Any other

Man Elephant Conflict

Posted by Susan Sharma on March 01, 2006

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Ankur Chaturvedi's article on human elephant conflict has been published at the following link


Please read and post your comments in the blog.

Interlinking of Rivers

A new study says that river-linking will affect monsoons in the country

Posted by Susan Sharma on February 12, 2006

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This warning was issued in an article published in the January 10, 2006 issue of the journal, Current Science. The report, an outcome of a one-day meeting of scientists from a few premier research institutes of the country, suggests that the reduced runoff from some rivers targeted by interlinking — a sure consequence of the project — could adversely affect the amount, duration and spatial distribution of monsoon rainfall received by most regions in India.

Unlike other oceans, the Bay of Bengal maintains a low-salinity layer whose thickness varies between 10 and 20 metres during different periods of the year. This low-salinity region, spread over a third of the Bay of Bengal, owes itself to the runoff from some of the rivers targeted by the interlinking project, and plays a critical role in sustaining monsoon rainfall in major parts of the country. The region is a prime reason for India receiving nearly 4 per cent of the global precipitation, even though it occupies only 2.45 per cent of the earth’s terrestrial surface. India receives about 70 per cent of its annual precipitation from the summer monsoon.

Interlinking will upset this If the proposal takes effect, humongous amounts of water from the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Mahanadi river systems, that today flow into the Bay of Bengal, will be redirected to the water scarce regions in southern and western parts of the country. Scientists, however, feel that the government has ignored larger questions while pushing the project.

“The project should have been taken up only after carrying out a rigorous scientific study, employing proper modelling and simulation experiments,” says V Rajamani, professor of geology at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University one of the authors of the Current Science report. On Rajamani’s insistence, the Bangalore-based Indian Academy of Sciences organised the meet, which led to the Current Science article.

The participants included U C Mohanty of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, R Ramesh of Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Prasanna Kumar of National Institute of Oceanography, R K Kolli of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, and G S Bhat and other scientists of the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore (IISC). Also present was another scientist from the iisc, P N Vinayachandran who, in 2002, had collaborated with two scientists of the National Institute of Oceanography in Journal of Geophysical Research article, which showed for the first time that freshwater inputs from river runoff are critical to the Bay of Bengal’s low-salinity layer.

The meeting deliberated upon the existing knowledge on the Bay of Bengal and its land-atmosphere linkages. The participants noted, “The estimated freshwater influxes into the Bay of Bengal from local precipitation and through river discharge are 4,700 and 3,000 billion cubic metre (bcm) per year respectively. The Bay loses only 3600 bcm per year. Thus, its annual freshwater input far exceeds the loss due to evaporation. This makes the Bay relatively less saline compared to other oceans.” Says Rajamani, this also helps the ocean maintain its low salinity area, and in turn influence the monsoon rainfall in most parts of the country. How? The density of seawater increases with salinity. The Bay of Bengal’s low-salinity zone is therefore a layer of less dense water that floats above denser waters below. Scientifically referred to as stratified layering, the phenomenon prevents mixing of surface water and the cooler waters below. Solar energy gets trapped in the top 10-20 metre-thick non-saline layer, keeping the sea surface temperature (sst) higher than other oceans. This is critical for rainfall.

According to meteorologists, low pressure formation that causes monsoon begins at 28° c but peaks at 29° C. But while other oceans, including the Arabian Sea, take almost a month to increase their sst by 1° c, the corresponding time required by the Bay of Bengal is just 4 to 5 days. Its warmer low-salinity zone enables the Bay of Bengal to effect this temperature change, faster. This is very significant, considering that even small changes in the sst influence rainfall. “This relation between the low-salinity layer in the Bay of Bengal and the monsoon rainfall was established scientifically during Bay of Bengal Monsoon Experiment in 1999,” says Vinayachandran.

More evidence Scientists also say that global circulation model studies have shown that its low-salinity zone also helps the Bay of Bengal retain freshwater from the river discharge closer to the coastal region during the monsoon period. And, then around the beginning October every year, when the monsoon withdraws, this water flows along the coast of India and around Sri Lanka into the southeastern Arabian Sea; here it plays a vital role in warming of the Arabian Sea during the pre-monsoon months. “This clearly shows that the effects of the rivers that originate in the Himalayas are not just local, but spread out over a large area on an annual scale,” the Current Science article observes.

Other impacts Says R Ramesh, a biological oceanographer with prl, the disappearance of the low-salinity region can lead to an increase in marine phytoplankton population. Currently this layer prevents vertical mixing of water between the rivers dense and rare zone, and this in turn inhibits supply of nutrients from below, restricting phytoplankton growth. The Bay of Bengal does have an abundance of phytoplankton, but the productivity of these creatures is only one-fourth of that found in the Arabian Sea. Increased phytoplankton population might lead to a growth in the Bay’s population. Scientists fear that this fecundity would work to the ocean’s detriment. Rains at bay The planktons will take away lots of oxygen from the Bay and will lead to the development of the oxygen minimum zone, just as in the Arabian Sea. Oxygen dependent bacteria would be replaced by nitorgen dependent ones, causing denitrification — the release of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. Nitrogen oxide is 20 times more potent greenhouse gas. Scientists have other worries. Says Rajamani, the country’s coastal ecology will be completely altered after the construction of more than 250 mega dams envisaged by the river linking project.

“In normal course, nature maintains equilibrium by constantly replenishing delta regions with sediments to offset those taken away by the sea or lost due to subduction. But the dams will reduce or even stop the supply of sediments from rivers and this in turn will accelerate sea erosion in the deltas,” he apprehends. The sea erosion triggered by dams was best documented by a team of researchers in the Andhra University, Visakhapatanam in a 2004 Current Science paper (See “Sea change”, Down To Earth, December 15, 2004). The scientists led by Kakani Nageswara Rao of the geo-engineering department of the university found the fertile delta region lost 18 sq km between 1976-2001 as a series of dams built on the river Godavari river and its tributaries blocked sediment flow.

Rajamani and other contributors to the Current Science article have called for more research to assess the impacts of river linking. The potential consequences of the project inferred in the report are based on existing knowledge on the Bay of Bengal. “There is a definite need to create more credible datasets on land, ocean and atmosphere so that simulation models can be prepared,” they argue. This will help establish the relation between the runoff input to the Bay of Bengal and the monsoons. more accurately. Significantly, currently no official data is available on how much water or at what rate water from these rivers will be diverted as part of the river linking project.

E-Governance for Conservation

Participation of villagers in shifting due to dam construction

Posted by Susan Sharma on January 26, 2006

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“Participatory Rule Appraisal” (PRA) appears to be paying dividends to the West Godavari district administration in  implementing the relief and rehabilitation package meant for the people of 29 villages who had to be displaced due to the construction of Polavaram project.

Under PRA, the role of district administration will be minimal. The concept, the brainchild of West Godavari district Collector Luv Agarwal sounds interesting. In case of Devaragondi and Mamidigondi villages, the district administration limited its role to explaining the salient features of the package and identified several places suitable for rehabilitating the displaced. The villagers visited all the places and themselves chose where they wished to stay.

“Now, we will ask the people to choose the plots where they want their houses to be constructed. Once, all the villagers identify the plots, construction of houses will be handed over to the NGOs,” says West Godavari district Collector Luv Agarwal .

As per the project schedule, people of seven villages have to be first rehabilitated in the new villages within three years. By the time, all this is over, the people will develop some attachment too to their new habitations, the Collector said. Though PAR is a time consuming process, its sustainability is more and the chances of irregularities are less, the Collector added. According to him, the State government has already cleared the proposals pertaining to Devaragondi and Mamidigondi villages and the process is on for the remaining habitations.

E-Governance for Conservation

Iniernet kiosks in rural areas

Posted by Susan Sharma on January 26, 2006

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n-Logue  was established to serve the information and communications needs of people living in small towns and rural areas of India.

To rapidly scale its operations, the company employs a three-tiered business model based on the belief that delivery and management of Internet services should devolve to the level of the supply chain that comes closest to the user of the service. This decentralised model of operation draws, in large part, from the success of cable TV operations in India.

At the top level is n-Logue, which provides equipment, training and support to the LSPs(Local Service Providers) and kiosks, and also takes care of regulatory and connectivity issues.

At the second level, n-Logue identifies and partners with a local entrepreneur (also called a Local Service Provider or LSP) in every area it wishes to operate. These LSPs find subscribers, provide services and collect payments.

At the bottom level are the village kiosks, which provide services and information aimed at the rural market. With the help of n-Logue, the LSPs recruits the local entrepreneurs who set up the kiosks.

Thus there are up to three business entities involved in the operation - n-Logue, the LSP and a kiosk operator. All three must thrive for the operation to succeed.

Prof. Jhunjhunwallah of IIT Madras who is behind making available an Internet kiosk for just Rs 40,000 (around US$830) that could link up thousands of villages in the country has this to say

” Since we're talking about low investments we can create an army of rural entrepreneurs. They could avail of small loans to set up their own rural STD phone-cum-Internet centres," These small rural businessmen will be 50 per cent partners, and since they will be from the local areas in which they operate they will have far better contact with those with whom they work. In a 25km radius, they expect to find buyers for 500 to 700 connections. These may be individuals, government offices, schools and, most importantly, Internet kiosks that allow access to everyone. This level of operation should make a LSP viable, says Dr Jhunjhunwala.

Even if the numbers don't come in immediately, they will in a year's time when people start realising how new communication technologies empower them. Work towards this end is already underway at Cuddalore district, in India's southernmost province of Tamil Nadu. The technology is also being successfully implemented in Madurai (also in Tamil Nadu) and Dhar in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Likewise, the project is taking hold in Bagru of Rajasthan and Sangrur in north India. "We could have a million subscribers in three to four years. It's possible." Simultaneously, Jhunjhunwala is inspiring youngsters to work on rural Internet applications.

And also on offer is word-processing in the local Tamil language, a mail-client in Tamil, IRC (Internet Relay Chat) or voice-mail in the local language and an agricultural portal in the regional language. "We're adopting two key elements. Affordability, since everything is very low cost, and involving a local person in providing the solutions," says Professor Jhunjhunwala, explaining his model.

Thus far n-Logue has implemented the project in four centres. "The first-level feedback has been extremely encouraging. We have kiosks running in the middle of Madhya Pradesh where the average revenue a kiosk man makes is Rs 4,500 per month. Net of expenses, he makes Rs 3,000 per month, which makes him a rich man in that village,"

Interlinking of Rivers

Jawaharlal Nehru on large projects

Posted by Susan Sharma on January 25, 2006

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" The idea of doing big undertakings or doing big tasks for the sake of showing that we can do big things, is not a good outlook at all. For it is the small irrigation projects, the small industries and the small plants for electric power which will change the face of the country, far more than a dozen big projects in half a dozen places."

The then Prime minister drew his audience's attention to "the national upsets, upsets of the people moving out and their rehabilitation and many other things associated with a big project." These upheavels would be on a lesser scale in a smaller scheme, enabling the State to "get a good deal of what is called public co-peration".

-From a volume of Nehru's speeches on science and society, published 1988.

community reserves

Tribal Rights Bill

Posted by Susan Sharma on January 24, 2006

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On December1, 2005 the Union Cabinet gave its approval to the revised Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill.

One of the major changes in the final Bill is that the ambiguity in cut off date for determining tribal rights over land has been removed and October 25, 1980, has been made the cut-off date.

The second major change pertains to rights of tribals in national parks and sanctuaries. Tribal inhabitants would be given provisional pattas with a clear caveat that they could be relocated. "They would have right to acreage but not to land."

The third deviation is that forest officials would be involved at every stage in the process of granting land rights to tribals. Non-tribal forest dwellers will be settled according to the settlement rules of the environment and forests ministry.

There is no change in the long list of forest rights given to tribals as well as the provision that the right conferred shall be heritable but not alienable or transferable. Similarly, there is no change as far as duties -most concerning conservation of flora and fauna-of the holder of forest rights are concerned.

E-Governance for Conservation

West Bengal Grameen Sanchar Sewak Scheme

Posted by Susan Sharma on January 08, 2006

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The Grameen Sanchar Sewak (GSS) scheme, kickstarted by BSNL and the Department of Posts in 2002, is ready to be regularised and go national.

The GSS scheme, which began with the idea of employing rural postmen to carry mobile phones from door-to-door in 12,001 villages, has tapped into the 7,000-strong network of self-employed people that Grasso( Grameen Sanchar Society)-a non-governmental organization -uses to carry phones to far-flung locations. 

Grasso-subsidized by BSNL for the gSS scheme- has provided mobile reach to 93% of West Bengal's 34 blocks.  They are now planning Common Service Centres(CSCs) in the State's 3,357 gram panchayats.  The CSCs are to be a hu for about 20 services, ranging from electriity bill payment, tea and coffee to commodity trading, warehousing and cold storage. 

Interlinking of Rivers

Centre shelves Pamba-Vaippar river-linking project

Posted by Susan Sharma on January 07, 2006

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The Union Government has shelved the controversial project to link the Pamba and Achenkovil rivers of Kerala with Vaippar river in Tamil Nadu. The Kerala Legislative Assembly and the State Government have been appealing to the Union Government to give up the river linking project. The letter from the Union Government says: "It has taken note of the resolution of the Kerala Legislative Assembly and has decided not to treat the Pamba-Achenkovil-Vaippar Link as a priority link, for consensus-building purpose."

Tiger Task Force Report

National Tiger Conservation Authority

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 18, 2005

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The Cabinet on 16/12/05 approved the constitution of a National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Contrary to rising hopes and expectations that the Prime Minister will head the Tiger Conservation Authority, it is the Environment Minister who will head the authority.

The Authority will get statutory and administrative powers to implement the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force.

Tiger Task Force Report

IWC Chat

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 18, 2005

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The topic for our monthly chat on 18December 2005 was "Tiger Task Force Report".

You can read the chat transcript at the following link

Those of you who missed the chat, are welcome to write your comments in this blog.

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