Dance of death
- The smell of death continues to hang over the Laxmi Nagar slum in Malvani in Mumbai’s western suburbs. The first reports of deaths from spurious liquor came in last week, and over the next four days the toll has crossed 100, making it Maharashtra’s worst such tragedy. In 2004, the death toll in a similar tragedy went up to 87.
- The use of methanol, the highly toxic alcohol, is once again the factor in these deaths. The human scale of the tragedy is shocking. It has killed the chief bread-winners, widowed several women, some as young as 18, and orphaned small children who have no means to survive. Mainkaini Swami alias Akka, the alleged mastermind, runs a bootlegging network, and is on the run. Two of her associates were arrested, but Akka remains elusive. She was arrested five times in the past, but has continued to run the network right under the nose of law enforcement agencies.
- It is tragic that mass deaths among the poor due to illicit liquor consumption is still prevalent. Since 2001, illicit hooch has killed over 700 people across India in 18 recorded incidents. The biggest such tragedy, which killed 180 people in May 2008, was in Karnataka. Then, 170 people were killed in West Bengal in December 2011.
PM reviews progress of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
The Prime Minister of India recently reviewed the progress of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan at a high-level meeting. He also called for each school in the country to plan its own targets, which it aims to achieve by 2022, India’s 75th year of independence.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)
- It is Government of India’s flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner, as mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right.
- It is being implemented in partnership with State Governments to cover the entire country and address the needs of 192 million children in 1.1 million habitations.
- It seeks to open new schools in those habitations which do not have schooling facilities and strengthen existing school infrastructure through provision of additional class rooms, toilets, drinking water, maintenance grant and school improvement grants.
- Existing schools with inadequate teacher strength are provided with additional teachers, while the capacity of existing teachers is being strengthened by extensive training, grants for developing teaching-learning materials and strengthening of the academic support structure at a cluster, block and district level.
- It also seeks to provide quality elementary education including life skills. SSA has a special focus on girl’s education and children with special needs. SSA also seeks to provide computer education to bridge the digital divide.
Maharashtra gets ‘State butterfly’
- Maharashtra has become the first State in the country to have a ‘State butterfly.’
- The state government has declared the Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor) as the State butterfly. The decision was taken at a meeting of the State Wildlife Board.
- No State in India has ever declared a State butterfly.
- The Blue Mormon is a large, swallowtail butterfly found primarily in Sri Lanka and India, mainly restricted to the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, South India and coastal belts. It may occasionally be spotted in the Maharashtrian mainland between Vidarbha and Western Maharashtra.
- It is reportedly the second largest butterfly found in India, just smaller than the southern birdwing.
- Easily identifiable, the Blue Mormon boasts exquisite velvet-like black wings with bright blue spots.
- The butterfly is most common in heavy rainfall areas, such as evergreen forests. Also common in deciduous forests and wooded urban areas, primarily due to the cultivation of its host plants, i.e. the Citrus species.
Nine states asked to 'immediately' implement Forest Rights Act
- The Centre has asked nine state governments to expeditiously implement the Forest Rights Act, which recognizes the rights of scheduled tribes living in the forests for generations.
- Tribal Affairs Secretary Arun Jha has written to the Chief Secretaries of Bihar, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand to implement the act immediately.
- The Tribal Affairs Ministry has also asked these states to set up special cells to monitor the implementation along with setting targets and time-lines for the same.
- The move came in the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi directing the ministry to implement the Act in a campaign mode and give land rights to tribals.
- The Act is aimed at ensuring that forest-dwellers, including Scheduled Tribes, get their rights over forest land and non-timber forest produce.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006
The Act recognises and vests individual forest-dwellers with forest rights to live in and cultivate forest land that was occupied before 13 Dec 2005.
Rights such as
- right to live in forest
- right to self-cultivation for livelihood
- community right to use minor forest produce, grazing, fish and other products of water bodies,
- Right to in situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where they have been illegally evicted or displaced
- Right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resources (although this sounds more like a ‘duty’ than ‘right’!)
Lump sum purpose of the Act
- To grant ownership of those forest lands to tribal dwellers, which were already under cultivation, subject to a maximum of 4 hectares.
- To grant tribal dwellers with the usage rights of minor forest produce, grazing zones etc..
- To grant them with proper resettlement and rehabilitation in case of any kind of necessary eviction (either developmental or for conservation purposes).
- To protect forest and wildlife through community conservation programs.
Reasons behind legislation: A critical analysis.
- In India forests are mainly governed by two laws, The Indian Forest Act (1927)(IFA) and The Wildlife Protection Act(1972). The IFA empowers the government to declare any area as forest (Reserved, Protected or Village) and the WPA empowers the government to constitute any area as protected area (National Park, Sanctuary or Reserve), based on studies, reports and recommendations.
- The IFA aims to bring all forests under the centralized control of forest department and take over the lands and rights of people living over there.
- Before Independence, the justification for the Act was give as necessary step for higher timber yield, Post-independence for nation’s Industrial requirements and in current era as a necessity for conservation.
- Thus by law, a Forest Settlement Officer is supposed to survey and settle the rights of people in the area which is going to be declared forests. To no big surprise, these settlement officers either did nothing or recorded the rights of only those who were powerful.
- As a result, millions of people, mostly tribals were declared encroachers in their own homes. They became vulnerable at any time to extortion, jail, assault or eviction. Those who opposed destruction of forests due to Industries, Mining etc. were jailed or evicted.
- Moreover, the serious concern over conservation and the resultant rehabilitation of tribals was not being addressed properly.
- Thus, there was need for a set of rules which could address the grievances of these troubled forest dwellers in a more comprehensive and better way. The Forest Rights Act aims at re-invigorating the lost confidence of these people in governance, administration, bring them back in the mainstream development process and help them avail their basic fundamental rights, from which they have long been denied, owing to suppression and exploitation.
Controversy and Misinterpretation:
- A huge section of Indian media and Environmentalists protested against the Forest Rights Act when it was first staged for enactment. And the reason was a gross misinterpretation of the provisions.
- It was wrongly interpreted that the FRA intends to entitle the ownership of forest lands to the tribals in huge proportions, which eventually would result in deforestation and will have devastating effects on flora and fauna.
- But it has to be understood that there is no provision for entitlement of new forest lands. Rather to grant ownership of only those lands, which are already under use. (Cultivation, grazing etc.)
- Moreover it gives communities the legal rights to prevent forests and wildlife, instead of destroying them, as presumed.
State Government initiative to make Arunachal an organic state
In a bid to make Arunachal Pradesh a hundred per cent organic state, the State government decided to launch “State Soil Health Mission”.
Details of the programme:
- The programme envisages proper documentation of soil health and preparation of soil map besides, distribution of Soil Health Cards to farmers so that they are guided for scientific nutrient managements.
- The programme aims to check overuse of fertilizers and its adverse effect and help in increase of crop production through its sustainable soil management programme paving way for organic farming.