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Delhiites Protest Govt’s Plan to Cut Trees

ENVIRONMENT// Nearly 17,000 trees are likely to be chopped-off for redevelopment of central government accommodations in south Delhi. The trees would be cut in various areas, including Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar and Sarojini Nagar, said the official, adding that 11,000 trees would be cut in Sarojni Nagar alone. According to the Environmental Impact Assessment report, around 1,454 trees would be felled in Nauraji area and 3,906 trees in Netaji Nagar. An official of the National Building Construction Corporation India Limited, a central public sector undertaking, said they planned to plant over 10 times the number of trees that would be cut in the process. According to an NBCC report, the plantation would be done two weeks after the rains start, as the trees benefit from the seasonal rains. The government has said that to make up for the felling of trees, an equal number of saplings will be planted - an idea that has been rejected by many as hardly enough compensation.

Govt Clarifies Reports

Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, trolled over a plan to cut 17,000 trees in Delhi to make way for an office and residential complex for government officers, has declared that “no tree will be cut” on his watch. At the same time, he appeared to indicate on Monday that the plan would not be scrapped. “Till the time I am a minister no tree will be cut and for every tree that is cut we will plant 10 trees. Green cover will go up by three times after re-development of seven colonies in South Delhi”. Clarifying reports, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, in a statement, said “14,031 trees are to be cut out of the existing 21,040 trees.” The Ministry added that the redevelopment would lead to “an increase in the green area coverage by about three times...and the compensatory plantation of trees will be done in the ratio of 1:10, thereby resulting in an enhanced tree-coverage area”.


SECURITY// After the BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu and Kashmir ended, the centre's renewed approach to ensure peace in the Valley involves 4Ds - defend, destroy, defeat and deny, said a senior home ministry official. The security forces have to follow this brief as they venture into trouble-prone areas of the Valley.

Defend means strengthening of the security of the camps, destroy means that security forces would eliminate terrorists and their hideouts, defeat means that the agencies would work to crush the ideology of separatism and deny or prevent young men from getting recruited by various terror organisations.

“People are feeling relieved that the BJP-PDP coalition has fallen apart, but this euphoria won’t last,” said a ground duty officer. During a meeting at Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s home, it was decided that the government of India would now take a tough stand against Hurriyat leaders. Yasin Malik was detained while Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was placed under house arrest to prevent separatists from leading protests. The separatists, under the banner of Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), had on Tuesday called for a protest on Friday against the killing of civilians allegedly in firing by security forces recently and the assassination of veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari.

But the steps taken by the security agencies ensured that the situation remained in control after Friday prayers. The centre is also having second thoughts about withdrawing prosecution cases against stone throwers. The issue was discussed in the meeting. Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had in November last year announced amnesty for 4,500 first-time stone throwers. However, intelligence officials said that the increase in cases of stone throwing in the Valley were indicative of the widespread radicalisation of the youth, with the Hurriyat holding sway over the local population.


BAN// On March 23, Maharashtra announced a ban on manufacture, use, sale, distribution and storage of plastic materials such as one-time-use bags, spoons, plates, PET and PETE bottles and thermocol items. The state-wide plastic ban, including carrybags and thermocol by the Devendra Fadanvis government, will result in loss of up to Rs. 15,000 crore and nearly 3 lakh job, says the plastic manufacturing industry.

“The ban imposed by Maharashtra from Saturday has hit the industry very hard and the plastic industry is staring at a loss of Rs. 15,000 crore, leaving nearly 3 lakh people jobless overnight,” Plastic Bags Manufacturers Association of India general secretary Neemit Punamiya told PTI today.

Nearly 2,500 members of the association have left with the no option but to shut shop following the ban, he added and termed the ban as “discriminatory”.

On March 23, the state announced a ban on manufacture, use, sale, distribution and storage of plastic materials such as one-timeuse bags, spoons, plates, PET and PETE bottles and thermocol items. The government had given three months time to dispose of the existing stocks, which ended on June 23.

Industry insiders have said the job losses from the ban will impact the state's GDP, and also increase banks' bad loans from the plastic sector.

While retailers across the megapolis have said heavy fines for violating the bank will make them financially unviable and force them to turn away many customers, consumers have complained of inconvenience, and wondered whether the ban makes any sense.

The civic authorities have imposed a fine of Rs. 5,000 for the first-time offenders and Rs. 10,000 for the second-time offenders. Those who violate the ban for the third time will face a fine of Rs. 25,000, along with a three-month imprisonment.


ELECTION 2019// The West Bengal BJP unit is set to submit its Lok Sabha blueprint, targeting 26 Parliamentary seats in the state, to party president Amit Shah. Mr Shah is expected to hold deliberations on the BJP’s political strategy with leaders of the state, where the BJP is toiling hard to improve its tally in the upcoming general elections. The BJP president had set the target of winning 22 seats out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal. The party presently has two Lok Sabha seats — Asansol and Darjeeling, in the state.

Although the state leadership is elated over its performance in the recent panchayat polls, it is having a tough time in scouting for answers over its "inability" to constitute committees in more than 77,000 polling stations of the state and bring intellectuals on board for campaigns.

The 26 seats where the BJP's chances of winning is more than 60 to 70 per cent are spread across North Bengal, South Bengal and tribal-dominated districts of Junglemahal.

Some of seats which the BJP will be targeting in the next Lok Sabha polls are Balurghat, Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Malda North in North Bengal and Purulia, Jhargram, Midnapore, Krishnagar, Howrah in South Bengal.

According to Mr Ghosh, the performance of BJP in last month’s panchayat polls despite ruling TMC’s “reign of terror”, has accelerated the ground-level political situation of the state.

The party has also appointed observers for each of the 42 Lok Sabha seats as well as the assembly seats in the state to strengthen the organisation at the booth level.

Be it tribal-dominated districts like Purulia, Jhargram, West Midnapore, Bankura or districts in North Bengal such as Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur or Muslim-dominated Malda, the BJP's performance in rural polls has cemented its position as the main opposition in the state by relegating the CPI(M) and the Congress to distant third and fourth positions respectively.

However, the gap between the ruling TMC and the surging BJP is still wide, if the overall rural polls and assembly bypoll results were to be taken into consideration.


IMMIGRATION// President Donald Trump recently explicitly advocated depriving undocumented immigrants of their due-process rights, arguing that people who cross the border into the United States illegally were invaders and must immediately be deported without trial or an appearance before a judge.

Trump’s attack on the judicial system sowed more confusion as lawmakers struggle to reach consensus on immigration legislation and as federal agencies scramble to reunite thousands of migrant children and their parents who had been separated at the border under an administration policy that the president abruptly reversed last week.

The House is preparing to vote this week on a broad, GOP immigration bill, but although the White House supports the legislation its prospects for passage appeared dim Sunday, both because Democrats oppose the measure and because Republicans have long been divided over how restrictive immigration laws should be.

Meanwhile, some GOP lawmakers were preparing over the weekend a more narrow bill that would solely address one of the flaws in Trump's executive order, which mandates that migrant children and parents not be separated during their detention. The 1997 "Flores settlement" requires that children be released after 20 days, but the GOP proposal would allow for children and their parents to stay together in detention facilities past 20 days.

At the center of the negotiations is a president who has kept up his hard-line rhetoric even as he gives contradictory directives to Republican allies. In a pair of tweets sent late Sunday morning during his drive from the White House to his Virginia golf course, Trump described immigrants as invaders, called U.S. immigration laws "a mockery" and wrote that they must be changed to take away legal rights from undocumented migrants.

“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” Trump wrote. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents.”

The president continued in a second tweet, “Our Immigration policy, laughed at all over the world, is very unfair to all of those people who have gone through the system legally and are waiting on line for years! Immigration must be based on merit - we need people who will help to Make America Great Again!”

Trump also exhorted congressional Democrats to "fix the laws," arguing that "we need strength and security at the Border! Cannot accept all of the people trying to break into our Country."

After House Republicans failed to pass a hard-line immigration bill last week, they were preparing to vote on another broad bill this week that would provide $25 billion for Trump's long-sought border wall, limit legal immigration and give young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

Legislative negotiations are continuing behind the scenes despite Trump's vacillations over the last week. The president began the week defending his administration's family separation policy. On Tuesday night, he expressed support for two rival GOP bills in a muddled and meandering address to House Republicans in which he insulted Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., without prompting, drawing a smattering of boos. Then on Friday, he urged lawmakers to throw in the towel, tweeting, "Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November."

That tweet demoralized Republicans as they headed home for the weekend, but did not end talks about what the House might pass. Brendan Buck, counselor to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Sunday that a solution specifically dealing with family separation had been "a topic of discussion all week," though he noted that there was not one policy or bill that Republicans had coalesced behind.

Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, said Sunday that it was premature to announce which measures Trump would sign but urged Congress to act quickly to address the immigration issue broadly. "The White House has consistently raised our concern about the Flores settlement with Congress," Short said. "It's, in fact, an issue that previous administrations grappled with also, and we anticipate Congress acting on that sooner rather than later."


GROWTH// Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently spoke of targeting double-digit GDP growth for breaking into the $5 trillion economy club and said India’s share in world trade has to be doubled to 3.4 per cent. Speaking after laying the foundation stone of a new office complex of the Ministry of Commerce in New Delhi, he said his government has in four years taken steps to ease the process of doing business in India while maintaining macroeconomic indicators like current account deficit (CAD) within limits.

He said GDP growth touched 7.7 per cent in the last quarter of 2017-18 fiscal but now the time has come to look beyond 7-8 per cent growth and target double-digit expansion.

The world, he said, is watching as to when India will break into the $5 trillion economy club by doubling its economy. Also, the government is targeting doubling India's share in world trade to 3.4 per cent, he said, stressing on reducing dependence on imports in sectors like oil through domestic manufacturing.

Listing out achievements of his government, he said the country has moved away from a culture of delaying work through ‘atkana, latkana and bhatkana’ (obstructing, delaying and misguiding). The Goods and Services Tax (GST), which replaced over a dozen indirect taxes from July 1 last year, has led to not just ease of doing business but also rise in tax base, he said.

PM Modi said 54 lakh new taxpayers have sought registration under the new regime, taking the number of indirect tax payers to over one crore. This compares to 60 lakh indirect tax payers in the pre-GST era, the Prime Minister said. Foreign direct investment inflows as well as foreign exchange reserves are at record highs, he added.

Seychelles says No to Indian Naval Base

DIPLOMACY// Seychelles parliament will not ratify a pact allowing India to build naval facilities on one of the archipelago’s islands. The two countries signed an agreement in January to build military facilities on the remote island of Assumption, but the project quickly attracted criticism from opposition members of the tiny Indian Ocean nation's parliament and lead to public protests.

Opposition lawmakers had argued that allowing India access to Assumption, which is near a busy shipping route, would be surrendering territory to another country and joint management of the facility with India undermined the 115-island nation’s sovereignty. “The government will not present the agreement to the National Assembly for approval because opposition members have already said they will not ratify it,” Seychelles Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Barry Faure told Reuters by phone.

“Hence the question of whether the agreement has been cancelled or not does arise — we will simply not take it to the assembly,” he said, noting that the Indian side had already ratified the pact. He was speaking days before Seychelles President Danny Faure meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi during a state visit.

President Faure had earlier told the local media the issue of a military base on Assumption island will not be discussed with PM Modi and that “the project will not move forward”.

The scrapped 20-year pact entailed building an airstrip and a jetty as India steps up a contest with China for influence in the Indian Ocean. Last year China inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti, near one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, heightening India’s concerns and pushing it to gain a foothold in the region.

Indian Tree Moringa Oleifera’s Seeds Can Bring Water To Millions: Study

DISCOVERY// Researchers have claimed that a seed from an Indian tree could bring water to millions of people around the world. According to the United Nations, 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. A researcher, Stephanie Velegol, used sand and plant materials proteins from the Moringa Oleifera, a tree native to India and created a cheap and effective water filtration medium, termed “f-sand”.

The tree is primarily cultivated for food and natural oils, and the seeds are already in use for a type of rudimentary water purification. However, this traditional means of purification leaves behind high amounts of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from the seeds, allowing bacteria to regrow after just 24 hours. Velegol extracted the seed proteins and adsorbed (adhering) them to the surface of silica particles, the principal component of sand, and that's how f-sand was created.

F-sand both kills microorganisms and reduces turbidity, adhering to particulate and organic matter. These undesirable contaminants and DOC can then be washed out, leaving the water clean for longer period of time and the f-sand ready for reuse. Fractionating the eight different proteins from the seed of Moringa Oleifera proteins had little effect on the proteins' ability to adsorb to the silica particles, meaning this step was unnecessary to the f-sand creation process.

The finding that fractionation is unnecessary is particularly advantageous to the resource-scarce scenario since this is where f-sand's true potential would be revealed. Leaving this step out of the process helps cut costs, lower processing requirements, and simplify the overall process.

One of the major reasons Moringa Oleifera is cultivated currently is for the fatty acids and oils found in the seeds, these are extracted and sold commercially. Another finding revealed that much like fractionation, removing the fatty acids had little effect on the ability of the proteins to adsorb. This finding is beneficial for developing regions. The presence or absence of fatty acids in the seeds has little effect on the creation or function of f-sand. Another parameter of the f-sand manufacturing process was the concentration of seed proteins needed to create an effective product. The necessary concentration has a major impact on the amount of seeds required, which in turn has a direct effect on overall efficiency and cost effectiveness.

The study appeared in Langmuir Journal.

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