1. Maharashtra, U.P. among 7 States to get textile parks
Centre expects the parks to attract investments worth ₹70,000 crore, generate jobs for 20 lakh people and create an integrated value chain for the sector, says Textiles Minister Piyush Goyal
The Centre has selected sites in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to set up new textile parks, a year and a half after the PM Mega Integrated Textile Regions and Apparel (PM MITRA) scheme was announced.
Listing the seven selected States in a tweet on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the parks would “provide state-of-the-art infrastructure for the textiles sector, attract investment of crores and create lakhs of jobs”.
The scheme was announced in October 2021, and the parks will be set up by 2026-27. The total outlay for the project is ₹4,445 crore, though the intial allocation in the 2023-24 Budget is only ₹200 crore.
“PM MITRA mega textile parks will boost the textiles sector in line with 5F (Farm to Fibre to Factory to Fashion to Foreign) vision,” Mr. Modi tweeted, adding that the scheme would be a great example of the government’s policy of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make for the World’.
The Centre envisages an investment of nearly ₹70,000 crore into the parks, with employment generation for about 20 lakh people, Textiles Minister Piyush Goyal said.
The parks will function as centres of opportunity to create an integrated textiles value chain — from spinning, weaving, processing, dyeing and printing to garment manufacturing — all at one location. “The textile industry has been unorganised. This increased wastage and logistical costs impact the competitiveness of country’s textile sector. The cluster-based approach, a vision of the Prime Minister, will solve several problems of the sector,” Mr. Goyal said. Environmental clearances would also be eased under the scheme, he said.
Textiles Secretary Rachna Shah said the Ministry had selected the locations in a transparent manner, having considered 18 proposals from 13 States.
Mr. Goyal hoped that the proposed world-class industrial infrastructure would attract cutting edge technology and boost foreign direct investment and local investment in the sector. The Textiles Ministry will oversee the execution of projects in the PM MITRA parks, according to an official statement.
“An SPV [Special Purpose Vehicle] owned by Centre and State Government will be set up for each park which will oversee the implementation of the project. The Ministry of Textiles will provide financial support in the form of Development Capital Support up to ₹500 crore per park to the Park SPV,” the Ministry said.
“A Competitive Incentive Support (CIS) up to ₹300 crore per park to the units in PM MITRA Park shall also be provided to incentivise speedy implementation. Convergence with other Government of India schemes shall also be facilitated in order to ensure additional incentives to the master developer and investor units,” added the statement.
Mr. Goyal said that State governments have offered to provide at least 1,000 acres of land for free for the parks and will also facilitate provision of all utilities such as power and water. He said that ₹200 crore has been allotted as an initial investment.
“PM MITRA Parks represent a unique model where the Centre and State governments will work together to increase investment, promote innovation, create job opportunities and ultimately make India a global hub for textile manufacturing and exports,” the Ministry added.
2. Tiger helps uncover timber ‘depots’ in Arunachal reserve
A truck with logs that was seized from Namdapha National Park and Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh.
A tiger spotted after an eight-year gap could have helped uncover timber ‘depots’ deep inside India’s easternmost tiger reserve.
On March 14, officials in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district found several illegal timber depots in the core area of the 1,985 sq. km Namdapha National Park and Tiger Reserve.
Park officials bumped into the illegal logging activities while trying to find out why a tiger came out of the core area of the reserve after so many years.
The tiger was caught on cameras set up near the park’s Deban Forest Inspection Bungalow, after forest guards reported some pugmarks on January 31.
It was the second tiger spotted in Namdapha after one in 2015.
“There are reasons to believe that the logging activities may have forced the tiger out of the dense, core area of Namdapha towards the bungalow, which is close to a 157-km road from Miao to Vijaynagar through a large stretch of the park,” a forest official said, declining to be quoted.
The office of Namdapha’s field director is at Miao, a sub-divisional town. Vijaynagar, close to the Myanmar border, is Changlang’s remotest circle headquarters.
The core area, largely inaccessible, is often not patrolled because the park is understaffed, the official said. Park officials got a whiff of the logging activities while checking out the tiger’s haunts in the core area.
According to a first information report (FIR) filed by forest range officer T. Mali at the Miao police station, eight people were caught on March 14 during a raid led by Changlang’s Deputy Commissioner Sunny K. Singh. All eight, arrested later, are from Miao and adjoining villages. The team seized an excavator, a pickup and two trucks, one loaded with logs. Another excavator and two trucks were founded abandoned.
“As per the preliminary survey, more than 2,000 CFT (cubic foot) of timber is lying at several depots en route”, requiring extraction and scientific assessment, the FIR read.
“We will go to every possible length under the ambit of the law to preserve the rich flora and fauna of Namdapha National Park. All sections of relevant laws have been invoked to book the people involved (in timber smuggling),” Mr. Singh told The Hindu.
“The administration has directed forest officials to ensure strict monitoring of all the suspected areas along the boundary of Namdapha and take stringent action against the miscreants. Efforts will be made to protect our catchment areas from any disturbances such as timber operation,” he said.
Officials said timber smuggling could be connected to encroachment in the core areas of Namdapha along the Miao-Vijaynagar Road.
3. Carcasses of Olive Ridleys on Krishna district shores in A.P. worry tourists
A dead Olive Ridley turtle found on the shore near the Light House in Krishna district.
Carcasses of endangered Olive Ridley turtles were seen washed up on the shore at several places and in some islands in Krishna district.
Tourists visiting the beaches in the district have expressed concern over the mortality of the Olive Ridley turtles. Injuries were found on some of the carcasses of the turtles, the villagers said.
Dead turtles were found at Palakayatippa, Light House and other places. “The carcasses washed ashore one or two days ago,” the locals said.
Hamsaladeevi, Light House, Palakayatippa and Sangameswaram are some of the busy tourist places in Krishna district. Tourists were greeted by the sight of decomposing carcasses at the beaches.
“There is no significant pollution or oil exploration along the shore in Krishna district. Still, many Olive Ridley turtles are dying. Officials should ascertain the reasons behind the deaths of the endangered species,” said a tourist Ch. Srikanth.
‘No mass mortality’
Speaking to The Hindu, Avanigadda Forest Range Officer (FRO), K.V.S. Raghava Rao said there was no mass mortality of the Oliver Ridley turtles along the shore in the region.
“We are getting information on carcasses of the turtles at some places. Forest Department officials are trying to find out the exact reason for the deaths. This is a matter under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972,” the FRO said.
“Carcasses of one or two turtles were noticed on the shore every week. Recently, we noticed the dead Olive Ridley turtles at Light House and at Palakayatippa village,” Mr. Raghava Rao said.
The reason behind the deaths is being ascertained, say Forest Department officials
4. Indian Institute of Astrophysics researchers develop low-cost star sensor
Exploded view of Starberry-Sense star sensor developed by researchers of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) have developed a low-cost star sensor for astronomy and small CubeSat class satellite missions.
The star sensor named Starberry-Sense can help small CubeSat class satellite missions find their orientation in space.
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) said that the Starberry-Sense is ready for launch on the PS4-Orbital Platform by ISRO and can be used for CubeSats and other small satellite missions in the future.
Based on commercial/off-the-shelf components, this star sensor costs less than 10% of those available in the market. The brain of the instrument is a single-board Linux computer called Raspberry Pi, which is widely used among electronics hobby enthusiasts.
“We coupled some highly optimised algorithms with a Raspberry Pi and turned it into a potent star sensor, named StarBerry-Sense. We could demonstrate that instruments built from easily available components can be qualified for space,” said Bharat Chandra, Ph.D. scholar at IIA and the first author of the research, which has been published in the Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems.
“Any satellite needs to know where it is pointed in space, and the instrument used for this purpose is called a star sensor. The position of stars in the sky is fixed relative to each other and can be used as a stable reference frame to calculate the orientation of a satellite in orbit. This is done by correctly identifying the stars in the sky towards which the star sensor is pointed. The star sensor is essentially a celestial compass,” DST added.
5. SC seeks govt. reply to minor’s petition on saving Western Ghats
Key link: The future of south India was intimately linked with the survival of the Western Ghats, the Goa Foundation said.
Court asks Environment Ministry to file counter-affidavit to the plea seeking reinstating of recommendations of the Gadgil report
The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Environment Ministry to file its counter-affidavit to a petition filed by a minor, M. Kaviya, a resident of Nilgiris, seeking judicial intervention to protect the Western Ghats from destruction.
“Month by month, the Western Ghats is being chipped away… Please intervene,” senior advocate Raj Panjwani and advocate Shibani Ghosh, for Ms. Kaviya, urged a Bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. The court listed the case for July. It said the Centre and other authorities had to file their counter-affidavits in four weeks.
The petition has been in limbo for the past two years since the top court issued a notice in 2020. Several environmental activists and NGOs such as the Goa Foundation and Peaceful Society, Bandora, from across six Western Ghats States have joined hands with Ms. Kaviya to seek judicial intervention to reinstate the recommendations of the Dr. Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel’s report.
Ms. Kaviya and seven other children have sought “justice in terms of intergenerational equity”, saying that unbridled “development” in the ancient mountain system would leave their generation without a future or a livelihood. They have sought an “effective, sustainable and credible conservation regime for the Western Ghats, its diverse ecosystems and ecologically sensitive zones”.
Goa Foundation said the petition concerned a total land area of 1,29,037 sq.km. While 50 million people were directly dependent on the Western Ghats and its ecology, another 200 million were indirectly dependent. The future of entire southern India was intimately linked with the healthy survival of the Western Ghats, it said.
6. Horseshoe crabs disappearing off Odisha’s coast; scientists worried
Saving species: Researchers want the horseshoe crab’s breeding grounds to be declared as a conservation area.
Horseshoe crabs, one of the oldest living creatures on earth and medicinally priceless, appear to be disappearing from their familiar spawning grounds along Chandipur and Balaramgadi coast in Odisha’s Balasore district.
Scientists have urged Odisha government to come up with a robust protection mechanism before the living fossil becomes extinct due to destructive fishing practices.
Professor B.C. Choudhury, member of Odisha State Wildlife Advisory Board, and Anil Chatterjee, retired scientist of National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, appealed to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to place the horseshoe crabs on the list of marine species for which a Species Recovery Plan has to be developed.
Dr. Chatterjee first discovered horseshoe crabs along Balasore coast and brought the species to the State’s notice in 1987.
“When we used to come to Odisha in 1988-89, the population of horseshoe crab was very high. In 200 square metre area, we were getting 30 to 40 specimens. Last month, I had been to Balasore, I found there were hardly any of such animals,” he said.
“Like olive ridley sea turtles, these crabs are basically deep-sea animals. They come to coasts of Balasore in Odisha and Digha and Sundarban in West Bengal for breeding purposes. They select a suitable site for laying their eggs. Unfortunately, those eggs are also damaged by local people,” lamented the scientist.
The blood of this crab is very important for the preparation of rapid diagnostic reagents. All injectable medicines are tested on them. Dr. Chatterjee said a molecule has been developed from a reagent of horseshoe crab to help treat pre-eclampsia.
The scientist said only a few countries in the world have horseshoe crab population and India is one among them. “This is the oldest living creature on earth. Palaeontological studies say the age of horseshoe crabs is 450 million years. The creature has lived on earth without undergoing any morphological change. Scientists are surprised to find strong immune system in animal that helped it survive millions of years. The animal is critical for human health. If we don’t put any effort now, horseshoe crabs would not be found in India in next few years,” he warned.
In a letter to Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), Dr. Choudhary suggested that the horseshoe crab’s breeding grounds be declared as a conservation reserve to protect the species.
7. Dabur India used bio resources commercially without approval: NBA
Dabur India had been accessing biological resources for commercial purposes without obtaining required approvals, the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) told the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on March 13.
Under the Biological Diversity Act, an Indian entity has to give intimation to the State Biodiversity Board while obtaining any bio-resources for commercial utilisation. “The Appellant [Dabur India] has been accessing the biological resources (125 species of herbs) and applied for approval only in the year 2020,” the NBA said.
The board’s response came after Dabur India had filed an appeal before the tribunal saying the NBA had unilaterally imposed 0.5% of annual gross ex-factory sale price of the product as a benefit sharing component under Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) of the Biological Diversity Act. Dabur had requested NBA to reconsider the amount based on the purchase price.
8. GROUND ZERO-1:
Left high and dry in the Nilgiris
A temple of the Kattunayakans at Bennai village inside the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. The Adivasis say leaving the forest was tantamount to abandoning the gods. (Right): The Kattunayakans and Paniyas of Bennai village say they were coerced into moving or misinformed about the benefits of relocation.
More than 700 families, including Adivasis, were incentivised to leave the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in the Nilgiris as a part of a ‘golden handshake’ with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. But many of them complain of broken promises and abandonment, reports Rohan Premkumar
On a hot afternoon in Cheppodu, an unhappy G. Maaran sits outside his mud house under a protruding thatched roof made of materials gathered from the forests. The old man owns a herd of goats, which stand bleating under a withered tree towering over his small house. Maaran used to live in Bennai, just a stone’s throw away, in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu. Maaran says the Forest Department tried relocating him and other Adivasi families to areas outside the tiger reserve. But dissatisfied with what was promised to them, these families have moved from Bennai to Cheppodu, which is also in the reserve.
Maaran is a member of the Kattunayakan tribe, an indigenous group who live in the forests of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Guldalur in the Nilgiris. The Kattunayakans, Irulas, Paniyas and Kurumbas were incentivised to leave the tiger reserve as a part of the ‘golden handshake’ agreement between the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and more than 700 families.
The agreement was formulated by the government after the Mountadden and Wayanadan Chetty communities obtained an order from the Madras High Court in 2007 seeking relocation away from the forest citing a lack of basic amenities. The Adivasis claim that the Chettys were inclined to relocate as they had no traditional ties to the forest, whereas the Adivasis do. They say they were either coerced into moving or misinformed about the benefits of relocation. The aim of the ‘golden handshake’ was to not just benefit the local communities inside the tiger reserve, but also aid conservation efforts.
The 701 families from 30 small hamlets were to be relocated in three phases, with each opting for a one-time payment of ₹10 lakh, or land and housing equivalent to the land they forfeited to the government. The first phase began in earnest only in 2017, a decade after the agreement. Till date, 569 families from the four Adivasi groups and the Mountadden and Wayanadan Chetty communities have been relocated, say officials from the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, while 132 families remain within the tiger reserve. A total of ₹66.19 crore has been sanctioned for the project.
‘We feel cheated’
Angry with the Department for “cheating them,” Maaran and 40 families from the Kattunayakan tribe from Bennai have once again built houses on the forest land. It is in this hut surrounded by goats that Maaran sits now.
“I thought I was being promised ₹10 lakh in cash, a house and land by the government. But in the end, I only got some money, not the full amount I was promised,” he says.
G. Appu, another resident in Cheppodu, says the communities did not receive documents for the land that they purchased. “With the money and through mediation by a Forest Department personnel, I purchased around 25 cents of land (one cent is 0.01 acres). But I still don’t have a patta (documentation). The owner of the land says the land documents are with the Revenue Department and that he is yet to see them,” says Appu. “As we are poor and many of us haven’t gone to school, many of the landowners have cheated us.”
Like Appu, Maaran opted for a one-time payout and bought a vehicle that he rents out to transport goods. According to Maaran, the Forest Department said that all his sons, who were above the age of 18 when the scheme was implemented, would be eligible for compensation. “Even though three of my children are eligible for compensation, only one of them has got the money,” he says.
K. Mahendran, an Adivasi rights activist from the Nilgiris, says many of the Adivasis who were resettled outside the tiger reserve are unclear about what they were owed in the first place. “While the Mountadden and Wayanadan Chettys wanted to relocate from the reserve, and have largely been able to do so with few complications, the Kattunayakans and the Paniyas have not been resettled fairly. As many people seem to have been involved in the process of resettlement, and promises were made with little paperwork or documentation, it seems that most people were not informed clearly or were even misinformed about what they would receive for relocating,” he says.
The two communities claim that they have been cheated by a few Forest Department staff, some landowners and middlemen. “While this is difficult to prove, it should be probed by the police,” says Mahendran.
The activist has been trying to ascertain the level of fraud committed against the community members, but says this is a challenge. “First, it is difficult to gain the trust of the community as they are suspicious of outsiders. And even when you gain their trust, it is difficult to ascertain exactly who has cheated them,” he explains. “For instance, one old woman told me that she has ₹3 lakh inside her house. When I asked her to show me the money, she only had ₹3,000 with her. Someone had told her that it was ₹3 lakh and had given it to her.”
Based on his interactions with the community, Mahendran says that most of the people who bought land with the money they were given do not have pattas. “My suspicion is that either the land brokers over-inflated land prices and took a share of the money, or that they took the money from them and made them settle on government lands,” he says.
G. Malaichamy, a Nilgiris-based lawyer who has filed a complaint with the police along with 21 Adivasis from Nagampalli and Puliyampara, says there have been many cases of fraud. “Based on our complaint, a case had been registered by the District Crime Branch Police for fraud and under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against a forest ranger, a guard, a lawyer and some brokers for cheating the Adivasis who were relocated,” he says.
In many of the cases, Adivasis were sold land for which there was no documentation, says Malaichamy. The lawyer argues that the funds for the relocation should have been handed over by at least 2010, when land was affordable. But now, due to inflation, the money given to them will get them no more than a few cents of land, which he says is simply unsustainable to earn a living through agriculture.
“In 2010, one cent of land in the area sold for around ₹25,000. Now the rates have increased, with people finding it difficult to purchase land for anything less than ₹3 lakh per cent,” he says.
Poor quality of life
In the village of Palapally, G. Bindu lives in a small two-room house with her husband. They were relocated to the village in 2018 from the Nagampally settlement in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. Bindu has planted vegetables in the one acre of land. But she has no documents to prove ownership of the property. “Last year, due to heavy rain, we suffered crop damage amounting to ₹1 lakh. Even if we want to apply for a loan or compensation, we are not able to, since we don’t have the documents to prove that we own the land. We fear that the government may evict us in the future,” she says. Bindu also says the quality of life too has not improved in their new home. “Our houses don’t have electricity connection or running water,” she says.
The government built houses for a few Adivasi families from Bennai. In one settlement, known as Bennai Number 1, residents live in dilapidated houses. Many of these structures suffered damage during the heavy rains in 2018 and 2019.
Maadhan, a 76-year-old resident who depends on the Public Distribution System for food, doesn’t understand the rationale behind the relocation process. He points out that the families have been moved just a few hundred yards from their village, which was inside the tiger reserve. “Is the forest safer now that we have moved?” he wonders.
He too complains about the structures. “During the rains, the roofs leak and these places get flooded. Our thatched roofed houses, which we had built ourselves, used to protect us more effectively than these homes built by the government. At least those houses could be repaired with materials from the forests nearby. These houses are expensive to repair and renovate without the government’s help. It is almost impossible to stay here,” he says.
A sense of regret
Stan Thekaekara, co-founder of Action for Community Organisation, Rehabilitation and Development (ACCORD), an NGO which has been working to protect the rights of Adivasis in Gudalur for over three decades, says there have been many cases of fraud perpetrated against Adivasi groups during the relocation process. “What is clear from the bank passbooks of the community members is that they were pressured into withdrawing large sums of money. They were promised land and housing but after the money was handed over to the middlemen, they did not get what was promised. They allege that they were shown government lands and government housing for the money they paid. Many Adivasis who opted for the one-time payment option of ₹10 lakh said that during the disbursement of the first phase of the payment of ₹7 lakh, they only received a few thousands. The rest, they say, was pocketed by various people,” he says.
Thekaekara also speaks of the deep connections the communities have with their land. “For many older community members, it is almost impossible to leave the forests, which are home to sacred groves and sites where they worship,” he says.
When the plans of relocation were first conveyed to them, the Adivasis passed resolutions in Gram Sabhas refusing to move out from the forests. But after this, say villagers of Cheppodu and Bennai Number 1, community leaders were persuaded or coerced into negotiating with the villagers by the Forest Department, and they finally agreed to the move.
Maaran from Cheppodu points to a temple where the Adivasis pray. Leaving the forest was tantamount to abandoning the gods, he says. “We now fear that if we leave, the Forest Department may stop us from visiting our temples and praying here in Cheppodu.”
Maaran says many Adivasis who have moved out as part of the relocation plan have told him that they regret their decision. “Our lives are intertwined with the forest and its animals. None of us have ever had problems with elephants or tigers, though we spot them regularly near the village. If we are forced to move, our identities too will be lost,” he worries.
Conducting an inquiry
Despite these allegations of fraud and cheating, the Forest Department is continuing with the relocation process. D. Venkatesh, Field Director of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, confirms that the third phase of the relocation process is ongoing, with the Collector ensuring oversight of the relocation process. In the first two phases, a total of 569 families were relocated. Another 132 families, including Adivasis and Chettys, are to be relocated in the next phase, say officials.
Nilgiris Collector S.P. Amrith says the Adivasis who claim to have been cheated should approach him with a complaint. He promises to look into the allegations made by the residents. He adds that the process of issuing pattas is ongoing, with more than 100 families who are part of the relocation plan having been offered pattas recently.
When asked about the allegations of fraud against the Forest Department staff, C. Vidhya, Deputy Director of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (Core Area), says following the First Information Report, which was filed in 2019 (against Forest Department staff and land brokers), a sub-committee was formed to “enumerate the number of families affected by the malfeasance.” Once this inquiry is completed, steps would be taken to compensate affected persons, she says.
“Neither us nor the forests have benefited from the relocation scheme,” says Maaran. “Only a few Forest Department staff and some middlemen have profited from the funds that were meant for the Adivasis. Why would we trust anything the government says in the future?”
Maaran contends that the villagers will not leave Cheppodu until there are more favourable negotiations or, at the very least, they are given what they were promised as part of the original relocation plan.