranab Mukherjeein Agro Tech 2016 in Chandigarh. President Rivlin declared that “when Israeli companies and Indian farmers meet, they can mage magic happen”. In a seminar organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry and Tel Aviv University, called ‘Digital Pathways in Indian Agriculture’, Israeli and Indian scientists and businessmen introduced exciting new technologies with the potential to transform the Indian agricultural landscape.

As exciting as technological innovations are, making them impactful will require a broadening of perspective. Agronomists and plant scientists have made incredible progress in understanding what crops need in order to flourish. Now, we need to develop a similar understanding of what farmers need in order to flourish. Without such an understanding, even the most revolutionary technologies will likely remain unused by the hundreds of millions of smallholders who grow India’s food.

Take drip irrigation, the most famous Israeli agricultural technology. Drip irrigation is proven to deliver the dual benefit of increased production and reduced water, fertilizer and herbicide requirements, exactly what so many Indian farmers need. Why then does the market for drip irrigation, while growing, still represent only a small fraction of Indian farmers?

The answers to this and related questions have to do more with economics than with agronomy, and more with farmers than with the crops they grow. The problem is that finding business models and government policies that can spread improved technologies sustainably has simply turned out to be as difficult a puzzle as developing these technologies in the first place.

It is therefore not for lack of effort or resources that a country that has mastered nuclear and satellite technology is still struggling to replace antiquated farming practices or lift its farmers out of poverty. The challenge is much more complicated than it may seem. And I don’t mean to suggest no programmes are successful. For example, in some states, like Gujarat, drip irrigation has been spreading rapidly in recent years, likely thanks to effective administration of the national drip subsidy programme. But we know too little about what works and what doesn’t and why and when.

We need to direct the same kind of energies that we put into the “crop” aspect of the challenge into the “human” aspect of the challenge. Frankly, it doesn’t help that the majority of India’s brightest and most ambitious young direct their brainpower to the fields of engineering, medicine and information and communication technology, while so few choose to take on the challenge of sustainable rural development (of course, there are wonderful exceptions, but they are too few).

India can surely succeed in transforming its agriculture, and we in Israel are eager to help. Let us begin by recognising the importance of not just the “technical element”, but also the “human element”. Let us build a bi-national, long-term and systematic programme that brings together academia, the public sector and the private sector; engineers, agronomists, plant scientists, social scientists, policy specialists and entrepreneurs. Let us harness the amazing brainpower, entrepreneurship and creativity of our two countries’ young generations, and get them involved. And most importantly, let us not shy away from leaving our offices and our labs and our experimental farms and stepping into farmers’ own fields.

Academia can have a powerful role to play. My own institution, Tel Aviv University, is leading the way by forging alliances with leading Indian universities and working with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to carve new paths forward. We can use these collaborations to create a prestigious programme for outstanding, brilliant young Israelis and Indians to work together in small inter-disciplinary teams, and develop and test, in fields and villages across India, new approaches and models for adapting and disseminating relevant technologies to farmers. Governments can provide support and then scale up and implement those approaches that prove to be effective.

I believe a programme of this kind can radically change the perception of agriculture by young Indians from a thing of the past to a science of the future, and attract bright, dedicated and idealistic students from both India and Israel. These students will forge personal ties that will strengthen our relationship as countries, and achieve something that only they, if anyone, can do: help make Indian agriculture a model for the other emerging economies who are facing similar challenges.

(The author is a professor at the Department of Public Policy, Tel Aviv University)

First Published On : Nov 28, 2016 14:28 IST

Allow co-operative banks to accept scrapped notes to help farmers: Bihar govt to PM

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Highlighting difficulties faced by farmers in sowing Rabi crops and paddy purchase, Bihar Cooperative Minister Alok Mehta on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow cooperative banks to accept the demonetized high value notes.A copy of the letter was also sent to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and RBI Governor Urjit Patel, Mehta told reporters in Patna. He said RBI, through a notification on November 14, had prohibited exchange and deposit of the now defunct Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes in cooperative banks, which has affected the farmers. “The order has created a lot of problems for farmers in sowing Rabi crops and also to purchase paddy in the state. It has also created a crisis for the farmers’ families and hampered farm activities carried with the help of Primary Agriculture Committees in the state,” the minister said. Mehta said that last year cooperative banks had regulated paddy purchase of over Rs 3,000 crore.This year in view of the record production of paddy there is expectation of this amount exceeding to Rs 4,000 crore. He urged the Prime Minister to consider the gravity of the problem and order revoking the RBI order on cooperative banks. A total 1.16 crore farmers, mostly marginal and small, are served by cooperative banks in Bihar. There are 22 central cooperative banks in the state in which 8463 Primary Agriculture Credit Societies (PACS) and 521 trading councils are linked.

RBI asks banks to ensure cash supply to rural cooperative banks for ongoing Rabi crop season

Mumbai: The Reserve Bank on Tuesday asked banks to ensure adequate cash supply to cooperative banks and Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) so that farmers can have enough valid notes needed for purchase of seeds, fertiliser and other inputs during the ongoing rabi season.

The decision comes a day after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had a meeting with RBI, Nabard and all bankers and impressed upon them to make available funds to the cooperative sector as it is an important financing mechanism for rural India.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

According to RBI, it is imperative that farmers are adequately supported financially to ensure unhindered farming operations.

“It is estimated that about Rs 35,000 crore would be required by DCCBs (District Co-operative Banks) for sanction and disbursement of crop loans to farmers at the rate of Rs 10,000 crore per week,” an RBI notification said.

National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) will be utilising its own cash credit limits up to about Rs 23,000 crore to enable the DCCBs to disburse the required crop loans to Primary Agricultural Credit Society (PACS) and farmers, it said.

“As many of these loans will be disbursed in cash to facilitate farming related expenses, we advise in this regard that banks with currency chests should ensure adequate cash supply to the DCCBs and RRBs,” it said.

Adequate cash supply should also be ensured for rural branches of all commercial banks, including RRBs, it said.

Further, it said, bank branches located in Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) may also be given adequate cash to facilitate smooth procurement.

Jaitley on Tuesday said its focus will now be on rural areas and more measures will be announced for farmers.

The minister said the credit flow from banks will also go up for various activities, including agriculture as huge amount of cash due to demonetisation was deposited in the banking system.

It is expected that the government may announce some more measures to ease pressure on the farm sector.

First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 20:59 IST

Demonetisation: Modi must act soon or historic move will become ‘historic blunder’

Just like the important role he played in building political and economic consensus among warring parties for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) roll out, Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley is doing his best to allay concerns of the aam aadmi during the demonetisation exercise. The FM did this again on Tuesday when he said the government will focus on rural areas in the next few weeks to make new currency available and ease the pain of farmers in the upcoming Rabi season.

Prime minister Narendra Modi. PTIPrime minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Demonetisation is a ‘historic step’ taken by the Prime Minister Modi to bring a ‘new normal’ to the Indian economy, the FM said. True, the Modi-government’s move will, once the short-term pain is over, contribute to transforming the economy in long-term, though demonetisation itself isn’t enough to achieve this objective. This needs to be followed up with a series of steps including bringing awareness to the citizen about cashless payments, addressing corruption at grassroot level, generating jobs and bringing in private investments. PM Modi too made an emotional speech on two occasions defending his government’s decision.

But, what the government shouldn’t miss here is the point that there is a large economic consequence of the current cash crunch, if it prolongs beyond this point. Unless the government urgently address certain areas of economy besides the agriculture, the ‘historic step’ could very well turn out to be a historic ‘blunder’ for PM Modi by impeding the economic growth momentum and taking the economy back to few notches below.

To be sure, Jaitley is right in identifying agriculture as a priority area for making currency available. The Rabi season is approaching and the farmer on the field needs cash, not just to buy seeds and farming equipment but also to take care of his family’s basic needs. The small farmer doesn’t earn a monthly salary, nor has any major savings. The Kisan credit cards offered to him enables him draw money, but only if bank or ATM dispenses cash.

But so are urban workers in the construction sector. The shortage of cash has impacted thousands of labourers who draw wages in cash on daily basis. If these labourers stop work, the construction activities can suffer which will have an immediate drag on broader economy. All other related segments—cement production and electricity will feel the heat. Hence the government should think of ways to make cash available to the urban worker too.

This argument holds for our vegetable vendors, meat sellers, small food stall owners, taxiwallas, hundreds of cooperative banks across the country and thousands of small and medium enterprises and start-ups. These segments too are key contributors to the economy by way of spending and contributing to the production chain. Much of these segments operate in cash economy and the sudden withdrawal of currencies and withdrawal restrictions have hit them hard. Even the spending by the salaried segment would have likely come down on account of cash shortage. To add to the problems, even people with cash in their hands will be hesitant or reduce spending thinking of cash shortage ahead. All this suggests that the economy on the ground will suffer if the problem persists.

International agencies have already begun warning on the likely slowdown to the economy post demonetisation. “While leading indicators point to a stabilisation in the first quarter of 2017, demonetisation is likely to exacerbate the near-term slowdown due to temporary cash shortage. Pre-demonetisation data suggest activity is likely to stabilise in the first quarter,” Japanese brokerage Nomura said in a note today, adding that consumption is the “brightest spot” for the economy. Due to a temporary cash shortage, we see a risk that GDP growth could slow to 6.5 percent in the fourth quarter,” Japanese brokerage, Nomura, said in its research report on Monday.

The cascading impact of slow-spending slow-production can actually cause a drag in the economic recovery process. In an interview given to Economic Times, development economist Jean Drèze said demonetisation is “Demonetisation in a booming economy is like shooting at the tyres of a racing car.”

“Demonetisation on this scale is a huge gamble with the economy. The full consequences are difficult to predict. The best-case scenario is that the economy will stay the course, after the initial disruption, and that significant sums of black money will be neutralised. The worst-case scenario is a prolonged economic slowdown, with very little result in terms of preventing illegal activity,” Drèze said.

Even the intended result of the demonetisation exercise is disputed by the likes of globally renowned economist, Larry Summers, a former chief economist of the World Bank and ex-economic advisor to the US President, who said the move is unlikely to have any lasting benefits to the economy.

What should be done to ease the cash crunch in the system? As Shankkar Aiyar suggests in this new Indian Express column, the government can think of innovative ways to ease the cash crunch, such as asking retailers to use their vast network of outlets for cash disbursements, promote online Payments and incentivise point of sales machines. If printing notes domestically is beyond the capacity of government mints in short time, the government can also plan outsourcing printing like in 1997-98, Aiyar writes.

The bottomline is this: If the current cash crunch translates to a prolonged subdued spending and production slowdown, the ripple-effects in the economy will have a serious bearing on the growth momentum. If the government manages to find ways to tackle the printing and supply issues of currency and make things normal at the earliest, it can regain the lost glory of this bold reform move. Else, one shouldn’t be surprised if the historic step is termed by some as a ‘historic blunder’.

First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 15:14 IST

Demonetisation: Ahead of Rabi season, Modi govt allows farmers to buy seeds with old currency

Extending a huge relief to the cash-strapped rural India, the government has, on Monday, allowed farmers to buy seeds with old currency notes from any state or central government outlets and agri universities ahead of the Rabi harvesting season.

Farmers can purchase seeds from the centres, units or outlets belonging to the central or state governments, public sector undertakings, national or state seeds corporations, central or state agricultural universities and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), on production of proof of identity, the finance ministry said in a statement. The government is committed to ensure that farmers are suitably facilitated during the Rabi season, it said.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

The Modi government’s current bid to demonetise higher denomination notes to crackdown on black money has severely hit the rural economy. With many villagers yet to be connected to the formal banking system, and the trouble being faced in the last mile, delivery of new currency notes has left rural India scrambling for cash. A large number of agrarians who do have accounts, bank with the local co-operative and Gramin banks, which in compliance with RBI guidelines were not authorised to exchange or deposit the defunct notes.

Add to this the fact that almost all transactions in rural India are cash based and only a fraction of Indians use “plastic money” for day to day paltry payments. The move hit daily-waged farm labourers even more, as cash-starved farmers are unable to pay wages on time in the right currency.

Moreover, with the seeding season for Rabi crop at its peak, the farmers had been in a fix as they didn’t have the new currency notes to purchase fertilisers and new seeds, according to The Hindu

Another report in The Financial Express quotes agriculture ministry’s stats to conclude that the government’s demonetisation move has indeed throttled sowing of Rabi crop as compared to the same time last year.

“Uttar Pradesh has covered 1.5 million hectares so far while the biggest wheat producing state has set a target of 9.9 million hectares. Till now, wheat has been sown in Punjab in 2.4 million hectares while the target for the season is 3.5 million hectares. In Haryana, the grain has been sown in only 8,50,000 hectares so far while the target for 2016-17 session is to cover 2.5 million hectares,” the report states.

Meanwhile, with their hardships in mind, the government has issued a slew of measures to ease the burden on the cash strapped economy. Apart from announcing the relaxation in buying seeds, the government had on Thursday increased the withdrawal limit for farmers to 25,000 apart from allowing them a 15 day grace to pay their crop insurance premiums.

Apart from this, banking coordinators and rural branches of post offices were given greater authority to dispense cash to the people.

The state governments had also pitched in on war footing, trying to ease the pressure on the agro economy, ahead of the sowing season. While the Uttar Pradesh government, has asked the district magistrates to ensure cash availability in their respective regions, Punjab government decided to provide fertilisers and other farm inputs in kind to farmers for sowing of the Rabi crops. The Himachal Pradesh government meanwhile roped in choppers for rushing Rs 2,000, Rs 100, Rs 50 and other small denomination notes to far-flung, remote and tribal areas of the state to ensure adequate supply of valid currency.

With inputs from PTI

First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 15:03 IST

Puducherry CM V Narayanasamy meets fishermen injured in Sri Lankan Navy firing

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy on Tuesday called on the two Indian fishermen, who were injured in alleged firing by the Sri Lankan Navy, at the Indira Gandhi Government General Hospital and Research Institute here.He enquired about their health condition and wished them a speedy recovery. The chief minister was accompanied by Agriculture and Education Minister R Kamalakannan.R Balamurugan from Karaikal (Puducherry) and A Aravind from Tamil Nadu’s Nagapattinam sustained injuries when the Sri Lankan naval personnel allegedly opened fire at their fishing boat yesterday off the Kodiakarai coast, some 200 km from here. The fishermen were admitted to the government hospital here.Various political parties, including MDMK and PMK, in Tamil Nadu condemned the firing yesterday claiming that it happened in Indian waters and urged the Centre to take action to prevent recurrence of such incidents.

Rs 650 crore water and property taxes collected in four days

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Maharashtra government continues to reap the benefits of the Union government’s decision of demonitization. State Urban Development Secretary Manisha Mhaiskar said they had collected over Rs650 crore as water and property tax in the last four days. “The government has extended the tax collection deadline by another ten days, and we hope to reach our target of Rs1,000 in collections up to November 24,” she added. The good news is that citizens can use their Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes to pay taxes. Mhaiskar said they are in the process of collecting taxes systematically. “We have decided to urge tax defaulters to pay their water bills and property taxes. We have even reached out to defaulters personally through emails and text messages. We have in our possession the list of defaulters in descending order. We hope to collect all dues by the end of our drive,” she said, adding the municipal corporation has the right to attach defaulters’ property if they fail to cough up their taxes. According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) data, the civic body has received Rs12 crore — the highest collection of dues, followed by the civic bodies of Pune, Kalyan-Dombivli and Pimpri-Chinchwad. BMC sources said the civic body has the scope to recover huge taxes. “BMC has to collect a total water bill of Rs1,200 crore, but the recovery system has not been encouraging. People queue up to pay their taxes, but civic officials do not respond quickly. So, there are quite a few citizens who leave midway without paying their taxes,”said Rajkumar Singh, a resident of Kurla.A senior government official said citizens are now motivated to pay their taxes. “Most citizens stash a certain amount of cash at home. It is the win-win situation for both of the citizens and the civic body. People should take full advantage of the situation,” he said.Moreover, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday formed a committee headed by Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar to resolve the issue pertaining to the Agriculture Produce Market Committee’s transactions, government transports issues and RBI rejection to district co-operative banks to collect cancelled denominations.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin arrives with big team, bigger agenda

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Israeli President Reuven Rivlin arrived here on Monday on an eight-day visit. He is accompanied by a large delegation of businessmen, academics and defence honchos. While nine MoUs on education tie-ups have been lined up, there will be discussions on areas of cooperation in agriculture and water. Confirming that Israel has plans for fresh joint ventures and technology transfer in developing weapons systems and also becoming first country to implement Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative in this sector, Israeli envoy Daniel Carmon, however, refused to give more information.Israeli President’s visit — the first by an Israeli President in nearly 20 years — will also prepare ground for much-awaited travel of Modi to Tel Aviv. The last Israeli President to visit India was Ezer Weizman in January 1997.Asked about Modi’s proposed visit to Israel, he said it will be a very important trip. It was being decided by the two governments when it will happen, the envoy said. Even though the two countries don’t agree on many issues related to West Asia, particularly on Palestine, the Israeli President said, “Friends may not always see eye to eye on everything, and as friends we can agree to disagree with respect and understanding.”India is Israel’s largest buyer of military hardware and the latter has been supplying various weapons systems, missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles over the last few years. But the transactions have largely remained behind the curtains. In non-defence sector, the trade between the two countries has increased from $200 million (Rs 1358 crore) in 1992, when they set up full diplomatic relations, to $6 billion (Rs 40731 crore) a year in 2015.Rivlin will travel to Agra, Karnal, and Chandigarh, besides touching Mumbai on the last day of his visit to pay tributes to the victims of 26/11 terrorist attack. In Agra, he will take a look at an adjacent Israeli water treatment plant called “Aqwise”. In Karnal, he will visit the Centre of Excellence in Agriculture set up with Israeli assistance. He will also travel to Chandigarh, along with President Mukherjee to jointly inaugurate Agro Tech 2016.

Delhi 80% to blame for its worsening air quality: Union Environment Minister

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave on Monday said Delhi is responsible for the 80% of the worsening air in the city and that there is a need for ending the blame game over the issue.At a meeting of the environment ministers of Delhi-NCR states to find a solution to combat the problem, he said crop stubble burning contributed just 20% of the pollutants. Neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab also put the blame on Delhi.”Stubble burning is 20% of the problem. Delhi’s responsibility is 80%. Burning of petrol/diesel, coal, wood, dry leaves and of garbage at a waste disposal ground led to pollution in Delhi. Burning of crackers can be added to that as well,” Dave said. Dave stressed the need to end the blame game and focus on resolving the problem at hand. “I always make an attempt to put an end to blame game.Sensationalism and blame game have become a strategy. People get affected by this. They are having trouble breathing. Deal with that first. I want that the states carry out their responsibilities,” he said.The minister said an “Environment Protection Calendar”, listing measures to be adopted by all states on a monthly basis, will be prepared in January. Haryana Environment Minister Vipul Goel said vehicular emission was the root cause of the problem. “It is definitely not due to stubble burning. Moreover, its rate has dropped to extremely low levels. There is neither wind nor pollution in the areas where the stubble is being burned.”Pollution in Delhi is due to traffic in the NCR region. On our part, we have banned construction activities in Gurgaon and Faridabad, and intensified drive against old vehicles,” Goel said. He enumerated steps the Haryana government is taking, including a ban on vehicles causing pollution and added it was contemplating shifting thermal power plants.Punjab Agriculture Minister Tota Singh said, “This is aimed at tarnishing the image of Punjab and Haryana. We have statistics to prove that the situation in Delhi is its own doing. Pollution in Delhi affects other states. Crop burning is not a reason at all.”

Pakistan declares ‘war’ on Indian basmati

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The sound of the tractor instantly invites the sounds of the gun from across the other side of the International Border (IB). The area is RS Pura, the “rice bowl” of India, in the Jammu area.Today, 40,000 acres of basmati stands unattended in Jammu and Kashmir as they are under heavy threat from Pakistani soldiers. Firing and shelling from Pakistani soldiers have caused rice farmers to flee, ensuring that crop cultivation of basmati rice on the Indian side of the International Border (IB) is next to impossible.Locals claim here that this firing every October-November is an annual ritual. It is meant to attack the Indian farmer, hurt India’s basmati rice crop, and ensure that Pakistan’s rice crop flowers. As a result, farmers working on the fields have been made to vacate the area, ensuring that long spreads of mature paddy stands neglected.A local farmer who asked not to be named says: “The paddy crop on the other side of the IB has been sowed earlier and they harvested a couple of weeks before us. The recent firing from across the border has been planned so as to disrupt and damage our crop. The early sowing gives them an edge,” says a local farmer. “If there is no one to harvest, the crop will die in 10-12 days,” he says.Most area in and around the RS Pura region is extremely fertile and best suited for basmati cultivation. For the past three years, the land and the crop have been getting destroyed from shellings/firings from the other end. If this continues, farmers will not be able to cultivate. This will have a strong impact on the Indian economy as basmati is a huge foreign exchange earner.Figures illustrate the problem. Each hectare of this fertile land produces no less than 20 quintals of basmati. A quintal of good quality basmati rice is sold for Rs 3,200-3,500 in the market. Rough estimates suggest that if the crop remains uncultivated, India would lose approximately Rs 125 crore (the figure varies according to exchange rates) as this is what the revenue basmati rice in the area brings.India is especially important for the basmati rice market, as 65 per cent of the produce comes from here. Ashok Malhotra, Director of Agriculture, Jammu and Kashmir, feels that the government must counter the Pakistani aggression by taking urgent steps to protect the rice farmer and to save the country’s prized possession.”For some time now, we have been asking the government to provide protection to the farmers,” he says. “Also, there is no compensation/insurance for crops or for farmers in these vulnerable areas. Other state governments provide full compensation to farmers if the crops get destroyed, but this is not the case in Jammu and Kashmir.”It is not just Jammu that is suffering. Around 800 farmer-families are being affected by the cross-border shelling. But Swaran Lal, Sarpanch, Suchetgarh, a village in Jammu, says that Pakistan is no just the problem. “We have been demanding incentives from the government for so long. If this continues, we will move to other places, never to return.””The BSF’s presence in the area do not allow us to use machines in the fields. As a result, manual harvest will take a much longer duration, as at least 20 per cent of the crop will get destroyed,” he said.A long aromatic rice, basmati is one of the best qualities in the world. There are several varieties and traditional Indian types include basmati 370, basmati 385, and basmati Ranbirsinghpura (RS Pura) 1121 Extra Long Grain Rice. India exports most of these to the US and Europe, but the high-quality rice from RS Pura is especially in high demand in the American market.Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura, J&K Agriculture Minister, confirmed that there will be loss of crops this year. “Some of the crops are bound to get destroyed as there isn’t enough time to manually harvest all the fields. We have announced that the farmers will be given full protection so that they return to their fields. Also, we will try to arrange compensation as well,” he said. “We are starting the Prajapati Beema Yojana scheme to insure crops from next year,” he said.

Sri Lanka fishermen delegation rejects demands for norm relaxation

New Delhi: Fishermen associations of India and Sri Lanka on Wednesday held talks in which the visiting delegation rejected demands for relaxation of norms for Tamil Nadu’s fishing trawlers, making it clear that their country will not allow foreign fishermen in its waters “even for a minute”.

The 15-member Sri Lankan delegation from four coastal districts said that the Indian association had made an “implict” demand for a three year phasing out period from the neighbouring country’s waters.

The demand that they be allowed to fish in Sri Lankan waters for 83-85 days per year for the next three years, especially in seas of Mannar and Palk Strait, was rejected, the Sri Lankan delegation said.

Today’s talks come ahead of a meeting between Ministers of External Affairs and Agriculture with their Sri Lankan counterparts on Saturday.

The delegation from Jaffna, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts of Sri Kanka also demanded compensation for “ecological and economical damages” incurred due to Tamil Nadu fishermen.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The Indian side comprised fishermen from Tamil Nadu, senior officials from the Centre and Tamil Nadu government.

This was also one of the first high-level delegation talks on the issue between the two sides.

“We have conveyed to the Indian side that their fishermen should not cross the International Maritime Boundary Line. No Indian fishing trawler should enter the Sri Lankan waters and any illegal poaching will not be tolerated.

“We have also made it clear that fishermen straying in Sri Lankan waters would be arrested and later released, but their trawlers would be confiscated, said V Subramaniam, former president of Jaffna District Fishermen Association Federation and the leader of the delegation

“The Sri Lankan fishermen are not in favour of giving any kind of permits to fish in our waters. These are pre
requisites for talks,” he added.

“We will not allow foreign fishermen to fish in our waters even for a minute,” he asserted.

When asked about Chinese fishing trawlers fishing in its waters, the delegation said it had a uniform policy of not allowing any foreign vessel in its territory.

Another delegation member, a Mariyarasa from Mullaitivu, accused the Indian fishermen of causing them economic losses by fishing in their prawn-rich sea.

“Even before we could harvest the fish, trawlers from Tamil Nadu enter our waters, resulting in huge economic losses.

“Unless there is no sustainable policy, we will implement our domestic rules and arrest (foreign) fishermen, but release them,” Mariyarasa said.

The issue of Indian fishermen being arrested by Sri Lankan navy is a sensitive matter, especially in Tamil Nadu.

According to the delegation, Sri Lanka has confiscated nearly 130 fishing Indian fishing trawlers and 400 fishermen. The delegation claimed that all arrested fishermen were later released.

Bird flu detected in Kerala

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Amid the Avian influenza outbreak in Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, the virus has been found in ducks in coastal Alappuzha district in Kerala, prompting the district administration to take various measures, including forming Quick Response Teams.The outbreak of the virus in ducks in the state has been confirmed after tests of samples at the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases at Bhopal, an official statement said on Tuesday.The cases of avian influenza have been reported from Thakazhi, Ramankari, Pandi, Pallippad and Kainadi, it said, adding there was however no cause for panic. Some farmers claimed they had lost a number of ducks. “Twenty quick response teams have been constituted to isolate the ducks affected by H5N8 virus and cull them,” District Collector Veena N Madhavan said.The State Animal Husbandry department advised people suffering from fever or cold not to handle the birds. It is suspected that the migratory birds which came from Siberia via Pakistan and Delhi, might have brought the virus to coastal Kerala, the statement said. Meanwhile, Alappuzha MP K C Venugopal urged the Union Government to take steps to assist the state in dealing with the crisis. Venugopal, also a former Union Minister, said that he has written to Union Agriculture Minister, seeking his urgent intervention and deputing an expert team to the affected area. He also sought adequate compensation to the farmers whose ducks have been affected. He recalled the deaths of thousands of ducks in Kuttanad area of Alappuzha and Kottayam districts in 2014 due to bird flu.Acting on reports of mortality among the birds in Delhi NCR region and other parts of the country due to H5 Avian Influenza Virus, Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave had constituted a monitoring committee to oversee the outbreak.

Maratha ‘silent’ march in Nagpur on Tuesday; Kunbis excluded from the agitation

Nagpur: The Marathas will be taking out a ‘silent march’ on Tuesday as part of their statewide mobilisation to press for demands like reservation in jobs and education for their community.

The protest march, organised by Sakal Maratha Samaj will start around 10 am from Reshimbagh ground in South-Eastern part of the city and culminate at Kasturchand Park, a member of the erstwhile royal family Raje Mudhoji Bhosale said on Monday.

Also, cracks seem to have developed between two factions of the community, with the Maratha Kunbis, a sect predominant in Vidarbha region, being excluded from the agitation.

Now, the Sakal Maratha-Kunbi Samaj has announced 14 December as the date for its massive march.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Bhosale however denied any rift of the sort between the two sects while talking to PTI.

Members of the Sakal Maratha Samaj also downplayed the divide in the community.

“The 14 December rally is a statewide one and we too will participate in it. The community is united,” an office-bearer said.

Besides, reservation for their community in jobs and educational institutions, the Marathas want a stop on the misuse of SC/ST Atrocities Act 1989.

The city police and the district administration are busy in keeping a tight vigil for Tuesday’s morcha.

According to sources, clubbing and naming the banner as Maratha-Kunbi Samaj march was apparently the deal breaker between the two factions.

There is one section of Marathas (essentially the warrior clan) which has nothing to do with the Kunbi community, which is primarily into agriculture as its occupation, they said.

The Maratha-Kunbi is a mix typical to Vidarbha region where the two seem to have assimilated.

Over six decades ago, this happened with the initiatives of stalwarts like late Panjabrao Deshmukh, the Agriculture Minister in the then Jawahralal Nehru Cabinet, allowing ‘roti-beti’ (exchanging food and allowing marriages) relationsbetween the two.

The descendants of the warrior community, tracing back to Chhatrapati Shivaji, want to assert their lineage and maintain separate identity, the sources said.

So far, the Maratha-Kunbi Samaj, that has overwhelming presence of members in Maratha Vidya Prasarak Mandal and Maratha Sewa Samiti, has been dominating the morcha scene.

It had earlier planned the march on 16 October, but later claimed that the state-level coordination committee instructed it to defer it till December when the winter session of the Legislature commences, to put pressure on the state government, sources added.

Monsoon ends with food output of 270 million tonnes; 91 reservoirs show 25% increase in storage

By Abhishek Waghmare

A “normal” monsoon and adequate water in major reservoirs nationwide, coupled with more money to agriculture, have set the stage for a record agricultural output of 270 million tonnes — 2 percent in excess of the government’s target — for the kharif (summer) and rabi (winter) crops of 2016.

With the southwest monsoon officially withdrawing this week, water available in 91 reservoirs nationwide is 25 percent more than the amount available in October 2015, according to Central Water Commission data, except in Karnataka and Gujarat, which face more than 20 percent deficit in seasonal rainfall.

Against the government target of 132 million tonnes, India is set for a kharif output of 135 million tonnes, according to preliminary government estimates; the previous highest was 131 million tonnes in 2011-12.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

It also appears India will meet the rabi target of 137 million tonnes, one million tonnes more than the previous high in 2013-14.

A third of India’s districts were faced with deficient rainfall in the June-August period, as IndiaSpend reported in August 2016; it now appears that Karnataka and Gujarat will be hardest hit, according to this October 2016 report Monsoon Granular Review by Crisil, a research agency.

A “double whammy” — three-year successive years of deficient rainfall and poor irrigation facilities — makes 13 districts in the two states the worst affected in this “normal” monsoon season, the report said.

Agriculture reviving, but households may suffer

The four-month monsoon season ended within normal limits of (+/-) 4 percent of the 100-year average. The actual deficit was 3 percent — India received 97 percent of normal rainfall in the June-September period — diverging from the prediction of 6 percent excess rainfall forecast by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) as the monsoon began.

The 91 major reservoirs monitored by the Central Water Commission are at 75 percent capacity, equaling the average availability of last 10 years.

“The share of distressed districts in all-India kharif production is just 1.7 percent but the stress to agricultural household incomes could be high because a quarter of the kharif production in Karnataka and a third in Gujarat comes from the distressed districts,” the Crisil report said.

Even with Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Kerala getting less-than-normal rains, adequate irrigation facilities will ensure that these states are not affected as much as Karnataka and Gujarat, the report said.

With the exception of some districts in some states, the picture for India’s agricultural economy looks positive due to the fact that the sowing of the summer crop has crossed the end-of-September average sowing of 102.5 million hectare to reach 107.1 million hectare.

Source: 4th advanced estimates of agricultural production, ministry of agriculture, figures in million tonnes

Note: For 2015-16: 4th advanced estimates; for 2016 kharif: 1st advance estimate; for 2016 rabi production: set target; rest of the years: actual production.

Pulses output in the kharif season was estimated to be 8.7 million tonnes, 22 percent more than the best of 7.1 million tonnes achieved in 2010-11, and 60 percent more than last year’s 5.5 million tonnes last year.

Oilseeds production is set to be 234 million tonnes, 4 percent more than the best of 226 million tonnes produced in 2013-14.

Source: All India Crop Situation as on September 30, 2016, Ministry of Agriculture

Bordering regions have deficit, central India in excess

Every monsoon — whether it good (above normal) or bad (below normal) — leaves some areas inundated and some parched. In the “normal” monsoon of 2016, eight states received less than 85 percent of normal rains.

A normal monsoon in 2013 hid 30 percent and 23 percent deficits in Bihar and Jharkhand respectively.

In 2016, except for central India, the other three regions — northwest, southern peninsular and eastern (including northeast) — reported deficits in June-to-September rainfall.

Only four of 36 meteorological sub-divisions received more than 20 percent above normal rainfall. Drought-stricken Marathwada and the coastal strip of Konkan in Maharashtra received 22 percent and 21 percent above-normal rainfall, while two divisions of Rajasthan, west and east, received 20 percent and 32 percent above-normal rains, respectively.

rainindiarainindia

Nine divisions — covering eight states — of coastal and southern Karnataka, Kerala, eastern Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya have received less than 80 percent of the normal monsoon rain.

Twenty-three divisions — covering the whole of eastern and central India — received normal rainfall.

Cash crops hit, eastern states to benefit

The north-eastern monsoon — or the retreating monsoon, as it is called — is set to give normal rains to Tamil Nadu, southern Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, according to the IMD forecast, offering relief to the distressed parts of the states.

Cotton and sugarcane, the major cash crops of India, have suffered in this season. Cotton has been planted on 83 percent of normal cropped area, and its production is expected to be 11 percent less than the best production of 360 lakh bales achieved in 2013-14.

Sugarcane is being cropped on 90 percent of normal cropped area, and the season is expected to produce only 82 percent of the best cane production of 360 million tonnes achieved till date (2011-12 and 2013-14).

The author is an analyst with IndiaSpend.

Terrorism has become truly global challenge: Sushma Swaraj

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Amid criticism that India failed to obtain consensus on reference to cross-border terrorism in BRICS declaration, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday said threat of terror featured strongly in the narrative of the Summit and there was a growing recognition that it has become a truly global challenge. Two days after the BRICS Summit in Goa where India’s forcefully highlighted terror emanating from Pakistan, she said there was no bigger global challenge than “state- sponsored” and “state-protected terrorism, asserting those supporting terror networks must be made to pay the cost. In clear reference to Pakistan, Swaraj said there is a need to extract costs from those who sponsor and support terrorists and provide them sanctuary and continue to make the “false distinction” between “good and bad terrorists”. Swaraj was delivering an address at the BRICS media forum. In an obvious reference to Pakistan blocking several pacts on transport and connectivity, Swaraj referred to growing cooperation on these issues among BIMSTEC nations, noting “There cannot be a greater contrast with those who reject even trade and connectivity for political reasons.” On deliberations at the BRICS, Swaraj said while the economic engagement and political cooperation remained key factors, there was a sharp realisation that global development and prosperity was very much dependent on continued peace and security. “Terrorism was universally recognised as a key threat to stability, progress and development. Consequently, it featured strongly in the conference narrative and its eventual outcome. Indeed, what we saw was not just an understanding of the dangers posed by terrorism to the economic aspirations of the world but a growing recognition that this has now become a truly global challenge that the international community can only ignore at its peril,” she said. There was criticism of the government after consensus eluded on reference to cross-border terror in BRICS declaration. Without naming any country, Swaraj said there has always been an overarching political context for the BRICS meetings which essentially underlines that a serious global discourse cannot be the “preserve” of a few countries with a “narrow agenda”. “There is a developing consensus that it cannot be business as usual. We must be prepared to extract costs for those who sponsor and support terrorists, who provide them sanctuary, and who, despite their own claimed victimhood, continue to make the false distinction between good and bad terrorists. “BRICS has always been global in its approach and today, there is no bigger global challenge than state-sponsored and state-protected terrorism,” she said. Swaraj said members of BIMSTEC- Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand represented the “polar opposite” of a terrorism “promoting polity”. “They are focused on improving the quality of life of their people, on skills and employment, on education and health, and on the quality of governance and the deepening of democracy. “These are nations who are actively promoting connectivity, cooperation and contacts amongst themselves. Their interface with the BRICS has a message in itself. This is that a world changing in a positive direction as reflected by the BRICS has its regional expression in a community like BIMSTEC that is able to visualize a prosperous collective future,” Swaraj said. On India’s chairmanship of BRICS, Swaraj said “we took the BRICS outside the conference room and endeavoured to instill it in popular thinking.” Talking about major initiatives by BRICS, she said the Summit represented a further advancement in terms of the breadth and focus of its discussions, adding the grouping has transformed over the years. “Initially, its deliberations concentrated more on economic and financial issues. But over the years, it has broadened to cover larger global issues, even as it has promoted the creation of BRICS institutions and mechanisms. “Key initiatives like a BRICS Rating Agency that can complement the New Development Bank, or the Railways Research Network and an Agriculture Research Platform that will allow us to leverage our specific strengths for mutual benefit are tangible goals that we believe can take the group forward,” she said.Swaraj said a total of 115 events were organised in the nine months of India’s chairmanship of the block.

Brics summit: PM Modi must plan India’s moves to check Pakistan-China bonhomie

Make no mistake. From an economic perspective, China matters to Pakistan much more than India does. Yes, India is a hard to ignore constituent among the South Asian countries, both for political and geographical reasons. And as we saw recently, India has shown its clout in the Saarc grouping, by isolating Pakistan. To a certain extent, Pakistan too needs India to keep its relations with other Saarc members on good terms and, for water.

The reason why it is making panic remarks in the international fora against India’s proposed move to cut the water supply to Pakistan under Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), is nothing else. Agriculture is one of the main pillars of Pakistan’s economy, which constitutes 19.8 percent of its GDP and is the largest employer (42.3 percent of the country’s total labour force), according to the latest data from the Pakistan government. If India acts on this front, upping its strategic offensive, there will be severe economic repercussions within Pakistan, which isn’t easy for Nawaz Sharif government to handle. For political reasons, Pakistan’s political leadership and army need to show India as a perennial enemy, but the irony is its economy can’t sustain without India.

(From left) Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, PM Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma. Reuters

(From left) Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, PM Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma. Reuters

But, China commands a bigger place in Pakistan’s strategic circles. The Chinese are the biggest trade partner of Pakistan. For 2014-15, the total trade between the two countries was recorded at $12. 299 billion out of which Pakistan’s exports were $2. 126 billion and imports were $10. 17 billion, according to a report in The Nation.

Pakistan exports cotton yarn/fabric, rice, raw hides and skins, chemical material, fish and fish preparations and crude mineral to China and imports machinery (all sorts) and its parts, fertiliser, chemical element, yarn and thread of synthetic fibre, iron and steels, chemical material and product, vegetable and synthetic textile fibre, road vehicles and their parts, non-ferrous metals, tyres and tubes of rubber, the report said. With India, Pakistan’s trade is a minuscule, even after India awarding Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to that country. In 2015-16, out of India’s total merchandise trade of $641 billion that to Pakistan stood at a mere $2.67 billion.

Reasons for Chinese interest in Pakistan isn’t easy to understand. China needs Pakistan to check India’s influence in the region, and Pakistan needs India for the same reason. India’s relations with Pakistan is seemingly beyond revival at this stage and that with China has always been murky.

China’s clout in Pakistan isn’t just about trade. The dragon has been slowly and steadily increasing its stake in Pakistan’s real economy over years. The biggest example of Pakistan economy’s dependence on China to improve its fortunes through $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. The value of this ‘economic cooperation’ is so high that a recent World Bank report warned that Pakistan’s prospects of growing even at modest five percent a year are at risk due to delays in the implementation of the CPEC projects. Should India be worried about CPEC? Yes. Because the China-Pakistan economic corridor is passing through Pak-occupied Kashmir. India has raised its concerns on this already.

Even when signals emerged from India that it might curtail water supply to Pakistan under IWT, Pakistan threatened to take up this issue internationally put pressure on India — mainly with China. Besides trade and economic cooperation, China also plays a major role in aiding military support to Pakistan over a period. Pakistan has returned the favour saying it too will offer full military support to China on a boarder scale to assure safety to the China-Pak economic corridor. In short, there is a bonhomie getting stronger between the two countries that India cannot ignore.

It is in this context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to approach the Brics summit in Goa. As Firstpost noted in an article, the Brics meet this time is even more significant for India in the context of the growing threat of terrorism originating from Pakistan and its impact on rest of the world. India, which managed to completely isolate Pakistan from the Saarc countries in the aftermath of a series of border terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based elements (the latest being Uri), will most likely take up the issue of the Pakistan factor in the Brics meeting. Can India call Pakistan’s bluff on aiding terrorism at BRICS is a question.

As the Brics summit kicks off on Saturday, one of the major things to watch is how India will approach to the growing Pakistan-China bonhomie. A friendship is mutually beneficial for Pakistan and China to check India’s influence in the region. But, it is a concern for India. How India will plan its moves to check this perceived, obvious threat at the Brics is a big question.

Tribal community members in Goa narrate their woes to Arvind Kejriwal

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Memories of the 2011 tribal agitation which resulted in the death of two young activists came alive during AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal’s visit to the village of Cauvrem in south Goa.”Two youth were burnt to death just because they were agitating for their rights. Till date not a single person has been punished for the murder. If tribals raise their voice, it is suppressed using police, and they are murdered,” Ravindra Velip, a tribal youth activist told Kejriwal yesterday.Two youths–Manguesh Gaonkar and Dilip Velip– who were part of a tribal group that blocked a National Highway pressing for their 12-point demands were charred to death when a building –Adarsh Co-operative Society–an initiative by tribals, was set on fire after the agitation turned violent in 2011.State Agriculture Minister Ramesh Tawadkar was also part of the group, which faced resistance from locals, who had attacked tribals, Velip said. “Police were mute spectators, criminals were never arrested,” he said. Kejriwal who gave a patient hearing to the issues of tribal said, “If voted to power, AAP will punish all those who are involved in the incident.”At Quepem Municipal Hall yesterday, Kejriwal was all ears for the community for almost two hours before heading to Cauvrem, a village which was amongst the first to witness tribal protests against mining activities claiming it to be illegal. “There is no voice for tribals of Goa in policy making. Our lands have become playgrounds of the rich,” Nilesh Naik, another leader, who was attacked by unknown assailants in 2011 for raising the tribal issues, said.Police are yet to identify the assailants who had hit Naik on his neck outside Verna Industrial Estate, where he had gone for work. “Atrocities on tribals are observed at every step. The Commission for Scheduled Tribes has power but is controlled by politicians. Dozens of cases are pending before the Commission,” Velip said. Goa has 89 per cent literacy rate but it is less than 40 per cent amongst tribals. “Very few tribal students choose higher and technical education,” he added.

Cheap Chinese coriander is flavour of the season

Forget all those made-in-China cheap toys and electronic gadgets that have flooded Indian markets, what’s in vogue this sparse season is Chinese coriander.This variety of the aromatic plant, the leaves and seeds of which are used as culinary herbs, comes with the dragon tag for the seeds are imported from China.For the local vendors, it comes cheap, and in large quantity. “What else is required for Chinese certification,” they ask.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>At a time when veggie prices are sky-rocketing, and indigenous coriander is disappearing from retail shops, the Chinese coriander has come as a welcome relief and is much in demand.It also comes at less than half the price, compared to the home-grown variety.”Homemakers, who were reluctant in purchasing coriander because of its high prices, are happy. While Indian coriander is priced at Rs 50-80 per bunch, the Chinese variety comes as cheap as Rs 25-30 per bunch,” said Rajesh Mahale, a vendor at Navi Mumbai. “Unlike other vegetable items, people don’t want to spend much on coriander and other curry leaves,” he added.Not just the vendors, the farmers too have taken a liking for the Chinese coriander.”Chinese coriander will yield three consecutive crops from one-time sowing. It is harvested by cutting the stem from near to its roots. The plant will regrow in no time. Indian coriander, however, could be harvested only once as they are uprooted and gathered,” said Nanasaheb Patil, chairman of Agriculture Product Market Committee, Lasalgaon.”Also, the yield from the Chinese variety is high,” said Patil confirming that Chinese coriander seeds are hybrid and imported.According to Deepak Gujar, another vendor, there are stark differences between the Indian and Chinese coriander. Chinese coriander, which comes mostly brought from Gujarat and parts of Nasik, is mostly bought by hoteliers and Chinese restaurants. “Chinese coriander leaves are large in size and slightly different in shape. Also they are not strong in aroma when compared to Indian variety,” he said.”However, the buyers compare the prices and calculate their budget and leave with Chinese coriander. There are hardly any takers for Indian variety, though we do keep them,” said Gujar wondering whom should be blamed for the trend. “Drought and delayed monsoon have left an impact on the market. Consumer is left with no other option but to be content with Chinese coriander,” he said.Reshami Bhagat, a resident of Thane, said that they are buying less vegetable and spending more nowadays. “Earlier, I used to buy Indian coriander. My household budget is going haywire due to skyrocketing vegetables prices. We know that the Chinese coriander will not give the taste and aroma of India coriander. But, at least we get the satisfaction seeing dishes garnished with these leaves,” she said.

PM Modi may roll out long-term measures to solve drought issue

New Delhi: After having consulted the states affected by drought this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to shortly announce several long-term measures to tackle the problem, official sources said on Monday.

“Prime Minister has completed consultations with 11 Chief Ministers of drought-affected states. There is a general mood in the country for long-term measures to fight drought. He is likely to make some major announcements,” an official source told IANS.

“Some time-bound measures to deal with droughts are on the cards,” the source said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Getty ImagesPrime Minister Narendra Modi. Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Getty Images

In the union cabinet meeting scheduled on Wednesday, Modi is likely to share with his ministerial colleagues what he discussed with the 11 Chief Ministers.

The performance of the ministries of agriculture and water resources vis-a-vis drought policies and water management may also figure in the cabinet discussion.

“In about 12 days, the prime minister met 11 chief ministers and heard them and their officials and experts on water scarcity and drought. Now suggestions are being examined and some policy level decisions may be taken,” the source said.

In his ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio broadcast on Sunday, Modi said, “Many states have undertaken wonderful efforts to mitigate the drought.”

He also cited the use of technology by Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh in dealing with drought.

In their meetings with Modi, at least three chief ministers — N. Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh), Raghubar Das (Jharkhand) and Devendra Fadnavis (Maharashtra) — suggested that “instead of adhocism as was tried so far, there is need for some long-term measures.”

“The NDA government is committed to drought-free India and is working on a road-map to achieve that in smooth and active coordination with the states,” the source said.

The union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh on 18 May urged the drought-affected states to periodically review water shortage and prepare action plans on a weekly basis.

The central government has suggested that state plans should specifically aim to address shortage or scarcity of drinking water and ensure construction of farm ponds, adoption of micro-irrigation projects and diversification to crops using less water.

On 12 May, the Supreme Court had asked the central government to revise the drought management manual prepared in 2010 to provide effective relief to calamity-hit farmers and prepare a national plan to tackle the crisis.

This year’s drought has affected over one lakh villages in 313 districts across 13 states, union Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh informed Lok Sabha on 10 May.

The drought in the year 2009 had affected 334 district across 14 states.

Will implement SC’s directives on drought situation soon: Centre

New Delhi: The Centre on Thursday said it will take immediate steps to implement the Supreme Court’s judgement on the drought-like situation in the country.

“We are studying the judgement. We will take immediate action to implement the directives of the apex court,” Agriculture Secretary Shobhana K Pattanayak told PTI.

As directed by the Supreme Court, the Agriculture Ministry will call a meeting of the officials of Bihar, Haryana and Gujarat in a week’s time to review the drought situation in these three states, he said.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

In a judgement pronounced on Wednesday in the petition filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan, the Supreme Court had asked the central government to set up a national disaster mitigation fund within three months to tackle the drought-like situation.

It had also directed the government to review the drought-like situation in Bihar, Haryana and Gujarat in a week’s time, do the revision of the drought management manual by December 2016, use innovative methods of water conservation and modern technology for early forecast of drought.

The country is facing second straight year of drought because of poor monsoon. As many as ten states including Maharashtra and Karnataka have declared drought in the 2015-16 crop year (July-June).

The Centre has already released more than Rs 12,000 crore assistance to these state governments to address the drinking water, fodder shortage and other problems.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently held a separate meeting to review the drought situation with chief ministers of five states – Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.

Modi is scheduled to meet the chief ministers of other drought-hit states in the coming days.

India, New Zealand ink deal for direct flights

India and New Zealand on Sunday signed a deal that opens the door for direct flights between the two countries that could boost tourism and trade sectors.The signing ceremony of the bilateral air services agreement was witnessed by visiting President Pranab Mukherjee and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. The air services agreement should also boost tourism and trade between New Zealand and world’s second most populated nation, New Zealand Transport Minister Simon Bridges said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Bridges signed the deal with Sanjeev Balyan, India’s Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmer Welfare. Air New Zealand, Air India and Singapore Airlines are among the operators which have the potential to run such a direct service, New Zealand Herald reported.Bridges said that New Zealand airlines now have the opportunity to code-share to seven Indian cities – Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. For code-sharing operations, India will have any point in New Zealand. As intermediate points, India can have Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok and any two points in Australia, according to the text of the agreement.”India is an emerging superpower, and its population of 1.25 billion people presents enormous opportunities for New Zealand,” the minister said. “Our annual trade with India is worth more than 1 billion dollars. In the year to March 31, 2016, almost 52,000 Kiwis travelled to India and close to 60,000 Indians visited New Zealand. In addition, more than 160,000 people of Indian descent live here. “Today’s signing will boost tourism, trade and personal ties between our two countries,” he said.India New Zealand Business Council treasurer Bhav Dhillon said that getting a direct flight between the two countries would “change the paradigm” of both tourism and trade. “We are very confident that there will be a very robust growth in tourist numbers from India to New Zealand once we have a direct flight between these two countries,” Dhillon told the Herald.”Once’s there a direct flight that will really change the paradigm in terms of tourism and trade, a direct flight reduces a lot of non-tariff barriers. We think a direct flight will solve a lot of issues on the trade front as well as on the tourism front.”Since the Government’s Air Transport policy was introduced in 2012, Bridges said 50 new or amended air agreements had been negotiated, bringing the total to 78. Most of the major airlines in the world are now able to operate services to New Zealand without restriction, with 18 new air routes announced in the past year alone, the report said.

German experts develop method for better prediction of India’s monsoon

Berlin: Climate researchers in Germany on Wednesday said they had found a way to more accurately predict the Indian monsoon, which could help maximise the subcontinent’s food and hydro-power supplies.

Improved forecasts of when the heavy summer rains start and end could help millions of farmers plant crops at the right time, and allow energy providers to estimate when dams and reservoirs fill up, they said.

Mking the right monsoon prediction. ReutersMking the right monsoon prediction. Reuters

Mking the right monsoon prediction. Reuters

Global warming already affects monsoon stability and will make accurate forecasting ever more important, as deviations can spark droughts and floods, said the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

“The timing of Indian summer monsoons, on which the livelihoods of many millions of people depend, is likely becoming more erratic,” said project leader Juergen Kurths. “This makes early and accurate forecasting ever more crucial.”

The scientists said they had developed a novel prediction method based on a network analysis of regional weather data, and would propose their model to the Indian Meteorological Department.

“We can predict the beginning of the Indian monsoon two weeks earlier, and the end of it even six weeks earlier than before — which is quite a breakthrough, given that for the farmers, every day counts,” said Veronika Stolbova of PIK and Zurich University.

“We found that in North Pakistan and the Eastern Ghats, a mountain range close to the Indian Ocean, changes of temperatures and humidity mark a critical transition to monsoon,” said Stolbova in a statement.

Usually the focus has been on southern India’s Kerala region, said Stolbova, lead author of the study published in the scientific journal the Geophysical Research Letters.

“These precursor phenomena are often buried by huge piles of weather data and hence get overlooked,” said PIK guest scientist Elena Surovyatkina of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute.

Kurths said they had looked at the climate system “as a network, just like the social networks so many people are using in their everyday life”.

“On Facebook or Twitter, you can follow how news is spreading, one posting leading to many others. In the climate system, not people but geographical regions are communicating — admittedly in a quite complex way.”

Information about monsoon timing is key for Indian farmers, who usually grow all-important crops like rice, soybean and cotton during the June-September monsoon season.

The scientists said they had tested their method with historical monsoon data and achieved correct predictions in more than 70 percent of cases for the start of the monsoon, and in more than 80 percent for its withdrawal.

The authors said their method could improve the time horizon of monsoon prediction compared to that now used in India — both during relatively normal times, and in years when the El Nino phenomenon affects the rainy season.

Will the controversial FCRA amendment trigger a wave of new political parties in India?

Several new political parties may be formed in India as the proposed amendment in the Finance Bill 2016 will allow them to receive funding from “foreign source”. Some of the new parties are likely to be called ‘Green & Peace Party’, ‘Sabrang Party’, ‘Participatory Party’, ‘Human Rights Party’, ‘Collectives Party’, ‘Nationalist Party’ and ‘Azaadi Party’ etc.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The gold rush to form political parties will be triggered by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s proposal in his budget speech last month to amend section 2 of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) 2010 retrospectively.The real reason for this proposal seems to be to overcome the Delhi High Court’s judgment in March 2014 which found violation of FCRA 2010 provisions by the Congress and the BJP when they received donations from Vedanta group of companies. In the FCRA 2010, any Indian company/agency which has more than 50% foreign ownership has been designated as a “foreign source”. The proposed revision will link ownership criterion to FDI caps approved from time to time. So, a company operating in a sector which has approved FDI caps above 50% can still continue to be treated as an Indian source for this purpose.If the proposed amendment with retrospective effect is passed by the parliament as a part of the budget proposals next month, it will open doors for foreign funding of political parties and all ‘activities of a political nature’, which are hitherto banned under FCRA since the inception of this law in 1976 during the Emergency.A large number of economic sectors have FDI caps above 50%, implying that foreign companies operating in India in those sectors can now make donations to political parties under FCRA. For example,— Agriculture has 100% FDI, so companies like Monsanto, Du Pont and Advanta can donate to political parties— Pharmaceutical sector has 100% FDI, making it possible for multinationals like Glaxo, Abbott, Pfizer to make such donations— Telecom FDI is also 100% FDI, so the likes of China Telecom, Verizon & AT&T can also do the same— Private Banks have FDI limit of 74%, so ANZ, JPMorgan & Credit Suisse can now make donations to Indian political partiesAs the floodgates of foreign corporate funding of political parties open, questions about foreign influence on public policies and internal security matters will not arise as it will become legitimate to do so. Therefore, civil society entities engaged in campaigns and advocacy—’activities of a political nature’—can also benefit from such donations.Another reason for the rush to form political parties will be the relatively weak regulatory system governing such entities in the country. Under section 13A of the Income Tax Act, political parties are 100% tax exempt for income derived from any source, including business income. They are expected to file an annual income tax return, but most do not do this regularly and there is no compliance mechanism to ensure this either. Most political parties show donations from individuals as their main source of income, but no donation below Rs 20,000 need be reported or accounted for. So a political party can show income of Rs 100 crore (or more) from such ‘small’ donations without sharing any information about the donors.In light of the above, a national movement for registration of ‘new’ political parties may well be launched by a wide variety of civil society organisations so that all advocacy efforts can be systematically and openly financed by foreign individual and corporate sources!The author is Founder-President, PRIA.

India willing to share tigers to help Cambodia, experts call for caution

At the conclusion of the third Asia ministerial conference on tiger conservation India signalled that it is willing to share its Bengal tigers in countries such as Cambodia where the animal has no viable breeding population.Translocation and reintroduction of tigers has never happened between two countries. “We are willing to provide all co-operation in this regard and the idea will be taken ahead when all issues are looked at,” said Prakash Javadekar, union minister for environment, forest and climate change.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>As per World Wildlife Fund, tigers are “functionally extinct” in Cambodia as there is no breeding population left. India on the other hand has 2,226 Bengal tigers constituting 70 per cent of the global tiger population as per the 2014 population estimation exercise. Though the two countries engaged in conversation on this issue at the global conference, Cambodia is yet to officially move a proposal requesting India to consider sharing its tigers.”The Eastern highlands are conducive for tiger reintroduction in Cambodia. By way of this global conference, we have begun talks with India on this issue. But before submitting any proposals to India we will have to look at the feasibility of reintroduction,” Ty Sokhun, Secretary of State, Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries told dna.While India is home to the Bengal or royal Bengal tiger sub-species of tiger Cambodia had the Indochinese tigers, also found in neighbouring Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Tiger experts said that a plan to reintroduce tigers from India in another tiger range has to be thought out carefully since its success depends on numerous factors.”Elaborate planning and background study is required for such a proposal. First of all, the recipient country needs to have suitable habitat and prey base to sustain tigers from another sub-species. If that is not available then reintroduction will fail. The beginning of a conversation on this reintroduction is welcome but it should be done only when all the necessary checks are carried out,” said Rajesh Gopal, secretary general, Global Tiger Forum and former head of Project Tiger.Panna a successfulIn India, Panna Tiger Reserve has successfully managed a full-scale translocation and reintroduction programme after all but one tiger was left. The reserve got four females from other tiger reserves along with two males to mate. Today, Panna has more than 30 tigers.

PM Modi to launch scheme for rural development, farmers progress today

In an endeavour to strengthen Panchayati Raj in villages and ensure social harmony, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will on Thursday launch Gram Uday Se Bharat Uday Abhiyan on the 125th birth anniversary of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar.The eleven day campaign will focus on generating nationwide efforts on promoting rural development and fostering farmers’ progress.Prime Minister Modi will kick start the campaign at Ambedkar’s ancestral village Mhow in Madhya Pradesh.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to sources, the campaign will be run jointly by the ministries of Rural Development, Agriculture, Social Justice, Labour and Information and Broadcasting, along with the states.The campaign will focus on issues pertaining to rural development, improving farmers’ income, SC and ST welfare and social harmony.On this platform village farmer assemblies will be organised to promote agriculture by providing information to farmers about various schemes of the government such as Fasal Bima Yojana and Soil Health Card scheme.On April 19, a national meeting focusing on Panchayat and tribal development will be held at Vijaywada.Gram sabha meetings will take place from April 21 to 24 across the country.Prabhat Pheris will be held in villages and sanitation cultural and sports programme will also be held.Gram Uday Se Bharat Uday Abhiyan will conclude on Panchayati Raj Diwas on April 24 with address of the Prime Minister to all gram sabhas from Jamshedpur through radio and televison.

SC pull up Centre, asks ‘are you waiting for states to declare drought?’

Supreme Court on Monday castigated the government for the delay in releasing funds for MGNREGA to drought-hit states saying this was “totally unacceptable”, as it also questioned its role in declaring drought in states.”The money should be released in advance so that the (MGNREGA) work does not get hampered. Nobody is here to criticise the government. The only point being made is delay in payments, which is undeniable and totally unacceptable,” a bench headed by Justice MB Lokur said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The apex court directed the Centre to submit a detailed chart of 10 drought-hit states and specify the number of people and districts including villages affected by it.It also asked the Centre to provide details with regard to notification on declaration of drought and sought budgetary allocations of National Disaster Response Force and State Disaster Response Fund. Initiating arguments on behalf of Centre, Additional Solicitor General P S Narsimha said the power to declare drought was completely vested with the states and the Centre has no role other than providing funds and placing a monitoring system.”If there is a situation, the statute speaks who will decide or take a call. All powers are vested in the state. Centre has only advisory role. The Ministry of Agriculture can only issue guidelines and broad parameters to be followed. The power to declare drought is completely vested with the states. Centre has no role other than providing funds if required and placing a monitoring system. Once drought is declared, incidental steps like providing money and relief work follow. Your lordship can very well pass an order if it feels a state should have declared drought,” he said.The bench then asked, “in case the drought situation in a state is very poor and the facts are stark, you are saying that the SC can pass an order. So what is the Centre supposed to do if there is a grave problem and the affected state is not declaring?”The ASG replied that in a federal structure where there is a democratically-elected government in power, declaration of drought fell completely under states’ responsibility and maximum contemplation for the Centre which the Constitution lays down is guidelines and advisory. The bench, also comprising Justice N V Ramana, further said, “so it is between the state goverment and the courts. Centre has nothing to do with it?”ASG said that under the statute, it is the sovereign power of the state and if there is a drought situation, the statute speaks who will decide or take a call. During the hearing, the ASG said the government was looking at revising the crop compensation paid to farmers for the coming year and has constituted a committee on it.Opposing the appointment of an independent commissioner to look after implementation of guidelines on drought, the ASG said there was already a statutory regime in place. “What will a court commissioner do? If any right is violated, the individual may approach the court. There are many Prashant Bhushans in this country. “There is some authority to ensure compliance at every stage. We can put the burden on officers. We can’t make the statute redundant. Why create a parallel institution and law enforcing agency. We are bound to comply with all the directions passed by this court,” the ASG said.To this, the bench said “at least the commissioner can bring it to our notice. You can’t expect persons affected by drought to come to us and tell that we have not been paid. Why can’t you yourself appoint observers who can inform you.” The ASG said “if that process were to be followed then every statute will need a commissioner. My lords can issue a mandamus.”An irked bench then shot back, “when we pass directions, you say we are encroaching. We say something, you have a problem. You are assuming that we are here to ensure every right given by the Constitution. Will you release MGNREGA funds if we ask you to do it tomorrow?”The ASG told the court that the entire government was working on the issue and to say the Centre was not doing anything is not correct.Seeking the appointment of court commissioner, advocate Prashant Bhushan appearing for petitioner NGO Swaraj Abhiyan said a large section of population is affected by drought and an independent commissioner should be appointed to look after the implementation of guidelines. The hearing remained inconclusive and would continue on April 19. On the last date of hearing, the apex court had pulled up Gujarat and Haryana for their non-seriousness in dealing with the issue of drought.On March 31, the apex court had asked the Centre to say how many states had drought management cells and why no district-level disaster management authorities were set up.It had suggested that the Centre, with the help of satellite data, should analyse the expected rainfall in the monsoon season and take effective steps to tackle drought-like situations on time.The bench is examining various aspects of relief given to drought-hit farmers during the hearing of a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan seeking urgent implementation of guidelines for areas hit by natural calamity.Earlier, the court had expressed its concern over low compensation paid to calamity-hit farmers and observed that it was leading some of them to commit suicide.The NGO, in its revised prayer, has sought a direction to Centre to abide by the provisions of MNREGA Act and use it for employment generation in drought-affected areas.The PIL filed by the NGO has alleged that parts of 12 states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chattisgarh were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief.

India’s 2016 monsoon rains estimated to be above average: Skymet

India’s annual monsoon rains are likely to be above average, the country’s only private weather forecaster said on Monday, snapping two straight years of drought that cut farm output and farmers’ income.

The July to September monsoon delivers nearly 70 percent of annual rains and waters half of India’s farmlands that lack irrigation facilities.

Chennai Rain_West Mambalam_Tarique Anwar_Firstpost_DSC_0006Chennai Rain_West Mambalam_Tarique Anwar_Firstpost_DSC_0006

Monsoon rains are expected to be 105 percent above a long-term average, with a 35 percent probability of above average rainfall, Skymet said in a statement.

The El Nino effect is likely to wane after monsoon hits the southern Kerala coast by the end of May, the statement said.

El Nino, or warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, can lead to scorching weather conditions across Asia and east Africa, but heavy rains and floods in South America.

India’s west coast and central parts will get good rains, Skymet said, bringing in relief for farmers and policy makers, who are struggling with droughts and severe water scarcity in some regions.

Above average monsoon rains play a key role in boosting demand for an array of consumer goods, as 70 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people live in villages.

Agriculture accounts for about 14 percent of India’s $2 trillion economy, Asia’s third-biggest, but it supports two-thirds of Indian’s population.

State-run India Meteorological Department is expected to issue its forecast for this year’s monsoon rains soon.

Separately, Farm Secretary Shobhana K. Pattanayak said current climatic conditions indicate that El Nino is gradually fading and giving way to La Nina, indicating bountiful rains this year.

Israel to partner with India in water management, confirms envoy Carmon

New Delhi: After agriculture and defence, Israel is all set to cooperate with India in the area of water management, Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon said on Wednesday.

“If you take the concept of collaboration in defence adaptive to other areas like we did in agriculture, the next big thing we would like to do would be in water,” Carmon told media persons here ahead of the India Water Week from April 4 for which Israel has been chosen as the partner country.

Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon PTI

Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon PTI

“We are already doing. We already have some success stories here in India,” he said.

“But the potential is so big and the need is so big and the interest of both countries is so big that we should and we can do much more.”

Carmon said that when President Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel in October last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to share his country’s expertise in the areas of water management, recycling, desalination and irrigation.

He said that Israel was closely following the various programmes of the Indian government in the area of water.

“Since we have encountered pretty similar challenges in Israel, since over the years we have faced acute water shortage… I can share with you that a few years ago there was a water crisis in Israel,” the ambassador said.

He said that Israel gets about 500-600 mm of rainwater in a year “which is nothing when you compare to the need.”

“We have a development laboratory in which we have research and development, in which we have developed technologies,” he said.

“Water is definitely one area in which we have developed so many new technologies.”

Carmon said that Israel would love to share its expertise in water in areas indicated by India and would encourage Israeli companies to work in India in these areas.

He said that Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel would lead an Israeli delegation, including experts in water technologies, for the India Water Week during the course of which a number of seminars and meetings have been planned.

Ariel, along with union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, will jointly inaugurate an exhibition and the Israeli pavilion at Pragati Maidan here on April 5.

The next day, the visiting minister will leave for Ladwa in Haryana where he will inaugurate a centre of excellence in agriculture that has been built with Israeli assistance.

Stating that agriculture and water were closely linked in terms of food security, Carmon said that Israel was a leader in drip irrigation technology.

He said that there was vast scope for cooperation between India and Israel in the area of water.“

“For example, here in India there are eight plants where Israeli technology desalinates water from the sea,” Carmon said.

“Eight is nothing. We could have 800 plants,” he said.

Water crisis, farmers’ app, FIFA Under-17 and more: PM Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ this Month

New Delhi: With the water table dropping substantially in some parts of the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said the government is constructing five lakh ‘farming pools’ even as he urged people to resort to water conservation methods like creating small reservoirs.

In his monthly radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’, he also asked the farming community to use less fertilizers and more modern technology, like the Farmers’ App, for their benefit.

He spoke about India hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup football tournament next year and said it is a great opportunity for branding the country at the international level, for which immense awareness needs to be created within the nation. During the 30-minute programme, Modi talked about how the government is developing all the five places associated with Dalit icon B R Ambedkar on the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary which falls on 14 April.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Prime Minister, who greeted the nation on the occasion of Easter on Sunday, spoke about various other issues including asking students to develop some skills during their vacations and urging people to work for defeating diabetes and eradicating TB from the country.

Referring to the agriculture sector, he said water table is falling in parts of the country and said small reservoirs should be created to conserve the essential commodity. He said the government, on its part, is constructing five lakh ‘khet talab’ (farming pools) across the country.

Under MNREGA also, efforts are being made to conserve water, he said, as he pitched for a people’s movement for saving water.

PTI

Uttarakhand crisis: Harak Singh Rawat expelled from Cabinet for ‘unparliamentary conduct’

A day after he raised a banner of revolt against the Harish Rawat government, Congress MLA Harak Singh Rawat was expelled from Uttarakhand cabinet on Saturday for what the party termed was his “unparliamentary conduct” in the state assembly.The state cabinet which met in Dehradun under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Rawat approved a proposal seeking Harak’s expulsion from the cabinet, chief spokesman state Congress Mathuradutt Joshi said. When reminded that Harak, who was Agriculture Minister, had announced his resignation from the Cabinet soon after trouble erupted in the state assembly last night, Joshi said his resignation letter was never received by the state government.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Chief Minister Rawat said Harak’s resignation was only for media consumption as his resignation letter had not been received by anyone. Chief Minister Harish Rawat’s media advisor Surendra Aggarwal said a recommendation had been sent to Governor K K Paul seeking expulsion of Harak from the cabinet on grounds of his “unparliamentary conduct” in the House which lowered its dignity.

Shaktiman was as gentle as a cow, says rider

Badly battered, bruised and fractured in the hind limb by an alleged mob led by BJP’s Mussourie MLA, Ganesh Joshi during a protest rally in Dehradun, Shaktiman, one of the most decorated horses of Uttarakhand Police, was operated upon by a team of four veterinary doctors on Tuesday.”The operation took four hours. We had called specialist doctors from Tamil Nadu and College of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar. Shaktiman is recuperating now,”said a senior police official.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”I hope and pray that Shaktiman would be able to walk again. He is one of the best behaved horses I have come across, never loses his temper even in tough situations. He is gentle as a cow,”said his rider Ravindra Singh.Bought as a young 3-year-old calf from animal fare in Punjab in 2006 for Rs97,000, Shaktiman grew into a sturdy stallion and served with distinction in tough conditions of Haridwar Mahakumbh in 2010. He used to take part in Republic Day and Independence Day parades every year without fail. Last year, Shaktiman commanded and led the Foundation Day parade of Uttarakhand state on November 9, said Singh.Joshi, who has been booked under Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals Act and IPC, denied hitting the horse.”When the horse fell I was nowhere around. This is an attempt to malign me…it is a conspiracy,” said Joshi.While the social media berated Joshi, the video footage available so far shows him trying to beat the rider with a stick but not the horse.With sympathy pouring in from various quarters for “poor Shaktiman” BJP played it safely at the Centre as union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy said that the party has taken notice of the horse incident.”It was unacceptable. We will take cognisance of the whole matter and act accordingly,”said Rudy

Ganga river dolphin on verge of extinction

Population of Ganga river dolphins has declined considerably and they are on the verge of extinction, Parliament was informed on Tuesday. “As reported by the Ministry of Water Resource, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, the Ganga river Dolphin…is distributed in the Gangetic-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems in India, Nepal and Bangladesh and the population has declined considerably and that they are on the verge of extinction,” Minister of State for Agriculture Sanjeev Balyan said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Water Resource Ministry has informed that the total population of the Ganga river dolphin is estimated to be between 2,500-3,000 in its entire distribution range, out of which more than 80 per cent is within the Indian territory, he said in a written reply in Lok Sabha.According to the Wild Life Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, this species is facing series of threats for survival in recent years, the Minister said. Various organisations like WII and the Environment Ministry has informed that activities like construction of dams and barrages, embankments etc besides unsustainable obstruction of river water and sand mining among others are mainly responsible for shrinking of habitat and decline of Ganga river dolphins.Ganga river dolphins are listed in Schedule-1 of the wild life protection act and thereby according them the highest degree of protection during hunting.

Government must immediately provide relief to farmers hit by rains: Rahul Gandhi

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi urged the government in Lok Sabha to respond quickly to the plight of farmers in north India hit by heavy rains and hailstorm, saying like last time the help should not reach late.As soon as the House met for the day, Gandhi raised the issue of heavy rains and hailstorm which have lashed north Indian states in the past two days.”Crops have been damaged…the government should take immediate action,” he said in the lower house.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>He urged the Centre to send a team to assess the damage and demanded a statement by Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh in the House.The Congress Vice President said the Centre should hasten the provision of relief to the affected farmers and like last time, this assistance should not reach late.Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said he has spoken with the Agriculture Minister on the “serious” issue, who is in touch with state governments.He said the minister could make a statement either today or tomorrow.Rain and hailstorms lashed several parts of North India including Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana over the weekend and early this morning.According to reports, rains have flattened wheat, mustard and coriander crops in the states.Later when the Lok Sabha took up Zero Hour, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan rejected notices of adjournment given by Rahul and some other members on the issue.

Maharashtra: 3,228 farmer suicides in 2015, highest in 14 years

As many as 3,228 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra last year, highest in the last 14 years, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said on Friday. Both the Centre and state governments are implementing various schemes to make farming viable and prevent farmers’ suicides due to agrarian reasons, he added.”As reported by the Maharashtra government, 3,228 farmers have committed suicide and it is the highest since 2001,” Singh said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Maximum suicide cases were reported from Aurangabad at 1,130, followed by Amravati (1,179), Nashik (4,59l), Nagpur (362), Pune (96) and Konkan (2), he said.”Out of these 3,228 cases, 1,841 cases are eligible for ex-grtia payment, while 903 cases are ineligible. 484 cases are pending enquiry. About Rs 1 lakh has been given to the hiers in respect of 1,818 suicide cases,” Singh said.The centre has sanctioned Rs 3,049.36 crore relief funds for tackling drought in the state for this year, he added.In order to prevent farmers’ suicide, Singh said the state government is implementing various schemes and both short and long term measures for tackling drought situation. Under the ‘Baliraj Chetna Abhiyan Scheme’, the district committee headed by the collector has Rs 10 crore per year at its disposal to take up awareness campaign, de-addiction, health counselling, revival of social support system and such activities to reduce the distress level of farmer families.The village level committees, headed by sarpanch, has Rs 1 lakh per year at its disposal to help farmers families in situation like meeting health and education expenses, loan installments which cause acute financial distress.Under the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swawlamban Mission, the state government is restructuring various schemes to prevent farmers’ suicides in the state. Even at the centre, Singh said various programmes like soil health card, organic farming, irrigation and crop insurance are being implemented.”The strategy of Government of India (GoI) is to focus on farmers’ welfare by making farming viable. Farm viability is possible, when cost of cultivation is reduced, yields per unit of farm are increased and farmers get remunerative prices on their price,” he added.Maharashtra is facing drought for the second straight year due to poor monsoon.

Sharad Pawar questions Modi’s silence on ‘communal polarisation’, demands Union Minister Katheria’s removal

NCP Chief Sharad Pawar on Tuesday faulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for remaining silent on issues like the JNU row and demanded immediate sacking of Union Minister Ram Shankar Katheria over his alleged hate speech in Agra.A former Agriculture Minister, Pawar said he did not find the Union budget to be a “pro-farmer exercise” but felt there were only “lot of slogans”.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Replying to questions at a press conference, Pawar alleged politics of communal polarisation was being played in the country since the Narendra Modi government assumed office.
ALSO READ VHP leader killed in Agra: Union Minister Katheria claims ‘conspiracy’ against Hindus; Congress asks for his resignation”Communal fever… Temperature is rising. An atmosphere of fear is being created in which small groups and minorities are being targeted. But there is no place for such an important issue in the Prime Minister’s Man Ki Baat programme,” he said.Asked whether he felt the Modi government was vindictive after NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal faced ED raids, Pawar initially said one should not react immediately to such actions. Later, he said there are “no bad days” for those who have been agreeing with the government.Briefing on the deliberations at NCP’s working committee meeting in Mumbai on Monday, Pawar said the party adopted a resolution, condemning the “blatantly communal” speech of Katheria, Union Minister of State for HRD, while addressing a condolence meeting for VHP worker Arun Mahaur, who was shot dead on February 25.”The NCP demands that the minister be immediately dismissed and legal action be taken against him,” he said.Criticisng the budget proposals, he said the move to tax 60 per cent of withdrawals from provident fund and a ceiling on employers contribution would “lead to unrest”. He said the raising of the service tax to 15 per cent would lead to further price rise.Pawar, who was Agriculture Minister for 10 years during UPA rule, did not share the government’s optimism that the income of farmers could be doubled within the next few years. If this was to be achieved, there should be substantial step-up in the outlay for agriculture each year, he said.

Budget 2016: Tech industry cheers Arun Jaitley’s nine-point agenda

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the Union Budget for FY 2016-17 on Monday, bringing with it a raft of reforms and changes. The changes will significantly impact our lives in the times to come and we all have our take on the final result. Here are the reactions of some of the biggest names in the industry:

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. PTI

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. PTI

Mr Sudhin Mathur, Director, Smartphones, Lenovo Mobiles Business Group:
“The Union Budget for FY 2016-17 is a big step in terms of aiding the common man, small entrepreneurs and companies looking to invest in India. Ease of doing business and financial sector reforms being two of the Nine pillars that the Government will look towards to transform India, is a welcome move.
In addition, the rationalisation of custom duties and excise duties for raw materials, manufacturing for the IT and Hardware sector apart from various sectors to boost the Government’s ‘Make In India’ sector are definitely going to boost the manufacturing sector and lower costs for firms looking to do business in India.”

Partha Iyengar – VP & Gartner Fellow, Country Manager Research (India), Gartner:
• “The budget has a number of positives in it – though in some cases they are ‘baby steps’:
• Focus on rural skills development and improvement of rural digital literacy
• Incenting the creation of domestic IP, driving domestic innovation
• Creating a favorable environment for startups
• Focus on infrastructure outlays
• Continuing the ‘Make in India’ focus with a few more specific ‘catalysts’ announced in the budget
• The focus on ‘Quality of Education’ as a specific initiative
As always though, the devil is in the implementation of these schemes. It is good to see a mention of review of program effectiveness as one of the goals in the budget, but till we see that followed up religiously it is hard to give it credence.”

Vibhor Jain, CEO, Atlanta Healthcare:
“Last was the year of planning and indications are that 2016 will be the year of action for ‘Startup India’. With the announcement made by the Hon’ble Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, the Government has underscored its focus on the Indian startup ecosystem. A Tax holiday for startups for three of five years of setting up the company and lowering of Corporate IT rate to 25% are welcome and are steps in the right direction. In addition to tax relief, we are looking forward to ease of regulations around start-up capital, registration and closure processes for entrepreneurs in the country.”

Dinesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO, IndiaMART:
“There are all the right key words, in the Finance Minister’s 9 Point agenda in this budget. Governance and Ease of Doing Business, Education and Skills, Infrastructure, Financial Sector and Tax reforms reflect dedication towards a pro Technology, Infra and Trade oriented year ahead. The budget intends to build robustly Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Social Sector and Rural employment to further bridge the gap between Bharat and India.
Lowering of Corporate IT rate for companies (for new manufacturing companies and SMBs) not exceeding Rs. 5 crore turnover to 25% plus surcharge, tax holiday for startups for three of five years of setting up the company, the massive investment in the road infrastructure would provide support and boost to the MSMEs, startups and our overall ecommerce industry.
The Budget further strengthens the Financial System starting with the recapitalization of Banks. Since, Capital is the biggest woe for any entrepreneur, disbursement of MUDRA funds to 1,80,000 crore would add the apt backing.
What makes me particularly happy is the impetus being given to Skill Development. It assures the creation of a developed ecosystem where the Young Demographic Dividend of India has ample avenues of enterprise and means of excellence.
The Budget, however, lacks on simplicity quotient by initiating varied cesses this year unlike last year. Cess and surcharge on clean energy, for Infra and Agri, and even in Corporate tax shall prove to be raising complexities and hindrance overall.”

Prafulla Mathur, Founder and CEO, WudStay:
“I see this as a promising budget for entrepreneurs and startups. I am glad that the government has relaxed its taxation policies for startups. It will be a great opportunity for startups to utilise these funds into further scaling its business and operations. Also, the Finance Minister’s decision to relax taxes on capital gains for investors will generate a positive sentiment amongst the VC community which could help entrepreneurs looking to raise funds.
From a travel perspective, the revival of 160 airports should see a slight increase in domestic travel. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for these airports to be fully functional. Overall, I believe this is a decent budget with no negative implications for the startup community.”

Pramod Saxena, MD and Chairman, Oxigen Services Pvt Ltd:
“We are happy with the general direction of the budget as it lays emphasis on development of the rural sector, digitisation and reforms in banking. The digital literacy mission that has been announced which will target 6 crore households with financial literacy, with this the digital connect and payments connect will play an important role. Also, statutory status to Aadhaar will play a very big role in promoting digital payments, social benefit transfers and allowing several services beyond banking & insurance to be also be brought into its fold, whether it is government subsidies or government payments it will open a way for more government payments and subsidies to flow into the financial inclusion program.”

Manish Sharma, President CEAMA and Managing Director Panasonic India and South Asia:
“The Indian economy is growing at a rapid pace despite the global slowdown. The Finance Minister has clearly highlighted the growth pillars of the Indian economy in Agriculture, Rural, Social sector, Skills, Ease of Doing Business and Tax and Compliance reforms. We are happy with the government impetus on Make In India by providing tax and duty benefits and these will go a long way in strengthening the manufacturing capabilities of India. Another important milestone has been the use of technology to increase accountability of the government, authorities, and courts is a welcome step and will provide the right fillip to fast track procedures and will become the growth engine of the country. Skilling of youth of India by way of multi-skilled training institute and MOOCS will go a long way in tying the India growth story with the demographic advantage of India. Like always, we will continue supporting the government in its endeavour to fast track growth.”

Farmers’ income should be doubled by 2022: Narendra Modi

Pitching for converting farmers’ challenges into opportunities, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday urged all states to give priority to implementation of the “roadmap” for boosting the agriculture sector with a target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022.Addressing a farmers’ rally here, he sought to hardsell the recently-launched Crop Insurance scheme, which he termed as a “protective shield”, and talked about various other initiatives including plans to launch e-platform for marketing of agriculture products in April as part of efforts to ensure welfare of the farming community. “Today, there are several challenges before the farmers… Is there no solution to these challenges? These can be converted into opportunities if you (farmers) help me and states implement the various schemes properly,” Modi said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Noting that the subject of agriculture is with states, he said “the states where some work has been done in the farming sector have witnessed progress. But in the states having the approach of ‘chalta hai’ (let it happen) and ‘election time pe dekh lenge’ (will see at the time of elections), the fate of the farmers has been left to the God. After God, there is nobody to help them.” Underlining the vision of doubling the income of farmers by 2022, the 75th independence of the country, Modi said, “From this land of Uttar Pradesh, I urge all the states to give priority to agriculture and then see the changes. The roadmap is there, you only have to implement it.” He said “there is no criticism” of any state and “there is no need for it” but he only wants to “urge” them with the promise that “the Centre is ready to work shoulder-to-shoulder” with them in the implementation of schemes.He said agriculture should be made employment-oriented to make it attractive to the new generation cultivators as he noted that agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors were the backbone of the country’s economy. Talking about problems being faced by farmers, the Prime Minister said “filling their pockets with money” will not suffice and the need is to strengthen their capabilities. Without make any political comment, Modi referred to the backward Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and said it was shameful that this belt was parched in spite of five rivers criss-crossing it. He cited the example of BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, saying under the leadership of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the state has emerged as “Number 1” in the agriculture sector for last three years consecutively even though it was nowhere among top 10 about a decade back.Bundelkhand has of late caught the attention of both opposition and ruling SP as it appeared to become an election issue before the 2017 Assembly polls.Talking about MNREGA rural job guarantee scheme, Modi, while clearly referring to the previous UPA government, said “what happened earlier? It was nowhere to be seen. Did you see it anywhere?”He said the scheme could be used to provide irrigation water by making the ponds deeper, cleaning canals, making new small wells through rainwater harvesting. “Some states have done it. I will urge more states to do it,” Modi said.The Prime Minister, who has been addressing farmers’ rallies in different states including Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Karnataka over the last few weeks, asked whether a pledge could be taken to double the income of farmers by 2022. “I am confident that my dream will come true. My dream is your dream. My dream is with your dream. What is my dream? My dream is that by 2022, when the country celebrates its 75th independence day, the income of farmers should double,” he said, adding “Can we do it? Can we take a pledge in this regard, the states, the farmers, we all?” He also spoke of the major problems faced by farmers especilly the vagaries of weather, besides fragmented land with poor yield to feed large families. “These challenges should be converted into opportunities,” he said.He advocated a three-pronged strategy under which one-third of the farming activity should be earmarked for traditional crops like paddy, sugarcane, pulses and oilseeds, one-third for poulty, fishery, bee-keeping and one-third for planting trees to get timber. If this strategy is adopted, farmers would not be left to fend for themselves even if the weather Gods got angry.Talking about irrigation facilities, he referred to the Atal scheme for inter-linking of rivers and said “If there is proper water management, half of the problems of farmers will be solved and they can live a peaceful life.” For economic development of the contry, there should be three pillars — agriculture, industry and service sector, Modi said. “If industries are not set up, where will sons of farmers get the job. With this we need to promote service sector like tourism, where employment can be generated,” he said.The Prime Minister dwelt at length on the Crop Insuance Scheme and highlighted its elements. The revamped crop insurance scheme is cheaper than the previous one launched in 1999 and modified in 2010. It ensures quick dispute settlements and provides for compensation payment direct into bank accounts. The new scheme works towards making it more attractive for the farmers. The farmers have now to pay just two per cent of the premium for kharif crop and 1.5 per cent for rabi while the same for horticulture will be fixed at 5 per cent. The balance premium is to be paid by the government both state and central.India derives about 17% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from agriculture and considering the volatility in farm output due to vagaries of nature often resulting in lower production, the new crop insurance scheme approved by the government is expected to help small and marginal farmers in a big way.Modi regretted that for the sake of higher yield, massive doses of chemicals and harmful fertilisers were used. “This atrocity on ‘dharti mata’ should be avoided…we have no right to commit such an atrocity,” he advised the farmers.Stating that fertiliser shortage and blackmarketing has ended, Modi said earlier the PM Office used to get letters from CMs and most of them were for demanding fertiliser.”The Centre did not permit blackmarketing of urea. Now no CM writes to me for fertiliser,” he said. Modi said on Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14 he would launch national agriculture market “e-platform” for farmers enabling them to know market price of their produce through mobile phones.Earlier, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the gathering that the NDA government had raised the amount of compensation to farmers who suffered due to vagaries of nature. “We have simplified the procress of giving them central assistance,” he said.

Megastar Chiranjeevi vows to make Perupalem a tourist hub

Actor and Rajya Sabha member Chiranjeevi visited Perupalem (south) village in Mogalthuru mandal in West Godavari district on Monday. At a meeting there, he stated that he would develop Perupalem, a village on the sea coast, into a model village and make it a tourist hub. At a public meeting, Chiranjeevi stated that development should be beyond party lines and he would work hard to develop the village in all aspects. He added that as a result of unavoidable circumstances, he could not visit the village earlier. <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>He was quoted saying at the gathering that he was born there. “I have a lot of love and affection for this area. It has forced me to adopt Perupalem (south) village for development. It is just a beginning. I will develop this coastal area of Mogalturu mandal as a tourist hub and the development works will be taken up uninterruptedly,” he said. PM Modi had asked people to adopt villages and Chiranjeevi had come forward to adopt his native place. Perupalem village, construction of a Primary Health Centre, Junior College and provision of basic infrastructure to the schools will be taken up after consulting the Ministers concerned, he stated. Former MLAs Kothapalli Subbaraudu, Kothapalli Janakiram, Narsapur Agriculture Marketing Committee Chairman Rayudu Sriramulu, TDP leader Bandaru Patel Naidu and Peripalem sarpanch Melam Soma Satya Ranganadh were also part of the event.

PM Modi to visit Madhya Pradesh on Thursday; elaborate security arrangements made

Elaborate security arrangements have been made for the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who would release operational guidelines of Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna at Sherpur village in the neighbouring Sehore district tomorrow.Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan along with top officials yesterday visited Sherpur and personally monitored preparations to make the visit “historic”. The visit assumes more importance as BJP on Tuesday won the Maihar by-poll for the second time in the history with more than 28,000 votes. Chouhan, on behalf of farmers will felicitate Modi as “Kisan Mitra” for launching Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojna, Soil Health Card Scheme, National Agriculture Market scheme, relaxing rules for awarding compensation and for launching Kisan Channel, Agriculture department’s principal secretary, Dr Rajesh Rajora told PTI.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>On the occasion, Modi will also distribute soil health cards and compensation to three farmers each as a token. He will also handover the trophy of ‘Krishi Karman Award’ for 2013-14 to Chouhan as he was unable to receive it at a ceremony in Rajasthan. “Madhya Pradesh has processed claims worth Rs 4,300 crore of nearly 20 lakh farmers – largest by any state in the country so far under the existing crop insurance scheme — whose crops were damaged due to various reasons,” he said.According to an official release, the Prime Minister is likely to arrive at Bhopal’s Raja Bhoj Airport 12.55 PM and will leave for Sherpur in a helicopter and reach there at 1.30 PM. Modi will visit Kisan Kalyan Mela at Sherpur and after taking part in the felicitation programme by farmers, he will leave from helipad at 2.45 PM for Bhopal from where he will leave for Delhi at 3.10 PM, it said.State government has designated Minister for Higher and Technical Education, Uma Shankar Gupta and Revenue Minister, Rampal Singh as Minister-in-Waiting for the visit. Gupta will be present at the airport to receive the PM while Singh will welcome Modi at Sherpur helipad, it said.Elaborate security arrangements have been made for the high-profile visit with Sehore by-pass remaining out of bound for Indore-Bhopal commuters, a senior police official said.

Goa govt proposes to tag national bird peacock, wild bison as ‘nuisance animals’

National bird peacock and state animal wild bison are among animals proposed to be listed by the Goa government as ‘nuisance animals’.”We have listed several wild species including wild boar, monkey, wild bison (Gaur), peacock as nuisance animals. These animals are creating problem for farmers and are destroying their cultivation in rural areas,”Agriculture Minister Ramesh Tawadkar told reporters in Margao on Thursday evening.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The government’s decision is likely to evoke strong resentment from the environmentalists as peacock is national bird and wild bison is declared as a ‘protected species’ and Goa’s state animal and the move may make them vulnerable.Tawadkar said he is completely aware that the national bird and state animal are part of the list and said government will have to follow a procedure wherein the case has to be prepared which will allow them to be declared as a ‘nuisance’.”We will have to compile the record of how many complaints are received from farmers of crop destruction by these animals,” he said, adding that there are several complaints and it is the demand of farmers to declare them as “nuisance animals”.Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar during the recently held state legislative Assembly session had said government will declare monkey and few other animals as ‘vermin’ (nuisance animals) as they pose a threat of loss to farmers.Parsekar had also pointed out that cases of monkey fever were reported from certain parts of the state.

Modi government reshuffles top-level bureaucrats; 10 new Secretaries appointed

Telecom Secretary Rakesh Garg was on Monday shunted out to Minority Affairs Ministry as part of a top-level bureaucratic reshuffle, ten months ahead of his retirement.J S Deepak has been appointed as the new Secretary, Department of Telecommunications. Deepak, a 1982 batch IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre, is at present Secretary, Department of Electronics and Information Technology.Garg, a 1980 batch IAS officer, has been appointed Secretary in Minority Affairs Ministry in place of Amarendra Sinha, who is holding additional charge of the post, an order issued today by Personnel Ministry said, without mentioning the reason for Garg’s exit from the high-profile ministry.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Garg had taken over as Telecom Secretary on July 17, 2014 and he is due to retire in November.Aruna Sharma, at present working in her cadre state — Madhya Pradesh, has been appointed as Secretary, Department of Electronics and Information Technology, in place of Deepak, it said.As many as 10 new Secretaries have been appointed in various central government ministries and other organisations.Krishan Kumar Jalan, who is Central Provident Fund Commissioner in Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation, has been appointed as Ministry of Labour and Employment Secretary, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.Shobhana K Pattanayak has been made the new Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, in place of Siraj Hussain, on his superannuation in the end of this month.Avinash K Srivastava, a 1982 batch IAS officer, has been appointed as Secretary, Ministry of Food Processing, the release said. Srivastava is Special Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare.Vinod Agrawal, Secretary, National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), has been made Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. Shyam S Agarwal, Secretary of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), has been appointed as Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs.Tribal Affairs Secretary Arun Jha has been appointed new Secretary of NCSC. Agarwal has been given additional charge of NCST for a period of three months or till the appointment of a regular incumbent, it said.

PM Modi suggests his ministers to meet every month for a comprehesive review of schemes

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday laid thrust on quicker delivery of the government’s developmental agenda as he embarked on a comprehensive review of the ongoing schemes in a first of its kind meeting of the Council of Ministers.Modi is also learnt to have expressed concern over the soaring price of pulses in the over three-hour-long meeting during which the status of projects of some ministries were reviewed. It was also decided to hold such meetings every fourth Wednesday of each month during which similar review of other ministries would be carried out, sources said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Reviewing the progress of schemes of ministries including Agriculture, Rural Development, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Chemical and Fertilizer and Water Resources, Modi emphasised the need to take the government’s initiatives to people. He also asked ministers to be well-versed in all subjects so that they can highlight the government’s achievements effectively when they communicate in public.Noting that the schemes launched so far for cleaning of river Ganga have failed to bring effective results, he called for out of box ideas to ensure greater participation participation of people for the success of his pet Namami Gange project, the sources said.Modi also sought suggestions for improving various schemes and their effective implementation.A key highlight of the meeting was the Prime Minister’s focus on how to increase the production of pulses in the country. The issue of soaring pulse price had been used by the Opposition to corner the government repeatedly including during the Bihar Assembly polls.The discussion on pulses saw Modi talking about long term measures required to be taken to increase their production and to create sufficient buffer stock. He also stressed on the need to take measures against hoarding. All these ministries are related to day to day needs of the people, especially farmers.The meeting also saw a discussion on rural jog flagship scheme MNREGA. The issue of direct release of wages to workers for its better implementation and empowerment of the states also came up for discussion.

President hosts lunch for 100 women achievers

President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday hosted a lunch for 100 women achievers for their contribution to nation building and community development on the first anniversary of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ scheme at Rashtrapati Bhawan.”These women have now emerged as achievers through public support. These are women who have pushed boundaries to prove their mettle over 20 categories,” senior Women and Child Development Ministry official said. The 100 women achievers were selected by the ministry through a nationwide contest and public nominations. The ministry, in collaboration with Facebook, had conducted the ‘100 Women Initiative’ to recognize women who are making a difference in their communities across the country and their achievements may have gone unsung.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The contest was beamed live on ministry’s Facebook page on July 15 last year through which nominations were invited in 20 categories. “The ministry received an encouraging response from the public, with nominations flowing in from the public. A panel of jury members shortlisted the top 200 women nominees across 20 categories,” ministry official said. Public voting was held through Facebook from 3-20 December, 2015.Rashida Bi from Madhya Pradesh has been selected in the Environment and Forests and Wildlife category for working towards the welfare of Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims for the last 30 years. The list of nominees also includes Patiala-based Harshinder Kaur, a paediatric doctor who has been awarded by numerous governments across the globe for her work in eradicating discrimination against female child, and Lalita Nijhawan from Delhi for her commendable work in the field of education for women and children, especially the girl child.The categories include Access to Justice Protecting Women & their Rights, Agriculture and Animal husbandry, Animal Welfare, Arts and Culture, Commerce Industry and Entrepreneurship, Community Mobilization, Disability and Disadvantage, Education, among others.

2 Maharashtra farmers to return state awards over farmers’ suicide

Accusing the Maharashtra government of failing to curb farmers’ suicides, two farmers from Vidarbha region, honoured with prestigious awards instituted by the state, on Wednesday announced that they would return their prizes.The farmers’ decision comes in the backdrop of several writers, artists, historians, scientists and other eminent personalities returning their awards over other burning issues in the country. 70-year-old Moreshwar Zhade from Wadona and Hemant Shendre from Sawargaon, both in Chimur taluka of Chandrapur district in Vidarbha are recipients of ‘Sheti Nishtha’ and ‘Krish Bhushan’ awards given by the state government.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Maharashtra government has completely failed to curb the rising suicides by farmers in the state. Therefore, we have decided to return our awards to the Divisional Commissioner, Nagpur on Friday,” they told reporters here.”We had won prizes for increasing productivity. But over the years, our incomes are shrinking, leaving us under debt burden and poverty,” they said.Zhade, who holds 15 acres of farmland, had received the ‘Sheti Nishtha’ award for good farming practices. In 2002, he was given ‘Krishi Bhushan’ award by the state Agriculture Department.”I was given a medal and certificate. I will return them to the Nagpur Divisional Commissioner on January 22,” said Zhade.Shendre, who is in his fifties, had won ‘Sheti Nishtha’ and ‘Krishi Bhushan’ awards in 2004 and 2010 respectively.”I won the coveted award for high production of 117.59 quintals of paddy in one hectare,” Shendre, who owns 12 acres of farm, said.Shendre said although the award carried cash, now he was in no position to return the cash to the government.”There was a cash component of Rs 10,000, but now I am in no position to return that amount. So, I will give back only the certificates and medals,” said Shendre.Shetkari Sanghatana leader Ram Newle was also present at the press conference.

Sikkim may get an airport soon, indicates PM Modi

Sikkim may get an airport soon with Prime Minister Narendra Modi giving an indication in this regard here today while promising to look into the various demands put forth by the state government, including grant of tribal status to leftover communities.Addressing a conference of Agriculture Ministers of states here, he said an airport in the state will not only boost tourism but also help in quick transportation of Sikkim’s organic flowers and other products to other states and global market.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Hailing the quality of flowers of the state, Modi said, “Sikkim grows some flowers with long shelf life. There are different fragrances. There is big global market for fragrance. They want organic raw material. If the flowers have to be transported, there is need for infrastructure. So, an airport needs to be built in Sikkim.”Commending the efforts of the state government in promoting organic farming, Modi suggested the state to brand organic products and set an online platform for sale of such items. He also presented a certificate to state chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling appreciating Sikkim for becoming 100 per cent organic farming state in the country.With regard to demands of the state government, Modi said, “whatever Pawanji has demanded, the government of India will consider them seriously.”Earlier, Chamling demanded that the Centre grant tribal status to leftover communities and pass a resolution to ensure two communities – Limbo and Tamang get reservation in the state Assembly.Presently, tribal status has been declared to four communities including Limbo and Tamang out of 15 communities in the state. That apart, Chamling sought the Centre to permit entry of Buddhist monk Gyalwa karmapa Ogen Thinly Dorgy into the state Chamling also demanded biofertiliser subsidy and conversion of the existing regional Centre of ICAR into a national research centre for organic farming.

Sikkim becomes India’s first organic state

Sikkim has become India’s first fully organic state by converting around 75,000 hectares of agricultural land into sustainable cultivation.”We have achieved fully-organic status in the end of December. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will formally announce this at a sustainable agriculture conference in Gangtok on January 18,” Sikkim Organic Mission’s executive director Dr Anbalagan said.He said around 75,000 hectares of agricultural land was gradually converted to certified organic land by implementing organic practices and principles as per guidelines laid down in National Programme for Organic Production.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>AT A GLANCEThe journey of organic Sikkim It was 12 years ago in 2003 when the Pawan Chamling-led government decided to make Sikkim an organic farming state through a declaration in the legislative assembly.Later the entry of chemical inputs for farmland was restricted and their sale banned. Farmers therefore had no option but to go organic.Organic cultivation is free of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilisers as it tries to strike a harmonious balance with a complex series of ecosystems.In the long term, organic farming leads in subsistence of agriculture, bio-diversity conservation and environmental protection, agriculture secretary Khorlo Bhutia said.Sustainable farming will also help in building the soil health resulting in sustainable increased crop production, he said.Besides it will also boost the tourism industry in the tiny landlocked Himalayan state.Resorts have already been marketing themselves as completely organic where tourists can pluck, cook and relish fresh organic food from their kitchen gardens.Bestowed with varied agro-climatic condition, some of the major crops in Sikkim include large cardamom, ginger, turmeric, off-season vegetables, flowers, Sikkim mandarin, kiwi, buck wheat, paddy maize and millets.As Sikkimese farmers were never dependent heavily on chemicals, the yield per hectare has not been affected by organic farming. Khorlo Bhutia Agriculture secretary “There was only limited use of chemical fertilisers prior to 2003 and the crop cultivation depended on low external inputs. Farmers were traditionally familiar in production and use of farm yard manure and compost. In general, there was no set back in productivity,”The use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides was only about 8-12 kg per hectare, officials said.To ensure availability of organic manures and pesticides, the government trained farmers on producing it, they said adding a bio-fertiliser production unit was set up at Majitar.Organic produce command a premium price in the market both inside the country and outside as it is becoming a craze among health and environment conscious people.According to estimates, Sikkim produces around 80,000 million tonnes of farm products.The total organic production in the country is estimated to be around 1.24 million tonnes while the total area under organic farming is 0.723 million hectares.A number of other states in India like Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Kerala are now trying to become organic.