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No man-animal conflict foreseen on account of enough reserves, say officials

No scarcity: Wild animals in Kawal Tiger Reserve will have enough water this summer.S. Harpal SinghS. Harpal Singh

The worrisome man-animal conflict in the Kawal Tiger Reserve (KTR) on account of water seems to be a thing of the past. There was no incident of wild animals straying into human habitations for water last year and it would hold good for the current season too as there is enough water for them to tide over the harsh summer in the Reserve, which is spread over 893 sq km of core area and 1,122 sq km of buffer.

Water holes

The Reserve covers areas in Adilabad, Kumram Bheem Asifabad, Mancherial and Nirmal districts in Telangana.

Water will be available for a comparatively longer period in natural bodies, thanks to a prolonged monsoon and also the intensified efforts of the Reserve management in making it available through artificially created water holes. There is water still flowing in the Kadem canal, which cuts through the KTR core area and the recent release in the Saraswati canal from the Sri Ram Sagar Project also resulted in water being available from Khanapur in Nirmal district to Luxettipet in Mancherial.

“The high point of the construction of artificial water holes this season is the huge saucer pits, 5 m in diameter, meant for the large herds of bisons. As many as 22 of these, each with a capacity to hold a tanker full of water, have been constructed at strategic locations in Mancherial, Jannaram and Kadem in addition to the existing ones which are half the size,” said KTR Field Director C.P. Vinod Kumar.

“Bisons are large animals and move in herds of 15 to 18 requiring enormous quantum of water. The larger saucer pits will meet that requirement,” he said.

A fact sheet has called for long-term coastal planning to preserve important intertidal habitats in the region

Mounting concern: The paper also highlights a rising threat to the habitat of the Bengal tiger. File photo

The monsoon in Sunderbans is likely to last longer and get more intense, according to a fact sheet titled The Sunderbans and Climate Change, which was made public during the ongoing Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

“Climate specialists have predicted that as climate change progresses, monsoon seasons in the Sundarbans will become longer and more intense. Conversely, drought conditions will also become more pronounced, presenting further challenges for agricultural producers in particular and ecosystems in general,” said the document released during the Conference of Parties being held at Gujarat.

Natural habitats

The document highlights the need for "long term coastal planning to ensure that these critically important intertidal habitats with their unique flora and fauna and local inhabitants have a space to retreat inland". The paper also points out that the habitat of the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) in the Sunderbans is also affected by the storm due to a decline in the availability of prey.

While the fact sheet puts the rise in the sea level at 3.2 mm per year currently, it states that an estimated rise of 28 cm above the sea levels registered in the year 2000 would result in a 96 % decline of the habitat of the Bengal tiger in Bangladesh.

Discussions were also held on the Transboundary Conservation of Threatened Freshwater Fauna, including species like Indian River Terrapin (Batagur baska), Hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha) and Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica),.

The forum comprised scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Wildlife Trust of India, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the member secretary of Central Zoo Authority.

Risk of flooding

“There is clear evidence of the habitat of all the three species extending to the Sunderbans in both India and Bangladesh. We are hopeful that the points that were raised are going to be well received by the CMS and there will be some concerted action for the conservation of the freshwater species that migrate across the Sunderbans,” said Shailendra Singh, director, TSA.

The fact sheet points out that large parts of Sunderbans, which are designated as ‘Ramsar Sites’, are highly susceptible to flooding.

“Due to this, any swelling of ocean water is going to dramatically affect the area. Alhough mangroves are somewhat resistant to submersion in water, they can die when tidal inundation occurs too frequently or lasts too long,” the document stated.

Apart from the frequent storms and the rise of sea level, another concern is the rise of salinity both in water and soil. “Excess levels of soil salinity can be incredibly damaging to ecosystems as salts can accumulate in the soil and hinder plant growth. It also threatens the health of freshwater aquatic life such as fish and giant prawns,” the document adds.

Target of ₹40 cr. is currently on the anvil

In an effort to stimulate investment in research and development (R&D), the Department of Science and Technology is mooting a fund that will match the contributions made by private companies in R&D.

Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, told The Hindu that discussions were on with certain “large, private sector” companies and currently, a ₹40 crore target was on the anvil. “The idea is to pool funds from a group of companies willing to invest in fundamental research, such as quantum computers or artificial intelligence, and whatever is invested government will match that,” he added.

A major beneficiary of such private sector funds, Mr. Sharma noted, could be the Indian Institutes of Technology.

The scheme will be coordinated through the department’s Science and Engineering Research Board, which funds a variety of basic science projects in several universities.

Though India is among the top five countries in terms of its output of scientific publications, it doesn’t match up in investments.

The total expenditure on R&D has tripled in the last decade in nominal (revenue sans inflation) terms — from ₹24,117 crore in 2004-05 to an estimated ₹1,04,864 crore in 2016-17. However as a fraction of GDP, public expenditures on R&D has been stagnant — between 0.6-0.7% of GDP — over the past two decades. It is well below that in major nations such as the U.S. (2.8), China (2.1), Israel (4.3) and Korea (4.2), according to a 2019 report by the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to the Prime Minister.

Public sector institutions form the lion’s share of India’s investment in R&D. In 2004-2005, private sector accounted for 28% of India’s research spend and in 2016-17 this increased to 40%. In most advanced economies, private R&D accounts for the bulk of investment in R&D.

Moreover, while the government is the major source of funds for R&D, it’s also the major user — in terms of money consumed by public sector enterprises or Central institutions.

“As a lower middle-income country, it is not surprising that India’s spending on R&D lags upper-middle income and high-income countries such as China, Israel, and the U.S. However, it currently underspends even relative to its income level... In fact, in 2015, there was a sizeable decline in R&D spending even as GDP per capita continued to rise,” the EAC report notes.

U.S. President will also encourage a reduction in tensions and bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan, say officials

On track: A man walking past a large poster of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. President Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump near the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad on Saturday.Vijay SonejiVijay Soneji

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to raise U.S. concerns around the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, (CAA), and National Register of Citizens (NRC) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he visits India next week, as per senior U.S. administration officials who had a briefing call with reporters on Friday. Mr. Trump will also encourage a reduction in tensions and bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan while in India.

The comments are significant at a time when there is growing concern in Washington over India’s adherence to democratic processes and traditions, namely, Parliament’s passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the establishment of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.

In response to a question on whether Mr. Trump will raise the CAA and NRC with Mr. Modi, the official said the administration is “concerned” about these issues and that Mr. Trump will talk about these issues with Mr. Modi.

Religious freedom

Particularly, Mr. Trump is expected to raise the issue of “religious freedom”, which is “extremely important” to the current U.S. administration, as well as discuss shared traditions of democracy “both in public remarks and certainly in private”, the official said.

Responding to a question from The Hindu on whether Mr. Trump will offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, the official said Kashmir will be raised and Mr. Trump would very much encourage a “reduction in tensions” between New Delhi and Islamabad and encourage them to engage in bilateral dialogue to resolve all differences.

“We continue to believe a core foundation of any successful dialogue between the two is based on continued momentum in Pakistan’s efforts to crack down on terrorist and extremists on its territory. We continue to look for that. I think the President will urge both countries to seek to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control and refrain from actions or statements that could increase tensions in the region,” the official said.

An official indicated that India’s benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences, the U.S.’s preferential market access system for developing countries, was unlikely to be restored immediately. Restoring some degree of benefits has been on the negotiating table as the two countries try to hammer out a mini trade deal.

The concerns that led to the revocation of GSP access remain, an administration official said.

The official said a number of announcements from India in the “past several weeks” have increased U.S. concerns around protectionism. Among Washington’s concerns on the trade front have been the 2019 draft e-commerce policy, the personal data privacy law, announcements in the Union Budget, which included tariff increases on various agricultural commodities and a ‘health cess’ that would impact medical device imports.

“Whether or not there will be an announcement on a trade package is really wholly dependent upon what the Indians are prepared to do. That said, we have a number of significant commercial deals, which are of great significance that we are very pleased to announce,” the official added.

Defence deals of up to $3.5 billion for MH-60R helicopters and Apache attack helicopters have been approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security.

Sometimes, the money is untraceable by beneficiaries enrolled under PMMVY and field functionaries, a cause for much dissatisfaction, says NITI Aayog report

Money trail: Under the PMMVY, pregnant women and lactating mothers receive ₹5,000 for their first child.APAnupam Nath

One in three Aadhaar-based payments for the Centre’s maternity benefit scheme, or Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY), was credited to a wrong bank account, according to a progress report on Poshan Abhiyaan (Nutrition Mission) released by the NITI Aayog on Saturday.

“A substantial number of payments (28% of all Aadhaar-based payments, of 31.29 lakh) are going to different bank accounts than what had been provided by the beneficiaries. Sometimes these are even untraceable by beneficiaries and field functionaries. It is a prime cause for dissatisfaction among beneficiaries, which needs to be addressed on an urgent basis,” the report says about the implementation of the scheme on the basis of the data collected until March 31, 2019. 66% of the direct benefit transfers were based on Aadhaar.

The report says a telephone survey of 5,525 beneficiaries, conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, revealed that only 60% were aware of the receipt of the benefits and the bank accounts to which the money was transferred. Under the PMMVY, pregnant women and lactating mothers receive ₹5,000 for their first child in three instalments. Each tranche is released upon the beneficiaries meeting some conditions. The money is meant to compensate women for loss of wages, and is aimed at ensuring a healthy nutritional development of the newborn.

Simplify documentation

The NITI Aayog has called for “simplification in documentation and operational rules” to avoid delays. It has proposed to “rationalise” the mandatory waiting period of 180 days before the second instalment is released as well as the compulsory birth certificate for the release of the third instalment. It calls for the training of auxiliary midwives who fill up the mother-child protection card and data entry operators.

A report in The Hindu, ‘The long wait for maternity benefits: How red tape drowned a central scheme in Gujrat’s Dahod district’ (February 8), had highlighted how some beneficiaries had to wait for two years to receive the benefit under the scheme and how a claimant’s application was pending for over a year because it had not been processed by the data entry operator at the taluk level since the computer at the office had not been repaired for months. The report highlighted the problems faced by beneficiaries in filling up the 32-page application form and providing nine identity documents.

How States scored

This is the second report released by the government on the implementation of Poshan Abhiyaan. It scores the States and Union Territories to measure their readiness to execute the programme across four themes: governance and institutional mechanism; strategy and planning; service delivery and capacities; and programme activities and intervention coverage. The States were divided into large and small categories for a better comparison.

Among the 19 large States, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh scored the top three ranks, followed by Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. All these States had an implementation score of over 70%. Karnataka, Assam and Kerala were at the bottom, with a score below 55%.

Among the eight small States, Mizoram and Sikkim scored above 75%. Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Manipur and Goa were at the bottom, with scores below 60%. However, all small States had a score above 55%, displaying a fairly good level of readiness and implementation.

Four of the seven Union Territories had a score of over 70%. Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Chandigarh, and Daman and Diu scored above 75% and were ranked among the top three Union Territories. Delhi, and Lakshadweep were at the bottom, with scores below 50%.

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