Identifying 37 per cent — or about 60,000 square km — of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive, a high-level panel has recommended that “destructive” activities such as mining, thermal power, major construction, and some hydel power projects should not be allowed there.

However, the panel was silent about any restrictions in the remaining 96,000 square km area, thus creating the perception that it had diluted earlier recommendations that the entire Ghats should be declared as an eco-sensitive area.

The pride of Gujarat will have to be shared with Madhya Pradesh this year, with the Supreme Court ruling that some of the Asiatic lions currently found only in the famed Gir sanctuary must be shifted to Madhya Pradesh within six months.

However, the Centre’s dreams of bringing another big cat to India — the extinct cheetah — have been further deflated, with the apex court slamming any attempt to import African cheetahs.

Market mechanisms, international funding needed

Warning that a carbon tax of $10 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions could cause a GDP loss of more than $600 billion, the Economic Survey says the way forward for domestic environment financing must come from a mix of market mechanisms, fiscal instruments and regulatory interventions.
Citing the results of preliminary modelling studies by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Survey argues that “relying solely on carbon taxes and subsidy may not be the most viable policy option.” It also discusses the establishment of a National Green Fund to finance environmental protection, but only mentions international sources to fill the coffers of the Fund.

Activists lament dilution of tribal rights as Environment Ministry amends 2009 circular

Gram sabhas in forest areas have been stripped of their power to approve or reject proposals for the diversion of their forest lands for building roads, transmission lines, canals or other linear projects. In a move that activists have slammed as being a dilution of the rights of tribal people and other forest dwellers, the Environment Ministry on Tuesday amended its critical August 2009 circular dealing with the implementation of the Forest Rights Act.

Will not dilute gram sabha consent requirements, says MoEF

In a joint strategy for their meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next week, Environment and Forests Minister Jayanthi Natarajan and Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo both reportedly plan to oppose any dilution of tribal rights in forest areas. This, despite the fact that their respective secretaries have signed on to a deal with the Prime Minister’s Office last month agreeing to such a dilution.

In the latest flip-flop on the Land Acquisition Bill, which is slated to be discussed by the Union Cabinet on Thursday, the Rural Development Ministry has again diluted the consent provisions, reportedly against the wishes of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

According to sources in the government, the latest version of the Bill requires the consent of only 70 per cent of land owners when the government acquires land for a public-private partnership (PPP) project. For all other types of projects, 80 per cent consent will be required.

Panel calls for 10-year moratorium on field trials of Bt food crops

Citing India’s obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity — whose global conference is now underway here — a Supreme Court-appointed panel has recommended a ban on genetically modified (GM) field trials until the regulatory system is completely overhauled. It also called for a ten-year moratorium on field trials of Bt food crops (which are modified with the Bacillus thuringiensis gene, such as the proposed Bt Brinjal), and a complete ban on field trials of transgenics in crops which originate in India.

Countries are unwilling to embrace more conservation measures until they are sure that money will be available

Negotiators from over 190 countries sat late into the night on Thursday, trying to end the stalemate in funding talks as the Convention on Biological Diversity draws to a close. It is hoped that a combination of rising pressure from poor countries, and lowered expectations from India and the U.N. may help to wring some monetary support from richer countries to help protect the world’s vanishing plants, animals and natural habitats.

In a bid to kick-start the stalled process of raising global funds for biodiversity conservation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh committed $50 million (over Rs. 264 crore) for what he called the ‘Hyderabad Pledge’ as India takes over the two-year presidency of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

This sum would “strengthen the institutional mechanism for biodiversity conservation in India. We will use these funds to enhance the technical and human capabilities of our national and State mechanisms to attain CBD objectives,” Dr. Singh told delegates at the inauguration of the high-level segment of the U.N. summit on Tuesday. “We have also earmarked funds to promote similar capacity building in developing countries.”

In an agreement with Jan Satyagraha, Centre promises to initiate land reforms

Thousands of landless poor aborted their march to Delhi on Thursday, accepting the government's promises to initiate land reform and the possibility of statutory backing for the right to shelter, homestead and agricultural land. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh signed a 10-point agreement in Agra — barely 10 days after refusing to sign a similar deal at the march’s starting point in Gwalior — which promises a draft National Land Reform Policy in the next four to six months.