Sunday, January 25, 2009

Remembering Ravi Sankaran

rubber slippers, a smoking pipe and binoculars dangling around his neck

Ravi in Nagaland, November 2005

Who would have imagined that so many of us would be looking into our collections for pictures of Ravi because he would not be there with us so suddenly? I've had to do that too and here are some pictures of his I have from a trip he made to Nagaland with many of us in Kalpavriksh.
My main and close association with Ravi was in the context of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where I had the opportunity of spending some great time with him. I first met him a decade ago, and can't believe there will be no more of those occasions. Here are also some pictures of the species in the islands that he worked with closely, species which we understand much better today because of his painstaking and path-breaking work.

Bird watching in Khonoma Village, Nagaland

Lighting up that famous pipe...


The Nicobari Megapode, Great Nicobar Island

The nest mound of a Nicobari Megapode, Great Nicobar Island

The nest of the Edible Nest Swiflet, Jarawa Creek, Baratang Island

Nesting site of the Edible Nest Swiftlet, Chalis Ek, North Andaman Island

Monday, January 19, 2009

Andaman Culture Clash: Tourists and Boat People
Andaman Culture Clash: Tourists and Boat People

Andaman Culture Clash: Tourists and Boat People

Saturday, January 17, 2009
Filed for the South China Morning Post
TOURISTS on diving day-trips along the Andaman coast of Thailand hope to snap photos of a rare whale shark, or perhaps a turtle or two, down among the delightful coral reefs.

Yet recently, chances are that they will find themselves sharing an idyllic beach with thin and hungry refugees under armed military guard.

The golden sands of the Andaman, stretching north from the holiday island of Phuket, are renown as a wonderful place for swimming, sunbathing, and having a good time.

And as it turns out, those same sunny beaches provide convenient stretches of open space for laying out large numbers of illegal-immigrant boat people.

This week, images emerged of one tourist's memorable holiday day-trip, with sunbakers at one end of the beach, and rows of boat people, hands tied behind backs and faces forced onto the sand, at the other.

Such a contrast in the human condition on a single small arc of sand raised a range of moral issues at the same time as it highlights the plight of one of the world's most desperate and ignored people.

Just as most tourists went on frolicking and relaxing at one end of the beach while the boat people were laid out like so many sardines in the sun, so the nations of South-East Asia collectively go about ignoring the Rohingya.

An Asean summit next month, appropriately enough in Thailand, where all these moral issues have been exposed, may change all that.

Boatloads of these persecuted people, once a problem just for Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia especially, are now turning up in the waters of Indonesia and the isolated Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Were the boats deliberately detoured to Indonesia and India with the prevailing winds and currents because of a covert and horrifying change in policy in Thailand?

That's the question now being examined by the widening circle of Governments involved, along with human rights groups.

And because witnesses to the tragedy of the Rohingya boat people now include snap-happy day-trip tourists from Britain, Australia, Hong Kong, Germany, Russia and Scandinavia, the outcome is that the issue of the Rohingya may finally be getting the international attention it has long deserved.

The Andaman coastline, remote but appealing for many reasons, is replete with paradoxes. This coast last came to global attention during the 2004 tsunami, when rich tourists and poor villagers alike were killed by the big wave.

Now the tsunami coast is home to a secret exile island where the Thai army hides unwelcome boat people before recklessly releasing them on unsafe vessels with only paddles for power.

As it happens, the same coast is home to some of the world's leading five-star resorts, many of them rebuilt after the tsunami.

So it is that in the same week as the esteemed New York Times travel section christened Phuket and the Andaman ''the luxury destination of the year,'' a tourist who had a memorable day trip came forward because he was also not prepared to forget the people being mistreated at the other end of the beach.

It is thought that Rohingya boat people land along the Andaman coast for two reasons: because they run out of food, or because they hope to proceed to Malaysia on foot.

For most, Malaysia is the goal.

A misguided attempt by predominantly Muslim Malaysia a few years ago to solve the ''problem'' of the Rohingya, who are also Muslims, simply gave it fresh poignancy and pain.

According to advocates and other who work with the Rohingya, the people smugglers, known as ''brokers,'' are the prime cause of the flow of human traffic south from Bangladesh and northern Burma.

Because some of the brokers are also known for allegedly dealing in arms and the refugees are all men of military age, the Thai Army fears the latest boatloads of Rohingya may be destined to become insurgent fighters in the deep south of Thailand, where a deadly daily conflict is largely blamed on Muslim unrest.

Like the strange scene on the sand at the Similans islands, another picture came together this week of two aspects of the same world.

Amnesty International condemned the Thai Army for ''torturing insurgent suspects'' while another international human rights group, Refugees International, blasted the same arm of the Thai military for recklessly pushing Rohingya back out to sea.

The Thai tourist industry has always gone to great lengths to make the point that the insurrection in the Deep South of Thailand is hundreds of kilometres from the Andaman coastline.

Chances of the conflict ever spreading to the Andaman, where Buddhists and Muslims have live contentedly together all along the coast for decades, are exceedingly remote.

But the covert activities of the Thai Army have, for the first time, inadvertently connected the tourist holiday Andaman coast with the bloody conflict of the Deep South.

It happened because of a sudden and unexpected change in policy.

In past Rohingya sailing seasons, the Royal Thai Navy, Marine Police and regular police would apprehend boat people between November and April, and repatriate them through Immigration channels.

But since early December, the Thai Army has been overseeing the collection of Rohingya boat people, hiding them in jungle on the island of Sai Dang (Red Sand) and setting them back out to sea in large numbers, in expectation that they will drift . . . where?

Perhaps to India or Indonesia, if their food holds out, or to an uncertain fate on the high seas.

Residents near the secret exile island and the local Army HQ say the Army has purchased two large boats recently, probably to carry the Rohingya out to sea.

Many of the smaller vessels in which the boat people arrived have been left to rot among the coastal mangroves.

According to advocate Chris Lewa, who runs the Arakan Project, the Rohingya are a people who are sandwiched on the margins between South Asia and South-East Asia, and disowned by Governments in both.

Connections with the small community of Rohingya in Malaysia lead them to believe a better life is possible, if only they can get there.

Brokers offer a passage for the equivalent of 10,000-12,000 baht, and poorer would-be voyagers win reduced fares if they round up other passengers.

''Brokers will charge more if their boats are in better condition,'' Ms Lewa said. ''Richer relations in Malaysia usually will not pay the broker until the passenger is on their doorstep.''

As to the Thai Army's security concern that only males are coming, Ms Lewa says the more conservative Rohingya townships keep women indoors and would not allow them to undertake such a dangerous 10 day or 12 day voyage south, in hope.

Those who have been forced to flee from Burma, where they are denied citizenship, to Bangladesh are no longer able to register as refugees, unlike the 28,000 already in camps there.

''Bangladesh treats the Rohingya badly, and so, of course, does Burma,'' she said.

One Project Arakan colleague was jailed briefly in Bangladesh.

That provided the opportunity for discovery of the ''released prisoners,'' a community of 700 Rohingyas in never-never land who have completed their prison sentences for immigration breaches but, as stateless citizens, cannot actually leave jail without official recognition as refugees.

''Some of them have been in this situation for 10 years,'' Ms Lewa said. ''It is just appalling,'' she said. ''I hope to make it my next project.''

Life is so harsh in Bangladesh and Burma for the Rohingya that one man, who narrowly escaped death from thirst on a failed journey to the promised land to the south, told her: ''I am going to try again because life in Burma is worse than the time we spent adrift on the sea.''

So they come south, believing that ''the Thai police are very nice,'' imagining a job as a construction worker in Malaysia, and sailing into the hands of the uncaring Thai Army.

Elements within other branches of the Thai military have already suggested that the Rohingya exodus should be examined by the United Nations.

Phuketwan and the South China Morning Post have been supplied with telling photographs over the past weeks by tourists, by the Royal Thai Navy, by Marine Police, and by the regular police.

We do not expect to receive photographs any time soon from the Thai Army.

The travails of the Rohingya across the Andaman Sea to Indonesia and Indian territory will inevitably provoke more questions, and their fate will almost certainly now become a topic at the important Asean summit in Thailand next month.

For one young Australian tourist, that day at Donald Duck beach on Similans Island Number 8 left indelible memories. It was a snorkelling celebration with three close friends to mark her 23rd birthday.

''We didn't know what was happening, but what we saw was horrible,'' she said. ''The day started as such fun, and it was such a contrast at the other end of the beach.

''At first, we couldn't believe what we were seeing. It was awful. They were treated like animals.''

Boat People 'Aiming for Phuket, Phang Nga'
The prospect of tourists encountering boat people is increasing on and around Phuket and Phang Nga as questions are being asked about Army brutality against refugees.
Boat People 'Aiming for Phuket, Phang Nga'

Similans Tourists See Boat People Mistreated
Bikinis and brute force
Thailand's Similan islands, one of the world's top dive sites, is now also a destination where tourists may see boat people roughly handled by armed military on the beaches.
Similans Tourists See Boat People Mistreated

How the Andaman Links to Amnesty 'Torture'
Photo Album
Amnesty accusations of 'torture' have an Andaman connection. The holiday coastline from Phuket northwards is now home to a mix of tourists and boat people, as well as locals.
How the Andaman Links to Amnesty 'Torture'

Exclusive: Secret Rohingya 'Exile Island' Revealed
Photo Album
Concern is increasing about the manner in which Rohingya are being secretly turned back to sea off Thailand after first being detained on an Andaman island
Exclusive: Secret Rohingya 'Exile Island' Revealed

In Pictures: Arrest of the Rohingya

Photo Special: Phuket Navy Holds Burmese Muslims
Photo Exclusive
The first astonishing photos of hundreds of Burmese Rohingya attempting to enter Thai waters are on Phuketwan now, as chronicled by the Royal Thai Navy.
Photo Special: Phuket Navy Holds Burmese Muslims

'Starving' Boatloads: Phuket Call for UN Action
World Exclusive
Hundreds of hungry boat people are being apprehended north of Phuket, prompting a call for United Nations intervention. Phuketwan exposes the Andaman's serious human rights issue, the Rohingya.
'Starving' Boatloads: Phuket Call for UN Action

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Light pollution forms 'eco-traps'

Light pollution forms 'eco-traps'
By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News
Story from BBC NEWS:

An international team of researchers has found another form of light pollution that could have an adverse effect on wildlife.
The scientists showed that as well as direct light sources, polarised light also triggered potentially dangerous changes in many species' behaviour.
They added that road surfaces and glass buildings were among the main sources of this form of light pollution.
The findings appear in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
Co-author Bruce Robertson, an ecologist from Michigan State University, US, said polarised light from structures within the built environment overwhelmed natural cues that controlled animal behaviour.
"Environmental cues, such as the intensity of light, that animals use to make decisions occur at different levels of severity in the natural world," he said.
"When cues become unnaturally intense, animals can respond unnaturally strongly to them."
As a result, the false cues could create an "ecological trap" for species attracted by the light.
Double vision
Dr Robertson said that water was the primary source of horizontal polarised light in the natural world, and that many animals - including birds, insects and reptiles - had highly developed polarisation vision.
This particular form of light played a key role in the animals' lifecycle, such as finding breeding and feeding sites, he added.
A well documented example is the way that baby sea turtles rely on the direction of starlight and moonlight reflected off the water's surface in order to help them find the ocean when they emerged from their nests.
Yet, there are examples of turtles in urbanised areas heading towards the brighter buildings and street lamps.
Dr Robertson said that expanding urban areas meant that there were more structures and surfaces to confuse wildlife.
"Any kind of shiny, black object - oil, solar cells, asphalt - causes problems," he explained. "The closer they are to wetlands, the bigger the problem."
"Light from the sun is vibrating in all possible directions, but after bouncing off smooth flat surfaces, like water, it only vibrates in the horizontal direction; it has become polarised.
"This is why polarised sunglasses make it easier for us to see on a bright day - they remove only the horizontally polarised light that reflects off water and roads," he told BBC News.
Flying light
The team of US and Hungarian researchers said that more than 300 species of insects were known to use polarised light as the primary source for navigation.
"This is used to search for suitable water bodies to act as feeding/breeding habitats," they wrote.
"Because of their strong signature, artificial polarising surfaces - asphalt, gravestones, cars, plastic sheeting and glass windows - are commonly mistaken for bodies of water."
The team added that "polarised light pollution" (PLP) differed from traditional forms of light pollution, called ecological light pollution (ELP) because it occured at any time during the day.
"Because ELP results from the incidence of visible light at times and places where it does not occur naturally, ELP is predominantly a night-time phenomenon.
"In contrast, PLP can occur during both light and dark cycles in terrestrial environments."
The study also suggested that PLP could also disrupt entire food webs if predators followed their prey into the urban "ecological trap", or if a generation of prey species was wiped out without reproducing.
It added that PLP also had an impact on marine life: "When scattered light passed through the transparent body of small aquatic prey animals, its polarisation signature was altered, increasing the visual contrast.
"Plankton feeders are adept at detecting zooplankton in the water column that would otherwise be transparent."
But this hunting technique, it explained, caused problems for the feeders when they encountered marine litter.
"Underwater plastic garbage is another source of PLP, and may prompt aquatic organisms into consuming inappropriate and dangerous items.
"Turtles commonly ingest plastic, particularly transparent plastic bags, which have a polarisation signature similar to that of prey items they commonly target."
Despite the growing human impact on certain communities of animals, the researchers suggested that the worst examples of PLP could be reduced.
They recommended the use of alternative building materials or employing methods to mitigate the problem, such as adding white curtains to dark windows or adding white markings on road surfaces.
Dr Robertson said the team's findings could offer conservationists an alternative way to deal with problematic species, such as insects destroying trees.
"You may be able to create massive polarised light traps to crash bark beetle populations," he suggested.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tiger Vs Tribe

The forests stand a chance of surviving India's insatiable growth with the Forest Rights Act, says PANKAJ SEKHSARIA

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 3, Dated Jan 24, 2009

http://www.tehelka. com/story_ main41.asp? filename= cr240109tiger_ vs_tribe. asp

IF A list were to be drawn of the most discussed and debated legislations in recent times, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Rights (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, known popularly as the Forest Rights Act, would surely be amongst the top. The intensity of the discussions and polarised nature of the debates that preceded the enactment of this law and continue even now, after it has been notified, has been noteworthy.

The Act allows:

• A family can own up to four hectares of land that is under occupation or cultivation, subject to meeting other relevant criteria

• A greater role and empowerment of Gram Sabha in determining claims, managing forests it has traditionally conserved, checking processes destructive of forestdwellers' habitats, and protecting traditional knowledge

• Greater livelihood security for traditional forestdwellers who have been denied tenure

• Displacement and relocation only by consent

• Right to development facilities with a limit of 1 ha of maximum 75 trees density per project (in case of which, Forest Conservation Act will not apply)
Photo: AK Varun

The Act seeks its legitimacy when the preamble lays out its purpose as 'correcting the historical injustices meted out to forest-dwelling communities' . A wide spectrum of people including tribal rights groups and activists have welcomed the act. Those opposing the act — a significant section of wildlife protection NGOs, forest bureaucracy and prominent voices in the media, have vehemently argued that the Act and its implementation will drive the final nail into the coffin of India's rapidly shrinking forest cover and beleaguered wildlife. It has been pitched as the ultimate 'tiger vs. tribal' clash — where the tiger (and by extension other wildlife too) will certainly lose and the tribal, in whose name this is being done, will only end up a puppet in the hands of powerful and vested interests.

Those who have taken a relatively neutral position on the Act have also expressed their concerns about certain provisions. For example, December 2005 was made the cut-off date for accepting claims to ownership of lands. They have pointed out that there will be challenges in determining genuine rights. One also can't ignore the possibility of forest areas getting fragmented in the name of development activity such as roads, health centres and transmission lines. The larger fear of vested interests misusing the Act too is justified. Yet, it does seem unfair to put all the causes of India's forest destruction in the basket of this newly-enacted legislation, or at the door of the communities that are expected to benefit from it.

India is a country of more than a billion people of which the tribal population accounts for about 10 percent. These and other similar communities have been displaced, often brutally, from their ancestral forests, fields and livelihoods to make way for one big project after another — dams, mines, urban expansion and infrastructure projects. Time and again, when they resisted, they have been physically assaulted and even killed by state forces meant to protect them. Kashipur, Jagatsinghpur and Nandigram are only few instances.In such a huge country, then, with so many points of views and importantly, so many stakes on resources, it seems strange that many conservationists attribute the problems of forests, conservation of wildlife to impoverished and marginalised tribals.

CONSERVATION IN India appears to have a blind spot when it comes to tribal rights. Thousands of hectares of productive lands are being designated as Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Traditional tribal lands, many of which are thickly forested and home to a range of wildlife, are allocated to mining interests and huge dams that drown pristine forests in the biodiversity hotspots of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas. Across the landscape, infrastructure projects continue to cut through forested areas. This is little more than an indicative list of the kind of pressures and threats faced by some of India's richest forest areas and the people that live there. The laws, courts, politicians, bureaucrats, the media and the wildlife conservationists are unable to help prevent this onslaught. Tribal communities, our forests and wildlife are at the receiving end today of a development paradigm that is rolling on like a juggernaut, brooking no opposition. The most optimistic will argue that the Forest Rights Act indeed shows us a way.

In any case, field results to the implementation of Act have been a mixed bag. According to a Press Release issued by the Central Government in November 2008, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) has released Rs 22.6 crores as a grant to states requiring financial assistance to implement this law. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tripura and Rajasthan had received large numbers of claims and some had even started distributing title deeds. As of September 30, Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh distributed 5000, 59548 and 4186 pattas respectively. However, the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Daman and Diu are yet to even appoint nodal officers, which is a basic requirement for implementation. There have also been unverified reports of deforestation and encroachment from different parts of Gujurat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh due to misuse of the Act.

It is important to bear in mind that the Forest Rights Act does not give just rights and land to the people, it also empowers them to conserve forests and wildlife. In the Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary, local communities from Orissa, empowered and encouraged by rights accorded to them by the Act, seized three truckloads of timber from the residence Forest Range Officer in September 2008. Earlier, villagers said, they had failed to curb timber smuggling as they didn't have any right or say in the management of resources inside the sanctuary. It provides another handle to battle against some of the hugely destructive so called 'development' projects. The Act has already been used (unsuccessfully so far) in attempting to stop mining of bauxite in the thickly forested and sacred Niyamgiri mountains of Dongaria Kond tribe in Orissa. Maybe there will be success in the future; maybe the Act will help the millions of marginalised feel secure and empowered once again; maybe it will give them the confidence to resist and keep alive the possibilities of parallel worlds and cosmologies.

(Pankaj Sekhsaria is the editor of The Protected Area Update, a wildlife and conservation newsletter from Kalpavriksh)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thailand Urged to Stop Pushing Refugees Out to Sea

Thailand Urged to Stop Pushing Refugees Out to Sea
Thursday, January 15, 2009

A refugee rights organization has called on the Thai government to stop stranding Rohingya boat people from western Burma’s Arakan State at sea after apprehending them for illegally entering Thailand.

In a press release issued on Monday, Washington, DC-based Refugees International said the Thai government “should instruct its Army to desist from its new and troubling policy of pushing refugees and migrants intercepted on boats back out to sea.”

According to the group, press reports indicated that there were at least four confirmed deaths and as many as 300 people missing after a boat that had been towed out to sea by the Thai authorities capsized.

One report said that on December 18, the Thai Navy set 412 people adrift on a single boat in international waters north of the island of Koh Surin, off the coast of Thailand.

After 13 days at sea, the Indian Coast Guard rescued 107 survivors of the ordeal near the Andaman Islands.

Thai officials disputed the claim. “Thai immigration office will never send illegal immigrants back to their countries by putting them back in the boat then let them go,” said Police Lieutenant General Chatchawal Suksomjit, commander of the Thailand Immigration Office.

Chris Lewa, an expert on Rohingya issues who interviewed some of the survivors, said that they told her they were forced to get onto the boat at gunpoint and were given just four bags of rice and two tanks of water.

“It’s an outrageous situation. Thailand must stop putting them back in the middle of the sea,” she added.

One survivor from Buthidaung Township, Arakan State, told Lewa that he had left his village with eight people. “Four of my friends are now dead. Our dream was to go to Malaysia,” he said.

A rising tide of Rohingya refugees has been fleeing Burma towards countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Their numbers usually increase after November, when the seas are at their calmest. Last week, more than a hundred people who travelled by boat were arrested by Indonesian authorities in Aceh.

The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority who face harsh treatment by the Burmese authorities. They are prohibited from travelling outside Arakan State and are further marginalized by other discriminatory regime laws.

Last September, more than 100 Rohingyas were given six-month prison sentences after they were arrested while traveling to Rangoon in search of work.

Many seek to escape the economic hardship of their restricted lives and turn to brokers to help them find work outside Arakan State. Hundreds put to sea in leaky vessels and head for Malaysia, but many end up on Thailand beaches or drown in the stormy waters of the Andaman Sea.

According to official Thai figures, the number of Rohingyas arrested for illegally entering Thailand has increased steadily in recent years, from 1,225 in 2005-6 to 4,886 in 2007-8. There were 659 Rohingyas seized in eight separate incidents from November 26 to December 25 last year.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another 150 Bangladeshis rescued from Nicobar Islands

THE DAILY TELEGRAMS, January 11, 2009

20 in distress reported by sighted Tilangchang isles

ANC launches search & rescue operation

Port Blair, Jan 10

The Andaman and Nicobar Command launched a Search and Rescue mission in response to a message received from the Harbour Master about some persons who were sighted on Tilanchang Island apparently in distress. The message received by the Joint Operations Center (JOC) at the Headquarters Andaman & Nicobar Command said that a merchant fishing vessel MFV Periyavar had reported sighting approximately 20 persons on the Tilangchang Island in the Great Nicobar. The persons were seen waving hands, making fire and smoke signals for help.

The Andaman and Nicobar Command responded with alacrity. Besides alerting the Coast Guard for immediate action, a MI-8 helicopter from the Carnic Air Force station was immediately launched at 0915 hrs to scout the area and assess the situation. The helicopter reported sighting of about 50 survivors towards the South-Western part of the Tilangchang Island.

In the meantime, a request for assistance in search and rescue was also received from SHO Nancowrie. Accordingly, a team of 12 Naval Sailors led by one Officer from the Naval Base at Kardip accompanied a team of local police by seven police personnel and SHO Nancowrie proceeded to Tilangchang by a speedboat. The team reached the island by 1730 hrs. The team had proceeded ashore when reports last came in. Simultaneously, a Coast Guard Ship, CGS Akkadevi, which was operating around Little Andaman, has also been directed to move towards Tilangchang Island.

The Joint Operations Centre at the Andaman and Nicobar Command is monitoring all developments round the clock and no effort will be spared by the Command towards the operation, an ANC release says.

THE DAILY TELEGRAMS, January 12, 2009

150 rescued in ANC search & rescue operation

Port Blair, Jan 11

The Search and Rescue operation launched by Andaman and Nicobar Command yesterday off Tilangchang Island has resulted in rescue of 150 persons stranded on the island. The team of 12 Naval Sailors led by one Officer from the Naval Base at Kardip accompanied a team of seven local police personnel and SHO Nancowrie to Tilangchang by a speedboat and reached there by 1730 hrs yesterday. The team then proceeded ashore and rescued 25 persons during the night itself. On questioning, it was revealed that these persons were of Bangladesh nationality and that they were part of a group of a total of 150 persons stranded on Tilangchang. The rescue team utilized their Gemini boat and two fishing boats in the vicinity to rescue all 150 persons.

Preliminary questioning of the survivors has revealed that a total of 580 people from Bangladesh had tried to illegally migrate to Thailand but had been allegedly apprehended by the Thailand security forces. They were then divided into batches and set adrift in five boats without engines. The 150 people rescued on Tilangchang were in one such boat which had capsized, leaving them stranded on the island for the last four days.

The rescued persons were administered First Aid at the Community Health Centre at Kamorta and were also provided food by the police. One person suffering from snake-bite was also given requisite treatment, and his condition is reported to be stable.

All the rescued persons were shifted onboard Coast Guard Ship Akkadevi for onward deportment to Port Blair. Five police personnel have also embarked the ship as escorts. CGS Akkadevi left harbour by 1700 hrs this evening and is expected to arrive at Port Blair by the evening of 12 Jan. On arrival, the survivors will be handed over to the police and local administration for further investigations. The Joint Operations Centre at the Andaman and Nicobar Command is monitoring the progress of the operations, an ANC release received here tonight says.

Dictionary in Great Andamanese

JNU don compiles dictionary in Great Andamanese
Parul Sharma

Linguist Anvita Abbi has been working with the community for the past eight years

NEW DELHI: In an attempt to restore the endangered Great Andamanese language, a researcher at Jawaharlal Nehru University has compiled a trilingual dictionary of about 4,000 words in that language, with translations in English and Hindi.

Linguist Anvita Abbi, who is the chairperson of the Centre for Linguistics at JNU, has been working with the Great Andamanese community for the past eight years.

The dictionary has phonetic representation of words and is replete with real pictures taken by Prof. Abbi herself. The dictionary will have a Hindi version and an English version as well. The author will zero in on the prospective publishers in the next couple of months.

“Great Andamanese is one of the four tribes living in the Andaman Islands. There are only 53 people in that community and only eight persons, the older ones, can speak the Great Andamanese language. It is a moribund language, as children do not converse in it,” said the JNU professor.

The dictionary has also documented different variations of the same word as used by different speakers. It also serves as an “ecological storehouse” comprising a large number of birds, trees, fish and other sea creatures.

Since the Great Andamanese has never had a script, Prof. Abbi also gave them the Devnagari scrip to use it as a medium to write the words of that language.

“Most tribal languages are only spoken and remain unwritten. No one has ever bothered to give them a script. I chose Devnagari because it is a scientific script. Also, the children go to schools in Port Blair and study Hindi. Therefore, they are familiar with this script,” she added.

The trilingual dictionary that has been compiled over three years is a part of a documentation project called “Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese”. The project is being funded by the School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London under the “Endangered Language Documentation Programme”.

“We used a lot of modern technology tools to develop a highly interactive dictionary. First, we ourselves got trained in how to make a dictionary. It will also be put on the Internet by the University of London. The online dictionary will also have the recording of a native speaker to pronounce the words and sentences in the language,” said Prof. Abbi.

Most linguists, she feels, shy away from researching on the languages spoken by the tribes on the Andaman Islands.

“Living with the community and managing things on your own is not easy. The bureaucracy in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is also a discouraging factor for linguists to work on the languages.” This past year, Prof. Abbi also came out with a book of letters in the Great Andamanese language.

“That was my tribute to the community, especially the children. I did it out of love for them,” she concluded.

Also see

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Weaving a success story

Weaving a success story
D.V.L. Padma Priya

Eight youths from the weaver community, employed in odd jobs, find a viable vocation after training in weaving and dyeing

New skills: Youths from Kolluru village in Adilabad district attending a design workshop.

HYDERABAD: It was a skill that literally ran in their blood. But it was an opportunity that was missing for a good 20 years. For these eight rural youth from Kolluru village in Adilabad District, weaving might not have been a natural livelihood choice, but it surely paved a way out of their poverty.

For D. Bhaskar, A. Suresh, D. Damodar, D. Mahesh, D. Chandrashekar, D. Sampath. V. Nagesh and R. Srinivas, the wheel of fortune turned in their favour when they were identified by Dastkar Andhra (DA), a city-based NGO. Aged between 20 and 24, the eight hailing from the weaver community were living in abject poverty. Many had dropped out of school and had been employed in odd jobs.


Their condition was brought to the notice of DA in 2006 when an older group of weavers in nearby Chennur informed them. A year’s training in weaving and dyeing, and the youth were all set to weave their own fortunes. “They were quick in grasping what was taught,” says V. Dharmender, in-charge, DA Production & Design, DA. Apart from appointing a master weaver to train them, DA also paid them a monthly stipend of Rs.1,000. “What motivated us to take up weaving was the fact that we didn’t have to work under anybody,” says D. Chandrasekhar.

Even after graduation, D. Sampath, a former teacher at a government school, finds weaving a sustainable livelihood optionHere to participate in a DA design workshop, they swear by their new found profession. Now named ‘Individual Weavers Co-operative Society’ as a group, they now earn anything between Rs. 6,000 to Rs. 9,000 individually per month.

“They are very confident now and have even paid back their bank loans,” says Ravinder of DA. He said they were identifying similar youngsters from backward regions of Andhra Pradesh. “As long as they are interested in learning weaving, DA is ready to assist them,” he says.”


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Saturday, January 10, 2009

India's top science institute must now tackle social needs

India's top science institute must now tackle social needs

T.V. Padma

23 December 2008 | EN

The Indian Institute of Science is a shining example of how a developing country can do basic science, but it needs to link its research more to social needs.

Universities in the developing world are sometimes urged to focus on research that is directly relevant to the problems facing their countries, leaving basic research to richer nations in the North. But that approach ignores the fact that basic science provides the bedrock of knowledge needed for developing practical solutions to such problems.

The Indian Institute of Science (IISc), based in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) and now celebrating its centenary year, demonstrates the value of committing to basic research.

Yet its report card is mixed on helping to solve development challenges. A balance needs to be struck between these two imperatives.

Applied beginnings

IISc’s history spans the period leading from British rule in the late nineteenth century through political independence to India’s emergence as a potential global economic power. Along the way, IISc spawned or helped nurture some of independent India’s fledgling new science institutes and departments, as well producing many eminent scientists and influential policymakers.

The idea of creating the IISc came when a prominent Indian industrialist, Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata, decided to donate a part of his fortune to setting up a high-quality postgraduate science research and teaching institute. Initially, the British viceroy, George Nathaniel Curzon, opposed the idea, arguing that it was too ambitious given the limited university education available in India at that time.

Tata died in 1904 with his dream unrealised. But Curzon subsequently relented and authorised the setting up of the institute in 1908. In what was probably the country’s first public-private partnership, the institute was built with Tata’s funds on 400 acres of land donated by the then king of Mysore.

The institute opened in 1911 with two departments, (chemistry and electrical engineering) and 24 students. The institute was initially application-oriented, investigating avenues such as the generation of electrical energy from water and the extraction of oil from sandalwood.

When India became independent in 1947, IISc-trained scientists were crucial to the country’s nascent aeronautics, metallurgy and electronics programmes. For example, some made up the first faculty members of the new Indian Institute of Technology in Khargapur, while others headed India’s space and atomic energy programmes, as well the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

Basic capacity

But as the number of departments increased, IISc gradually broadened its focus to include basic science. In the process, it became home to two of India’s greatest scientists: its only Nobel Laureate, Chandrasekhar Venkata Raman (discoverer of the physics of scattering light known as the Raman Effect and G. N. Ramachandran, who deduced the triple helix structure of collagen.

Developing countries need a critical mass of scientists in various disciplines, first to understand the fundamentals of science, and then to apply scientific results to local problems. This means that solving practical problems can't be done without adequate investment in the underlying science.

The challenge is to frame a basic research agenda that considers the eventual need to produce 'useful' knowledge, and doesn't become socially irrelevant by focusing excessively on pursuing knowledge for its own sake.

IISc has served India well in terms of contributing a critical mass of scientists. But during a four-day conference held in Bengaluru earlier this month, as part of centenary celebrations, a strong theme emerged: that IISc should now consider reorienting some of its expertise to help solve India’s pressing development problems.

In recent years, IISc’s collaboration with foreign companies and the private sector has tended to overshadow some of its efforts in applying science directly to social needs. For example, in 1974 the institute started a centre for rural technology, later expanded and renamed Centre for Sustainable Technologies.

Yet IISc could do more to link its basic research with applications, rather than let the two evolve as separate islands.

Excellence and relevance

Specific suggestions at the Bengaluru conference ranged from working on drinking water and sanitation, infectious diseases and vaccines, to crop productivity, solving the city’s traffic chaos, and tackling rising pollution and global warming.

Certainly IISc has a core competence in disciplines, ranging from computer sciences, nanotechnology, biotechnology and biology, ecology to environment and earth sciences, that could be harnessed more directly to practical applications.

For example, IISc's physicists have produced internationally recognised results in nanoscience. One research team is already working on practical engineering problems, such as how to coat plates with nanomaterials for purifying industrial waste waters and removing fluoride and arsenic from ground water.

The prospect of collaboration with global companies, and the prestige of publications and patents, can make it difficult for developing country institutes to focus on less glamorous projects that directly improve the lives of the poor. That’s particularly true when science citations continue to be the yardstick of scientific achievement.

But excellence in basic sciences needs to go hand in hand with relevance to social needs. In 1927 Mahatma Gandhi visited IISc and remarked: "Unless all the discoveries that you make have the welfare of the poor as the end in view, all your workshops will be really no better than Satan's workshops." His message should not be forgotten.

T V Padma
South Asia Regional Co-ordinator, SciDev.Net

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tossing iron powder into ocean to fight global warming

Tossing iron powder into ocean to fight global warming
6 Jan 2009, 2137 hrs IST, Amit Bhattacharya, TNN

NEW DELHI: Can tossing tonnes of iron powder into the ocean help the world fight global warming? A team of Indian scientists, along with their counterparts from Germany and elsewhere, is embarking on an ambitious 70-day ocean expedition on Wednesday to find answers to that question.

Twenty-nine scientists from India, eleven from Germany and ten others will board German research vessel, Polarstern, in Cape Town and head to the experiment site in southwest Atlantic near Antartica. They will stay in the cold and notoriously stormy waters for nearly two months to test a controversial hypothesis that, experts say, has the potential to clean up as much as 1 billion tonne (1 Gt) of CO2 from the atmosphere every year and store it below the ocean for centuries.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas chiefly responsible for global warming. According to current estimates, world emits 7 Gt of carbon into the air every year.

"We hope to have a deeper understanding of the technique than previous researches,'' S W A Naqvi of National Institute of Oceanography, who is the chief Indian scientist for the expedition, told TOI on email from Cape Town.

The experiment, called LOHAFEX loha for iron and FEX for fertilization experiment will test the efficacy of a technique that could not only become the most important way to dispose of CO2, but which also has millions riding on it by way of carbon credits. At least two US companies hope to profit from ‘ocean iron fertilization’ (OIF), as the method is called, by selling credits.

During the $2 million experiment, scientists will throw 20 tonnes of dissolved iron sulphate in 300 sq km of ocean. The iron is expected to stimulate a rapid blooming of phytoplankton, a microscopic algae that grows on the ocean surface.

Like all plants, phytoplankton takes up CO2 from air and converts it to carbon compounds like carbohydrates. The plant quickly dies and starts sinking, taking the carbon with it. What happens thereafter is the key to the technique's efficacy: If it sinks well below the ocean surface, the carbon would effectively have been put away for a long period.

The nutrient-rich but iron-deficient southern ocean is seen as an ideal site for OIF. The area is spread across 50 million sq km 15 times the size of India. The math done by scientists show that if the entire southern ocean were fertilized by iron and a sizeable fraction of the phytoplankton sank well below 1,000m, then about 1 Gt of carbon would be isolated for centuries. Water at depths below 500m takes about 100 years to come to the surface.

The scientists say the carbon footprint - additional carbon emitted by the technique - would be minor as compared with the gains.

For seven weeks, LOHAFEX's team of physicists, chemists, biologists and geochemists will study the effects of the algal bloom on the exchange of CO2 between ocean and atmosphere as well as on the oceanic food chain and the organisms of the underlying sea floor.

As Prof Naqvi put it, "The core issue the fate of organic matter produced due to iron fertilization is still not settled. It is not clear whether this material gets recycled in the near-surface layer (which would make OIF not very useful) or a substantial fraction of it gets transported to the deep sea (which will make OIF a useful technique to isolate CO2). LOHAFEX is better equipped to track the fate of this carbon than previous researches.''

The researchers will also study krill, a shrimp-like animal which feeds on phytoplankton and is the main food of Antarctic penguins, seals and whales. Krill stocks have declined by over 80% in past decades and their response to the iron-fertilized bloom could give clues to help in recovery of the decimated great whale populations as well.

"India hasn't carried out such an experiment in the ocean so far. It requires a high level of expertise not found elsewhere in the Third World. So, apart from the scientific gains, the experiment itself should enhance our prestige. Significantly, more than half the Indian participants are students (from NIO),'' Naqvi said.

But OIF remains controversial, with many environmentalists saying it amounts to major tinkering with the marine eco-system. If done on the scales proposed in the future, it could have unforeseen consequences, they warn.

Spotted Deer off Banned List in the Andamans

Spotted Deer off Banned List; Hunting License in Process

THE LIGHT OF ANDAMANS, Vol. 33, Issue 34-35, January 2, 2009

N ew Year brings a rea- son to smile for those interested in sport hunting and all those who havve been resorting to illegal means to get venison or deer meat. If you have a licensed gun rusting in some corner of your house, its time get busy with oiling, cleaning and shooting practice.
The department of wildlife has taken spotted dear off the list of protected species of animals on the ground that it is an exotic animal introduced by the British regime sometimes in early 1920s.
"Spotted deer is an exotic species that plays havoc with the environment. It causes tremendous damage to the forest and hence the department has decided to take it off the protected list" said Bhanu Pratap Yadav, Divisional Forest Officer, Havelock Forest Division. "Process is on to introduce hunting license and it will be implemented very soon" he concluded.
Deer meat or venison is very popular among the local people. Putting it on the protected species list had come as a rude shock. The demand was mostly met by illegal had come up allegedly in connivance with unscrupulous forest officials. License to hunt would go a long way to eliminate the black market. However, it would be nobody's interest if the species is washed out through over exploitation.
The Wildlife department would certainly take precaution to contain rather than annihilate the species.

Monday, January 5, 2009

No more padauk in South Andaman forests?

We have no padauk trees in the entire South Andaman area


Jan 04, 2009 at 09:48 PM
Presently extraction of padauk is done from North & Middle Andaman District, which may not last for long: SS Choudhury, PCCF

Port Blair, Jan. 4: A state level marketing workshop on Handicrafts of Andaman & Nicobar Islands was organised at Sun Sea Resort, Port Blair on Friday, Jan 2, 2008. The Secretary (Textiles), Govt. of India, Shri A K Singh was the chief guest on the occasion.
During the interactive session, the artisans who were linked to the furniture industry demanded that they are not given Padauk timber, which is in major demand. Replying to the artisans, Mr. S S Choudhury, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest said, “We are left with not even a single padauk tree in the entire south Andaman. At present extraction is done from Diglipur area and in a limited quantity”. The PCCF Mr. Choudhury also underlined that the present crises of padauk is only because we always want to harvest but no one tries to replace it by planting trees.
Addressing the inaugural session, the chief guest explained the need for giving importance to quality and consistency of handicraft products so as to attract customers and fetch good returns. This will benefit the artisans engaged in production of handicrafts. He advised the artisans to take advantage of trainings provided to them by different agencies and utilize the skills in their handicrafts with innovative designs and quality.
Shri Sanjay Agrawal, Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), Ministry of Textiles, New Delhi highlighted the objective of the workshop and informed that various initiatives need to be taken up for the improvement of handicrafts in the islands such as sea shell, coconut shell, wooden handicrafts, cane & bamboo. For these, the Govt. would provide financial help in the form of advance, he said.
Smt. SKP Sodhi Secretary, Industries explained that branding of products is more important that production. A study of the demand and then branding would definitely help in fetching good returns, she said.
In the technical session, speakers highlighted the role of different development agencies in development of handicrafts of the islands including marketing, raw materials, insurance of artisans and the problems they face. The speakers included S/Shri R Nityanandam, DGM NABARD, A Sinha Roy, Executive Officer KVIC Port Blair, N C Saravanan, DCF (Mill), S K Halder, GM, DIC, Abhijit Bhattacharya, Branch Manager LIC of India, D Halder, Chief Manager (CSC), M K Biswas, President, AFIA, A Jobai, President SSAWA and A M Abdul Kader, Asst Director (Handicrafts Marketing & Service Extension Center, Port Blair.
About 100 artisans attended the workshop which was organized by the Office of the Development Commissioner, Handicrafts, Ministry of Textiles, GoI, Southern Regional Office, Chennai.

Dugong killed in Neil Island

Endangered sea mammal slaughtered in Andamans

Neha Sinha Posted: Jan 02, 2009 at 0028 hrs IST
New Delhi: THE dugong, a massive sea mammal often mistaken by sailors as
the mythical mermaid, has most of its last viable populations in the
Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The population here too, of these slow
breeding, 13 feet long animals, is only 25-30. Now, there’s one less.

The long arm of poaching has not spared the pristine Andaman and Nicobar
Islands. A breeding female dugong, protected under Schedule One of the
Wildlife Protection Act, was hacked to death by poachers around
Christmas on Neil Island. The meat of the dugong may have been used as
fish bait and was chanced upon by scuba-divers in the area.

“Tourists in Neil island, part of the Andaman complex, woke up to the
sight of a mutilated carcass of the dugong on beach number 3 of Neil
islands. We found the carcass dripping with blood. We had spotted the
same animal with a calf on the beach so it is now unlikely the calf will
survive on its own. Its shocking that anti-social elements can operate
like this,” said Lucan, a scuba-diver in the area. The Chief Wildlife
warden of the area, Khajan Singh, has deputed a senior forest department
official to investigate the matter.

The number of dugongs, which exist only in areas with shallow waters,
mostly with coral reef formations, has dwindled enormously in the past
few years due to indiscriminate hunting. There is current evidence of
the dugong living in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Though they
existed in the Gulf of Kutch, there have not been any recent sightings
of the animal there. They are also found in the Great Reefs in Australia.

In 2008, the Cabinet approved India joining international efforts to
protect and manage dugongs. Dugongs are legally protected under Schedule
I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. They are listed in Appendix-I
of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild
Fauna and Flora (CITES) and in Appendix II of the Convention of
Migratory Species (CMS) to both of which India is a signatory.

Conviction for hunting spotted deer in Marine National Park

Three found guilty & convicted under the Wildlife (Protection) Act

Port Blair, Jan 04

THE DAILY TELEGRAMS, January 5, 2009

The Chief Judicial Magistrate, Port Blair, Shri Manas Basu has
convicted three persons and sentenced to them suffer simple imprisonment
for one year each. The accused pesons are A Muthu, S Kumar and Karthick
and they have been convicted under section 51 of the Wildlife
(Protection) Act 1972.

The case against all the three convicts was initiated by the
Assistant Wildlife Warden of Mahatma Gandhi Marine National park,
Wandoor alleging therein that on Jan 31, 2002. While on routine
patrolling duty he apprehended two accused persons red handed while they
were loading spotted deers on an engine dinghy anchored at the shore of
Tarmugli Island.

The persons apprehended A Muthu, Panchayat member and S Kumar, both
residents of Indira Nagar when interrogated implicated one more person
named Karthick who alongwith them captured the spotted deers at the
Tarmugli Islands.

The hunting / capturing of the spotted deers is totally prohibited
being wild animal of schedule III except as provided U/s 11 and 12 of
Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972. After hearing the evidence adduced on
behalf of the complainant the Chief Judicial Magistrate found the three
persons guilty of the offence and sentenced them accordingly, the APP,
Shri Salim Mohammed informed in a communication here.

Dastkar Andhra's Sankranti sale of handlooms in Hyderabad

Whales strandings and earthquakes: an uncanny connection

Very interesting....

From: Arunachalam Kumar

I would like to share this interesting bit of correspondence and news
with others here. I have extracted the pieces from orkut, a popular
interactive site. A query addressed to me and my response to it on
orkut, read along with the news item published today on the website,
should add more strength to my oft repeated theory that whale strandings
are invariably followed up by earthquakes / tsunamis within a few weeks.

(*Dr. Arunachalam Kumar's prediction of the tsunami in Asia)*
On 4th Dec 2004 he posted the following message to a Natural History
list pertaining to India: "It is my observation, confirmed over the
years, that mass suicides of whales and dolphins that occur sporadically
all over the world, are in someway related to change and disturbances in
the electromagnetic field coordinates and possible realignments of
geotectonic plates thereof. Tracking the dates and plotting the locales
of tremors and earthquakes, I am reasonably certain, that major
earthquakes usually follow within a week or two of mass beaching of
cetaceans. I have noted with alarm, the last week report of such mass
deaths of marine mammals in an Australian beachside. I will not be
surprised if within a few days a massive hit hits some part of the
globe. The interrelationship between the unusual `death-wish' of pods of
whales and its inevitable aftermath, the earthquake, may need a further
impassioned and unbiased looking into'
The Asian tsunami struckon 26 Dec 2004.

*30th NOV 2008 / orkut*

from: Soubhagya Ranjan:

Good afternoon sir, how are you sir?

Sir while going through the Australian news paper Sydney Morning Herald,
I read the news regarding the 150 whales perished in the mass stranding
off at Tasmania's west coast.

Sir should we anticipate a tsunami in the coming days?

*30th NOV 2008 / orkut*

reply from: Dr. Kumar Arunachalam:

Not necessarily a tsunami, but some undersea tectonic plate shift or
terrestrial earthquake is an imminent and distinct possibility....the
locale could be South Asia or west coast of USA within 2 to 4 weeks

*3rd JAN 2009 / *


Jakarta/Washington, Jan 4 (DPA) An underwater earthquake with a
magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale was recorded early Sunday off the
coast of eastern Indonesia, the US Geological Survey said. The quake
struck at 4.43 a.m. Sunday (1943 GMT Saturday) at a depth of 35 km below
the Earth surface. The epicentre was located 150 km west-north-west of
Manokwari in Indonesia's Irian Jaya, or 623 km northeast of Ambon in
Indonesian Molucca.

Dr. Arunachalam Kumar