Mumbai: Miyawaki forests flourishing

The BMC’s controversial Miyawaki urban forest project silently gathered evidence of its success during the lockdown. In the past six months, saplings have turned into mid-size trees, surprising even the activists who had raised a din over the civic body spending Rs.35 crore on planting trees in open spaces.

In December 2019, former municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi had appointed contractors to plant saplings using the Miyawaki concept in around 61 open spaces across the city. Opposition parties and some activists had claimed that this would further reduce city’s open spaces. Some others had criticised the BMC for undertaking such an expensive project in the midst of a severe fund crunch.

Six months down the line, Colaba woods, the 358 Tenement in Worli and expansive tracts in Malad and D-ward (near Priyadarshini Park) are some of the 100 budding urban forests that bear testimony to Pardeshi’s conviction. Pardeshi said the BMC had planted sustainable local species, and by next year there will be “more green emeralds” for Mumbai. “I had undertaken such projects in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad as well. Now it’s mandatory for all private developers with plots over 4,000 sq mt,” he said.

Pioneered by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, the technique ensures 10 times faster plant growth, resulting in 30 times denser plantation. The method has also been extensively used in and around Bangalore by corporate firms .

Activist Zoru Bhathena said it is a great initiative and more such plantations must be undertaken. Environmentalist D Stalin of NGO Vanashakti also lauded increasing the city’s green cover. “But it can’t compensate for a natural forest. It is an urban greening project,” he said.

Environmentalist Debi Goenka also feels it’s a novel approach to maximise the density of trees and increase oxygen levels. “It also makes for a good barrier against air pollution and noise pollution,” he said.

Believing that Mumbai’s open spaces deserve to be turned into mini forests, Bittu Sahgal of Sanctuary Nature Foundation said, “Our lives can be filled with bird song instead of traffic pollution and car horns. This is critical to the future of our children and will help Mumbai stay ready in the age of climate change.”

Vizag gas leak: 12 LG Polymers officials arrested

A day after an expert panel submitted its report on the styrene gas leakage accident at LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam, police arrested 12 officials of the company – among them the CEO and two directors.

Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police Gautam Sawang confirmed the arrests, and said three senior government officials had also been suspended for dereliction of duty. One of the suspended officials is from the factories department and two from the pollution control board.

The expert committee, headed by senior IAS officer Neerabh Kumar Prasad, found fault with the management for a variety of lapses, including ignoring a preliminary warning from the styrene storage tank, failure of all 36 sirens in the plant, and poor training of staff dealing with the tanks.

The expert committee also favoured relocation of the company from its current location at RR Venkatapuram to some other place.

Twelve people died and more than 580 were hospitalised following the styrene gas leakage in the early hours of May 7.


Galwan Valley: Disengagement

Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Ladakh and several high-level engagements with China, Indian Army sources said that Chinese troops have withdrawn by at least a kilometre from the disputed region in the Galwan Valley and two other points of conflict along the Line of Actual Control. Sources said that the Chinese have begun retreating from Indian territory and temporary structures and tents built by them have also been removed.

Army sources said that it has been confirmed after verification that the ‘disengagement with China’s People’s Liberation Army has started as per agreed terms in the Corps Commander’s meeting.’ The Chinese troops were seen removing tents and structures at the site of the deadly Galwan Valley clash in which 20 Indian soldiers died, and also in two other conflict areas at Hot Springs and Gogra. Officials said that there is indication that China has begun de-escalating from the Fingers region of Galwan. India too has removed its structures from the river-bend embankment creating a buffer zone.

The move comes a day after talks were held between special representatives of India and China on Sunday. Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor of India and Wang Yi, Chinese State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a telephonic conversation had a ‘frank and in-depth exchange of views on the recent developments in the western sector of the India-China border areas’, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Monday.

The two special representatives agreed that ‘both sides should take guidance from the consensus of the leaders that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas was essential for the further development of our bilateral relations and that two sides should not allow differences to become disputes.’ “Therefore, they agreed that it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity. In this regard they further agreed that both sides should complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC expeditiously,” an official statement by the MEA read.

It was also agreed that both the sides should ensure a ‘phased and stepwise de-escalation’ along the border and that they should ‘strictly respect and observe’ the LAC and not take any ‘unilateral action to alter the status quo and work together to avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquillity in border areas.’ Diplomatic and military officials of the two sides are expected to continue their discussions, including under the framework of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC), and implement the understandings reached in a timely manner to achieve the above outcomes.

China’s official spokesperson in the Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian confirmed the developments in a simultaneous statement in Beijing. “Troops are taking effective measures to disengage and ease the tensions,” Lijian said.

India's Population Profile

India’s population profile reflects a gradual but significant transition over the last 50 years that is evident in a decline in the share of population of those under 14 years from 41.2% in 1971 to 25.9% in 2018 and the share of the elderly (60+) going up from 5.3% to 8.1% during the same period on account of better health facilities leading to increase in life expectancy.

The Sample Registration System Statistical Report 2018 data released by the Registrar General of India shows that at the national level, 25.9% of the population was below 15 years in 2018 (27.5% in rural areas and 22.6% in urban areas).

Share of population below 15 years of age in rural areas varies from 19.8% in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to 34.8 in Bihar. In urban areas, it varies from 17.9 in Jammu & Kashmir to 29.6 in Bihar.

As far as the composition of the elderly population goes, the elderly female population is higher than males in all the bigger states except Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Odisha and Telangana. In rural areas, population in the age group 60+ constitutes 8% of the total population and variation in aged population ranges from 6% in Bihar to significantly high 13.3% in Kerala. The proportion of elderly population in urban areas is 8.3%.

As per the percentage distribution of population by age group in 2018, the population for 0-4 years age group was estimated to be 8%—8.6% for 5-9 years and 9.3% for 10-14 years. In the age-group 0-14 years, male population is about one percent more than female population, whereas in the older age groups—15-59 years and those above 60 years— the percentage of female population was more than that of males by a range of 0.5 to 0.6 percentage points.

Those between 15-19 years accounted for 10.2% and 10.8% were between 20-24 years. Those between 25-29 years accounted for 10.1%.

The elderly female population is higher than males in all large states except Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, J&K, Odisha and Telangana


India may see trade surplus after 18 years

India may register its first monthly trade surplus in over 18 years in June as the pace of contraction of exports is estimated to have slowed down to around 12%, while imports are seen to have fallen almost 49% during the month.

Initial estimates for June, available with the commerce department, show a trade surplus of around $786 million, with imports pegged at $21.1 billion and exports at $21.9 billion. The last time India had a positive balance on the trade account was in January 2002 when it had a surplus of $10 million with exports of $4.3 billion.

On Friday, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal had said that exports in June 2020 had touched 88% of June 2019 level due to unlocking of the economy and resumption of activity. The latest numbers, which will be officially released on July 15, indicated that the pace of export contraction has moderated as industries opened up (see graphic).

Policy makers, however, said that the overall pace will pick up as there is greater unlocking. Even now, given the fast growth in the number of Covid-19 cases, businesses are not fully open and discretionary spending has remained weak due to the adverse sentiment. Several sectors, including iron ore, which may have gone to China, food products such as rice, other cereals, fruits and vegetables and oil seeds reported healthy growth, the initial data shared by customs authorities showed.

But imports remain an area of concern, as it is a barometer of overall economic activity. The initial numbers suggest that the sharp decline in imports was led by gold, silver and precious & semiprecious stones, which are also linked to exports. During crises, demand for jewellery drops significantly as people look to conserve cash. Similarly, the value of oil imports was down over 55% due to a fall in global crude prices.

Imports related to the textiles sector — including cotton, fabric and made-ups — are also down sharply along with transport equipment, chemicals, iron & steel, machine tools and electronics, indicating a slump in economic activity. Some of it may also have had to do with customs going slow on clearances at ports towards the end of the month.

Covid-19: India becomes third worst-hit country

India went past Russia on Sunday to become the third worst-hit nation by the Covid-19 pandemic with the country’s tally of infections crossing 6.90 lakh, according to Worldometer.

Only the US and Brazil are ahead of India in terms of total corona virus infections.

Russia has 6,81,251 infections while Brazil has 15,78,376 and the US has 29,54,999 cases, according to Worldometer which compiles the Covid-19 data from around the globe.

According to a PTI tally, India’s Covid-19 case load soared to 6,90,349 while the death toll climbed to 19,683.

However, the Johns Hopkins University in the United States, which has also been compiling Covid-19 data from all over the world, put Russia’s infection tally at 6,80,283 and India’s 6,73,165, which is the official figure updated at 8 am.

The health ministry data updated at 8 am showed a record single-day surge of 24,850 coronavirus infections and 613 fatalities pushing India's total number of cases to 6,73,165 and the death toll to 19,268 on Sunday.

The country has registered over 20,000 Covid-19 cases for the third day in a row.

With a steady rise, the number of recoveries stands at 4,09,082 in the country while one patient has migrated. There are 2,44,814 active coronavirus cases in the country, the data at 8 am showed.

The number of recovered cases exceeded that of the active cases by 1,64,268 as of Sunday, the health ministry said.

“Thus, 60.77 per cent of the patients have recovered so far,” it said.


India alters template of ties with expansionist China

India has significantly rewritten the longstanding premise of its relationship with China. For years, the bilateral relationship centred around an essential delinking of the boundary — seen as ‘managing’ tensions along the LAC — from the larger relationship of trade, investment and increased diplomatic ties.

Agreements from 1993 onwards built on protocols for maintaining “peace and tranquillity” on a boundary that is not demarcated, allowing each side to largely patrol its established lines. This allowed other parts of the relationship to move forward, despite doubts and suspicion that lay beneath. This was followed by all governments from Rajiv Gandhi to Narendra Modi. It was held up as a template to Pakistan that India and China could be mature enough to go ahead with the rest of their relationship and insulate the boundary dispute.

China’s heightened aggression and the Galwan clashes has undone that template. PM Narendra Modi’s remarks in Leh on Friday sharpened the reversal of that policy, the first inkling of which was evident in the scrutiny of Chinese investments and the political underpinning of the “self-reliant India” campaign.

When he slammed “ vistar vaad” (expansionism) in his remarks to Indian troops, Modi directly addressed China, without once referring to it by name. “In the past centuries, expansionism has done the greatest harm to humanity, even tried to destroy humanity… history is witness that such forces have been erased or forced to turn back,” he said.

The bilateral relationship will now depend not on trade and summitry but on the boundary being respected and resolved. In a sense, we’re back to the India-Pakistan situation of 2000 when former US President Bill Clinton warned against redrawing boundaries “in blood” and urged respect for the LoC.

Former ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale said, “By changing the status quo on the ground and bringing in huge numbers of troops along with armour and artillery, China is responsible for breaking the peace. Hence, she is responsible for all that has happened on the LAC.”

China fired the first shot — by intruding into Indian territory, instigating the clashes in Galwan that killed 20 Indian soldiers and claiming territory it had not earlier. India has now indicated that it will take its own series of steps in retaliation. Modi’s visit seemed to indicate that India is willing to pay the costs of escalation.

Modi’s visit to a Leh hospital to meet injured soldiers is equally significant in light of the fact that China is yet to acknowledge its dead or injured soldiers. Incidentally, this is not the first time Modi has targeted China over its “expansionist” nature. In 2014, on his first visit to Japan after taking over as PM, Modi excoriated “expansionist” moves by countries encroaching on others’ seas, a reference then to China moving into Japanese territory in the East China Sea.

“We have to decide if we want to have ‘vikas vaad’ (development) or ‘vistar vaad’ (expansionism). Those who follow the path of Buddha and have faith in ‘vikas vaad’, they develop. Those with ideas of the 18th century, engage in encroachments,” Modi had said. Six years on, his message is the same, the target is same, only the theatre is different.