push towards global tea forum

Tea nations mull global forum

Ministers of tea-producing countries will meet in Colombo in May to give shape to an international tea producers’ forum which will help them put up united fight for their interests.
“Tea-producing countries which met at the Food and Agricultural Organisation Intergovernmental Group conclave on tea in Colombo recently decided to have one more meet which will have the representation of their respective ministers,” chairman of the Tea Board of India, M.G.V.K. Bhanu, told The Telegraph.
Bhanu was the head of Indian tea delegation.
Several countries sought support of their governments to give a shape to the forum. The meet was held from January 30-February 1.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation intergovernmental group on tea is a forum for intergovernmental consultation and exchange on trends in production, consumption, trade and prices of tea.
“We want the support of Food and Agriculture Organisation in this forum,” Bhanu said, adding that the secretariat of the forum can be a revolving one.
He said the Tea Board of India has the support of the government on this issue.
The idea of the forum was first mooted by Kenya in 2008 on the sidelines of Food and Agricultural Organisation intergovernmental group meet in China.
A source said the forum would be on the lines of the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries.
“The issue, an important one, needs to be taken forward. There has to be common understanding between the tea-producing countries,” Bhanu said.
Sri Lanka plantation industries minister Mahinda Samarasinghe had stressed the importance of an international forum for tea-producing countries at the meet.
“The issue was discussed and taken forward in Colombo. There is still a process of discussion to be gone through at the governmental level. Some countries have to revert to their governments but there is a concurrence that a body to look after producer’s interests is necessary. Whether this will be within the ambit of the Food and Agricultural Organisation or outside needs to be seen,” Indian Tea Association chairman C.S. Bedi told The Telegraph.
The meeting decided that greater efforts should be directed towards expanding demand. For example, there is scope for increasing per capita consumption in tea-producing countries.
A source said one of the most important issues is that of the maximum residue level in tea on which there is still no agreement between producing and importing countries.
Different countries have different levels of maximum residue levels and with India being a top tea-producing nation heavily focussing on exports, concerns have been expressed time and again on the issue.
“There has to be harmonisation of maximum residue levels to solve the problem which has not happened till now,” a tea industry official said.
Harmonisation of maximum residue level is the ultimate aim which the industry is trying to achieve through the Intergovernmental Group on Tea.


Assam looks for new tourism logo

Assam hunt for new logo
- State’s many attractions to replace rhino, contest on

The one-horned rhino is about to lose its monopoly over Assam tourism logo with Dispur waking up to the state’s varied attractions.
“Rhino is important but there are other things as well which can be showcased to the world,” Anurag Singh, the managing director of Assam Tourism Development Corporation, told The Telegraph.
“Assam has wonderful rivers, forests and a diverse and vibrant culture. There is the river island of Majuli, too. We cannot hold on to the rhino forever,” he said.
Having woken up to this reality, the Assam Tourism Development Corporation has decided to do away with its logo depicting a charging one-horned rhino — the state animal — and replace it with one that would project the state’s multi-dimensional tourist attractions. Along with the rhino, the logo’s green background and theme will also change.
“The dynamics of tourism is evolving all the time and we cannot afford to be static. We have to be in sync with the changes. The logo should be based on the culture, history, biodiversity and other aspects of the state. It needs to be a colourful logo, reflecting a multi-hued Assam,” Singh said.
The ATDC has announced a competition for designing the logo, its punchline and theme. Singh said the punchline should be catchy and original and should portray the state’s image. The theme slogan should be in three to four words. A committee will select the best entries and award cash prizes.
In fact, the ATDC website says Assam is a state of large geographical and cultural diversity, often a surprise for tourists who mostly know it for its tea plantations.
The corporation plans to woo tourists by tapping and promoting the state’s ample attractions. This includes eco and adventure tourism, river tourism, rural tourism, tea and golf tourism, fairs, festivals and games.
The mighty Brahmaputra, the lifeline of the people of Assam, provides ample opportunities for river tourism. Singh said a five-star luxury cruise, MV Mahabahu, would be started from March 18 in the public-private participation mode. The vessel will travel from Guwahati to Dibrugarh and cover Kaziranga and Orang National Parks and the historical towns of Tezpur and Sivasagar in seven days.
Welcoming the initiative for the new logo, Ashish Phukan, managing director of Assam-Bengal Navigation, which runs two cruises ABN Charaidew and ABN Sukapha in Assam and Bengal, said the logo should be “simple and easy to recollect”.
Besides, no other state in the country offers as many as 20 golf courses within a compact area. The Union tourism ministry has also identified a national park mega circuit covering Manas, Orang, Nameri, Kaziranga, Jorhat, Sivasagar and Majuli, as part of the mega tourist circuits.
About 40 lakh domestic tourists and 20,000 foreigners had visited Assam last year. Speakers at the Assam tourism brand summit held last year had said the state would have to do some serious soul-searching if it intended to stop “waiting” and start counting itself as a must-visit destination.
Singh said they had received a terrific response at the just-concluded Surajkund melawhere Assam was the theme state.


Quarrying at Kaziranga- a world heritage site

Industry told to stay away from Kaziranga

A rhino at Kaziranga National Park
The National Green Tribunal has directed the state government not to grant permission to any new stone-crushing unit and other industrial units within the no-development zone of Kaziranga National Park.
The bench of the National Green Tribunal comprising chairman Justice A.S. Naidu and expert member G.K. Pandey also directed the state authorities not to renew the permission granted to stone-crusher units and other units which are functioning in the vicinity of the Kaziranga National Park till further orders.
The order was issued yesterday in which it has directed the  ministry of environment and forests to file its reply before February 29 as it is a case where important questions pertaining to Kaziranga and in view of the prayer made, the reply of the ministry is very much necessary.
The interim order came as a result of an application filed by local resident Rohit Choudhury who approached the tribunal following blatant violation of the eco-sensitive area notification issued by ministry of environment and forests.
The tribunal was set up in 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests.
Choudhury who had filed an RTI on the total number of licences issued by director Kaziranga National Park was informed that licences were issued to 19 stone-crushing companies. There are 10 units which are situated within 5km of the national park. Of these 10 units, nine have been granted licences in 2011 which were valid till December 31 last year.
Of the remaining nine units which are situated between 5km and 10km of Kaziranga, seven have been granted licences in 2011 which were valid till December 2011.
Each of the 19 units has been granted pollution-clearance certificates.
The ministry of environment and forests in its reply to the RTI application said its wildlife division did not have any information on the stone-crushing units and no clearances had been granted in the vicinity of the national park.
The ministry in 1996 had issued a notification earmarking an area of 15km from Numaligarh Refinery as a “no-development zone”. The ministry had forwarded the query to its pollution control division which said that a stone crusher may not require environmental clearances under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
The replies from the wildlife division and pollution control division of the ministry did not make any reference to the ministry’s own notification (1996) which requires its approval before any unit leading to pollution is set up in the no-development zone.
In 2010, an independent team was constituted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India to look into the complaints made against environmental degradation in the hill areas of Karbi Anglong near Kaziranga.
The team had found several stone-crushing machines next to the forest area and inside the reserve forest under the Dolamara range of Karbi Anglong.

Delhi nod to Demwe

Delhi nod to Demwe

The Centre today cleared the 1750 MW Demwe Lower Hydroelectric Project to be built near the cultural site of Parashuram Kund in Arunachal Pradesh overruling opposition of National Board for Wildlife.

The ministry of environment and forests said the project can be recommended given its potential of clean energy of the project, thanks to relatively fewer environmental and societal impacts.

 " It is clear that the project can be supported along with adequate arrangements of monitoring the ecological dynamics in the region with appropriate interventions as and when required" the ministry .

The ministry, however, has  recommended  a few additional measures like conducting comprehensive study on the ecological impacts of the environmental changes and mitigation, cumulative impact assessment presuming all the proposed dams are constructed on the Lohit river.

It also wants the state government in consultation with the ministry to commission Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee to conduct the studies related to the ecological impacts and cumulative impacts of the project.

It however has stated that the study  by the IIT, Roorkee will not precede
construction of the project, but will continue concurrently, and mitigation measures proposed in the studies will also be complied with concurrently.

Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh in 2010 had shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opposing granting of forest clearance to the project as the project will have serious downstream impacts till Dibrugarh in Assam.

Altogether 43,000 trees will be felled for the project. whose submergence area would be 1.131,09 hectares, including 969.44 hectares of forestland.

In October last year, the National Board for Wildlife constituted a two-member team comprising Asad Rahmani, Director, Bombay Natural History Society and Pratap Singh, Chief Conservator of Forests Wildlife, Arunachal Pradesh forest department to assess  the project's possible downstream impact.

The committee submitted its report on December last year. The Arunachal Pradesh government representatives supported the dam proposal and gave counter arguments against each -and every point highlighted in Dr Rahmani' s report.

The  ministry said many of the chapori island areas in the downstream will not get submerged even in
monsoons.  "There are no reports of sighting of Gangetic Dolphins in the vicinity of the proposed dam site." the government report said.

Members of the widlife board  said the project has serious ecological impacts which needed to be looked into very carefully and downstream impacts were of serious nature. Divyabhanusinh Chavda member of National Board for Wildlife has not put his signature to the project given the grave ecological and wildlife impacts.

Arunachal Pradesh government however had informed the Centre that downstream impacts can be studied later when the construction of the  project starts. It also said there will be no downstream impact on the Dibru Saikhowa national park in Dibrugarh. It has already received Rs. 93 crores as 'upfront premum' in 2007-8 for the project much before before any clearances.

"The ministry of environment and forests  asking for impact assessment studies concurrent with construction is unacceptable. It is a slap in the face for good governance and is violative of both the precautionary principle and norms on sustainable development.  The claim about 'relatively a fewer environmental and societal impacts' is also false, as downstream impact studies on riverine ecology and
production systems (livelihoods) are yet to be completed." says environmental policy researcher and writer Neeraj Vagholikar.


Drivers insensitive to wildlife

70% drivers insensitive to wildlife, says study

 More than 70 per cent of the drivers who travel on National Highway 37 that passes through Kaziranga National Park violate speed regulations and are insensitive to wildlife movement, a study has found.
The study, Ecological effects of road through sensitive habitats: Implications for wildlife conservation, undertaken by a research fellow at the Wildlife Institute of India, A. Pragatheesh, last year, assesses the ecological effects of the NH 37 stretch, passing through Kaziranga National Park, on wildlife and evaluates the efficacy of the existing speed regulations on the highway.
The study found that the visibility and size of signboards did not have any correlation with drivers decreasing the speed of their vehicles in response to wildlife movement.
“Seventy per cent of the drivers said they wanted to drive as fast as possible to deliver the goods early and they were not aware about animals crossing the road. Most of them had not seen any animal being hit while travelling on the road,” the study says.
The complete report is being finalised.
To assess the ecological impact of the road on wildlife, Pragatheesh studied the existing wildlife corridors by using the pugmark impression method, collected data on animals hit on the road on the basis of a 60-day observation made between March and June 2011 and monitored the speed of vehicles on select road sections to evaluate the efficacy of speed regulation measures like rumble strip, humps and steel barricades.
The maximum herbivores were found in Kanchanjuri and Haldibari corridors. The number of small carnivores was high in Ghurakati and Panbari corridors, which are located along habitations. Large carnivores were found to frequent Haldibari corridor. As the Haldibari corridor connects Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong hills, a large number of wildlife is found here.
The highest number of road hits was recorded for reptiles (69 per cent), followed by birds (23 per cent) and mammals (8 per cent). The effectiveness of hump, rumble strip and barriers varied in controlling the speed of different vehicles.
High traffic volume was found to pose a major threat to movement of wild animals between Kaziranga National Park and Karbi Anglong hills during floods.
The study found effective measures were needed to improve the functioning of the existing corridors.
“The study results will provide good inputs to solve the high traffic volume along Kaziranga,” a park official said.
Barricades have been put up at 11 points along the 43km stretch of NH 37 passing through Kaziranga. Park rules state that blowing of horn and driving above the speed limit of 40km/hour is prohibited.
As the drivers are mainly from the Hindi-speaking belt and speak Hindi, more signboards have now been put up in the language, the official said.
The Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife has decided that draft guidelines with respect to laying of transmission lines and construction of roads in protected areas will be framed soon.
It has also decided to take up with the National Highways Authority of India the matter of non-compliance with forest clearance norms while constructing the four-lane expressway, which would pass through the elephant and tiger corridors in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong area.


from forest loss to gain- sonitpur baffles experts


An increase of seven square km forest cover in Sonitpur district, that has otherwise witnessed massive losses in its green canopy, has baffled wildlife experts here. 
This was revealed in the State of Forest Cover 2011 released by the ministry of environment two days back in New Delhi. 
“It is impossible to believe this fact. This could be because of some tea gardens which have encroached upon the adjoining forest land and raised shade trees, leading to the increase,” Satya Vashishth, former divisional forest officer of Western Assam wildlife division, Sonitpur said.
The report said the positive changes in Assam had been attributed to improvement of forest cover (shade trees) in tea gardens, natural regeneration and re-growth in areas affected by shifting cultivation.
There are a large number of tea gardens in Sonitpur district and the possibility of some of them encroaching upon forestland could not be ruled out. 
The only wildlife sanctuary in Sonitpur district, Sonai Rupai, had witnessed massive destruction and lost 85 square km to encroachment before 2007. There are at least 12,000 settlers within the sanctuary but not a single encroacher has been able to enter the protected areas since 2007. 
Chandan Bora, former forest official in Sonitpur, said one may have to look into the reasons of the increase but it could be that some encroachers had left the area after finding it difficult to manage. 
The 2009 forest cover report, based on 2007 satellite data, had shown a decrease of 10 square km in Sonitpur district. 
N. Anand, current divisional forest officer, Sonitpur (west), said the increase could be attributed to plantations raised by eco task force and plantations raised in general. 
“The eco task force started work in 2007 and the target was to cover 2,099 hectares and as of now, 2,500 hectares have been covered,” he said. 
The eco task force involves ex-servicemen in afforestation and eco-development programmes to help restore degraded ecosystems.
He said plantation began in Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary and protection levels are good there. “We have requested for five more years’ extension,” he said.
Karbi Anglong and Kokrajhar in Assam top the list of loss in forest cover. Both have lost 19 square km each, based on satellite data of 2009. 
The report said the main reason for loss of forest cover in Assam was because of shifting cultivation and extension of encroachment in some areas. 
After Karbi Anglong and Kokrajhar, the districts with the maximum loss in forest cover are Darrang and North Cachar Hills, with a loss of 16 and 6 square km respectively. Barpeta lost 4 square km of forest cover. 
“Massive tree felling in Rowta reserve forest in Darrang has hit the forest cover in the district,” Hiten Baishya, who works with the North Bank Landscape Programme, WWF India, said.
Sources said the encroachment could be much higher at 70 to 75 per cent though the official record showed over 40 per cent. 
Over 445.02 square km forest in the BTC was under encroachment. 
The total area under forest cover in the BTC is 3,466.77 square km, out of which 
reserve forests and proposed reserve forests are 2,531 square km and 264.66 square km respectively.


Carbon credit route for rew road tech in NE

Bongaigaon, Feb. 6: Assam is looking at earning carbon credits by using cold mix technology for road construction.
“This technology reduces carbon emission and causes less harm to health of environment and humans. We could well earn carbon credits through it,” director, Road Research Laboratory, Assam, Ranjit Kumar Das, said.
A total of 1,500km of roads in the Northeast have been constructed using cold mix technology and the people have got good results. Das said the technology could reduce fatalities caused to workers engaged in road construction using the conventional hot mix technology.
“Around 50 to 60 workers engaged in road construction through the hot mix technology suffer injuries,” he said.
A demonstration on cold mix technology was shown at Kajalgaon in Bongaigon district today.
The Central Road Research Institute has given an exclusive licence to Bitchem — a private company in the Northeast — to use the technology.
“Initially, it took me time to convince people. Over the years, smoke unfortunately, has become synonymous with road construction. I am happy at the difference cold mix has brought about. People can now compare between the two. Once rural communities saw the benefits and its safety, they will be impressed,” said Rudra Pathak a local contractor who has used the technology in Bongaigaon.
According to the National Rural Road Development Agency of the ministry of rural development, road construction and repair work done using hot mix is often sub-standard and there is a need to use cold mix.
“There are many new environment-friendly and sustainable technologies available for road construction, which are specially suited to hilly, cold or rainy conditions like in the Northeast and it is imperative we use these to enhance rural connectivity and prosperity by increasing the construction season,” director, Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), S. Gangopadhyay, said.
In the conventional hot mix method of road construction, bitumen is heated in drums near the site of road construction. For the bitumen to have strong binding properties it must be heated up to a particular temperature — 160 degrees Celsius — during normal weather conditions. In large parts of rural roads or countryside, there is no way to check the temperature of the bitumen, causing sub-standard roads. This technique also exposes workers to various hazards. It is time-consuming as well.
In cold mix, no heating is required and bitumen emulsion comes ready to be mixed with concrete. This ensures the rollout is much faster as the complex process of heating the bitumen is skipped. It causes no smoke, is safer for workers, and the average road layout is 2.5 times faster than conventional method.