Sunday, June 30, 2013

NAPM - People’s Commission Report on Special Rehabilitation Scheme

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People’s Commission Report on Special Rehabilitation Scheme Released
SRA Projects full of Illegalities and Irregularities, Demands Cancellation of Fraudulent Projects and Demands implementation of RAY
Mumbai, June 24th : People’s Commission Report on Slum Rehabilitation Scheme in Mumbai was released today by Justice (retd.) B N Deshmukh, High Court, Aurangabad. The Commission was appointed by NAPM in order that a thorough enquiry could take place in to the irregularities and illegalities complained by hundreds and thousands of the slum dwellers included in the Scheme. The Commission was also appointed since the government of Maharashtra went back on its promise to appoint a joint enquiry committee to look in to 15 SRA projects, with Justice Suresh as Chairperson. This promise was given during the nine day fast by Medha Patkar and others while the official notifications were modified giving false reasons of Court’s directive and the enquiry was transferred to High Power Committee. Having no faith in the HPC, the people’s movements, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan and others decided to continue the struggle, and forcing the State government to finally appoint a Committee under the Principal Secretary, Housing to undertake the enquiry into Six SRA projects in January 2013.

In this context NAPM decided to go in for a parallel enquiry from the eminent experts panel as an initiative from the civil society, under the chairmanship of Justice H Suresh. Other members included Smt Amita Bhide, Prof. TISS, urban habitat policy expert & member of the High Power Expert Group appointed by High Court, Mumbai in 2005; Sh. Chandrashekhar, architect and member of High-rise Buildings Committee, Govt of Maharashtra; Shri S Suradkar, former Inspector General of Police andSimpreet Singh, senior social activist. The panel went through a long process of investigation for months, conducted public hearings, visited the SRA areas and communities, invited and heard developers who appeared before the Commission and referred to the submissions made by the residents, their groups and organisations as well as the developers. The Commission also referred to secondary data and information available in various policy documents and reports. The Commission benefitted from the long experience and research of the panel members as senior policy interveners.

The Report has brought out a number of frauds and illegalities infesting the SRA projects and the serious flaws in to the SR Scheme itself. It indicates how the developers – politicians – bureaucrats together have favoured the builders more often than the residents and permitted violations of laws, rules and the scheme itself. The Scheme’s objective of the rehabilitation is often marred since displacement of hundreds of families without rehabilitation has also been a result of wrong application and corruption in the eligibility criteria and list of beneficiaries evolved thereby. With no registered agreements in the hands of the residents, the Commission has reported a number of cases where they are cheated or kept hanging in the non livable transit camps or the rented houses without the rent being paid regularly. The report brings out the stories of oppression and repression by the residents of decades old communities who are driven out using intimidation and luring tactics, ultimately to dump them, violating their rights. False cases filed against the residents, unrequired questioning of residents by police are used as harassment tactics. The Report exposes the role of the police in favouring the developers, many a times not admitting the FIRs and compelling the residents to run from dawn to dusk and reach the Courts at enormous costs.

An important highlight of the Report is regarding the transfer of the land to the builders which the scheme legitimizes, going against the expected principle and goal of equitable land use in the megalopolis of Mumbai where 60% of population being slumdwellers, resides on not more than 9.24 percent of Mumbai’s land. The allotment of land out of the communities land to the investor builder has attracted the politicians and others to also come forward and become partners in SRA schemes. This, as Report brings out, has resulted in complacency and favouritisim within the sanctioning and monitoring authorities such as SRA and Revenue department with the builders and have left the residents with little or no channel for redressal of their grievances. The Commission has concluded, going beyond the CAG report which shows that instead of 8 lakh houses only 1.5 lakh houses have been constructed under SRS since 1996 till 2011, that the Scheme is more or less a failure in terms of strengthening the Cooperatives of slum dwellers and rehabilitating them at a better standard of living.

The Report goes into the details of 6 SRA projects including Shiv Koliwada, Ramnagar (Ghatkopar), Ambedkar Nagar (Mulund), Indira Nagar (Jogeshwari), Chandivili (Mahendra and Sommaiyya quarries) and Golibar (Khar). These are the very projects which are also being enquired by Principal Secretary Housing Govt of Maharashtra, whose report is also expected soon. The People’s Commission is releasing the Report for the vibrant Civil Society and will submit the same to the Govt of Maharashtra this evening. Expecting serious consideration and prompt action on the recommendations, the Commission would await the official report from the Ministry of Housing and ponder over it, planning its future strategy to bring in the pro people democratic and just housing scheme that would result in equitable distribution of land and protection of people’s right to shelter as part of right to life, under article 21 of the Constitution.

The report’s recommendations includes urgent review of the 6 SRA projects under scanner as also the overall SR Scheme itself. Where the projects are not consented to by the communities those should be cancelled and amalgamation to big chunks of land diverted to the builders under 3k clause of the slum act 1971 or otherwise under some pretext should be withdrawn. The Commission instead suggests that with the people’s consent and readiness the community should be permitted and promoted to build their own housing schemes in truly cooperative way using their own labour force and artisans as also retaining land underneath the slums with their own rights.The recommendations include alternative housing schemes on the basis of  Public Public Partnership that would include Rajeev Awas Yojana, with due participation and vision coming from the people, and people’s organsiations.

Medha Patkar             Sumita Wajale                      Madhuresh Kumar

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Pakistan — no country for foreign journalists

After having lived in Islamabad for five and a half years, Rezaul Hasan Lashkar had to pack up and leave in just a little over two weeks.
His sin – he was an Indian and a journalist reporting on Pakistan. And one hot day in the middle of June he was informed that his presence was no longer acceptable to someone, somewhere – through a phone call and a letter. But despite the unceremonious departure, his one regret – at least in recent days – is that he will not be able to get “some nihari from Kale Khan in Pindi before [he] leave[s].” Perhaps he has more regrets too – about friends he could not say goodbye too or places he was not allowed to visit but such are the state of affairs between his country and Pakistan that he refuses to talk about the issue at all. The longing for nihari too was gleaned from his twitter account.
And this silence says far more than any lengthy interview he may have given. The few details that are available came from someone close to him who spoke on the basis of anonymity. Hasan – as always – was waiting for a renewal of his visa when on June 13 he got a letter informing him that he should leave by June 23. The journalist panicked as he had no valid visa by then, without which he could not even leave. Much effort, phone calls and visits later, he was given a ‘generous’ extension till June 29.
The valid visa came on June 25 – finally making him eligible to leave. “Two thirds of his time in Pakistan was spent waiting for an extension of his lapsed visa,” says the someone. So much so that twice at least when his wife’s father had a heart attack, her family kept the news from her – because neither she nor Hasan could visit India and the ailing father. Nothing of Hasan’s stay is unusual for an Indian journalist in Pakistan but his departure surely is.
The tradition is that “the journalist is allowed a short overlap with his successor for a smooth transition”. But both Hasan and Anita Joshua, the second Indian journalist in Pakistan, who were scheduled to leave in any case and were only waiting for their successors to show up, were denied this in recent months. Indeed, Hasan’s abrupt departure came hot on the heels of the return of his counterpart – Anita Joshua of The Hindu – who was asked to leave shortly after the elections (but before the new government took charge) while New York Times’ Declan Walsh was bundled out a day after May 11, his notice period even shorter than the Indians.
The story of these three proves that Pakistan is fast turning into not just one of the most dangerous countries for journalists but also one of the most inhospitable. “What else would you call a place that so abruptly orders out those who have been living here for years on such a short notice,” says a senior journalist. When Walsh was thrown out, Pakistani journalists whispered that it happened because there was no empowered political government in place and the spooks got a chance to avenge past grievances.
But Joshua and Hasan were told to leave after Nawaz Sharif – the statesman who wanted and wants peace with India - has taken over. Yet there is not a peep out of the new government. As Mariana Babar, a senior journalist, puts it, “These cases show how powerful the security establishment is. Indian journalists were reluctantly issued visas for a few days on eve of elections. The process started during the caretaker government and continued as Sharif government was in the process of settling. Now as The Hindu and Press Trust of India (PTI) have requested visas for new representatives, we will wait and see how much authority Sharif asserts.”
Admittedly, the India-Pakistan journalist exchange is notoriously reflective of the poor bilateral relations – the feel-good rhetoric of the politicians notwithstanding. Both countries only allow two journalists from the other side to be stationed in the host country – but while the Indians use these positions, the Pakistanis are so uninterested in understanding our ‘worst enemy’ that no Pakistani reporter is based in India. The PTI and the Hindu have a correspondent each based in Islamabad and what a welcome they are extended. They are not allowed to move outside of Islamabad without permission (even Rawalpindi is out of bounds) and they are constantly shadowed by those who cannot prevent terrorist attacks but are aware of every nook and corner visited by the two Indian hacks in the soap dish sized Islamabad.
Yet these two people never forget to remind the one billion people living next doors that there is more than Taliban and extremism to Pakistan. And for those who want proof of this, they need not google the stories that Hasan and Joshua did – they should read the blog, “the Life and Times of Two Indians in Pakistan”.
Written mostly by Hasan’s wife, the posts paint a warm and engaging picture of her former host country (by the time this story appears in print, the couple will be on their way back to Delhi). Beyond the suo motu notices and the Taliban, these posts are about the more colourful characters that inhabit Islamabad; Mehmal the Lahori journalist; Pakistani music (“Still, give me Pakistani music any day” she writes) and the not to be missed post – about the testosterone filled spooks who follow her around.

Nanga Parbat - Chinese mountaineer narrates dramatic escape

ISLAMABAD: It was his four years in the military that helped Zhang Jingchuan survive the terrorist attacks on mountaineers at the Nanga Parbat base camp that left 10 of his colleagues dead last Saturday.
The Chinese citizen left Pakistan on Wednesday after sharing his incredible story with the Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP). “We were asleep when they came for us. They dragged us all out and tied up our hands. We were then made to get down on the ground on our knees. After they searched everyone, the massacre began. The shot was aimed at my head but it missed. And I began to run towards the valley,” Zhang Jingchuan told the ACP in brief comments, adding how the military training had helped him stay alert and not lose presence of mind.
“Survival in the wilderness or under such circumstances is part of training of soldiers. Zhang Jingchuan is a martial artist that was probably why he was quick to react, seeing an opportunity to somehow untie his hands and run for his life after the bullet missed his head,” explained ACP President Col Manzoor Hussain.
According to the ACP spokesman, Karrar Haidri, Zhang Jingchuan returned to the base camp after hiding for more than an hour and made a call for help. He had contacted his agency, the Seven Summit Treks in Nepal, which then got in touch with famous mountaineer Nazir Sabir, the owner of Nazir Sabir Expeditions, which was managing one of the four expeditions on the Nanga Parbat. The ACP said after Nazir Sabir approached the military, helicopters reached the base camp, 4,800 metres high, at around 6am to 7am. The only Pakistani murdered at the base camp was Ali Hussain, a cook and a high-altitude porter from Hushe village. The sole bread earner of his family, Hussain left behind his five year-old son and two daughters.
According to the ACP, three climbers from the Polish Alpine Club — Adam Stadnik, Boguslaw Magrel and Wlodek Kierus - who were climbing the Nanga Parbat at the time of the attack had also told various sources the nightmarish experiences. “The camp was surrounded, all climbers were dragged out of their tents, bound, robbed and then shot,” the ACP quoted Boguslaw Magrel writing in a blog. The ACP said there were about 50 or so climbers from Pakistan, Ukraine, and international teams consisting of climbers from Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan.
Another team of Ukrainian and Slovak climbers along with Sherpas from Nepal had brought with them mountaineers from China and a climber from Turkey. Col Manzoor Hussain, the ACP president, explained that the expeditions had started arriving in the area weeks back and had been getting acclimatised. “The Chinese were part of the Nazir Sabir Expedition and had arrived late on June 19 and were still at base camp I. The other climbers who were at the base camp that night and were killed were those who were unwell or had set up base camp II farther up the route and had returned to rest,” said Col Hussain, explaining how the climbers would often establish base camps higher on the mountain but descend to the previous camp as a technique to gradually get used to the thin air at the high altitudes.
After a sleepless night, the climbers were flown to Gilgit in helicopters and brought to Islamabad in a C-130 aircraft. However, most of the climbers who had to abandon their summit after the incident updated their blogs, urging discretion especially when terrorist elements had targeted foreign tourists in Pakistan. Nonetheless, the ACP said the Romanians on the Rupal side, the highest rock and ice wall in the world, of the Nanga Parbat were still climbing and had reached 7,200 metres a few days ago on the 8,126 metres high peak.
After managing to equip the route and camps for a summit push, the team started descending to lower camps. The team was now for a clear window to continue the climb and make a summit push. An official decision on the matter was awaited.

Sadiq Jamal Case: CBI Files Affidavit, Says Probe In Progress

Ahmedabad, Jun 20 (PTI):  today filed an affidavit in connection with the encounter killing of Sadiq Jamal in 2003 and told a court here that its investigation was in progress and that they are looking into all “relevant points” in the case. Sadiq, a resident of Bhavnagar city, was killed by a team of crime branch in an encounter near Galaxy Cinema on the outskirts of the city on January 13, 2003. At that time,  police had claimed that he was a terrorist who entered the city to kill Chief Minister and VHP leader Dr Pravin Togadia.
CBI Investigating officer and DySP S K Rathi filed the reply in response to an application made by Sadiq’s brother Shabir seeking further investigation into the alleged role played by then Joint Director (IB) Rajendra Kumar, former state Minister of State (MoS) for Home and the Chief Minister in the encounter. In its affidavit, filed on demand by Shabir, CBI said “relevant points are already being looked into during further investigation.” Shabir had filed an application before special CBI court judge V K Vyas here in May demanding further investigation in the case. CBI has also made it clear that when agency had filed the chargesheet in this case against eight accused on December 21, 2012, the investigation relating to the complicity, involvement of other persons in the commission of the crime had been kept pending and further investigation into the matter is under progress.
On a petition filed by Shabir, the Gujarat High Court had in 2011, directed CBI to take over the probe after filing a new FIR in the case. Reacting to the reply filed by CBI, advocate Shamshad Pathan, who is representing Shabir in this case, claimed, “this clearly means that CBI is investigating the role of then MoS Home  and Chief Minister Narendra Modi as we have demanded in our application.” “In our application we have alleged that as Sadik was killed as part of a political conspiracy. CBI should also investigate the role of the Chief Minister and the then MoS for Home and file supplementary charge sheet,” he further added.
However, CBI advocate I H Syed has denied this interpretation and told PTI that “we have submitted that CBI is investigating the complicity of other persons in the case. At this juncture, the investigating agency cannot say that we are investigating person A or B or C.” “Our investigation is moving in proper and right direction and whoever will be found complicit in the crime will be investigated and charge sheet will be filed against them,” he added.
In a related matter, CBI today sought exemption for producing the intelligence report, dated January 6, 2003, of Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB), Mumbai, in which it was allegedly claimed that Sadiq Jamal was a member of Dawood Ibrahim gang and had arrived to kill saffron party leaders to avenge 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. An application was moved before the court by advocate Rohit Verma on behalf of the accused policemen seeking a copy of the SIB report which was submitted by CBI along with the charge sheet in a sealed cover. In this case, CBI has arrested, apart from ex-Mumbai scribe Ketan Tirodkar, eight Gujarat policemen, including Tarun Barot and J G Parmar who were also arraigned as accused in the 2004 Ishrat Jahan fake encounter killing case and three others.
Today, CBI submitted it has requested SIB to de-classify this document but they have declined and sought exemption on the grounds that disclosure of this document to the accused is not essentially in the interests of justice and public interest. The court has asked the accused policemen to file their reply and kept the next hearing on July 3 when Shabir’s application will also be taken up.

See also:

Pakistan's 'blasphemy' girl moves to Canada

Islamabad: A Pakistani Christian girl who was arrested for alleged blasphemy last year and forced into hiding for fear of her life has moved to Canada, an activist said today.

Rimsha Masih could have faced life in prison if convicted over allegations that she set fire to pages of the Koran in the poor, run-down neighbourhood where she lived on the edge of Islamabad. She was arrested last August and spent three weeks on remand in one of Pakistan's toughest jails in a case that drew widespread international condemnation. 
She was released on bail and the case against her was quashed in November, but she and her family were forced into hiding, living under government protection in fear of their lives.

But a Christian activist in Pakistan told AFP on Sunday that Rimsha and her close relatives had moved to Canada. "Rimsha and her family have arrived in Canada," Sajid Ishaq said. "The Canadian government is supporting them. They are presently doing a foundation course to learn basic English," he said. Basharat Masih, a Pakistani policeman who said he had been assigned to Rimsha's protection, also confirmed that they had left. "They are being taken care of by the Canadian government and attending church services," he told AFP.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population are Muslims. Insulting the Prophet Mohammed can be punished by death. Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response and activists say the legislation is often used to settle personal disputes. Local media said Rimsha was as young as 11, but an official medical report classified her as "uneducated" and 14 years old, but with a mental age younger than her years.

Mohammed Hanif: How to commit blasphemy in Pakistan

At the end of the day, you've given 110 per cent - competition for prose with as many infuriating phrases as possible

Eager to preserve the English language against a rising tide of nonsense, we asked readers to compose a piece of prose crammed with as many infuriating phrases as possible.
Hundreds of readers took a few minutes off from shouting at the television to send an entry to our Infuriating Phrases Competition. The idea was to come up with a paragraph or two, no longer than 150 words, packed with as many infuriating words and phrases as possible.
Judging by the avalanche of phrases shovelled by the spadeful into your inventively annoying prose, many readers must be constantly on the boil at hearing our language mutilated on the radio, television, in shops and cafes, by politicians and pundits, and, perhaps worst of all, by business management executives.
Infuriating as the language was, the entries were very funny. "When it comes to abuse of English, I've been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Do you know what I mean?" Jackie Rowe's entry started, worryingly. "Proactive, self-starting facilitator required to empower cohorts of students and enable them to access the curriculum," said part of an advertisement for a teacher sent by Brian Smith.
"Hi, there," began Janet Thomas's entry, annoyingly, "How are you guys doing? Good, I hope. I totally see where you are coming from. At this moment in time it's not clear what is happening with our language. I'm often like, hello? We are in the UK here?"
"Our profitability is on a downward slope," wrote Peter Seaton, in the authentic voice of unthinking management, "and we must examine all avenues to flush out unnecessary costs. Please go away, sharpen your pencil and have a rethink."
Congratulations to the ten shown here and they each receive a signed copy of She Literally Exploded: The Daily Telegraph Infuriating Phrasebook by Christopher Howse and Richard Preston 
Barry Moyse
The Trust are committed to sharing best practice and passionate about facilitating appropriate skills through workshops and learning events around these issues across the piece. Monitoring using a web-based toolkit will empower users to drill down to assess local needs interactively. Stakeholders will be fully engaged in a consultation exercise breaking down barriers, pushing the envelope towards a seamless, one-stop shop service. Safety and value for money will be paramount so we are investing a funding stream to put in place a supportive multidisciplinary team to head up this exciting upcoming project, provide local ownership and robust clinical governance. Doing nothing is not an option: subject to independent review lessons will be learnt, accountability made transparent to commissioners, providers, and service-users to ensure that this tragedy will never happen again.
Mrs J. M. Johnson
To be honest with you, I'm pressurised 24/7. I'm literally in pieces. I surfed the net and sourced a top-dollar lifestyle guru, and he's working with my partner and I, prioritising issues so that we can team up and address them - know what I mean?
There's things that have to go on the back burner, so that we can jet away to the sun and chill to the max. A few drinks, a few laughs and I'll be firing on all cylinders, like I say. She'll shop until she drops - right? - but if that's what the little lady wants, that's what she'll get. We'll soak up the sun, go with the flow, and come back bronzed and fit.
Hopefully, by Christmas, we'll be sorted, and ready to party, party, party big-time - and spend some quality time with the kids, with the turkey and all the trimmings.
Andrew Macintosh and Mary Burdis
"At the end of the day," continued Simon, across a table of Eat's Now!, his favourite nutritional sustenance solutions establishment, "running things up the flagpole is essential to ensuring we are all singing from the same hymn sheet, so that the challenges of the present economic climate are met with emotional intelligence." He looked up to check Michelle was still listening. "Are you taking all this on board?"
The nutritional conveyance facilitator arrived.
"Chargrilled chicken, flash-fried vegetable compote and sun-dried tomatoes. Twice."
"Re-hydration, Sir?"
"Evian." Simon turned back to Michelle. "I'd like to run this by you." He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. "Non-Plus-Ultra Surplus-to-Requirements Collection Solutions requires executive disposal facilitator to supervise own ring-fenced area of operations, apply in first instance blah blah blah. Thought-share?"
"Cutting edge, actually. Literally."
Simon smiled: "I always like to give a 110 per cent."
End of story.
Nick Godfrey
I hear what you're saying but, with all due respect, it's not exactly rocket science. Basically, at the end of the day, the fact of the matter is you have got to be able to tick all the boxes. It's not the end of the world, but, to be perfectly honest with you, when push comes to shove, you don't want to be literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Going forward we need to be singing from the same songsheet but you can't see the wood from the trees. Naturally hindsight is 20/20 vision and you have to take the rough with the smooth before proceeding onwards and upwards. The bottom line is you wear your heart on your sleeve and, when all is said and done, this is all part and parcel of the ongoing bigger picture. C'est la vie (if you know what I mean)...

Also see - Communications from elsewhere - the post modern generator
If one examines neodialectic sublimation, one is faced with a choice: either accept capitalist postdialectic theory or conclude that sexual identity, ironically, has significance. But Bataille uses the term ‘constructivism’ to denote the bridge between class and truth. The subject is contextualised into a capitalist postdialectic theory that includes sexuality as a paradox.The essay you have just seen is completely meaningless and was randomly generated by the Postmodernism Generator. To generate another essay, follow this link

Vagueness: the linguistic virus in spoken language in the late 20th century
I recently watched a television program in which a woman described a baby squirrel that she had found in her yard. “And he was like, you know, ‘Helloooo, what are you looking at?’ and stuff, and I’m like, you know, ‘Can I, like, pick you up?,’ and he goes, like, ‘Brrrp brrrp brrrp,’ and I’m like, you know, ‘Whoa, that is so wow!’ ” She rambled on, speaking in self-quotations, sound effects, and other vocabulary substitutes, punctuating her sentences with facial tics and lateral eye shifts. All the while, however, she never said anything specific about her encounter with the squirrel.

Uh-oh. It was a classic case of Vagueness, the linguistic virus that infected spoken language in the late twentieth century. Squirrel Woman sounded like a high school junior, but she appeared to be in her mid-forties, old enough to have been an early carrier of the contagion. She might even have been a college intern in the days when Vagueness emerged from the shadows of slang and mounted an all-out assault on American English.. In the spring of 1987 came the all-interrogative interview. I asked a candidate where she went to school.

“Columbia?” she replied. Or asked.
“And you’re majoring in . . .”

All her answers sounded like questions... 

Papers by Alan Sokal on the "Social Text Affair"

"Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"
The original "parody" article, published in Social Text # 46/47, pp. 217-252 (1996). An annotated version of this article - explaining some of the jokes and providing much additional bibliography - appears as Chapter 1 of my book Beyond the Hoax.

UK's ancient forests could spread again thanks to plan to clone 'super-trees'

Some of Britain's best-loved trees could be cloned in an effort to reproduce a range of our most successful and sturdy oaks, yews and firs.
The £2m scheme to reproduce and grow again all of Britain's biggest, oldest, tallest and most ecologically important trees has been devised by the US tree conservationist David Milarch, who hopes to reproduce all the UK's "super-trees" and then offer tens of thousands of their genetically identical offspring free to schools, cities and landowners. Famous trees that could be cloned include the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest where Robin Hood is said to have sheltered, a 3,000-year-old yew in Berkshire and a majestic 209ft fir in the Scottish Highlands.
"We are looking for the oldest and largest oaks, limes, yews, some species of maples and other trees," said Milarch. "The idea is to put back what we have lost. It makes sense to use the largest, oldest, most iconic trees with their supergenes. These trees, which can be 1,000 years or older, have weathered the industrial age and all the climate changes. They have proved that they can take everything. When you clone, you get 100% identical genetics, the whole lineage."
Milarch, who is backed by the Eden project founder Sir Tim Smit and SirRichard Branson, is in Britain this week for talks with specialists on ancient trees and Prince Charles's forestry experts. He expects to draw up a list of Britain's "super-trees" in the next few weeks and start cloning this summer. Eventually he hopes to establish a complete archive of all Britain's most important trees, which would be made publicly available.
The practice of producing genetically identical copies of trees is not new. Typically, the tips of branches are cut, dipped into a rooting hormone and then fed and kept warm. The stem cuttings go on to form roots and the new plant is genetically identical to the plant that the cutting came from. But, in practice, it has proved nearly impossible to clone some of the world's botanical behemoths. "It can take 1,000 pieces of plant to get two or three to root," said Milarch, head of a fourth-generation tree nursery group in Michigan. "It might take 5,000 pieces. We needed 15,000 attempts to get three clones from one redwood. All we need is one to root, one to grow, one to take off.
"Everyone has said that you cannot clone old oaks. But we now have all 22 of the great oaks of Ireland cloned. No one had ever been able to clone with 1,000-year-old trees, but we can now do it. We could produce millions of [any one] tree in a year." So far, Milarch and his conservation organisation Archangel have successfully cloned 75 species, including redwoods, giant sequoias, Monterey cypresses and the Monterey pine. They have also cloned theMethuselah bristlecone pine, thought to be the oldest tree in the world at 4,845 years old.
Last year he successfully cloned the Fieldbrook Stump, the remains of the largest coastal redwood that has ever lived with a diameter of 9.8m (32ft) which may have soared to more than 40 storeys high before it was felled 130 years ago. Only a small number of tree species have the genetic capacity to grow to a great size, but little is known about why some trees live far longer than others, or how much their growth is determined by the broader environment in which they grow.
But scientists are learning that the "super-trees" are vital for the health of entire forests because they seed large areas and may contain as much as 25% of the total biomass. William Laurance, a research professor at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, said: "Long-term studies in Amazonia, Africa and Central America show that, while these great old trees may have adapted successfully to centuries of storms, pests and short-term climatic extremes, they are counter-intuitively more vulnerable than other trees to today's threats. "They may comprise less than 2% of the trees in any forest but are ecologically vital. They are dying off rapidly as roads, farms and settlements fragment forests and they come under prolonged attack from severe droughts and new pests and diseases."
Milarch is working in New Zealand to re-establish giant kauri trees, and in Africa where he has been commissioned to recreate a forest of all the continent's greatest trees. "We welcome this UK initiative. Cloning has the big advantage that you get the original tree. If you clone an 800-year-old tree it may be only 10 trees away from the ice age. They have been through significant changes of climate," said Jill Butler, the Woodland Trust's adviser on ancient trees.

Amita Baviskar - Uttarakhand: For richer, but poorer

Svarg Uttarakhand bhoomi, Deva Uttarakhand bhoomi, Himalaya phool jaiso phoolyo, brahmikamal, Himalaya ghana devadaro, brahmikamal. In the 1970s, Chipko activists in Tehri Garhwal used to sing this song, praising their hills as paradise, the place of gods, where the mountains bloom with rare plants and dense cedars. Chipko began as a movement to save the indigenous forests of oak and rhododendron from being felled by the forest department. It soon became a wider assertion of local rights to the environment, protesting against inappropriate policies imposed on the hills by a distant plains-based state government. That sense of alienation and exploitation grew into a broad-based campaign for regional autonomy. The state of Uttarakhand was formed in 2000 and many hoped that the region would finally chart a path of development that was in harmony with its unique ecology and culture. Uttarakhand would become svarg - paradise - once more. 

Those dreams have ebbed away over the past 13 years of statehood. Successive governments in Dehradun followed the same pattern of development for which they had criticised Lucknow: ruthlessly exploiting the region's natural resources. There were two key differences, though. First, the revenues generated stayed in the region and some sections of society profited, creating a powerful constituency for further 'development'. Second, ecological exploitation was justified in the name of creating 'infrastructure' - roads, buildings and dams. 

And on the face of it, Uttarakhand did indeed grow richer. Better roads brought more tourists, especially pilgrims, most of whom would never have attempted the once-arduous Chhoti Char Dham yatra without the convenience of motor vehicles, the comfort of hotels, restaurants and other urban amenities along a trail that once required austerity and unflinching devotion. As economic liberalisation increased spending power and mobility among the Indian middle-classes, tourism emerged as a booming business in Uttarakhand. It did not quite succeed in stemming migration from the hills to the plains, but it did open up opportunities for people struggling to survive in a declining agricultural economy. 

As the spiritual value of the Himalayas to Hindus - the home of the gods, source of sacred rivers - became a money-spinning resource, the material value of Himalayan rivers as hydro-power came to be recognised as ripe for exploitation. Dams and so-called 'run-of-the-river' projects in Uttarakhand promise to bring more wealth to the region as they supply the rest of the country with much-needed electricity. So both tourism and hydropower seem to be win-win development strategies for Uttarakhand, bringing prosperity by cashing in on the state's natural endowments, and for the nation, uniting India through the grids of power and pilgrimage. 

This month's catastrophic rain, landslides and floods, and the consequent human tragedy, should make us look more closely and critically at Uttarakhand's development narrative. The story that is told - the state can produce wealth and welfare by using natural resources to the fullest - grossly misunderstands the nature of Himalayan ecology. First, the Himalayas are known to be geologically active. Earthquakes and glacial lake outbursts are natural hazards that accompany these processes. But the destructive power of these events has been eclipsed by human-made hazards that exponentially increase the instability of the Himalayan landscape. Poorly designed and cheaply built roads trigger landslides. Blasting tunnels through the mountains for run-of-the-river projects destabilises an already fragile geology. The pressure of water in dam reservoirs induces tectonic shifts, multiplying the risk of earthquakes. Second, like the mountains, Himalayan rivers are dynamic entities. Blocking and diverting their path with dams and tunnels, dumping lakhs of truck-loads of debris from construction sites and from landslides, and building close to the river channel, has disastrous consequences. The cloudburst that precipitated the recent disaster was a natural event, but the toll taken by the floods and landslides was made much worse by Uttarakhand's development strategy. 

It has become clear that our understanding of nature is poor, our ability to control and manipulate it poorer still. However, despite our ignorance and ineptitude, we choose to forge ahead with building more concrete infrastructure because, in the short-term, that's where the money lies. Development is meant to bring greater security - of livelihoods and life-chances. Yet Uttarakhand's development has only increased ecological and economic vulnerability because it stakes everything on a fundamental error: the belief that we can proceed as if nature is stable, predictable and controllable. 

In a context of ecological uncertainty, development has to incorporate the precautionary principle, anticipating potential harm and acting prudently to prevent it. This means a conservative approach to construction in the hills, including a moratorium on the most risky projects. Research by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) and other environmental organisations identifies these projects and their alternatives. There is also considerable expertise, some of it locally available, on how to make roads and buildings safer - the chief issue is to enforce building standards and regulations about no-development zones on river banks and steep hillsides. Such measures are usually challenged on the grounds that they are costly and cause delays. But rapid, ill-conceived development has only increased vulnerability and the risk of disaster. And for the future prosperity of Uttarakhand, it is now time for the nation to consider a 'no-development cess', paying the Himalayan states to protect mountains, rivers and forests instead of exploiting them, so that India can be ecologically secure. The integrity of the Himalayan landscape is essential to the well-being of the entire subcontinent.

Amita Baviskar is an environmental sociologist at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi.

See also: Bahuguna kept eyes wide shut as Uttarakhand govt ignored experts' warning of catastrophe in 2012

Tony Judt - The ‘Problem of Evil’ in Postwar Europe (2007)

NB: Tony Judt was awarded the Hannah Arendt Prize in 2007.
For the first decades after 1945 the gas chambers were confined to the margin of our understanding of Hitler’s war. Today they sit at the very center: for today’s students, World War II is about the Holocaust. Inmoral terms that is as it should be: the central ethical issue of World War II is“Auschwitz.” But for historians this is misleading. For the sad truth is that during World War II itself, many people did not know about the fate of the Jews and if they did know they did not much care. There were only two groups for whom World War II was above all a project to destroy the Jews: the Nazis and the Jews themselves. For practically everyone else the war had quite different meanings: they had troubles of their own.
..And so, if we teach the history of World War II above all—and sometimes uniquely—through the prism of the Holocaust, we may not always be teaching good history. It is hard for us to accept that the Holocaust occupies a more important role in our own lives than it did in the wartime experience of occupied lands. But if we wish to grasp the true significance of evil—what Hannah Arendt intended by calling it “banal”—then we must remember that what is truly awful about the destruction of the Jews is not that it mattered so much but that it mattered so little...
Modern secular society has long been uncomfortable with the idea of “evil.” We prefer more rationalistic and legal definitions of good and bad, right and wrong, crime and punishment. But in recent years the word has crept slowly back into moral and even political discourse.5 However, now that the concept of “evil” has reentered our public language we don’t know what to do with it. We have become confused...
On the one hand the Nazi extermination of the Jews is presented as a singular crime, an evil never matched before or since, an example and a warning: “Nie Wieder!Never again!” But on the other hand we invoke that same (“unique”) evil today for many different and far from unique purposes. In recent years politicians, historians, and journalists have used the term “evil” to describe mass murder and genocidal outcomes everywhere: from Cambodia to Rwanda, from Turkey to Serbia, from Bosnia to Chechnya, from the Congo to Sudan. Hitler himself is frequently conjured up to denote the “evil” nature and intentions of modern dictators: we are told there are “Hitlers” everywhere, from North Korea to Iraq, from Syria to Iran. And we are all familiar with President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil,” a self-serving abuse of the term which has contributed greatly to the cynicism it now elicits.
Moreover, if Hitler, Auschwitz, and the genocide of the Jews incarnated a unique evil, why are we constantly warned that they and their like could happen anywhere, or are about to happen again? Every time someone smears anti-Semitic graffiti on a synagogue wall in France we are warned that “the unique evil” is with us once more, that it is 1938 all over again. We are losing the capacity to distinguish between the normal sins and follies of mankind—stupidity, prejudice, opportunism, demagogy, and fanaticism—and genuine evil. We have lost sight of what it was about twentieth-century political religions of the extreme left and extreme right that was so seductive, so commonplace, so modern, and thus so truly diabolical. After all, if we see evil everywhere, how can we be expected to recognize the real thing? Sixty years ago Hannah Arendt feared that we would not know how to speak of evil and that we would therefore never grasp its significance. Today we speak of “evil” all the time—but with the same result, that we have diluted its meaning...
If there is a threat that should concern Jews—and everyone else—it comes from a different direction. We have attached the memory of the Holocaust so firmly to the defense of a single country—Israel—that we are in danger of provincializing its moral significance. Yes, the problem of evil in the last century, to invoke Arendt once again, took the form of a German attempt to exterminate Jews. But it is not just about Germans and it is not just about Jews. It is not even just about Europe, though it happened there. The problem of evil—of totalitarian evil, or genocidal evil—is a universal problem.

The first work by Hannah Arendt that I read, at the age of sixteen, was Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.1 It remains, for me, the emblematic Arendt text. It is not her most philosophical book. It is not always right; and it is decidedly not her most popular piece of writing. I did not even like the book myself when I first read it—I was an ardent young Socialist-Zionist and Arendt’s conclusions profoundly disturbed me. But in the years since then I have come to understand that Eichmann in Jerusalem represents Hannah Arendt at her best: attacking head-on a painful topic; dissenting from official wisdom; provoking argument not just among her critics but also and especially among her friends; and above all, disturbing the easy peace of received opinion. It is in memory of Arendt the “disturber of the peace” that I want to offer a few thoughts on a subject which, more than any other, preoccupied her political writings.
In 1945, in one of her first essays following the end of the war in Europe, Hannah Arendt wrote that “the problem of evil will be the fundamental question of postwar intellectual life in Europe—as death became the fundamental problem after the last war.”2 In one sense she was, of course, absolutely correct. After World War I Europeans were traumatized by the memory of death: above all, death on the battlefield, on a scale hitherto unimaginable. The poetry, fiction, cinema, and art of interwar Europe were suffused with images of violence and death, usually critical but sometimes nostalgic (as in the writings of Ernst Jünger or Pierre Drieu La Rochelle). And of course the armed violence of World War I leached into civilian life in interwar Europe in many forms: paramilitary squads, political murders, coups d’état, civil wars, and revolutions.
After World War II, however, the worship of violence largely disappeared from European life. During this war violence was directed not just against soldiers but above all against civilians (a large share of the deaths during World War II occurred not in battle but under the aegis of occupation, ethnic cleansing, and genocide). And the utter exhaustion of all European nations—winners and losers alike—left few illusions about the glory of fighting or the honor of death. Whatdid remain, of course, was a widespread familiarity with brutality and crime on an unprecedented scale. The question of how human beings could do this to each other—and above all the question of how and why one European people (Germans) could set out to exterminate another (Jews)—were, for an alert observer like Arendt, self-evidently going to be the obsessive questions facing the continent. That is what she meant by “the problem of evil.”
In one sense, then, Arendt was of course correct. But as so often, it took other people longer to grasp her point. It is true that in the aftermath of Hitler’s defeat and the Nuremberg trials lawyers and legislators devoted much attention to the issue of “crimes against humanity” and the definition of a new crime—”genocide”—that until then had not even had a name. But while the courts were defining the monstrous crimes that had just been committed in Europe, Europeans themselves were doing their best to forget them. And in that sense at least, Arendt was wrong, at least for a while.
Far from reflecting upon the problem of evil in the years that followed the end of World War II, most Europeans turned their heads resolutely away from it. Today we find this difficult to understand, but the fact is that the Shoah—the attempted genocide of the Jews of Europe—was for many years by no means the fundamental question of postwar intellectual life in Europe (or the United States). Indeed, most people—intellectuals and others—ignored it as much as they could. Why?
In Eastern Europe there were four reasons. In the first place, the worst wartime crimes against the Jews were committed there; and although those crimes were sponsored by Germans, there was no shortage of willing collaborators among the local occupied nations: Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians, Croats, and others. There was a powerful incentive in many places to forget what had happened, to draw a veil over the worst horrors.3 Secondly, many non-Jewish East Europeans were themselves victims of atrocities (at the hands of Germans, Russians, and others) and when they remembered the war they did not typically think of the agony of their Jewish neighbors but of their own suffering and losses.
Thirdly, most of Central and Eastern Europe came under Soviet control by 1948. The official Soviet account of World War II was of an anti-fascist war—or, within the Soviet Union, a “Great Patriotic War.” For Moscow, Hitler was above all a fascist and a nationalist. His racism was much less important. The millions of dead Jews from the Soviet territories were counted in Soviet losses, of course, but their Jewishness was played down or even ignored, in history books and public commemorations. And finally, after a few years of Communist rule, the memory of German occupation was replaced by that of Soviet oppression. The extermination of the Jews was pushed even deeper into the background.
In Western Europe, even though circumstances were quite different, there was a parallel forgetting. The wartime occupation—in France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, and, after 1943, Italy—was a humiliating experience and postwar governments preferred to forget collaboration and other indignities and emphasize instead the heroic resistance movements, national uprisings, liberations, and martyrs. For many years after 1945 even those who knew better—like Charles de Gaulle—deliberately contributed to a national mythology of heroic suffering and courageous mass resistance. In postwar West Germany too, the initial national mood was one of self-pity at Germans’ own suffering. And with the onset of the cold war and a change of enemies, it became inopportune to emphasize the past crimes of present allies. So no one—not Germans, not Austrians, not French or Dutch or Belgians or Italians—wanted to recall the suffering of the Jews or the distinctive evil that had brought it about.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Cambodia's vast lost city: world's greatest pre-industrial site unearthed

A ground-breaking archaeological discovery in Cambodia has revealed a colossal 700-year old urban landscape connecting ancient cities and temples to Angkor Wat.

It's 7am at Angkor Wat and there's not a tourist in sight. It's blissfully quiet, the first clear June morning after two days of torrential rains. The only souls around are a small group of Buddhist pilgrims, lighting incense at the rear of the spectacular Khmer temple. The bleary-eyed early-risers, who woke in darkness to board tour buses to Angkor archaeological park for sunrise photo ops, have already trundled back to their breakfast buffets.
I'm not here for sightseeing, however, I'm heading further into the forest surrounding the stupendous temple complex with Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans to meet the archaeologists from Cambodia, the Philippines and the USA, who are working on new excavationsThe release this month by the US National Academy of Sciences of a report on the results of a high-tech survey of Khmer Empire sites, undertaken in April 2012, has rocked the archaeological world and captured travellers' imaginations.
Pre Rup temple at Angkor, Cambodia
A monumental, sophisticated, densely populated urban landscape, which dates back more than 700 years, has been identified. It includes and connects Angkor cities such as Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon, with the rarely visited medieval city ruins of Phnom Kulen, Beng Mealea and Koh Ker, over 100km away.
Evans was one of the report authors and the lead archaeologist and director of the project, which only became known outside local and archaeological circles with the release of the report this month.
As we make our way through dense vegetation, he explains how eight key archaeological groups, including the Cambodian government's Apsara Authority, which manages archaeological sites, collaborated on the project. It began with the survey using an airborne laser scanning instrument called Lidar, strapped to a helicopter, to search for ruins and other structures (the size of the area covered by the helicopter doing the survey was 320 sq km). Developed in the 1990s, it's only recently that the technology has matured to the level where it can penetrate dense vegetation and provide extremely detailed models of the forest floor.
"For archaeologists, these lumps and bumps that we see in the forest, each has a meaning," Evans explains, pointing out gentle mounds. "These are all the traces of the civilisation of the city associated with Angkor Wat, made of wood and thatch, that has disappeared. It's these contours that remain inscribed into the forest landscape we study."
Smoke wafts from the fires lit to keep mosquitoes at bay. Dotted between the mounds are several rectangular holes in the ground where Dr Miriam Stark from the University of Hawaii and her team are at work.
"We're really interested in understanding residence patterns, where and how people lived and who they were," Stark explains excitedly, showing me X-ray-like images of the area we're in. "Before, it took more than three intensive weeks of [preparation] before we knew where to dig. Now, with Lidar, it's as if you just peel a layer off and it's there!" With clipboards and pens in hand, the team records a wealth of discoveries, such as shards of Ming Dynasty ceramics... read more: