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Wildlife & Biodiversity

Biodiversity touches every aspect of our lives – so why has its loss been ignored? image:several species of birds in a wetland in Kaziranga,Chandan Kumar Duarah
From our environment to our economies, our security to our societies, biodiversity is vital. But preserving it will require transformative change

The evidence is unequivocal: biodiversity, important in its own right and essential for current and future generations, is being destroyed by human activities at a rate unprecedented in human history.

Governments around the world recognised this at the Earth summit in Brazil in 1992 and established the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect and conserve biodiversity. But the situation has become more and more dire. I have chaired or co-chaired three international assessments on the state of knowledge of biodiversity, and all have repeated the same message – we are destroying it at an alarming rate. Each time we have called for action, only to be largely ignored.

The continued loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue. It risks undermining the achievement of most of the UN sustainable development goals. It is central to development, through food, water and energy security. It has significant economic value, which should be recognised in national accounting systems. It is a security issue in so far as loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflict. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. And it is also a moral issue, because we should not destroy the living planet.

In addition to playing a critical role in providing food, fibre, water, energy, medicines and other genetic materials, biodiversity is equally important in regulating climate, water quality, pollution, pollination, flooding and storm surges. It has vital social value, providing wellbeing when walking through forests or by rivers, or green spaces in cities.

Since 1970, human activities have destroyed and degraded forests, grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems and significantly altered 75% of the ice-free land surface. Most oceans are polluted with plastics, and over 85% of wetland area has been lost. This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, although many are preventable if we improve our management of biodiversity.

The largest driver of biodiversity loss on land in recent decades has been land use change, primarily the conversion of pristine native habitats into agricultural systems to feed the world, while oceans are over-fished . This has been driven in large part by a doubling of the world’s population, a fourfold increase in the global economy, and a tenfold increase in trade.

The challenge is to transform our agricultural and fishing practices, many of which are unsustainable today, into ones that produce the food we need while conserving biodiversity. For agriculture, this means using sustainable agroecological practices; less chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides; and protecting soils and pollinators.

The climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity are issues that affect each other. Global heating adversely affects genetic variability, species richness and ecosystems. Loss of biodiversity can adversely affect climate – deforestation increases the atmospheric abundance of carbon dioxide for example, a greenhouse gas. So it is essential that the issues of biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are addressed together.

To date, climate crisis has received most of the attention. The limited attention on biodiversity tends to focus on saving large charismatic animals, rather than informing the public of the importance of biodiversity to human life.

In 2010, governments around the world agreed to a set of 20 targets for 2020 to protect biodiversity – the Aichi targets. Unfortunately, most countries, including in Europe, will not achieve them. Governments will meet in Kunming, China, next year to establish a plan of action. It will be a critical milestone to see whether there is the political will to implement the transformative changes needed. The challenge is immense, but can be met if countries act individually and collectively.

Business as usual and scenarios that focus on economic growth and regional competition will lead to continued loss of biodiversity. Sustainable consumption practices can slow, but not completely eliminate, future loss of biodiversity, in part because warming will continue in all scenarios.

Incremental changes will not suffice.

Concerted efforts are needed to address the causes of nature deterioration – poor governance, unsustainable economic systems, inequalities, lack of cross-sectoral planning and incentives, unsustainable social narratives and values. We need to steer away from the limiting paradigm of economic growth that prioritises GDPand recognise the social values of biodiversity and the social costs of environmental degredation. We also need to eliminate harmful agricultural, energy and transportation subsidies and incentivise sustainable production.

Governments, the private sector and civil society must work together to address the human-induced climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

Is there room for optimism? Yes.

The youth of today are standing up and demanding action. School strikes and marches are sending a loud and clear message: “You are destroying our future, we demand action now”. Every one of us who lives in a democratic society must vote for politicians who care about these issues.

Robert Watson is the former chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Defence, Development

China Conducts Final Trials On New Rail Line In Tibet Close To Arunachal Border
By Swarajya Staff

The Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line will enable the PLA to bring trainloads of troops and equipment from other theatres in a very short time.

China is conducting final trials on its new high-speed rail line linking Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, with Nyingchi, a town opposite India’s Tuting sector in the Upper Siang district of Arunachal, a Chinese journalist said on Twitter.

Posting the video of the trials on the micro-blogging site, the Beijing-based journalist revealed that China spent $4.8 billion on the 435-km rail line.

Nyingchi is located 40 km away from the border in Arunachal Pradesh, and the rail line itself runs much closer to the border than that at some points.

The Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line is part of the longer, 1,600-km long Sichuan-Tibet line that will link Lhasa with Chengdu, a city east of Arunachal Pradesh. The headquarter of China’s Western Theatre Command, which is responsible for the frontier with India from Arunachal to Ladakh, is located in Chengdu.

Sichuan-Tibet rail line. (@detresfa_/Twitter)Sichuan-Tibet rail line. (@detresfa_/Twitter)
China has also built a 250-km-long highway linking Nyingchi with Lhasa, which, like the Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line, runs close to Arunachal.

Construction of the Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line, nearly 75 per cent of which is either over bridges or under tunnels, began in 2015, and track laying was completed over five years, in December 2020. China plans to open the rail line for traffic by the end of June, amid tensions with India along the Himalayan frontier.

The remaining 1,100-km long section of the line, a part (Chengdu-Ya’an section) of which is already complete, is expected to be ready by 2030.

The Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line project has received consistent attention from the top echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), including President Xi Jinping himself, who linked it to ‘border stability’ as recently as November 2020, during the standoff with India in Ladakh.

Although the dominant narrative in the Chinese state media about the Lhasa-Nyingchi rail line is linked to economic development on the Tibetan Plateau, the CCP apparatus has pointed out that it will act as a “fast track” for the “delivery of strategic materials” to Tibet “if a scenario of a crisis happens at the border”.

The rail line will not only ease the movement of troops within China’s Western Theatre Command but also enable the PLA to bring trainloads of troops and equipment from other theatres in a very short time, a scenario that can’t be ruled out after China’s massive mobilisation along the LAC in Ladakh in 2020.


Why Rainwater Harvesting is Crucial to Solving India’s Water Woes

India is reeling under the most severe water crisis in its history for several reasons including two consecutive monsoons that failed.

According to a Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report released by NITI Aayog nearly 600 million people, which is almost 50% of the country’s population, are facing water shortage issues right now.

One of the many options that we have to ease the water shortage issue is implementing rainwater harvesting. Given the critical situation that we are in, it’s now more important than ever to install rainwater harvesting systems and make it a mandatory fixture in houses and apartments.

In this post, we explore the reasons behind the water crisis and how rainwater harvesting can help.

Why is India facing a severe water shortage?
In addition to inadequate monsoons, there are several reasons why India’s water supply is diminishing rapidly.

Depletion of groundwater
According to the UNESCO World Water Development Report, India is the biggest extractor of groundwater in the world, drawing 260 cubic km per year, which is more than China and the US combined. That comes up to 25% of the groundwater extracted globally. With 21 Indian cities expected to run out of groundwater, India is faced with an alarmingly dry future with the need to not just replenish its water sources but also change the way it sources water.

India’s shoddy infrastructure has led to improper distribution and large amounts of water being wasted. Statistics from the Central Water Commission reveal that India receives as much as 4,000 billion cubic metres of rainfall, but only a mere 8% of that is captured efficiently. Leaky pipes, limited or ageing storage infrastructure like dams, and lack of recycling systems like rainwater harvesting have worsened India’s water crisis.

India’s pipelines are notorious for not just being old but also for not being present in hilly terrains or rural areas. Even if there are connections, the supply is highly restricted and is time-bound, making it challenging to access. This, in turn, has given rise to the water mafia, which ensures that water reaches only those who can afford it.

India is fast losing its water bodies to rapid real estate development, environmental degradation, and industrial pollution. The lack of proper wastewater treatment systems has also compounded the issue.

How rainwater harvesting can help
Recycling and reusing water is important, but it needs to be amply supported by rainwater harvesting. No doubt, contaminated lakes and ponds are a big source of precious water, but it is much easier to simply store rainfall. It is more affordable, less time-consuming, and easier to implement than the complicated systems that are required for wastewater treatment.

There are myriad ways in which rainwater can be captured and stored like installing rain barrels with pipes, hanging rain funnelling chains, rooftop containers that channel rainwater into sumps and borewells, and if you have space, then setting up a mini-reservoir in your garden.

Following any of these simple DIY processes can drastically reduce or even eliminate your water bills, and cushion the impact as well as slow down climate change. Most importantly, it can help an entire country quench its thirst with unlimited water.

In her previous life, Swati was a writer and editor for 12 years in the corporate world. She has experience crafting content for various industries ranging from financial services to senior executive hiring to lifestyle. Currently, she is enjoying the challenges that come with being a freelance content professional and entrepreneur. She also finds more time for her passions that include reading, photography, travelling, and running.

Human Rights, Indigenous People

Chief Minister Of Myanmar State, 9,000 Others Take Refuge In Mizoram
—Sources said Salai Lian Luai crossed over to India on Monday night via the border town of Champai, which is around 185 km from state capital Aizwal—
The Chief Minister of Myanmar’s Chin state – Salai Lian Luai – has taken shelter in Mizoram following the military coup in that country, sources in the state Home Department said Wednesday.
Sources said Salai Lian Luai, who was appointed to his post in 2016, crossed over to India on Monday night via the border town of Champai, which is around 185 km from state capital Aizwal.

The Chin state in western Myanmar shares a 510 km western border with six districts in Mizoram Champhai, Siaha, Lawngtlai, Serchhip, Hnahthial and Saitual. It also shares its northern with Manipur and its southwest with Bangladesh.

Since the coup – which took place early February – 9,247 Myanmar nationals have entered Mizoram in search of shelter.

They include Salai Lian Luai and 23 other lawmakers from the NLD, or National League for Democracy, which is former State Counsellor and Foreign Affairs Minister Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

A Home Department official, on condition of anonymity, said the 24 lawmakers had taken shelter in different districts of the state, specially those on the Myanmar border.

According to available data, 1,633 people have taken refuge in Aizawl, 1,297 in Lawngtlai district, 633 in Siaha district, 478 in Hnahthial district, 167 in Lunglei district, 143 in Serchhip district, 112 in Saitual district, 36 in Kolasib district and 28 in Khawzawl district.

The official also said they were being provided with shelter and food by civil society, student and youth organisations, and NGOs. Many have also been offered sheltered by locals, the official added.

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga said Tuesday that his government had also sanctioned money to provide relief to those who had taken refuge in his state. The money will be released very soon, he said, according to news agency PTI.

A majority of those who have sought shelter in Mizoram belong to the Chin community, which is also known as Zo and they share the same ancestry, ethnicity and culture as the Mizos of Mizoram.

With input from PTI

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Rare white deer spotted in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park

GUWAHATI, June 16: Spotting of a rare white hog deer in Kaziranga National Park has created widespread interest among wildlife conservationists and nature lovers with many flocking to the world heritage site to catch a glimpse of the animal.

After spotting the deer, locals had informed nature photographer Jayanta Kumar Sarma who managed to capture the white deer on his camera in the Burapahar Range of the park. Sarma spotted the animal at a grassland near the 12 line area of Amguri Tea Estate under the Kaliabor Sub-division in Nagaon district on Monday.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) Ramesh Gogoi said that this particular white deer was seen for the first time in the park a few days ago, and it sometimes comes out of the park and wanders with other brown deer to feed on grass, he said. The white colour of the deer is a purely genetic matter, caused due to mutation of the gene, and it is not a different species of the deer family, the DFO said.
Chandan Kumar Duworah, a science journalist from Golaghat said, this white deer is not representing a different species or sub-species. It is result of albumin and its future siblings unlikely to inherete this colour. Although animals do manufacture their own melanin, they can’t make many other pigments. … Another factor is the ability of the bird to metabolize carotenoid pigments to create plumage pigmentation of a different color than the ingested pigment. Many wild animals have variations in colors. In white-tailed deer, melanism – as the coloration is known – is a recessive genetic trait that can be inherited,he said. It causes an excess of dark pigment, believed to be due to mutations in the melanicortin 1 receptor gene (MC1R). Out of the total 40,000 hog deer in Kaziranga, one or two such kinds of uncommon white hog deer can be found, Gogoi added. The park is thronged by domestic and international tourists in large numbers for its famed one-horned rhinos.


Modi govt’s ethanol blending plan aims to get Rs 41,000 cr investment, lower oil import bill
When ethanol — which is made from molasses, grains, etc — is mixed into petrol, it results in a fuel that is believed to be as efficient but less harmful to the environment.


New Delhi: The central government is expecting investments of up to Rs 41,000 crore to help India achieve its ethanol blending target of 10 per cent by 2022 and 20 per cent by 2025.

This investment is likely to arrive as capacity addition for ethanol-producing distilleries in addition to building new ones, Union Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said Tuesday as he addressed a press conference regarding the progress of the government’s Ethanol Blending Programme (EBP), and the road map for it.

When ethanol — which is made from molasses, grains, etc — is mixed into petrol, it results in a fuel that is believed to be as efficient but less deleterious to the environment.

Ethanol blending in petrol is a critical part of the Modi government’s plans to cut India’s oil import bill and shrink its carbon footprint in pursuit of its battle against climate change.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi advanced India’s targeted transition to 20 per cent ethanol blending by five years, to 2025 from 2030, with an aim to begin the rollout of this fuel — “E20” — by 2023.

At the press conference, Pandey detailed the government’s plans to set aside surplus food products like sugarcane towards the goal of increasing ethanol production, while also highlighting how it will usher in new employment opportunities, primarily in rural areas, besides strengthening the agricultural economy.

“EBP will a bring positive impact on the country’s economy, along with promoting ethanol as an indigenous non-polluting and virtually inexhaustible fuel. This reduces carbon monoxide emission by 30-50 per cent and hydrocarbon by 20 per cent,” he said.

“The production of fuel-grade ethanol and its supply to oil companies has increased by 5 times from 2013-14 to 2018-19. In 2018-19, ethanol production touched 189 crore litres, thereby achieving 5 per cent blending. The ethanol supply in the current year 2020-21 is more than 300 crore litres, contributing 8-8.5 per cent blending levels. We would be achieving a 10 per cent blending target by 2022,” he added.

So far, India has drawn EBP-related investment to the tune of Rs 7,000 crore, he said, adding that India has plans to boost ethanol production by 1,600 crore litres in the coming times.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Indonesia has announced sightings of two Javan rhino calves this year in Ujung Kulon National Park, the last place on Earth where the critically endangered species is found.
The new additions bring the estimated population of the species to 73; conservationists have recorded at least one new calf a year joining the population since 2012.
Despite the stable population growth, the rhinos remain under the looming threat of disease, natural disaster, and a resurgence in encroachment.
JAKARTA — Conservation officials in Indonesia have reported a sighting of two new Javan rhinoceros calves, boosting hopes for stable population growth of the nearly extinct species.

The calves, a female and a male, were spotted on different occasions in March by camera traps in Ujung Kulon National Park on the western tip of Indonesia’s Java Island, the Javan rhino’s (Rhinoceros sondaicus) last habitat on Earth.

The addition of the two calves brings the species’ total population to 73 individuals, comprising 40 males and 33 females. There has been at least one newborn Javan rhino calf recorded every year since 2012, according to the International Rhino Foundation (IRF).

“The steady natural birth of the Javan rhinoceros in Ujung Kulon National Park indicates the success of the full protection policy implemented across its habitat in the park,” the Indonesian environment ministry said in a statement issued June 12.

The ministry added that the female calf, estimated to be 3-5 months old, appeared to be the second offspring of a rhino known as Ambu, who was known to have first given birth in 2017. The male calf, estimated to be 1 year old, was seen with his mother, whom conservationists have named Palasari.

A Javan rhino calf spotted on camera trap in Ujung Kulon National Park on March 27, 2021. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

A Javan rhino calf spotted on camera trap in Ujung Kulon National Park on May 16, 2021. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
The species once ranged north through mainland Southeast Asia, as far as eastern India. But its population was hammered by poaching and human encroachment into its habitat. The Javan rhino’s last safe haven is Ujung Kulon, where strict protection has meant there have been no reported poaching attempts in more than 20 years. This is thanks largely thanks to the work of patrol teams known as rhino protection units.

However, rhino experts have highlighted other threats to the habitat, such as illegal fishing and lobster trapping in the protected waters of the park. The Indonesian government in May 2020 resumed the catching of lobster larvae from the wild for export, effectively opening up the shores of Ujung Kulon to fishers.

Ujung Kulon also sits in the shadow of Anak Krakatau, the active volcano left over from the historic eruption of 1883. In December 2018, a massive eruption tore off part of the slope and sent it sliding into the sea. This generated a tsunami that hit Ujung Kulon and nearby areas, killing more than 400 people, including two park officials. The rhinos were far inland and unharmed during the incident.

But the prospect of a single catastrophic event wiping out the last remaining population of the species, whether a tsunami or a disease outbreak from neighboring livestock herds, has led to calls for finding another suitable habitat in which to establish a new Javan rhino population. While these plans have been discussed for years, no alternative site has been chosen, with the Indonesian government instead opted to expand the usable habitat within Ujung Kulon.

A decade ago, the Javan rhino population was estimated at fewer than 50 individuals. The last of the species outside Java were believed to occur in Vietnam, but were declared extinct there in 2010 due to poaching.

Human Rights, Indigenous People

May 28 order has no relation whatsoever with CAA: Ministry of Home Affairs to Supreme Court

The 2019 Act, better known by its abbreviation ‘CAA’, is under challenge before the Supreme Court.
The Ministry of Home Affairs maintained in the Supreme Court on Monday that its May 28 order delegating power to District Collectors in 13 districts across five States to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh has “no relation whatsoever” with the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019.

The 2019 Act, better known by its abbreviation ‘CAA’, is under challenge before the Supreme Court. The law is accused of “fast-tracking” citizenship for non-Muslim persecuted minorities — Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian — from India’s three neighbours. The CAA is blamed of illegally granting citizenship on the basis of religion.

Also read: Union Home Ministry order inviting citizenship applications faces Supreme Court challenge

Petitions in the Supreme Court have drawn parallels between the CAA and the May 28 notification, which facilitates non-Muslims from the three countries residing in 13 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab to apply for citizenship.

Indian Union Muslim League party, represented by advocate Haris Beeran, said the May 28 order was a deliberate ploy to implement CAA’s “malafide designs”.

In its response, the MHA countered that the May order “merely delegates the power of (granting citizenship by registration and naturalisation) to the local authorities in particular cases”.

“The Central Government used its authority under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act… It is merely a process of decentralisation of decision-making aimed at speedy disposal of the citizenship applications of such foreigners… It has no relation whatsoever to the CAA,” the MHA affidavit said.

But Mr. Beeran expressed his doubts, saying “if it has no relation to CAA, where does the May 28 notification draw authority from to specify the same communities for the same three countries for facilitating the citizenship process”.

The government reasoned that the notification did not “provide for any relaxations to the foreigners and applies only to foreigners who have entered the country legally”. The applicants should possess valid documents like passports and Indian visa.

“Any foreigner of any faith can apply for citizenship of India at any time,” the MHA affidavit said.

The government however said the May 28 notification was only one among numerous such orders passed in the past to meet “administrative exigencies”. The Centre said it had similarly delegated powers to District Collectors of 16 districts and Home Secretaries of seven States in 2016. Following this, the Centre had received “several representations” to extend the delegatory powers to more districts and States. The May 28 order was the result.

The May 2021 order extends the power to District Collectors of Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara in Gujarat, Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi in Rajasthan, Durg and Balodabazar in Chhattisgarh, Faridabad in Haryana and Jalandhar in Punjab and to Home Secretaries of two more States, i.e., Haryana and Punjab.

“Now District Collectors of 29 districts and Home Secretaries of nine States will exercise powers of Central Government to grant citizenship to the specified category of foreigners. The Central Government has also retained its right to simultaneously use these powers any time,” the affidavit noted.


The first Indian who first initiated to conserve Siachen glacier Col (retd) Dilip Kumar Duarah breathed his last yesterday at the 151 Base Hospital, Basistha due to cardiac arrest. He was 67 and terminally ill for sometime.He was the first Assamese with first Indian team who climbed Karakoram Himalayas and reached Siachen.

Born at Golaghat in 1953, to Charubala Duarah and Harendranath Duarah, he had his primary education at Doigrung and later joined Goalpara Sainik School. He then joined the National Defence Academy. A skilful gymnast in his

school and Academy days, he was also a tough mountaineer trained under Tenzing Norgay in the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering.
After passing out from the Indian Military Academy he joined Indian Army and posted as a mountain warfare instuctor in the High Altitude Warfare School, Gulmarg. He had taken part in many expeditions to the then virgin Siachin Glacier in early part of Eighties -‘most notably the recoinassance mission under Col.Narendra Bull Kumar in 1981.Based on the reports of this expedition, Indian Army initiated Operation Meghdoot to occupy those icy inhospitable heights in the highest Glacier.
He also extended his service in the Indian peacekeeping mission to Sri Lanka.
He leaves behind two children and a host of relatives.