Facing green hurdles, Rio Tinto pulls out of diamond mine in MP

The Indian Express, 19 August 2016

Asked to explore the possibility of underground mining and wait until the Ken-Betwa river linking project was finalised, mining giant Rio Tinto on Friday decided to close its Rs 2,200-crore diamond mine project in Madhya Pradesh.
“As part of its ongoing efforts to drive shareholder value by conserving cash and cutting costs further, Rio Tinto has decided to not proceed with development of its Bunder project in India. Accordingly, we will be seeking to close all project infrastructure by the end of year 2016,” Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited said in a statement emailed to The Indian Express.

It is a setback for the Madhya Pradesh government as Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan had himself pushed for the statutory clearances required for the project. The diamond mine was expected to yield Rs 2,058 crore and Rs 208 crore towards royalty and taxes, respectively, to the state once excavation began.
Rio Tinto, say company sources in India, has already invested over Rs 400 crore on prospecting etc and hired more than 300 people at the project site. “Rio Tinto will offer a fair and equitable Voluntary Severance Scheme to contractors employed at the project site,” the company’s Indian arm said in the statement. 
The country’s first private diamond mining project was red-flagged for undermining the wildlife corridor between the Panna Tiger Reserve and the Navardehi Wildlife Sanctuary. This July, a report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority said that the project “has the potential to disrupt tiger dispersal around Panna landscape”.
Accordingly, the environment ministry sought to limit mining only to 76.43 hectares out of the total 971 hectare project. In a letter to the state government on August 10, the ministry further conveyed that surface extraction “would entail greater extent of forest land use leading to permanent loss of the high quality forest areas” and “the project proponent may also explore the possibility of underground (mining)”.
As per government records, the estimated deposit of diamond at the site is 34.2 million carat. While pulling out of the project, Rio Tinto has reiterated that “the Bunder deposit is a high-quality discovery” and offered to help the state and the Union government in finding a “third-party investor to carry forward the development of the project”.
Madhya Pradesh granted reconnaissance permit to Rio Tinto for diamond mining in Chhatarpur’s Bunder area in 2004. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government signed a support agreement with the company in 2010 and subsequently issued a letter of intent for a 30-year lease in 2012. Indian Bureau of Mines approved the mining plan in 2013 and the project is awaiting forest clearance since 2014.

Machli: Death of a tiger legend

The Indian Express, 18 August 2016

Machli alias, T16 alias, the Lady of the Lake. The tiger legend is dead. Finally. The news has shocked tiger lovers across the globe. But to many, it has also come as a relief. Because it also put an end to the pathetic spectacle of an amazing wild tiger being reduced to a living relic.
Without the tethered baits the forest department provided her for the last seven years, Machli would have long been dead. There was a reason however, that the majority in the wildlife fraternity were desperate not to lose her.
As tigers disappeared from Rajasthan with poachers striking at will in the first half of the last decade, the very sight of Machli — strolling, stalking, ambushing, still raising more cubs or just minding her own business — was one of the few reassuring constants.
The once reigning queen of the three majestic lakes beneath the craggy fort at the heart of Ranthambore, Machli was indeed a very special cat. The envy of every single mother, she raised nine cubs in four litters between 2000 and 2008. Every day, hundreds of tourists scoured the forest to seek her out. Every year, thousands of pilgrims walked all over her territory on their way to Ranthambore’s Ganesh temple. The fiercely protective mother always held her nerve.
Machli’s courage and determination make her a remarkable survivor. She repeatedly took on deadly marsh crocodiles bigger than herself and overcame them. Even after those mortal combats cost her two canines, she continued to hunt successfully and went on to raise five cubs in two litters.
As her legend grew, Machli became the biggest and the best advertisement for tiger conservation. In 2009, when she was awarded for lifetime achievement, it was rather conservatively estimated that she had generated $10 million for the local economy through tourism. Millions of tourists on Machli pilgrimages have visited Ranthambhore since.
But that was not her biggest miracle.
Almost single-handedly, Machli steered India’s fragile westernmost population of tigers through an ominous decade. Her bloodline has produced at least 50 tigers in Ranthambhore, including her own nine cubs from three males, and two other females sent to repopulate Sariska.
Against all odds, Machli raised her fourth litter at the ripe age of 11 and without two canines. Eight years on, all Machli had was half a canine, a little patch of her once vast territory, and some of her indomitable spirit. While she still made occasional kills, the forest department fed her under public glare.
Machli’s last years added to her legend but she had long stopped serving any purpose in nature’s scheme of things which does not allow an old unproductive individual to hang on and waste finite resources. Yet, we kept Machli alive because it gave us an emotional and moral high.
Machli’s life taught us that given an opportunity, a single cat can turn a wild population around. Her death should make us realise that by not letting her go, we probably made it a little more difficult for her successors to do a Machli.
Now that the legend is dead, young tigresses will follow in her pug marks and hopefully rival her many feats. If they succeed, let’s vow not to do a Machli on them once they are done being wild tigers.

Amid a popular show of support for the big cat, three things India could pledge this Tiger Day

The Indian Express, 29 July 2016

July 29 was designated as the International Tiger Day at the Global Tiger Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 2010. This is an annual event when NGOs and forest authorities host celebrities and school children — and media invites experts — to create awareness about tiger conservation.
Today, tiger enthusiasts can walk a mile under golden-black banners, adopt a tiger for as little as $55, or just pray for Jai, the alpha male gone missing in Maharashtra. The new option is to click a selfie with a tiger sculpture or photo — a tourism promotion concept probably inspired by the bizarre spectacle of safari tourists presenting their back to wild tigers and twisting themselves into knots in pursuit of that ultimate frame.
While walking, donating, praying or posing for the tiger today, it may also be worth noting that this Tiger Day follows a few startling developments.

It is entirely coincidental that Parliament cleared the CAMPA Bill yesterday and — barring the minister’s assurance — there is nothing in it to benefit the traditional forest dwellers, the natural custodians of tigers. Instead, the huge funds may well trigger mindless afforestation drives, destroying rootstocks and even standing community forests to further imperil both.
Instead of squandering the bulk of Rs 41,000-crore booty in leaky plantation drives that have been chronic failures, India can pump that money into protecting existing forests and corridors (they regenerate given a chance), into securing the future of all endangered species including the 16 that demand urgent attention (and were never allocated even Rs 100 crore in all), into empowering forest communities as custodians of local wilderness.
That is the first thing India could pledge this Tiger Day.
If this day is about securing the big cat’s habitat, the second imperative is to designate no-go forest areas. India needs to exit the paradigm that allows destruction of wilderness for monetary compensation. We do not allow destruction of heritage buildings on the ground that the evicted would do just as well in plastic tents provided by builders. Plantations can never ‘compensate’ the loss of long-standing natural forests and time we accept it as a policy.
And if this day is about raising awareness, the third thing we should do is hold NGOs and governments accountable. For a start, officials must stop blaming every tiger death to in-fighting and start accepting that poaching can happen under anybody’s watch. Tigers are not suicidal and no system is crime-proof.
While the social media is abuzz with Jai’s disappearance, the absence of an individual tiger doesn’t matter in conservation. But we need to ask how did the impossible happen? How did a collared tiger tracked 24×7 under a Rs 1-crore research project go missing without alerting anyone?
Hundreds of crores of foreign and Indian (including government) funds are spent on sundry projects on conflict mitigation, awareness drives or monitoring through different NGOs. We need to ask how NGOs implementing the same projects using identical templates end up submitting drastically different financial accounts. We can’t have only volunteers saving the tiger — it is time to guard against plain profiteering.
This Tiger Day, India will also do well to hit at the foundation of this symbolism. Conservation as an elitist fad has never worked. The engagement of forest communities — not as photo props but as the lead partner — can make the next Tiger Day a little more meaningful.
The other part of the symbolism — using the tiger as the mascot — is perhaps inevitable. The cultural impact of the striped cat is unparalleled. We may not be able save everything in saving the tiger. But if we fail even the all-important tiger, chances are we will not be able save much else.

Consultations seek the ‘correct picture’ on upper Ganga dams

The Indian Express, 27 July 2016

To dam or not to dam? That was the question asked by the Supreme Court soon after floods and landslides devastated Uttarakhand in 2013. The Environment Ministry set up an expert committee, and subsequently told the court in December 2014 that dams had exacerbated the 2013 disaster.
A year and a half later, the Ministry of Water Resources in an affidavit last month also opposed construction of any more dams on the Ganga and its tributaries in Uttarakhand. This consensus should have settled the issue. But the Environment Ministry had, meanwhile, changed its 2014 position.
So, two days ahead of the crucial hearing scheduled in the Supreme Court on July 13, counsel for the Union of India wrote to the Court Registrar and sought “an adjournment by 12 weeks to enable the Government of India to carry out inter-ministerial consultations for arriving at a common policy framework as the matter involves three ministries”. The third Ministry being Power.
Consequently, the case was not listed for hearing on July 13.
By all indications, “arriving at a common policy framework” seems like a laboured euphemism for what is likely to be a three-month effort at justifying a foregone conclusion in favour of more hydel projects in Uttarakhand.
Soon after it criticised dams in December 2014, the Environment Ministry was told at a meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office in January 2015 that it was “necessary to place the correct picture regarding the critical need of the projects in Uttarakhand for green power and for livelihoods before the court”.
The PMO also set a one-month deadline for the Environment Ministry to finalise the clearance norms for the dams in coordination with the Power Ministry and the Uttarakhand government.
So, in February 2015, the Environment Ministry contradicted its second expert panel’s recommendations by telling the Supreme Court that the six hydel projects — which were earlier struck down by the apex court in the aftermath of the 2013 disaster — were “worthy of clearance”. To justify the volte face, the Ministry set up yet another expert panel in June.
Around this time, Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti joined the fray and asked the Central Water Commission to oppose the construction of new dams, as the existing ones were already a challenge to the ongoing river cleaning mission.
To bridge differences, an inter-ministerial group (IMG) was formed in November 2015 with the Ministers of Environment, Water Resources and Power as its members. If the brief was to build a consensus in favour of the “correct picture” suggested by the PMO, Bharti didn’t oblige.
In an email to then Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on January 5, 2016 — the day the Environment Ministry shared its draft affidavit with other IMG members — Bharti pointed out that she was “unable to understand how the policy decision of the government as stated in the draft affidavit was arrived (at)” because an inter-ministerial committee under the Secretary, Water Resources, was yet to file its report.
Disregarding Bharti’s objections, the Environment Ministry, however, went ahead and submitted its affidavit before the Supreme Court, recommending five of the six stalled projects. Further, referring to a consensus on the Ganga’s water requirement arrived at a conference held in Haridwar in 1916, the affidavit proposed to clear any hydel project that did not take the natural flow of the river below 1,000 cusecs.
However, based on media reports of Bharti’s objections that were brought to its notice, the apex court asked both Power and Water Resources to file their own affidavits. In May, the Power Ministry obliged, backing the Environment Ministry’s January 2016 affidavit in favour of hydel projects.
In its affidavit submitted last month, the Water Resources Ministry, however, referred to the recommendations of various expert committees set up by the Environment Ministry in the past to conclude that “any further projects will have a substantial impact… leading to severe damage for the fresh water resources base” and “if the origin of the Ganga is compromised, then the rejuvenation of the river will be impossible”.
Underlining the need to review clearances accorded to various hydel projects, the affidavit asked for a cumulative study “of all the projects for assessing the cascade formation as well as the natural flow of the river”. It also cautioned that the “region around these projects is located in the geologically unstable and seismically active area” and any mishap “will have a devastating effect on the people, flora and fauna and on the entire eco-system”.
These concerns echo the conclusions drawn by the Environment Ministry in its affidavit filed on December 5, 2014: “…Large & small hydro power projects on the Ganga & her tributaries all over the Himalayas are a threat to the aviral dhara of the Ganga. The absence of this is leading to a serious threat to the biodiversity of the Himalayan ecology… anthropogenic activities (have) also led to massive over-exploitation of the local environment, thereby loosening the top soil and making the region susceptible to landslides and flash floods.”
It seems odd that the government should be caught trying to bypass the collective wisdom and scientific insights of its own expert committees that formed the basis of two affidavits, filed 17 months apart by two different Ministries, but were united in their recommendations. Minister Bharti would be counting on the new incumbent in the Environment Ministry, Anil Madhav Dave, her former aide from Madhya Pradesh and fellow river conservationist, to back her through the “inter-ministerial consultation”.

Environment Ministry’s rules for polluters in India, copied word for word from the US

The Ministry notified and put up the draft on its website on May 10, inviting public feedback over a two-month window.

More than three quarters of the Environment Ministry’s Environment Supplement Plan (ESP) — around 2,900 words of the 3,850-word draft — is a direct lift from the Supplemental Environmental Projects Policy (SEP) document adopted by the United States in March 2015.
The draft notification proposes to allow those who go ahead with project work without prior environmental clearance under Environment Impact Assessment Notification (EIA), 2006 to “remediate the damage caused” and compensate by implementing the ESP. Under existing laws, these are criminal offences punishable with imprisonment.
The Ministry notified and put up the draft on its website on May 10, inviting public feedback over a two-month window.

Consider these substantive samples of the cut-paste that became the notification:
— US (Introduction A): Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) is an environmentally beneficial project or activity that is not required by law, but that a defendant agrees to undertake as part of the settlement of an enforcement action.
India (Clause 1): An Environmental Supplemental Plan (ESP) is an environmentally beneficial project or activity that is not required by law, but that an alleged violator of Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 agrees to undertake as part of the process of environmental clearance.
— US (II D): SEPs provide defendants with an opportunity to develop and demonstrate new technologies that may prove more protective of human health and the environment than existing processes and procedures.
India (4 iii): Innovative Technology: Environmental Supplemental Plan will provide the proponent and the Expert Group with an opportunity to develop and demonstrate new technologies that may prove more protective of human health and the environment than existing processes and procedures.
— US (IV A III): The project must demonstrate that it is designed to reduce:
a. The likelihood that similar violations will occur in the future;
b. The adverse impact to public health and/or the environment to which the violation at issue contributes; or,
c. The overall risk to public health and/or the environment potentially affected by the violation at issue.
India (5): The project must demonstrate that it is designed to remediate the ecological damage caused due to violations and it will reduce,
a. The likelihood that similar violations will occur in the future;
b. The adverse impact to public health and the environment to which the violation at issue contributes;
c. The overall risk to public health and the environment potentially affected by the violation at issue.
— US (X B): With regard to the SEP, Defendant certifies the truth and accuracy of each of the following:
a. That all cost information provided to the EPA in connection with the EPA’s approval of the SEP is complete and accurate and that Defendant in good faith estimates that the cost to implement the SEP[, exclusive of _____ costs,] is $_____;
India (12): With regard to the Environmental Supplemental Plan, the project proponent shall certify the truth and accuracy of each of the following:
a. That all cost information provided to the Expert Group in connection with the Environmental Supplemental Plan is complete and accurate and that the proponent in good faith estimates that the cost to implement the Environmental Supplemental Plan is Rs. —————;
Joint Secretary Manoj Kumar Singh, who issued the draft notification on May 10, denied having copied the content from the SEP document of the United States. “We borrowed the idea (of ESP) from the US. Most Western countries follow this practice. But the language of our draft is different. Nothing was copied,” Singh told The Indian Express.
When comments were sought from Anil Madhav Dave, who took charge as Environment Minister on Wednesday, he sought details over email. He is yet to respond.
Seeking to make violators comply by paying compensation, one of the contentious lifts from the US document in the draft notification even accommodates the possibility of future violations. Clause (5) of the draft notification says the violator “must demonstrate that it is designed to remediate the ecological damage caused due to violations and it will reduce. the likelihood that similar violations will occur in the future.”
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 provide for a minimum period of one-and-half years of imprisonment for commencing activities without a valid consent to establish or operate.
By proposing monetary penalties for such violations, the government, say experts, is misusing its delegated executive power to frame rules that amount to dilution of laws passed by the legislature.
“Environmental violations form civil charges in the US. In India, these are criminal offences under the law. So while settlements such as SEP may not be out of place in the US, the idea of proposed ESP violates the heart and soul of EIA which is the need for prior approval. That is the law as it exists. It cannot be undermined by borrowed executive wisdom,” said environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta of Delhi-based EIA Resources and Response Centre.


Explorations and Investigations into the Indian Wild

By Jay Mazoomdaar


Endling (noun) The very last individual of a species. 

These are not trophy tales of the wildlife photographer or his ancestor, the hunter. Nor are these entreaties of the save-the-world variety. Curious and clinical, irreverent but reasoned, these essays and exposes by one of India’s best-known investigative journalists and wildlife reporters, Jay Mazoomdaar, raise fascinating questions to better understand the Human-Nature interfaces in an increasingly crowded and edgy India. 
Alongside the gripping whodunit and the sobering myth-buster are the stories of a cursed river, a tiger reserve on sale, a desert snake that ‘breathes’ death, a tribe that threatens to die if forced out of its forests and a species destined to become the loneliest on earth. 
The result of over a decade of investigations in the Indian wild and the human ecosystem around it, The Age of Endlings is as compelling as it is unflinching.

Under ED heat, Robert Vadra’s firm sheds pvt ltd tag

The Indian Express, 26 June 2016

BARELY A month before the Enforcement Directorate issued a notice under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd, owned by Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, he had converted the private limited company to a limited liability partnership (LLP).
Private limited companies need to comply with extensive regulatory requirements, but a limited liability partnership only needs to file its annual returns and statements of account and solvency. Even auditing is not a mandatory requirement for LLPs, which enjoy further flexibility in functions, such as ease of dissolution, etc.
According to records maintained by the Registrar of Companies (RoC), Sky Light Hospitality LLP came into being on May 13, 2016, with Vadra and his mother Maureen Vadra as directors. The records also show that the new entity’s listed address in Delhi — 268 Sukhdev Vihar — is the same as that of Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd registered in 2007.
Responding to a request for comment by The Sunday Express, Robert Vadra’s office stated in an email on Wednesday that it had been referred to the company’s lawyers and chartered accountants. “They will examine the same and will revert in due course,” said spokesperson Manoj Arora in the email.
On Wednesday, Vadra’s wife Priyanka Vadra had confirmed that the firm linked to her husband had received an ED notice in connection with alleged money-laundering in a land deal in Bikaner.
In its notice, ED asked Sky Light to submit financial statements and other documents related to the reported purchase of 275 bighas in the Kolayat area. Last year, the agency had registered a criminal case of money-laundering on the basis of FIRs based on a complaint lodged by the local tehsildar.
Other companies set up by Vadra and his mother have witnessed similar changes in structure. On April 24, 2015, the duo set up Blue Breeze Trading LLP and subsequently dissolved Blue Breeze Trading Pvt Ltd, another company linked to the controversial land deals in Bikaner.
Records show that the duo started converting their Pvt Ltd companies into LLPs in January 2015, when they set up Real Earth Estates LLP and North India IT Parks LLP. In July 2015, they dissolved the original entities, Real Earth Estates Pvt Ltd and North India IT Parks Pvt Ltd.
As reported by The Indian Express on November 28, 2014, three companies owned and controlled by Vadra made profits up to 600 per cent within three years of investment in real estate in Bikaner.
The three Vadra firms — Sky Light Realty Pvt Ltd, Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd and Blur Breeze Trading Pvt Ltd — sold land in 2012 at three to seven times the price they bought it for in 2009-10.
In January 2010, Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd bought 69.55 hectares in two deals for Rs 72 lakh — at a little over Rs 1 lakh per hectare. In January 2012, it sold the land in two separate deals to Delhi’s Allegeny Finlease Pvt Ltd for Rs 5 crore — at Rs 7.41 lakh per hectare, seven times the price paid two years ago.
In four deals in June 2012, Sky Light Hospitality purchased nearly 70 hectares at an average of Rs 80,000 per hectare — less than what it paid in 2009.
In January 2013, the company sold a plot for Rs 6 lakh to Meetu Agarwal of Bikaner, ostensibly to bring down the company’s holding below the ceiling limit.
Subsequently, the Rajasthan government in January 2015 cancelled the mutation (transfer of land) of 374.44 hectares, after the state land department claimed to have found that the allotments were made in the names of “illegal private persons”.

And the rivers be dammed

In June 2013, massive flash floods killed at least 6,000 people in Uttarakhand. Three years after that catastrophe, governments of the state and at the Centre appear bent on unlearning the lessons.

The Himalayas are young mountains, and naturally restless. In the last century and a half, the middle Himalayan region — now Uttarakhand — has suffered at least 50 major tremors and flash floods. But the biggest disaster since the 1803 Garhwal earthquake was more than just a natural calamity. Worse, the 2013 catastrophe had been long in the making.
In 2009, a series of flash floods and landslides killed more than 70 people in the state. This was a warning — which was repeated in another killer flash flood in 2012. That same year, two centres of excellence — the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee — submitted conflicting reports on the collective impact of hydropower projects in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins.
While IIT-R merely recommended a string of measures to reduce the dangers of harnessing these rivers so intensively at such altitudes, the WII said 24 out of the 39 proposed dams would cause irreversible harm to the rivers, and should not be allowed. By then, another 31 projects had already been commissioned or were under construction on the rivers concerned.
This called for a difficult policy revision. Soon after it became a state in 2000, Uttarakhand was showcased for its hydel potential, second only to that of Arunachal Pradesh, by the A B Vajpayee government that announced dozens of projects in 2003. By 2006, new dams were coming up in the state. In 2009, Uttarakhand drafted its Vision 2020 statement on the theme of ‘Pahad Ka Pani, Pahad Ki Jawani’.
While governments in Delhi and Dehradun remained indifferent to any course correction, calamity struck in June 2013. Although shaken, the state government stood its ground — and reiterated days after the tragedy its goal to make Uttarakhand power surplus by 2016.
However, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance of the disaster — and stopped clearance of any more hydel projects until further orders. It also directed the Environment Ministry to set up an Expert Body (EB) to assess the role of “mushrooming of hydropower projects” in escalating the impact of the flash floods.
In April 2014, the EB, led by Ravi Chopra of the research and development non-profit People’s Science Institute, submitted its report, which agreed with the WII on the potentially disastrous impact of the 24 proposed projects.
In its affidavit to the Supreme Court in December 2014, the Environment Ministry accepted the EB’s findings that hydel projects had exacerbated the disaster both directly (by blockage) and indirectly (by ecological damage).
The SC Bench of Justice Deepak Misra, to which the case had been shifted after Justice K S Radhakrishnan retired in May that year, lifted the statewide ban on hydel projects. Only the 24 projects in question were put on hold until the EB report had been analysed and policies finalised.
Six aggrieved developers then joined the case with the plea that their proposed hydel projects be allowed to go ahead since they already had clearances from the Environment Ministry. The apex court narrowed the scope of the case and directed the Ministry to set up yet another committee — now to consider these six hydel projects as a cluster.
This four-member committee under Vinod Tare of IIT-Kanpur, in its report submitted in February 2015, acknowledged that the six projects had all necessary clearances — but warned against allowing these proposed dams, which could have a serious impact on the region’s ecology. The Environment Ministry, however, presented before the court only the fact that the six projects had all clearances.
Following a media outrage over the selective reading of the report, the Supreme Court asked the Ministry for the entire report. Unfazed, the Ministry decided, in May 2015, to form yet another committee, under the chairmanship of B P Das, to decide the fate of the six projects. As vice-chairman of the Ministry’s expert appraisal committee, Das had earlier cleared 3 of those 6 projects.
In October 2015, the Ministry told the court that the Das committee had recommended all 6 projects, but it would still consult the other stakeholder ministries — Power and Ganga Rejuvenation — before finalising the policy. Thereafter, it claimed in a January 2016 affidavit that the government had reached a policy decision — based on a 1916 agreement between Madan Mohan Malviya and the colonial government — to allow any hydel project that releases at least 1,000 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water into the Ganga or its tributaries.
However, Uma Bharti, Minister for Ganga Rejuvenation, wrote to her counterpart in the Environment Ministry, expressing shock that the latter had made a submission to the court even though no policy consensus had been reached. Following media reports, the Supreme Court in April asked both the Power and Ganga Rejuvenation ministries to file their own affidavits.
For many, 2013 revived the nightmares of 1991 when a deadly earthquake hit Uttarkashi. The floods laid bare the risks of unbridled growth — and a quake of that magnitude is likely to cause much greater damage today. Yet, the zonal master plan for the Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) — in which 4,179.59 sq km between Gomukh and Uttarkashi was to be designated as a green zone to fight unplanned growth — was buried even before the wounds of 2013 had healed.
On January 13, 2015, at a meeting chaired by Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, the Environment Ministry accepted that an ESZ could not be declared without a proposal from the state government. Uttarakhand had claimed that it had not been consulted while notifying the Bhagirathi ESZ, which restricted most development projects in the area, and impacted livelihoods.
The agenda of that meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office was “to discuss issues relating to Hydro-Electric projects in Uttarakhand”.
The Power Ministry has already submitted its affidavit in support of the Environment Ministry’s century-old 1,000-cusec formula. If Uma Bharti relents, it may soon be business as usual in Uttarakhand, and work will begin on new dams.
For wilful amnesia, it appears three years is a long time.

Panama Papers: I-T contacts Ajitabh Bachchan’s Bofors lawyer in London

The Indian Express, 16 June 2016

The Income Tax department is learnt to have contacted London-based lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla in connection with offshore shipping companies that list Amitabh Bachchan as director.
Zaiwalla, who won the Bofors libel case for the Bachchan brothers in 1990, was, as The Indian Express first reported Monday, instrumental in bringing together Amitabh’s brother Ajitabh and late shipping magnate Mehernoosh Khajotia into a partnership that set up a bunch of offshore shipping companies in 1990-91.
Nile Shipping Ltd (Bahamas) was one of these companies from which Tramp Shipping Ltd (Bahamas), one of the companies where Amitabh Bachchan was director, acquired a ship in 1994.
The Income Tax department, it is learnt, wrote to Zaiwalla last month and requested his assistance in the ongoing inquiry into the Panama Papers. Contacted by The Indian Express, Zaiwalla said, in an email: “Yes, the Income Tax authority in India did contact me asking for assistance. My response was that I will consider their request if they approach me in a proper legal manner with a request through High Commission of India in London.”
As reported by The Indian Express, several company documents name Amitabh Bachchan as director in four offshore companies, record his participation in board meetings through teleconference, and acquisition of a ship belonging to company co-owned by Ajitabh Bachchan.
While Amitabh Bachchan denied any link to any of these companies, his brother Ajitabh claimed that Amitabh had nothing to do with his “legitimate shipping business”.
Earlier, in an email interview to The Indian Express, Zaiwalla confirmed that US $15 million of “Bachchans’ family wealth” was invested in an offshore shipping business partnership in 1990-92 and that he and Ajitabh Bachchan were partners.

Panama Papers: Firm Amitabh Bachchan denied link to acquired ship from his brother

The Indian Express, 13 June 2016

Amitabh Bachchan has denied any link with the four offshore companies named in the Panama Papers that list him as director.
Records reviewed by The Indian Express show that soon after Amitabh Bachchan was appointed director, one of the four companies, Tramp Shipping Limited (Bahamas), acquired a ship from another Bahamas company, co-owned by his brother Ajitabh Bachchan, in 1994.
Earlier, the ship, MV Nile Delta, was owned by Nile Shipping Ltd, one of four offshore shipping companies set up during 1990-91 by Ajitabh Bachchan in partnership with late Mehernoosh Khajotia and London-based lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla.
While Amitabh Bachchan did not respond to queries about the acquisition, Ajitabh Bachchan in an email said: “I have been an NRI since 1986 for about 20 years. I was involved in a perfectly legitimate shipping business in the early ‘90s. My brother Amitabh Bachchan had nothing to do with my shipping business.”
While Ajitabh Bachchan is said to have invested US $15 million as seed capital and Khajotia looked after the business, lawyer Zaiwalla was instrumental in bringing the partners together.
In an email interview, Zaiwalla confirmed the partnership in which he said he had 20 per cent stake while Ajitabh Bachchan and Khajotia held 40 per cent each.
“I was informed by Ajitabh that the source of the US $15 million was Bachchans’ own family wealth. I had assumed that both the brothers invested the money but I had not at that time specifically asked Ajitabh if what were said to be Bachchan family funds belonged to both Amitabh and Ajitabh’s families or they simply belonged to Ajitabh’s family,” said Zaiwalla.
Asked about his association with Ajitabh Bachchan, Zaiwalla said: “My (law) firm was instructed by Ajitabh Bachchan to commence libel proceedings against the Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter… the libel actions related to allegations concerning the Bofors gun deal.”
Zaiwalla added that he was answering the queries from The Indian Express “for Indian Public good. only after being satisfied that legal professional privilege would not apply” as neither him nor his firm acted as lawyers for Delta.
Taronesh Khajotia, son of the late Mehernoosh Khajotia, did not respond to multiple emails, phone calls and messages.
With US $15 million invested by the Bachchan family and subsequent bank loans, the partners bought three ships in 1991. These were MV Lokris (later named Avon Delta and held by Avon Shipping Ltd); MV Nile Delta (held by Nile Shipping Ltd), and MV Ganges Delta (held by Ganges Shipping Ltd).
These three Bahamas companies were owned by another Bahamas company, Delta Shipping Company Ltd, which, in turn, was owned by two holding companies: Maxwell Holdings Ltd and Mattz Holdings.
According to Zaiwalla, Ajitabh Bachchan asked him to retire from the partnership some months after the third ship, MV Ganges Delta, was purchased in 1991.
In 1993, according to Mossack Fonseca records, four shipping companies were set up in the Bahamas and British Virgin Islands where Amitabh Bachchan served as director. One of these companies, Tramp Shipping, acquired MV Nile Delta in 1994 and renamed it MV Sea Delta.
Nile Shipping was dissolved soon after Tramp acquired the ship.
All shares issued by Tramp Shipping were held by Sea Bulk Shipping Company (BVI), another company where Amitabh Bachchan served as director.
In December 1994, Khajotia’s firm Constellation Ship Management (Bahamas) took a loan of USD 1.75 million from Dallah Albaraka Investment Company (DAICO) to buy all shares of Tramp from Sea Bulk.
For the loan, Constellation mortgaged Tramp Shipping’s property MV Sea Tramp. As reported by The Indian Express on April 21, Amitabh Bachchan, as per records, attended the board meetings of Tramp and Sea Bulk to authorise this 1994 deal.
On April 20, Amitabh Bachchan’s publicist issued a statement. It said: “On the Panama disclosures, I wish to state that queries continue to be sent to me by the media. I would humbly request them to kindly direct these to the GOI (Government of India) where I, as a law abiding citizen have already sent, and shall continue to send, my responses. I stand by my earlier statement on the ‘misuse of my name’ in the matter and in any event the press reports do not disclose any illegal act committed by me.”
The Panama Papers refer to the more than 11 million documents leaked from the secret files of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm headquartered in tax haven Panama, known for its factory-like production of offshore companies in tax havens around the world, for its worldwide clientele of the well-heeled.

Culling controversy: Can’t take away the farmer’s right to life and livelihood

An anathema to most welfare activists, removal is often the only solution for wildlife and people caught in acute, irreversible conflict

The Indian Express, 10 June 2016

Maneka Gandhi, Prakash Javadekar, animal cruelty, vermin, environment ministry, ministry of environment and forests, animal killing india, monkey killing himachal, wild boar killing, government allows animal killing, animal rights india, animal cruelty by government, government killing animals, india news
In pockets where conflict is acute, the immediate option is to reduce the number of too many habitual crop-raiders. (Source: Express archive)
Union minister Maneka Gandhi has raised her voice against culling of wild animals declared vermin. She can’t be faulted for lack of consistency. Her organisation has opposed and occasionally stalled similar moves by different state governments in the past. But the stand undermines both human rights and wildlife conservation.
Many believe that culling is unnecessary because we can prevent crop-raiding by adopting non-invasive measures. It’s a misconception. Fencing fields merely shifts conflict to the next accessible cropland. Used extensively, it creates an enclosure for wildlife. Even selection of crops that traditionally repelled animals does not seem to work any longer. Ask the farmers in Sirmour how monkeys raid their garlic fields that they avoided till recently.
Another popular misconception is that herbivores raid crops only because they have little to eat inside forests which they are losing to human encroachment. No doubt every wild patch needs protection but wildlife in fringe forests will always be attracted by the more nutritious fare available outside.
So we must create buffer zones so that crops do not stand at the edge of the forest, promote non-edible crops in such areas, offer prompt compensation etc to limit conflict. But these are mostly long-term measures and work in situations where crop damage is still reasonable. In pockets where conflict is acute, the immediate option is to reduce the number of too many habitual crop-raiders.
A huge rural population in India still nourishes a cultural bond with nature. It is because of them, and not so much the city conservationists, that a sizeable population of wildlife still survives. The outlandish demands of the fanatically righteous animal welfare lobby are fast destroying this last genuine constituency.
Wildlife are protected by law because they are too few and require protection. But when certain pockets see a population boom in herbivores, farmers cannot wait for predators to reoccupy such areas and do the population control for them. Besides, when we don’t allow lawful intervention, the farmers often retaliate by illegal means. Only, their hostility targets all wildlife species in an area and a further alienated forest department struggles without local support.
No killing is pretty. But when rampaging wild animals threaten lives and livelihoods and turn the villager against conservation, keeping their numbers in check is very much part of the big Nature picture.

Sharjah firm bought London flat linked to Bhandari-Vadra email: land records

As reported by The Indian Express yesterday, the Income Tax Department has sent a query to Dubai via the Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) for details of Mayfair’s ownership.

Vijay Rana & Jay Mazoomdaar

The Indian Express, 2 June 2016

Robert Vadra, robert vadra, sanjay bhandari, congress robert vadra, sonia gandhi, priyanka gandhi, bjp, vadra farce, income tax raid, raid income tax robert vadra, india newsBhandari, according to sources in the IT Department, has admitted that the email trail recovered from his computer was that of messages exchanged between him, Vadra and Vadra’s assistant Manoj Arora. (Express photo: Oinam Anand)
THE property in London whose furnishings are said to be the subject of an April 2010 email between defence consultant Sanjay Bhandari and Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president, and which is being investigated by the Income Tax Department was bought in June that year by a Sharjah-based company allegedly linked to Bhandari, sources have said.
Land Registry records accessed by The Indian Express show that the property, Flat 12, 12 Bryanston Square, London W1H 2DN, was sold to Mayfair Investment FZE, a company incorporated in the United Arab Emirates, on June 18, 2010, for GBP 1,900,000 (approximately Rs 19 crore).
According to these records, the company has a Sharjah address: PO Box 49304 Hamriyah Free Zone.
As reported by The Indian Express yesterday, the Income Tax Department has sent a query to Dubai via the Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) for details of Mayfair’s ownership. Similar queries have been sent to the British Virgin Islands and the United Kingdom regarding two more properties, one in Dubai and a second one in Grosvenor Hill Court in London.
Bhandari, according to sources in the IT Department, has admitted that the email trail recovered from his computer was that of messages exchanged between him, Vadra and Vadra’s assistant Manoj Arora.
vadraConfronted with the batch of emails, including one dated April 4, 2010 — the only one sent from Vadra’s own email ID and signed off by him — he acknowledged the exchanges on the subject of finalising interiors for a London apartment.
Vadra’s lawyers have denied any association with Bhandari in a statement to NDTV which first reported on the Bhandari-Vadra link.
Meanwhile, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), after it received documents from Income Tax, today sent a notice to Bhandari asking him to furnish details of his bank accounts and properties.
A case under Official Secrets Act is also staring Bhandari in the face as IT officials said they have recovered several “confidential documents” belonging to the Ministry of Defence from Bhandari’s premises during a raid last month. These included minutes of the meeting of Defence acquisition committee. ED may file a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) once the Defence Ministry gives its opinion on the documents recovered. (With ENS)

To find how Tawang’s cranes will do in winter, Govt plans a study — in monsoon

During winter, migratory birds fly south (for warmer clime) to specific sites, where they spend a few weeks. The stretch along Nyamjang Chhu river is one of two such sites in Arunachal for black-necked cranes.

The Indian Express, 19 May 2016

Tawang cranes, india monsoon, migratory cranes, National Green Tribunal, hydel project, black necked crane, crane wintering site, Nyamjang Chhu river, india newsIn Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, locals consider black-necked crane an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama. (Photo: Lham Tsering)
What does the Environment Ministry do when the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asks it to re-evaluate a hydel project in the middle of the rare black-necked crane’s wintering site and conduct a study “as expeditiously as possible”? It sets out to determine the water flow requirement at the wintering site in just 45 days — during the monsoon months of May and June.
Under scanner is the proposed 780 MW hydro-electricity project (HEP) at the wintering site — a 3-km stretch along the Nyamjang Chhu river — of the rare bird in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang. The Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), a Tawang-based group led by Buddhist lamas, had moved the NGT against the environmental clearance.
On April 7, NGT suspended the environmental clearance granted in 2012 and directed the ministry to conduct a study of environmental flow (E-flow) requirement at the wintering site “as expeditiously as possible” through the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and make the report available for public consultation for a fresh appraisal of the project.
On April 28, the ministry wrote to NJC Hydro Power Ltd, the project developer, to “immediately” conduct a study through WII and “submit the report to the ministry within 45 days for further consideration”. The Tawang river basin study report accepted by the ministry also sought a water flow assessment, it said.
When contacted by The Indian Express, top ministry officials refused to comment on how a rapid study during May-June would prescribe the water flow required during the lean season to protect the crane’s wintering site. During winter, migratory birds fly south (for warmer clime) to specific sites, where they spend a few weeks. The stretch along Nyamjang Chhu river is one of two such sites in Arunachal for black-necked cranes.
On several occasions, officials and experts have gone on record accepting that the wintering site was never studied in the lean period and a four-season study was necessary to determine its E-flow requirements. Consider these:
* Noting that the “E-flow for this HEP has been indicated based on only one season study”, the ministry itself in its letter dated February 3, 2016 to the Arunachal Pradesh government recommended that “the E-flow values for Nyamjang Chhu project may be finalised with a four-season study with recommendations of the EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydroelectric projects).
* The Tawang river basin study was discussed in meetings of the EAC in July and August 2015. The minutes of the July 2015 meeting noted: “The developer of Nyamjang Chhu joined the study late. The sites could be visited only for one season i.e. pre-monsoon season. In absence of the data for three seasons, it was not possible to conclude and recommend on all aspects of the project. During the present study, the team could not directly observe or camera-trap the bird, as winter season was already over by the time the developer joined the study.”
* The minutes of the August 2015 EAC meeting noted that the E-flow for the project was “recommended based on only one-season study”. Therefore, it recommended that “the E-flow values for Nyamjang Chhu project are to be finalised by a four-season study to be undertaken by WII or equivalent”.
Since it was mooted in 2009, the Rs 7,000-crore Nyamjang Chhu hydel project has faced stiff resistance from locals who consider the black-necked crane an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama who was from Tawang. On May 2, two villagers were killed in police firing during a protest against the arrest of SMRF secretary Lobsang Gyatso.
NJC Hydro Power Limited is a Special Purpose Vehicle of Bhilwara Energy Limited (BEL) for development of Nyamjang Chhu HEP. In a letter to the Arunachal Pradesh government in December 2013, NHPL expressed “concern” that the “outcome of the cumulative studies may affect the environment and forest clearance of Nyamjang Chhu HEP”.