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Parliamentary panel identifies critical infrastructure gaps

Almost half the government schools in the country do not have electricity or playgrounds, according to a report submitted by the parliamentary panel on education.

In its report on the 2020-2021 demand for grants for school education submitted to the Rajya Sabha last week, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (HRD) expressed concern that budgetary allocations saw a 27% cut from proposals made by the School Education Department. Despite proposals for ₹82,570 crore, only ₹59,845 crore was allocated.

Noting similar 27% reductions for the central and centrally sponsored schemes as well, the panel recommended that these core schemes get additional funds at the revised estimates stage.

The panel “expressed dismay” at the stark deficits in the government school infrastructure, citing the latest survey data. Only 56% of schools have electricity, with the lowest rates in Manipur and Madhya Pradesh, where less than 20% have access to power.

Less than 57% of schools have playgrounds, including less than 30% of schools in Odisha and Jammu and Kashmir, according to the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) 2017-18 survey.

The panel recommended that the HRD Ministry collaborate with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to construct boundary walls, and work with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to provide solar and other energy sources so that schools have access to power.

Report on wildlife trade reveals drop in poaching in India and Bhutan; Nepal however, reported 25 incidents

At risk: The species has been hunted for meat and fur, besides illegal capture for pet trade. file photO

The iconic and endangered Red Panda (ailurus fulgens) has fewer hunters because the younger generations of people across its Himalayan habitat are losing interest in animal products, a new study by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC has found.

However, the reddish-brown arboreal mammal, not closely related to the iconic black-and-white giant panda, is falling to traps laid for other animals, such as the musk deer and wild pigs, the report said.

“The news is both good and bad for the red panda, whose survival is crucial for the eastern and north-eastern and the eastern Himalayan forests,” Saket Badola, the head of TRAFFIC’s India office, told The Hindu on Sunday.

The only living member of the genus Ailurus, the Red Panda is listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. The animal has been hunted for meat and fur, besides illegal capture for the pet trade. An estimated 14,500 animals are left in the wild across Nepal, Bhutan, India, China and Myanmar.

10-year period

The report titled “Assessment of illegal trade-related threats to Red Panda in India and selected neighbouring range countries” has looked at a ten-year period from July 2010 to June 2019, and analysed poaching and illegal trade of the species.

In addition to looking at seizures, the researchers carried out market surveys, surveys of e-commerce websites and village-level surveys.

About 5,000-6,000 red pandas are estimated to be present in four Indian states – Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Sikkim and West Bengal. This is the second-largest population after China (6,000-7,000). Nepal accounts for 580 animals, while Bhutan and Mynamar have no estimate of the animal’s population.

No incidents in India

Red pandas have been reported from 11 districts of Arunachal Pradesh, which is presumed to hold the largest red panda population in the country.

The researchers found that neither India nor Bhutan had reported any incidences of poaching or illegal trade in Red Pandas in the study period. “This may indicate that traditional demand for such products has reduced over time and might be indicative of the success of awareness campaigns undertaken in the areas,” the report said, indicating that younger people were not keen on using the pelt or meat of the animal.

“None of the markets had any parts or products made of parts of the red panda for sale,” the survey said.

In contrast, experts from Nepal reported about 25 incidences of Red Panda poaching, involving approximately 55 animals, and also claimed to have witnessed and/or confirmed reports related to poaching on six occasions involving 15 animals.

Mr. Badola emphasised the need for community- based conservation and protection for the species as its habitat stretches across remote areas.

The report also recommended trans-boundary law enforcement co-operation through the use of multi-government platforms like SAWEN (South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network).

(With inputs from

Rahul Karmarkar)

Visit of Defence Secretary Mark Esper is also in question

Mark Esper

The India-U.S. Military Cooperation Group (MCG) dialogue, scheduled for later this month, has been cancelled in view of the COVID-9 outbreak, and the proposed trip of U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper is also in question, defence sources said on Sunday.

India is considering a U.S. request for posting liaison officers at the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) and the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). This was to be discussed at the dialogue.

“The MCG dialogue, to be held in the U.S. this time, has been cancelled due to COVID-19. The formal decision on Mr. Esper’s visit is expected on Monday,” a defence source told The Hindu. Given the current situation, the visit looks doubtful, another official said.

The MCG is a forum to review the progress of defence cooperation between India’s Integrated Defence Staff and the USINDOPACOM at the strategic and operational levels. The Integrated Defence Staff was responsible for coordination among the armed forces before the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff.

As part of improving defence cooperation and interoperability, India is considering a U.S. request for posting liaison officers at the USINDOPACOM and the USSOCOM.

“We have posted a liaison officer at the U.S. Navy Central Command in Bahrain and a U.S. liaison officer, in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, has joined the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region at Gurugram,” another defence source said. This is an outcome of the agreement reached at the last 2+2 dialogue in December last, which also “noted their [India and the U.S.] intent to explore further military liaison relationships.”

The liaison officer at the USINDOPACOM is likely to be a Navy officer, while the one at the USSOCOM will probably be an Army officer. “The modalities are still being worked out,” the official said, adding it could fructify by early next year.

The MCG was to have reviewed the decisions taken at the 2+2 dialogue and the recent visit of President Donald Trump to India. Further, it was to follow up on the visit and fast-track the decisions, including that on 24 MH-60R multi-role helicopters, the official said.

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