Clearance to GM mustard is flawed

As the Centre mulls over giving approval for commercial cultivation of GM mustard, a section of biologists and activists have warned that such a move would be ill-advised.

Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), said that GM mustard threatened the seed diversity of indigenous mustard.

“The push for GM is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes. India produces sufficient mustard to meet its consumption requirements. The claim that GM mustard will reduce dependence on oil imports is baseless,” she told a panel here at Anna University.

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail, a soil biologist, said that herbicides sprayed onto the crop to kill weeds were potentially carcinogenic with implications for health and safety of its consumers.

— source thehindu.com

US approves sale of 22 Guardian drones to India

The US has cleared the sale of 22 unmanned Guardian drones to India, governmental sources said on Friday, a deal being termed as a “game changer” ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington for his maiden meeting with President Donald Trump. The deal, estimated to be worth $2to 3 billion, has been approved by the State Department, the sources said.

— source thehindu.com

So india paying for to get closer relation.

National Security Act targets Narmada Bachao movement

Social activist Medha Patkar has criticised the Madhya Pradesh government for invoking the National Security Act (NSA) at the same time when the Goods and Services Tax is all set to roll out. NSA will be invoked in the state from July 1 and so the new tax regime.

According to Patkar, the move is an effort to stifle the Narmada Bachao Andolan. “I believe that the NSA is specifically to target the Narmada Bachao Andolan,” Patkar said.

At least 40,000 families fear submergence due to the latest plan to increase the dam height by 17 metres. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit the dam site on July 15, the very day a relay fast by locals opposed to the dam, is set to complete a year.

— source downtoearth.org.in

Lessons on digital swaraj

When faced with the exploitative economics and technology of British rule, Mohandas Gandhi found innovative answers. Responding to the dumping of overpriced mill cloth from England, he resorted to khadi. The charkha was a lot more than image-making gimmickery: Gandhi had renegotiated the terms of technology and economics.

His approach to intellectual property was no different. His 1909 masterpiece Hind Swaraj was free of copyright. “I have never yet copyrighted any of my writings. Tempting offers have come to me…even so, I dare not be exclusive… Writings in the journals which I have the privilege of editing must be common property. Copyright is not a natural thing. It is a modern institution, perhaps desirable to a certain extent,” he wrote in March 1926. “I have not the heart to copyright my articles,” he iterated in June 1940.

Four years later, he changed tack, bequeathing all rights over his writings to the Navjivan Trust. “It was after much thought that I declared a trust in connection with my writings. I had observed misuse of Tolstoy’s writings for want of a trust. By curing the defect, I preserved fully the idea lying behind dislike for copyright, i.e., for personal gain for one’s writings. The idea also was to prevent profiteering by publishers or distortion or misrepresentation, wilful or unintentional.”

Gandhi engaged with the copyright law to subvert the economics he disagreed with, and to infuse it with values close to his heart, wrote a US law professor in a 2013 paper titled ‘Gandhi and Copyright Pragmatism’. “Toward the later part of his life, he also came to deploy copyright law to curtail market-based exploitation when he could. In many ways then, Gandhi’s approach did with copyright law what open source licensing and the Creative Commons Project would begin doing with copyright in the 21st century,” wrote Shyamkrishna Balganesh of University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Now, consider the life and work of Richard M Stallman (callsign RMS in the geek-verse). A champion of the movement for Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), he is more commonly known as the pioneer of ‘Copyleft’. “If you want to accomplish something in the world,” says his Wikiquote page, “idealism is not enough — you need to choose a method that works to achieve the goal. In other words, you need to be pragmatic.” RMS was among the first to call for a free online encyclopaedia. Wikipedia, no surprise, is governed by Creative Commons licensing.

Many software giants do not give their customers any control over their source codes, asserting proprietary ownership. Stallman compares this to car owners not being able to open up their engines. Yet, such companies have used Gandhi in their ads. Remember Apple’s ‘Think Different’ ad?

Gandhi and Stallman is a ready comparison. Two public-spirited individuals, original and subversive. Freaks in their own ways, as pioneers tend to be. Both used radical rethinking to find practical responses to what they opposed. The [Free]-source software movement, says Stallman, has much in common with Gandhi.

So is this movement a fringe concern in the digital world? Far from it. In May 2015, the government of India released its e-governance policy; it had a heavy slant towards open source software, even if the government machinery is very slow to actually adopt this policy. In today’s world, software isn’t just a matter of choosing an OS platform for your phone. It spreads from day-to-day government work and data management to matters of national security.

While the government has taken a step forward, social organizations fare poorly. India’s small but enthusiastic Free Software community lacks a sense of its cultural heritage, including the values of our freedom movement. Gandhian institutions, too, remain inert to possibilities of wider social cooperation. So, even as calls for engaging young people with Gandhian values has become a trope, there is no collaboration on the new frontiers of technology and economics. No renegotiation of terms, no pragmatism. Call it a cultural version of the digital divide. This is one reason for the dismal state of Indian language computing.

There will be renewed interest in Gandhi in the build-up to 2019, his 150th anniversary year. One part of this will be the tiresome discussions on “how relevant is Gandhi to our times?”, a Gandhi Jayanti ritual now. To find answers, we needn’t look further than our digital devices, actually. If we stop for a moment and take a hard look at the economics and politics of technology, the relevance is all around. How serious an enquirer are you?

— source timesofindia.indiatimes.com By Invitation-Sopan Joshi

What’s causing elephants in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu to die? Hunger and thirst

As water shortage and scorching heat continue to prevail over large swathes of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, animals in forest reserves and sanctuaries continue to bear the brunt of drought.

Elephants are dying

On April 17, carcass of 15-year-old elephant was found at the Satnur range forest in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. It died due to suspected dehydration. On April 13, another 15-year-old elephant died after she was found in an unconscious state at Chikkalahalli in Sangama Forest Range. The elephant had suffered a heat stroke.

Both these incidents in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, spanning over three districts in southern Karnataka, point to the similar crisis that unfolded in the Bandipur and Nagarahole Tiger Reserves in southern Karnataka. Most watering holes are empty, with even lakes and ponds drying up.

“We neither have water, nor any grass left in the reserves. Karnataka didn’t receive enough rain last year. This year, too, situation has remained the same,” says Ramesh Kumar, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) at Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary.

Talking to Down To Earth about the steps taken by the authorities, Kumar says, “We recently gave a presentation to the Chief Minister on how we are creating artificial ponds and using motor pumps to supply water from borewells (200-ft-deep) dug beside ponds. Each borewell is providing water to two ponds. We are also supplying water to these watering holes through tankers. Camera traps installed near these ponds show that not just elephants, but tigers, leopards, wild dogs, sloth bears and other animals are also frequenting these places.”

The same method is being replicated by officials in the Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks.

The problem, according to Kumar, is not just the lack of rain, but also the lack of grass. “Most of the areas are dry to the core and grass is not visible. We can provide water to the animals in the reserve but how can we provide them grass? While smaller animals can survive in drought-hit conditions, larger animals like elephants find it difficult to get enough food,” says Kumar.

In February 2017, two wild elephants died due to dehydration within Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Tamil Nadu’s Udhagamandalam district.

Rain remains elusive

According to the data from the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre, the state received 815 mm of rainfall in 2016 as opposed to the normal annual rainfall of 1144 mm. Rainfall came down by 40-70 per cent between August and December. Currently, 160 of 176 taluks in Karnataka have been declared drought-hit. Karnataka’s northern districts are without water for the third consecutive year. The situation worsened this year. While pre-monsoon rain has picked up in neighbouring state of Kerala, it was only on Thursday (April 20) that Karnataka received rain.

In March as many as seven elephants died in Karnataka.

Animals straying into human territories in search of water

Desperately in need of water and fodder, the dehydrated animals, especially the elephants are wandering into human territories. On April 18, three elephants reportedly wandered into Kolathur in Tamil Nadu, in search of water. They ended up damaging crops. A similar incident happened in Pannavadi Parisal Thurai near the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border.

Last winter, acute scarcity of water affected wild animals in the reserve forests near Mettur and Kolathur on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border. The animals were straying into the villages around reserve forests in search of drinking water, causing much anxiety to the local residents as well as the forest and revenue officials.

When Down To Earth asked Raman Sukumar, Founder and Managing Trustee, Asian Elephant Research and Conservation (AERC), about the vulnerability of elephants in the time of drought, he said, “In drought-hit regions, the elephants are faced with scarcity of proteinaceous forage. They are not able to sustain without it. Water availability is not so much of a problem as compared to lack of proteinaceous food. While the death of elephants during prolonged dry spells is not unprecedented, we have to think of ways to help these animals sustain in case the drought cycle intensifies in future.”

Stating that there’s no need to press the panic button yet as southern India has seen healthy growth in the population of Asian elephants, Sukumar added that there’s a need to devise a strategy on how to prevent a massive die-off of elephants in case climate change persists.

— source downtoearth.org.in by Subhojit Goswami

Why is Centre making Aadhaar compulsory for poor TB patients despite Supreme Court order?

Going against the Supreme Court’s order to not make Aadhar compulsory for public welfare schemes, the Centre has decided to make the 12-digit UID number mandatory for tuberculosis patients who want to avail benefits of its scheme.

In a notification dated June 16, 2017, the government said that anyone seeking benefit under Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP) will have to either furnish Aadhar or apply for it. And this is for patients who are already fighting a deadly disease. Under this scheme, the government provides medicine to patients for free.

The notification reads: “An individual eligible to receive the benefit under the scheme is, hereby, required to furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number or undergo Aadhaar authentication.” The deadline given to apply under Aadhar is August 31, 2017.

The RNTCP is a public welfare scheme under which, conditional cash assistance is also offered to the eligible TB patients, private health care providers and treatment supporters. However, not many are even aware of this benefit.

The Apex Court, in its March order, clearly said that 12-digit Aadhar number cannot be make mandatory for social welfare schemes. The court reiterated its order given on August 11, 2015, in which it restricted the use of Aadhaar to transfer of cooking gas subsidy and other public distribution systems, including Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and Employment Pension Scheme.

Most TB patients hail from migrant families, for whom, survival is the biggest challenge. They often don’t have resources or knowledge at their disposal to prepare documents like Aadhaar cards. While the government’s RNTCP intends to universalise the access to TB care with early diagnosis and regular treatment completion, the notification defeats the idea by discriminating between patients with and without Aadhaar cards.

India has been the biggest victim this deadly disease where more than 4.8 million new cases occur every year, according to the Global TB report 2016. Not only this, it also leads in drug-resistant TB cases. The government plans to eliminate TB from the country by 2025.

— source downtoearth.org.in by Kundan Pandey

Ambedkar was not a Hindu

They are not any other political force, they are an exclusivist, supremacist force that does not believe in the constitution
Teesta Setalvad

Pranjal: Hello and welcome to this collaborative production between Real News and Newsclick. Today, we are going to discuss about two years of the Modi regime and the issue of communalism. To discuss the issue, we have with us human rights activist Teesta Setalvad. Welcome to Newsclick Teesta. In last two years we have seen there is a rise in attack on minority and growing intolerance. How do you see the role of government in it?

Teesta Setalvad (Teesta): You see, what needs to be understood here is that we have a party and a force in power at the same time holding all the agencies under them. It is the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) of which Parliamentary wing is the BJP which won the elections. Now, RSS is a very unique political force in this country. It can not be equated with other political parties because it openly says–on it’s website even today–that it does not believe in the Indian constitution. So it does not believe in the rule of law, it does not believe in equality of citizenship, it does not believe in the principle of non-discrimination.

So when you have a mindset of that kind, which militates against the republic, in power you will have utterances coming out of people who are ministers, who are legislators, members of Parliament that border on incitement to hatred or are actually incitement to it. So look at the speeches of Adityanath, look at Sangeet Som, look at Sanjeev Balyan, look at Mahesh Sharma, the culture minister, you have utterances which are directed at one community and which are not just hate speech but they are virtually incitement to a mob to commit violence. Look at the politics with cow and beef eating. You know, granted that the question of cow protection, the question, it is a religious issue for some section, a small section of Hindus, but to make it into a mob hysteria issue is just a way to target Dalits and Muslims.

Pranjal: First of all, the issue of ministers. You see on one hand Modi talking of development, going into different countries while the key ministers, the key members of the ruling party, they are giving statements like Muslim should be not allowed to vote. So I mean, Modi’s silence (is it) a tacit consent to all these?

Teesta: Absolutely. Now look at Modi’s silence on Kashmir issue. You have a person, you have the US President Obama cutting short his visit to the Dallas episode, and the policemen targeted there and you have our Prime Minister on a tour of Africa and he does not even bother to utter a word. When you have real discontentment among youth in Kashmir, it is a political issue, it has to be dealt with. So he believes that by keeping silent he is trying to elevate himself either apart from it, or like you said, a very sinister message to the large band of the lowers of the RSS, Bajrang Dal, VHP that actually you have immunity, impunity granted from the top.

Pranjal: The government has been constantly trying to create this mob terror, mob hysteria., or mob is ready to lynch people on issue of beef, the issue of nationalism. It has become a common sentiment. Do you think in this fierce pushing of the Hindutva agenda, the real player is RSS–behind the government?

Teesta: Absolutely. One of the most senior ideologues of the RSS is Govindacharya., a seasoned politician and a seasoned ideologue. He recently gave an interview to one of our newspapers, he said that we believe that we want to overturn the Indian constitution. So they are very clear and open about (it). And that is why I believe that as activist, as journalist, as a citizen of this country, who believes that the constitution is what this country stands on, the RSS should not be allowed to win state elections because today, they are majority party in the centre. If they get more state power, they will actually overturn the number in Rajya Sabha, which is upper house of the Indian parliament and then, there will be serious issues about trying to rewrite the constitution. They are openly saying it.

Pranjal: Since past two years, there has been a constant attack on the secular fabric of the nation. The states like Maharashtra, Haryana are pushing cow slaughter issues, the issue of beef ban.

Teesta: You are mentioning the Dadri killing which was on September 2015. Soon after, you had that killing of Dalit children in Phugana. Then you had the Latihar hangings this February, March. Then last year you had a lynching of a young Muslim boy in Kanpur on the street; this boy and just while he was being beaten, he is remembering his God, he is saying ‘Ya Allah, Ya Allah’ and they are saying he is a terrorist. So it is very dangerous what we have done. This happened in Gujarat by the way in 2002 that there was a mob waiting for the whistle, and the whistle came then from the state, and whistle is coming now from the persons who are in the state that you just give a signal and amorphous mob suddenly become visible. And that’s a very very scary situation for the society to be in wherein actually a threshold for a hate speech has risen. We are actually accepting as normal, something which is extremely abnormal and should be shunned.

Pranjal: So when we look at this entire politics of beef ban and there is a move towards appropriating Ambedkar, do you think BJP is showing it’s double standard: the ruling party on one hand you are attacking the economy of Muslims and Dalits and on the other hand you are trying to appropriate their icon?

Teesta: Yeah and add to that fact that who are the biggest beef exporters in the country. They are the vegetarian Jains who are Hindus.

Pranjal: But apart from that the Rohith Vemula issue in Hyderabad Central University–.

Teesta: Yeah, hypocrisy extends to various levels. Look at the BJP government in Goa or look at the BJP government in Assam or the BJP propaganda in Kerala, where they won now only one seat. In Goa, Kerala and Assam, even Amit Shah will not talk about beef (ban) because he knows that the demography, the population is a beef (eating one), there is a significance section of ‘Hindu majority’ which also eats beef. So it is an extremely malicious and also pernicious ideology at work here. Vote gathering and vote catching at any cost, principles aside. And coming to the question about Baba Saheb, you see it’s very important that the about 8-9 years ago the RSS Aitihasik Sangh, which is the history wing, they had actually declared Baba Saheb Ambedkar as one of their saints. This is something by the way that Ambedkar would have hated because in his speech to the Constituent Assembly he said, I have a greatest failing as a people and our nation, is that we either revere people without critical thinking or we revile them. Ambedkar did not wanted to be declared as a saint at all. So by declaring him a saint they actually want to de-radicalize him.

Last February in this year, I am talking about the most prestigious book fair–the Delhi Book Fair, you know where people come from all over the country and the stalls are really visited. I have visited book fair two or three times and there is one store where I invariably go to, which sells the volume of Baba Saheb. And this year, Baba Saheb Ambedkar volume sold without 11 key volumes; and which were those volumes? Riddles in Hinduism, Annihilation of Caste, State and Minorities, Shudra and Counterrevolution. So the radical thinker Ambedkar is sought to be denied and he is sought to be appropriated as a Hindu icon, which is just impossible because Ambedkar converted in October 1956 to Buddhism as his ultimate state of revolt against caste and Hindu society.

Pranjal: He said I was born a Hindu but I will not die a Hindu–.

Teesta: You can’t do that to Ambedkar. But unfortunately (a section of ) the non-Chamar, non-Mahar, a certain sections of Dalits, who are not politically very radical, have been appropriated by the Bharatiya Janata Party and it’s backbone, the RSS. Out of 75 reserved seats in the last Lok Sabha over 43 are being won by the BJP. So it’s been a long process of social engineering–as they call it – because RSS realizes at some point that’s why Bajrang Dal was started to woo the Valmiki community, they realize that they can not win on only a purely Bhrahmanical agenda, with only having Brahmins in the leadership. So they have to appropriate OBCs and Dalits. But their entire politics is Brahminical and discriminatory.

Pranjal: When you look today UP elections are near, there is a news of Hindu exodus in Kairana. I mean, BJP is trying to do this vote bank politics. It is again trying to invoke communal tensions in these areas. How do you see it?

Teesta: Now, in fact it is quite shocking and I think this is the question that channels like Newsclick and Sabrang India all should be doing. Because the role of the media at a time like this is very critical. The Kairana exodus, actually the entire thing, was first flagged by Amit Shah, the BJP President, while the national executive of BJP was on in Allahabad. He flags it there without any proof, because the senior members of the party raised it there–Hukum Singh–and after that, after the first few days of the Zee news and other channels propagating it, the media actually plays a positive role and exposes the untruth behind the mass exodus theory, even day before yesterday, when he was in Uttar Pradesh — he is the President of the ascendant political party in the country–he has no qualms about saying regardless of the truth, I will misuse it. That’s essentially what Amit Shah is saying. So we are talking about amoral, extremely evil brand of politics, which will actually use the Goebbelsian lie of Muslim exodus in Kairana, repeated it thousand times and expects the RSS rumor wing to do the rest.

So I think it is a challenge for all of us, for civil society, for activists, for organization and I think for every political activists to realize that there is a difference between RSS and other forces. They are not any other political force, they are an exclusivist, supremacist force that does not believe in the constitution.

Pranjal: Teesta this would be my last question. There is a resistance building up against this divisive agenda. How do you see it?

Teesta: At the social level, at cultural level. I think the time has come that we actually expresses ourselves very very creatively, sharply and openly and I personally believe this is the time to build the broadest possible political possible alliance. This is not the time to nitpick on our narrow differences. We have to draw a line to show which is a protofascist force and which–at least, other forces at least–believe in the fundamentals of Indian constitution.

— source therealnews.com