Where has all the flood money gone?

BANGALORE: Last year’s floods in North Karnataka, the biggest natural disaster in the state in public memory, triggered the largest fund-raising exercise, generating about Rs 1,000 crore, including Rs 500 crore collected by state government agencies.

While chief minister B S Yeddyurappa has announced that he would make public the money collected and spent by the state government during the upcoming legislature session starting June 28, one wonders where all the other money has gone.

“We recently issued notices to various NGOs and social organisations, seeking a detailed report on how they spent or are spending the money collected for flood relief. But we have had little or no response,’’ said a senior officer associated with the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. He blamed the officials for it.

Waking up from its slumber, maybe just a little late, the state government is now seriously contemplating bringing out a policy to check large-scale bungling or misuse of funds collected to provide relief to victims of natural disasters/calamities. “There is an urgent need to frame a policy to keep a check on funds raised from the public for relief and rehabilitation work. I will soon hold a meeting with experts to see what best the government can do to prevent such scams,’’ said law and parliamentary affairs minister S Suresh Kumar. Home minister V S Acharya also expressed similar views.

A week after the worst flood of the century hit the state last September-October, politicians, NGOs and social organisations were quick to raise funds and gather relief material for the affected through padayatras, donation box in hand.

According to officials, crores of rupees collected during such sundry padayatras never reached the victims, and the funds were utilised for other purposes. Not only that, money collected by these societies has been allegedly misused for personal expenses of office-bearers.

An analysis of accounts shows that in 2009, a Bangalore-based social organisation collected donations amounting to Rs 2.16 lakh for flood relief, but spent only Rs 300 out of it. The remaining funds were diverted for other purposes.

Likewise, several lakhs of rupees collected by organisations in the name of tsunami, Orissa cyclone and Gujarat earthquake were also not sent to the victims. It’s not that everybody and anybody can collect funds from the public. There is a stringent law to check arbitrary collection of funds, and police officials have limited this authority only to keep a tab on fraudulent elements during Ganesha festivities.

As per law, those organizations that want to collect funds from the public for a special or noble cause should seek the permission of the police. While grating permission, the police should verify the track record of the organizations and also be satisfied with their commitment and integrity to the cause.


NGOs welcome BASIC stance on climate change

New Delhi, Jan 24 (IANS) International NGOs Sunday welcomed the decision of Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC countries) to support the Copenhagen Accord but to have the agreement as part of a legally binding global treaty to combat climate change that would be negotiated by all countries.
“Greenpeace welcomes the position taken by the ministers of the BASIC group that met today (Sunday) in New Delhi to continue negotiations on a fair and ambitious climate agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change,” said Siddharth Pathak, Greenpeace India’s climate and energy policy officer.

“However, Greenpeace wants to insist to the BASIC countries that such an agreement also needs to be legally binding in order to ensure its implementation,” he added.

“Greenpeace is encouraged by the willingness of the BASIC group to support vulnerable countries, both by ensuring their participation in open and transparent negotiations and by providing technological and or financial support,” Pathak said.

Greenpeace, he added, “calls upon the BASIC countries to make this support more tangible by its next meeting in April.”

The NGO called upon BASIC countries “to ensure they take the responsibility that comes along with the renewed power from their alliance. Greenpeace expects these countries to demonstrate leadership, both in furthering negotiations on a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement, and in terms of both pushing industrialized counties to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions and making their own appropriate contributions in emission reductions, in order to avoid dangerous climate change.”

The India chapter of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) also welcomed the move by BASIC countries. The head of its climate unit Shirish Sinha said: “WWF welcomes the early lead on continuing climate negotiations and the level of commitment shown by the BASIC group of countries to a fair and effective UN-based outcome to climate change this year.”

“It is highly encouraging that these key emerging economies intend to further outline their voluntary mitigation actions by January 31, and that they now declare an intention of taking climate action together in areas like technology, adaptation and research.”

Kim Carstensen, leader of WWF global climate initiative, said: “This presents a good challenge to developed countries, who must also announce of carbon emission reduction targets, and who must also live up to their promises of providing financial support to the vulnerable countries.”

“WWF will watch them closely to see whether their commitments actually match their assertions in Copenhagen that they are committed to keep the world below the level where the risk of climate catastrophe becomes unacceptable,” Carstensen said.


Awareness of need for growing mangrove plants increased in Kanyakumari district

NGOs have raised saplings on the banks of Rajakkamangalam estuary

Nagercoil: Awareness among the fishermen community of the need for growing mangrove plants has gained momentum in the coastal areas of the district after tsunami devastated the entire coastal environment in Kanyakumari district.

Indeed it has come as boon to them, as its root held the boulders intact, wherever the Government has constructed anti-sea erosion walls or groins to prevent the sea erosion.

A cross section of the tsunami-affected people in the coastal villages of the district said that that the district administration in co-operation with various non-governmental organisations came forward to raise mangrove plants in estuaries in the coastal areas of the district after tsunami, because in few places where there were mangroves, the damage caused by the tsunami was very low throughout the State when compared to other coastal areas.

Besides raising 50,000 mangrove plants to the length of 8 to 10 km in Manakudi estuary, non-governmental organisations in consultation with various environmentalists have raised saplings (mangroves) on the banks of Rajakkamangalam estuary to the length of 2 km and around the ponds within the premises of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University’s Marine Centre for Biotechnology in Rajakkamangalam.

Mangroves in Kanyakumari district, especially in Manakudy and Rajakkamangalam estuaries acted as a strong barrier to the pillaging effects of the giant waves. Mangrove plantation, wherever it was possible in the coastal areas of the district, was one of the programmes after tsunami hit the entire coast among several other programmes were developed for preventing and managing nature’s fury.

Mangroves protected the seacoasts, estuaries from heavy wind and storms and their roots withheld the silt and the clayey soil (Manavalakurichy) thus preventing soil erosion.

The mangrove forests also helped in the maintenance of bio-diversity. Migratory birds like pelicans, painted storks, cormorants, darters, cranes and indigenous storks visited the estuaries and roosted in the mangroves. Bird droppings enriched the water body and it could be seen in the catch of fish, prawns and more than 5,000 kg of white prawns were harvested by the fishermen in and around Manakudi in a year.

The district administration in co-operation with various agencies had been decided to raise mangrove forests in Eraiyammanthurai estuary and on the banks of Anantha Victoria Marthanda Varma channel near Manavalakurich, where one could see lot of sand dunes.


India: Toxic toys on sale, no brand safe: NGO study

New Delhi: Even branded plastic toys sold in India markets cause asthma, lung problems and reproductive problems in children due to high toxic levels, says a study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

In its latest study released on Friday, CSE’s pollution monitoring laboratory found high levels of phthalates, a chemical used to soften plastic, in all samples of toys it tested. Over 45 percent of the samples exceeded the internationally accepted safety limits for phthalates.

SAFE GAME: Plastic toys for children in India fail the strictest safety standards. - AP Photo

“We randomly purchased 24 toys from different parts of Delhi, especially those toys that children are more likely to chew and suck. Out of 24 toys, 15 were soft and nine were hard. These toys were manufactured in China (14), India (7), Taiwan (2) and Thailand (1),” said CSE Associate Director Chandra Bhushan.

“The sample included major brands like Funskool and Mattel. In our test we detected one or more phthalates in all toys. Taiwanese and Chinese toys were the most contaminated. Taiwan toys exceeded the safe limits by 100 percent. While eight out of 14 toys manufactured in China exceeded the limits,” he said.

According to Bhushan, only one Indian toy manufacturer exceeded the safety limits.

“Pip Squeaks, a toy manufactured by Funskool Ltd, for 3-18 months old had highest levels of phthalates. It exceeded the standards by 162 times. Worse, the label on the toy says – non-toxic, suitable for ages 3-18 months,” Bhushan said.

“In totality 60 percent of soft toys and 20 percent of hard toys exceeded the safe limits,” he said.

Phthalates are organic chemicals commonly used as plasticisers to make plastic supple. It helps in making plastic products cheap and easy–and toxic.

The chemical can damage the male reproductive system, impair the lungs and affect the duration of pregnancy. Laboratory tests on mammals have indicated that it can also trigger asthma, allergies, poor semen quality, genital defects, premature breast development and skeletal defects.

“Children under three years are more likely to be exposed to phthalates because they tend to chew and suck on plastic toys and since their metabolic, endocrine and reproductive systems are immature, they are more vulnerable as well,” said CSE director Sunita Narain.

Narain said India has no regulations to control the use of phthalates in toys. “It only has voluntary standards covering safety aspects of toys. On January 23, the government ban on import of toys not meeting these standards will end. In the unregulated free-for-all that threatens to follow, the health of children will be compromised, putting them at a huge risk.”

Bhushan said as the regulation on imports expires on January 23, the government has two options.

“Either regulate all toys, both domestic production and imports. Second, and the easier option, let the order expire and leave the entire market unregulated, endangering the health and safety of children. As things stand now, the government does not want to make the effort to make standards mandatory for all,” he said.

CSE is a non-governmental organization working on environment and research.


Nagercoil: Call to link Nambiyar river

So that surplus rainwater could be used for drinking

Nagercoil: The Pazhayar Protection Movement here has urged the Government to link the Nambiyar river with the Pazhayar River so that surplus rainwater could be utilized for drinking and irrigation purpose in Agastheeswaram and Thovalai taluks in Kanyakumari district.

The Pazhayer river production movement convener Tho Nainar said that the forum was committed to opposing globalisation, communalism and privatisation.

Steps would be taken to desilt the Pazhayar, which runs to a total length of 44 km. It once catered to the needs of farmers benefitting 16,550 acres. It started getting polluted after the municipal administration allowed sewage of the entire town to mingle with the Pazhayar.

Bushes, shrubs

Bushes and shrubs were found all along its banks and the entire river stretch has been encroached upon. He also expressed concern over exploitation of groundwater by multi-national companies. A research paper on vanished (encroached) ponds, tanks and other water bodies will be submitted at a special meeting, to be held at the earliest. He also appealed to the representatives of NGO, members of self-help groups and consumer forums attached to the Pazhayar Protection Movement to air their views and suggestions to their forum so that the famous river could be saved.

Steps should be taken to implement the proposed Nambiyaru river- Pazhayar link via Thirukurankudi (Nambiyaru) and Kodumudiyaru by connecting Panakudi and Aralvoimozhi areas through Chempakaramanputhur and Boothapandi.

He demanded cultivation of mangrove forest at Manakudi backwater area to minimise the nature’s fury.

They asked the Government to implement an underground drainage scheme in Nagercoil to prevent the Pazhayar free from any kind of pollution.

The Pazhayar Protection Movement has flayed the Nagercoil municipality for allowing sewage to flow directly into the Pazhayar river. A cross section of people has urged the Government to prepare a time-bound plan of action to renovate all water bodies in the district.

P.S. Suresh Kumar – From THE HINDU

WWF-India applauds the declaration of the Gangetic River Dolphin as India’s National Aquatic Animal

The docile and graceful river dolphin is now India’s National Aquatic Animal. On Monday, 5th of October , the Central Government declared this endangered species as India’s National Aquatic Animal according it equal status with the Peacock, India’s National Bird and the Tiger, India’s National Animal. The Ganges River Dolphin is an endemic species of the Ganges, Brahmapura and Meghna River systems, extending from the foot of the Himalayas to the tidal zone in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

The Central Government also announced a Rs. 15,000 crore plan for cleaning up the Ganges over a span of ten years. Speaking on the occasion Environment and Forests Minister, Jairam Ramesh said ‘ increasing the number of of dolphins in the Ganges would be the ‘One and Only Yardstick’ to gauge the success of the 15,000 crore ‘ Mission Clean Ganga’ project as dolphins do not respond to captive breeding. The presence of dolphins in a river is symbolic of a healthy eco-system.

The Ganges River Dolphin, Platanista gangetica, prefers deep waters, in and around the confluence of two or more rivers. It has a sturdy, yet flexible, body and weighs upto 150 kg. These dolphins are generally blind and catch their prey in a unique manner. They emit an ultrasonic sound which reaches the prey. The dolphin then registers this image in its mind and subsequently catches hold of its prey.

Once present in tens of thousands of numbers, the Ganges River Dolphin has dwindled abysmally to less than 2000 during the last century owing to direct killing, habitat fragmentation by dams and barrages, indiscriminate fishing and pollution of the rivers.

WWF-India adopted Ganges River Dolphin as a species of special concern. A Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Programme was initiated in 1997 to build a scientific database of the population status of the species and study the habitat quality of the dolphin’s distribution range.

WWF-India has been working closely with various government departments, specially the State Forest Department ,local NGOs, scientists, researchers and universities to ensure the implementation of the action plan through capacity building and carry out conservation awareness and education activities. A River Watch Programme has been initiated to identify hot spots and develop management plans with the help of the Forest Department and create awareness in target areas.

WWF-India has also tied up with the University of Tokyo and the Indian Institute of Technology to develop new insights into the behaviour of the dolphins. This partnership is utilizing a unique technology through which precise underwater movements and sonar-range of dolphins can be observed even in shallow water. An acoustic data logger system has also been demonstrated that can count the number of dolphins.The result findings will help sharpen and increase the scope of WWF-India’s already well established River Dolphin programme.

The announcement of Gangetic River Dolphins as India’s National Aquatic Animal is an achievement for the many conservation organizations alongwith WWF-India, who working to protect the river dolphin. From 1996 to the present, the population of river dolphins in the 165 kilometers strech of the Ganges between Brijghat and Narora has more than doubled largely due to these efforts. The organization hopes that national recognition of the threat that the dolphin faces along side sincere efforts to safeguard their habitat will save this species from extinction.

WWF-India among countries leading fight against climate change

BANGKOK – India, China and Japan are now leading the world to reach a deal this December that will be effective in tackling climate change while EU and the US are proving major stumbling blocks, international NGO WWF has said. 

As delegates from 177 countries gathered here Monday for the start of a two-week preparatory meet for December’s climate summit in Copenhagen, WWF applauded Japan, China and India for outlining concrete action to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases.

“By playing an increasingly constructive role in the negotiations, they are confirming their determination to become the world’s next economic leaders on the basis of a green economy and low carbon growth,” said Kim Carstensen, leader of the WWF Global Climate Initiative.

“Pledges such as Japan’s to reduce emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 and that of Indonesia to keep emission growth 26-41 percent below business as usual projections by 2020 are bringing us closer to the global emission reduction targets we need,” said Carstensen.

He added that WWF was “worried about a mismatch between credible leadership in Asia and empty rhetoric in Europe and the US” on ways to tackle climate change. “While key Asian countries are offering concrete contributions to reach a deal in December, EU and US are emerging as major stumbling blocks.”

“Both developed and developing Asia are finding their way to the top in the world league of climate action. Now industrialised countries, and in particular the US, have to follow Asia’s example, and after missed opportunities in New York and Pittsburgh the talks in Bangkok present the next chance to step up.”

India’s Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) session on climate in New York last week that the country was willing to report to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the actions it took to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

GHG emissions — mainly carbon dioxide — are warming the atmosphere and leading to climate change, which in turn is affecting farm output, making droughts, floods and storms more sever and more frequent, and raising the sea level. India is among the countries worst affected.

Indian negotiators at global climate talks had earlier blocked attempts by the West to make the country’s actions “measurable, reportable and verifiable” (MRV) on the grounds that industrialised countries had no business seeking such reports except on projects they paid for.

Now, without the West making any concrete offer on financing and transfer of green technologies, India has made the offer to make its mitigation actions MRV, with Ramesh saying the country has nothing to hide because it is doing a lot to move to a greener development path.

While India’s latest stand has drawn kudos from the international community, it has been criticised in some quarters back home as a possible infringement on the country’s sovereignty. At international forums though, it is likely to improve India’s negotiating position.

Despite this, hopes for an ambitious deal which would help protect the planet from irreversible damage caused by climate change will become very slim unless negotiators at the current UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks make significant progress, Carstensen added.

“After months of haggling, losing time and arguing we have now entered the last phase and have an absolutely last minute chance to rescue the climate deal.”

“The main tasks are in the hands of rich countries which need to come up with ambitious (GHG emission) reduction targets as well as finance commitments which will help developing countries to adapt to climate change,” Carstensen said.

“Delegates are equipped with a clear mandate to edit at record speed and accelerate the drafting process,” said Carstensen. “Maybe big targets and big money will only be agreed in Copenhagen, but that can’t be an excuse for wasting time, at least the crucial groundwork must be laid here. We need clarity on what the key elements are for a Copenhagen climate deal.”

From Taragana