TDP's Praja Vedika Stands Demolished

Debris of Praja Vedika after being demolished in Amravati on Friday. Newly elected chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy has turned back several decisions made by his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu after coming to power in the recent Andhra Pradesh assembly elections. ]]>

‘Leopard Scare Got Us Toilets’

Jagdish, a carpenter at village Tavalik in Uttarakhand, has never heard of Swachh Bharat not the grant for toilets at home. Jagdish says the kuccha toilets in his household became a necessity after leopards were spotted near the village.

Our village is about three-hour drive from Nainital. But even after a long winding drive, one has to walk quite a bit to reach here. Villages nestled in the Himalayas may look picturesque, but they come with their own set of challenges. A few years ago, we made our village free from open defecation. But it wasn’t because of a cleanliness drive. It was the fear of leopards and other wild animals that drove us to take the decision. 

Our village is in the middle of a forest reserve. Encountering wild animals, such as leopards, barasinghas (swamp deer) and wild boars while relieving ourselves in the open, had become very common.  

I have five kids and all of them used to go to the forest to answer the call of nature. One day they came across three leopard cubs. This meant that their mother was probably around. My children knew how to handle the situation. They just ran for their lives. From that day onwards, I vowed to build a toilet at home. 

The toilet in the house was built entirely by me. The construction is not that great, and it is not uncommon to encounter a scorpion or two perched upon the toilets, but it serves the purpose. 

The same holds true all the other toilets in the village. The construction is kuccha and has been built using outdated technology. Last year, during last rains, the roof of one toilets collapsed, fortunately no one got hurt.  

Residents of my village have no idea about the government’s support for construction of toilets. This is probably because our village is hardly accessible via motorable roads. The only motorable road that is connected to my village on the farther side of the mountain, which is not linked to any city or village. To get to work every day, I have to trek uphill for an hour to reach Hartola, the nearest village, relatively bigger than ours. Villagers often use horses to carry their goods. 

Our village lies in neglect. No government official has ever bothered to come here and tell us how we can benefit from their schemes. We are pretty much on our own. We have achieved the unthinkable, without any government support.


Elections In J&K By Year-End, Says Shah

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said on Friday that restoring an elected government in Jammu and Kashmir was government’s top priority and Assembly elections could be held by the end of the year.

Moving a resolution for extension of President’s Rule for six months from July 3 and also the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Shah said law and order situation in the state has improved and the government was committed to rooting out terrorism in the state.

“Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be held at the appropriate time and it is possible that it could be held by the end of this year,” Shah said in Lok Sabha adding that the Election Commission has taken a decision in regard.

He said dates for the elections will be announced by the Commission.

Shah said in the last three decades, elections in Jammu and Kashmir had never been held during the months of Ramzan and Amarnath Yatra, which will begin from July 30 and conclude on August 15.

Shah, who is also President of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the government has adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ policy in the state and as a result of that, law and order situation in the state improved.

“In last one year, Panchayat polls were conducted in the state and that too without any disturbances. There was no violence and voting percentage also increased. This shows that law and order situation in the state is under control,” he reiterated.


Trump and Modi friends?

Modi Holds Meets With Abe, Trumb

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a trilateral meeting with United States President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday in Osaka, Japan, on the sidelines of 14th G20 Summit.

“Mr Modi, Congratulations on your great victory. I should say congratulations to both because Shinzo also had a great victory. You are doing a great job to your countries,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Modi thanked the US President for his congratulatory notes.

Prime Minister noted that India’s first-ever trilateral summit with Japan and the United States of America took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he had coined the term “JAI” (Japan-America-India) for the partnership between the three countries aimed at promoting peace, prosperity, and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

“‘JAI’ means ‘victory’. We met earlier in Argentina and we are meeting here once again. Our forum has got a new momentum. I believe we’ll hold positive discussions on various topics, including the Indo-Pacific because we have common interests there. We will work to ensure peace and stability in our democracies,” Modi said.

Besides India and host Japan, US, UK, European Union, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Russia, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to participate in 2019 G20 Summit that is going to start here today.


Bank Loan Default

UK Court Extends Custody Of Nirav Modi

London’s Westminster Magistrate’s court on Thursday remanded Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi to judicial custody till July 25 for questioning in connection with Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case.

The diamond merchant appeared before the court via video link from Wandsworth prison in south-west London.

During the proceeding, QC Clare Montgomery, appearing on the behalf of Modi, requested the judge to provide his client with a laptop, without the internet, for him to review Indian government’s 5000-page case against him in the prison.

On this, Justice Jonathan Radway said that “the court will do all it can to facilitate his request” to access documents relating to his case while he is in prison.

The matter is now slated to July 25 for further hearing.

48-year-old Modi is fighting against his extradition from the UK to India to face the law of the land in a fraud and money laundering scam case.

He was arrested by Scotland Yard in connection with the PNB loan default case on March 19 this year and has been lodged at the Wandsworth prison in south-west London.


Tabrez Ansari Lynching Case

Protest March Against Mob Lynching

People hold candles and placard during a protest against mob lynching and killing of Tabrez Ansari, in Patna on Wednesday. Ansari was caught on suspicion of theft by a violent mob in neighbouring state of Jharkhand which thrashed him. He later died of head injury. ]]>
Rainwater Harvesting

‘Water Harvesting Is The Only Way Forward’

Harapriya Akella, 26, a web developer, moved to Chennai from Mumbai last year. But her first summer in the city is proving to be a shocker. She believes harvesting rainwater alone can prevent a future crisis

I shifted from Mumbai to Chennai last year and was shocked to see the stark contrast between the two cities with regard to water supply. In Mumbai I was assured of running taps 24×7, but here, water is rationed. So, every day, water is supplied during fixed hours. We get water thrice a day: from 6 am to 9 am, 12 pm to 2 pm and finally from 6pm to 9 pm. 

I thank my stars that I work from home, and I am there to store water, whenever it is supplied. However, I have many neighbours and friends, who don’t have the option to be able to work from home, and I see them suffer. Either they miss out on the precious water supply or they have to wake up early to fill up buckets and whatever utensils they can get their hands on. After working late at night, they end up compromising on their sleep. If someone has to go on a school run to drop their children, or is engaged in some other errand, they lose out on precious time. 

ALSO READ: ‘You Can’t Wash Hands In Chennai Cafes’

We are a family of only two people, so we don’t face as many difficulties. My heart goes out for larger families, especially the households that take care of the elderlies or the sick. The water crisis has hit them hard. 

People here are thirsty for solutions to solve the crisis. While many people have become a pro at time management, there are some who are failing miserably at it. My husband often shares stories of how, many of his friends in the IT sector are being asked to work from home because the offices are unable to handle the water shortage.

ALSO READ: Hurtling Towards A Dystopian Urban Crisis

Rainwater harvesting, however, has shown some promise in mitigating the crisis. As per news reports, the Sabari Terrace Complex in Sholingannallur in Chennai managed to collect 1 lakh litres of water in just three hours of rains spread over three days. According to the residents, rainwater harvesting has considerably reduced their dependence on water supply from the authorities. 

Just imagine how much more we could do if we put our heart and soul into rainwater harvesting and other ecological solutions! These residents used a very simple method of collecting water, which means that any society or group of people can do it. It is much cheaper than buying water from tankers. Besides, the water from rainwater harvesting is clean and free from waterborne diseases. 

This is a citizen’s initiative, with a little push from the government, things can get much better. This is my first Chennai summer, I hope the next one is better.


Glaring Chinks In Iron Ore Mining Policy

All stakeholders in the mineral mining sectors are living in uncertain times, thanks to flawed lease policies by Union and state governments

Mineral resources in India from iron ore to bauxite to coal are majorly found in remote centres of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh where people, who hardly figure on the radar of the powers that be in Delhi, eke out a difficult existence unless they are employed by mining groups for ore extraction and allied works. No wonder then, when resources remain hidden under the earth and in the absence of their raisings, the places become fertile ground for spread of extremist movement or what is popularly known as Naxalism in India. The country’s mineral belts are generally rains deficient and the hard stony soil there does not support worthwhile crop cultivation.

The fragile peace that exists in the country’s sensitive mineral-bearing regions will be put to test as the leases of merchant miners of iron ore and manganese ore will expire on March 31, 2020 under a directive of the January 2015 amendment of the 1957 Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act.

In a questionable wisdom, the authors of the amended Act had for the first time made a distinction between merchant, captive and government groups owned mines. In what appears to be palpable discrimination, the 2015 version of the Act prescribes that while the existing leases of non-captive merchant miners are valid till March 2020 that of captive mines will remain in force till March 2030. What is more captive mine owners alone are given the right of first refusal when their mines are put up for auction.

As for Union and state government owned companies such as Steel Authority of India, National Mineral Development Corporation and Orissa Mining Corporation, they are allowed extension of existing leases for a period of 20 years at a time beyond the stipulated period of 50 years. Remember, ahead of 2015, there was no distinction between captive, non-captive and government ownership of mines. In every respect, including lease tenure, all three groups got identical treatment under the law.  No longer so.

Discrimination part may or may not get set right by way of amendment of the 2015 MMDR Act. But what is of immediate concern is the large number of iron ore and some manganese ore mines owned by merchant groups that will stop operation on lease expiry in March 2020 making in the process thousands of workers unemployed. The same fate is awaiting many more thousands who are engaged in the long chain of logistics between mines and use of iron ore by steel mills domestically and in foreign destinations. This is to happen when the country’s unemployment rate is worryingly high and few new jobs are created with deceleration in economic growth.

Speak to minerals industry experts and they will tell you in one voice that there is no way the concerned state governments will be able to complete auction of the merchant mines whose tenure of leases will run out in nine months. Even assuming that auctions are held and successful bidders chosen, it will take them a long time, going by established patterns to secure all the sanctions, including environment and forest clearances (ECs and FCs) before they could start ore extraction.  Yes, the Supreme Court has given a ruling that for auctioned mines that were operational earlier, the new lessees would automatically get ECs and FCs transferred to them from earlier lessees. But we are seeing new lessees’ frustrating wait for transfer of ECs and FCs for mines in Karnataka.

This correspondent on his recent visits to some Orissa and Jharkhand mines whose leases are to expire next March found workers and managers rattled by an unsettled future awaiting them. They have no clue as to whether the central government in view of the inevitability of anarchy setting in mining centres will do the sensible thing of extending leases of merchant miners to 2030 in line with captive mines or it will let mayhem happen.

The ground reality is this. It emerged at a recent mines ministry coordination cum empowered committee (CCECC) meeting that New Delhi has advised the concerned states to start auctioning mines expeditiously “so that the incoming miners have time to take preparatory steps to make the mines functional.” If any proof is needed, this alone is enough to confirm that the administration has no appreciation of the consequences of such a move. In fact, a recommendation of this kind could open a Pandora’s Box and the evils that will come out will be difficult, if not impossible to contain.

The law says: “On the expiry of lease period, the lease shall be put up for auction.” This means the concerned state governments can start the process of auctioning the iron ore and manganese ore mines only after their current leases expire in March 2020. There are other constraints too. According to rule 12 (gg) of the Minerals (other than atomic and hydrocarbon energy) concession rules, 2016 “a lessee is entitled to remove within six months after the expiry of lease period all or any one mineral excavated during the currency of lease, engines, machinery, plant …. and other works.”

Furthermore if a lessee is not able to remove all that is his, he will under the law get an extra one month to do so. The lessee, therefore, has a total of seven months after lease expiry to remove all his stuff, including mineral stocks.

In spite of the protection that current leaseholders enjoy under the law, the prospective bidders, emboldened by state governments, may seek to do due diligence of mines whose leases still have months to expire. An Orissa based mine owner says: “In that event, we most likely will go for legal recourse as due diligence by outsiders will interfere with our day to day operation. All mines stakeholders are living in uncertain times.”

An agitating issue for iron ore mines in Orissa and Jharkhand is the unsold pithead stocks of 127 million tonnes – 85 million tonnes in Orissa and 42 million tonnes in Jharkhand. The stocks are mostly fines of grades with iron (fe) content of up to 62 per cent for which there are no domestic buyers. Yes we can find buyers for the low grade ore abroad, particularly in China provided New Delhi will dispense with 30 per cent export duty on grades of up to 62 per cent fe content. The ill-advised export tax has robbed Indian ore of global competitiveness.

Some miners have made the suggestion that in the unlikely event of auctions going through, the successful bidders (lessees) should be “mandated” to pay to the existing lessees for pithead stocks “on the basis of last ex-mine grade-wise prices published by Indian Bureau of Mines.”  But why should new lessees carry the cross of massive unsold stocks of departing mine owners, specially when demand for fines and low grade iron ore remain low. Will the government then remove the 30 per cent export tax on iron ore with up to 62 per cent fe content to facilitate pithead stock disposal in foreign markets? Export duty removal remains the budget expectation of the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries.

However covetous steel mills here unlike their counterparts in China, Japan and South Korea may be of captive mines, steel producers in eastern India without mines ownership are dreadful of the impending prospect of chaos engulfing the iron ore sector. Remember, working mines in Orissa and Jharkhand meet as much as 45 per cent of iron and manganese ore requirements of the steel industry in eastern India. According to rating agency India Ratings, iron ore production disruption following lease expiry will be around 60 million tonnes a year.