Friday, December 19, 2008

TN ranked low on environmental sustainability index

19 Dec 2008, 0059 hrs IST, TNN

CHENNAI: In a wake-up call to the state government, a Chennai-based non-profit research institute has ranked Tamil Nadu very low at 22 out of 28
states in the country on an environmental sustainability index (ESI).

The index has been prepared by the Centre for Development Finance (CDF) of the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) based on the environmental performance of states in the country. The ESI shows that the state is at 22nd place in a list that ranks the ability of 28 states to protect their environment in the coming years.

"ESI is an attempt to create a baseline of state's relative position in a sustainable trajectory. It has a strong policy focus and is designed to advocate analytical and empirical foundation for environmental policy making," said Jessica Wallack, director, CDF.

Studying 44 variables clustered into 15 indicators under five policy components to arrive at the ESI, the study reveals that none of the state is on a sustainable trajectory. At the same time, none of the states have performed very poor in all dimensions. Most states have done well in some areas and need to improve a lot in many other issues, the report says.

Shockingly, Tamil Nadu has scored very poorly, compared to other states, in environment governance which includes energy management, people's and government initiatives and curbing down on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, says Rupanwita Dash, the researcher.

The indicators on air and water pollution, waste generation, land use, natural resource endowment, air and water quality, GHG emissions are all in the negative for the state. Even if environment (control) systems were present, the stress on environment was on the rise, Rupanwita points out.

The best performing state in the 2008 ranking is Manipur. followed by Sikkim and Tripura with the lowest ranking states are Punjab, Gujarat and Haryana based on study of parameters like population pressure, stress on environment, environment systems, health vulnerability and environment governance.

At the launch function, Sikkim environment and forest department representative Pradeep Kumar highlighted how the government's laws like those relating to the ban on plastics, use of chemicals in farming and environment cess, had helped in conservation and bring in more money for forestry.

"Political will is essential," he affirmed. Chattisgarh member secretary of environment P V Narasigham Rao said the state was setting an example by finely balancing between industrialisation and ecology by strict monitoring. Meghalaya forest commissioner C D Kynjing said the Centre should create a "green fund" for north-eastern states for increasing forest cover.

Award for green states was given to five select states, who had performed well on various aspects of environmental sustainability, viz., Himachal Pradesh (government's initiative), Manipur (people's initiative), Chattishgarh (least polluted water), Sikkim (conservation of natural resources) and Meghalaya (air quality).


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forest Dept sends delegation to telecom ministry to regularise wireless stations

Shubhlakshmi Shukla Posted: Dec 16, 2008 at 0407 hrs IST

Vadodara: Taking cognisance of an Express Newsline report published in September that pointed to nearly 12 wildlife and social forest circles in the state using wireless and base stations without operating licences, the Forest Department has sent a delegation from the forest vigilance department to the Ministry of Telecommunication, Delhi. All Division Forest Officers (DFOs) have been instructed to be in touch with the MoT to expedite the process of regularising wireless stations, according to forest officials.

Gujarat Forest Minister Mangu Patel said: “After the report was published around two months ago, forest officials were sent to the MoT. We have also taken the initiative to contact all forest officials on this issue.”

Chief Conservator of Forest, Vigilance Department, Rajeeva said: “All Forest officials have been asked to fill an online registration form and specify the details on the number of new wireless sets purchased and for how many years they have been using the same. They are also required to give a contact number of the concerned authority to guide them on the issue.”


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sadhus frown upon Modi’s ‘priestly’ act at Dwarka temple

Sibte Husain Bukhari
Posted: Dec 14, 2008 at 0030 hrs IST

Junagadh Sadhus of Junagadh have raised eye-brows over Chief Minister Narendra Modi conducting a religious ceremony at the Dwarkadhish Temple in Dwarka on Friday. According to a section of sadhus, it is the exclusive right of the Shankaracharya or Brahmins to perform religious rites at the temple and politicians should have nothing to do with them.

The sadhus also said that the sanctity of the temple is violated when politicians perform religious ceremonies. On Friday, Modi had participated in a religious ceremony to install a golden throne specially made for Lord Krishna, which was donated by a devotee.

Mahant Gopalanand, president, All India Sadhu Samaj (Gujarat Chapter), said, “Some ceremonies are exclusively conducted by the Shankaracharya or Brahmin priests. No other person is allowed to perform them. If politicians perform those ceremonies, then it violates the temple’s sanctity and the spiritual environment. Politicians should not cross certain limits. They should concentrate more on their work.”

Gopalanand further said that instead of taking a keen interest in developing the religious places, they are interfering in holy ceremonies. “They have not given permission to carry out repair work at a temple in Dwarka. Besides, a grant of Rs 15 crore sanctioned for various developmental work in the Girnar region has been idle since long,” he added. The Mahant has appealed to the people to raise their voices against Modi’s act.


Cloning: saving the endangered species

By having exploited the earth’s resources in unbridled manner, for our needs (and greed), we have placed the numbers and very existence of several other life forms in jeopardy. We have aggrandized more land, used up more water, exploited more plants and animals, and produced more waste (much of which will not go away).

This has upset nature’s fragile equilibrium. One direct result of this is the endangerment of some life forms. A few examples are the Amazon rain forest, the panda, the great apes, cheetah, Asiatic lion and even the common Indian vulture. Some such as the dodo bird and the great American bison have been lost forever.
The folly

Fortunately, realization of the folly has dawned on us, even if late in the day. And several groups and international agencies are putting together contingency plans using new ideas of resurrection. Advances in biology in the last decades have come into use in this welcome move.

How does one repopulate an endangered species? By making more of them using the biological steps involved in reproduction. The method of in vitro fertilization (making test tube babies) is one such. Indeed, it has become so standard by now that it is hard to believe that it was only thirty years ago that Drs. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards helped produce Louise Brown, the first test tube human baby.

With animals, we have gone one step ahead. In order to produce Louise, it was necessary to fuse her father’s genes (in his sperm) with her mother’s (in her egg) and place the fertilized egg back in the mother’s womb.

And when Louise was born, most of the cells in her body (barring some special ones) had the genetic contents of both her parents in the cell nucleus. In this sense, each such ‘somatic’ cell has all the genetic contents of the fertilized egg. It has the biology of the father and the mother in it.

Here is a thought experiment. Let us first take an unfertilized egg, remove its nuclear contents, and place in it the entire genetic material from a somatic cell.

Now let us place this egg in the womb of the ‘would-be’ mother and produce the baby. The baby so born will be genetically identical to the individual from whose cell we took the genes to place the empty egg.

The baby is thus the clone of that individual; and the latter is both the father and mother of the baby! The one who provided the egg is then the ‘surrogate’ mother.

This is the experiment that Dr Ian Wilmut of Edinburgh did in his lab when he produced Dolly the baby sheep.

In this case, the somatic cell came from a sheep (let us call her Holly), and the egg that was emptied came from another (Molly).

Holly’s nuclear material was placed in Molly’s donated egg, and this was placed in the womb of a surrogate (Polly?) and, in time, out came Dolly. She came out of a process that biologists call somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT.
An idea born

Here then is born the idea of cloning animals. What if we take carefully stored tissues and cells from animals long since extinct, or currently endangered, and do a Dolly on them? The devil is of course in the details — the way the tissue has been stored.

The genetic material in the tissue or cell should be intact, and not degraded and decomposed. Museum and archival samples are fine as long as they satisfy this condition.
Recent work

Recent work from the RIKEN Centre in Kobe, Japan shows that cloning is possible from cells of dead mice that had been frozen in a – 80 degree Centigrade deep freezer for 16 years!

Writing in PNAS (US) earlier this month, Teruhiko Wakayama and associates describe how they had taken material from the brain tissue of mice, did a SCNT into an emptied mouse egg and generated baby mice.

They also note that it was easiest to create clones from brain cells, presumably since brain tissue is rich in sugars, which protect cells from damage during freezing and thawing.

Close on the heels of this comes another cloning, this one on the endangered species called the Amami rabbit. Called a living fossil, these rabbits, once abundant in Japan, have been decimated by killer dogs and hunter men.

Cloning in this case was done using the ear cells of an Amami rabbit and transferring its nucleus into the emptied egg of an ordinary rabbit. The scientists expect the cloned Amami baby to arrive by mid-December.

Given these encouraging results, it should be possible to clone several endangered species, and the Hyderabad-based Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) will surely attempt to add this method as well, to its battery of techniques in assisted reproduction. They have the ability and the commitment to do so.

The technology raises important, and troubling, issues when we turn to humans. Would it be useful to clone and bring to life a Neanderthal? Or even a highly admired and revered homo sapiens?



How sleuths using forensic science cracked killings of 10 Gir lions

December 16th, 2008 - 10:22 am ICT by IANS -

Ahmedabad, Dec 16 (IANS) It was a macabre serial crime. Ten killings in over a month and the killers had melted away in the darkness of the dense jungle. But a dogged Criminal Investigation Department of Gujarat Police that probed the killings of 10 Gir lions was able to crack their first wildlife case, using conventional forensic methods, and nab the criminals.In early 2007, in a span of 35 days 10 lions were killed in three different incidents in the sprawling Gir wildlife sanctuary in western India. “Only two claws were recovered,” says Keshav Kumar, Inspector General of Police, Prisons, who prosecuted the case.

“After a lacklustre probe by the forest department, the CID Crime was called and I was asked to head the probe,” Kumar, who had served for four long years in CID Crime, told IANS.

“There were many firsts to the case. It was a wildlife crime investigation case that was given to the police CID Crime to investigate. None of the accused was released on bail until conviction - a national record as in most wildlife crime cases bail is granted within 15 days,” said Kumar.

In October, 20 people, including three women, were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment along with Rs.10,000 fine each for poaching lions in the Gir forest of Gujarat.

It was a rare conviction for wildlife crime in India by the court of a Senior Division Judicial Magistrate First Class of Junagadh.

Speaking to IANS about his experiences in handling the wildlife crime, Kumar said, “When I began I knew nothing about wildlife crime though I had 23 years’ expertise in solving conventional crimes with orthodox police training. I therefore sought the help of wildlife crime investigation experts, wildlife NGOs and expert help from the forensic lab.”

“It was then that I contacted Belinda Wright, who heads the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). She told me to focus on hazel-eyed Baheliyas, a tribal community of Madhya Pradesh, that specializes in poaching activities at an all India level.”

“But how was I to recognise a Baheliya? Belinda told me that foul smell emanated from these people as they rarely took bath and usually pitched tents on the roadside selling exotic herbs. Their womenfolk looked different in ghaghras (full length skirts). She said they hid their instruments in potholes dug behind the tents,” Kumar said.

“My early focus was in Junagadh and my team picked up 55 suspects in the Junagadh Range… It was also for the first time that blood splatter analysis was done to reconstruct the scene of crime,” Kumar said.

He was given a full forensic team and deputy director who camped with him in the jungle for 15 days. It soon paid off.

“From Baheliya women in custody we found two lion claws. There was lion blood in the finger nails of their menfolk. The claws, the clothes and other things were sent to the forensic lab. I prepared the case systematically,” Kumar said.

As the case progressed the defence wanted bail on grounds of the accused being very poor.

“Baheliyas are known to jump bail and they cannot be traced as they are nomads,” Supreme Court lawyer Sudhir Mishra, appointed legal consultant for the case, told the apex court.

“I too pointed to the court that lion’s blood was found on the finger nails of the Baheliyas and further investigation is on, including polygraph and narco-analysis. The bail was cancelled. It was for the first time all lower courts and session courts had rejected their bail applications,” Kumar said.

Why did the culprits, who included the notorious Circus Lal of Madhya Pradesh, go for lions instead of tigers? “This is the first known case in India in which the lions were hunted for trade. Tigers are the first preference as each part of it is highly valuable. But with tigers disappearing, the poachers thought that lions would have to do, and secondly it is difficult to differentiate the parts of the two species,” Kumar said.

“The tools of conventional forensic methods were used for the first time in wildlife crime and it is Kumar who deserves full credit ultimately in cracking the case,” Samir Sinha, country head of Traffic India, which is part of WWF Delhi, told IANS.

Discussing another wildlife case, he said the Karnataka government had recently held one Prabhakar and seized from him Rs.12.5 million worth of tiger skins, claws and teeth. A fortnight before that, a notorious smuggler Shabbir Hassan Qureshi was apprehended by the Uttar Pradesh police from Lucknow and 17 tiger skins and 100 tiger bones, worth Rs.20 million, were recovered. A team went from Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh.

Qureshi, who was nabbed Nov 25, was interestingly booked under the Money Laundering Act along with the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

“Unlike the Wildlife Act, fixing Shabbir Hassan Qureshi under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) was quick and effective as it involved only paper work,” said Rajeshwar, assistant director in the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Lucknow.

Speaking to IANS from Lucknow, Rajeshwar said it was a new dimension to book an accused of wildlife crimes also under the PMLA. “PMLA results in faster conviction in almost 100 percent cases,” he said.


79 Asiatic lions die in past two years

New Delhi, Dec 11 (PTI) At least 79 Asiatic lions have died in Gir forest alone in Gujarat in the last two years since 2006, Environment minister S Reghupathy told the Lok Sabha.
According to Reghupathy, while 24 lions died in 2006, another 55 died in 2007. Out of the total deaths, as many as 50 died due to natural reasons such as old age while 13 animals died accidentally felling into wells in the area during the two years, he said.

The Minister, who was replying to a written question, said in 2007, six cases of electrocution and eight poaching incidents were also reported.

"As per information received from the state government, the population of Asiatic lion, based on the census carried out in 2005, is approximately 359 in Brihat Gir region of Gujarat," Reghupathy added.

The Minister said as part of its effort to protect the animal, the state government has taken several steps such as augmenting manpower, increased mobility of staff by providing motorcycles and other vehicles, better communication between the personnel and gathering support of local residents. PTI


Lions likely to get second home in Barda Sanctuary

Ahmedabad (PTI): After refusing to give lions for relocation at Kuno-Palpur Sanctuary of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat Government is setting up a prey base in Barda Wildlife Sanctuary in a plan to give a second home to Asiatic lions within the state, after Gir.

Though the talks of relocation of Asiatic Lions in Barda has been going on for years, but by increasing prey base in the 192.31 sq kms Barda protected forest area in Porbandar district, the forest department seems to be serious this time.

The forest department has recently released a number of Chitals (spotted deer) and Sambars (common Asian deer) in the Barda sanctuary after making them accustomed to climate of the sanctuary. The long term plan is to relocate lions to give them a second home, officials of the sanctuary said.

At present, the only home of the last surviving Asiatic Lions is Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park in Junagadh and Amreli districts of the state, where as per the last survey of 2005, there were 359 lions.

State forest department officials said in the long term, the plan was to relocate lions from Gir to Barda Wildlife Sanctuary.

"We are at present increasing the prey base in Barda," Principal Conservator of Forest of Gujarat Pradeep Khanna said, neither denying not acknowledging the plans of relocation of lions to Barda.