Free power for farmers fuelling water crisis

Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Anil Dave, linked the rampant extraction of groundwater to the free electricity supplied to farmers and mooted a fresh approach towards rivers and water bodies to impose discipline on water consumption.

The Minister backed a call for stronger ground water management regulations made by NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, who said free electricity has made people drill deeper to get water for irrigation and is turning large parts of States such as Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana barren.

‘Disciplined consumption’

“Shouldn’t the country have a policy on its water and rivers? We think about consumption but we don’t talk about utility and disciplined consumption. If the country’s future water problem has to be tackled, then it needs the Gandhian philosophy that others also have a right on water bodies and one must take only as much as you need,” the Minister said, while addressing a sustainability conference hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry in the capital.

“Not only do we have to enhance and improve water consumption for irrigation, we need very strong regulations for ground water management. Too much of water is being consumed because we are not charging people for electricity,” said NITI Aayog CEO Mr. Kant, stressing that groundwater consumption for irrigation has gone up from 20 per cent in the 1950s to over 64 per cent now.

“Several parts of States like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are becoming deserts as you have gone so deep to drill water that we are leaving nothing for future generations and are actually drilling out poison,” Mr Kant said, adding that the country is not recharging its aquifier.

Water-intensive crops needed

In a country, which has 17% of the world’s population but only four per cent of the fresh water reserves, we are consuming three times more water for agriculture than USA, Brazil or China.

Arguing that soil degradation has resulted from excessive use of inorganic fertilisers like urea, Mr Dave said that India must pursue policies based on its own realities. “India’s decolonisation is still pending. The British had drafted the Indian Penal Code and the Forest Act. Shouldn’t independent India now have its own forest law, where the forests, its dwellers, scheduled tribes and wildlife can live in an integrated manner?” he said.

Babies fall victim to antibiotic resistance

Infected with ‘superbugs’ in birth facilities within 72 hours of being born, thousands of Indian babies are dying due to an ‘alarming degree’ of drug resistance, a major study has found. The researchers found that nearly 26 per cent of babies with sepsis died, as multi drug resistance made the ailment untreatable.

We are now staring at overwhelming evidence of rampant antibiotic resistance, across all ages, all over the country. This worrying epidemic-like situation is a result of overuse of antibiotics in humans, agriculture and livestock.

The DeNIS study (Delhi Neonatal Infection) followed a group of 88,636 newborn infants for 3 years starting July 2011. The doctors tracked babies born in three of Delhi’s largest hospitals- AIIMS, Safdarjung Hospital and Maulana Azad Medical College -as they were subsequently admitted to the Intensive Care Units (ICUs).

‘Superbugs’ kill babies as antibiotic resistance rises

Out of over 88,000 children, 13,530 were ‘enrolled’ in the study – that is, admitted to the ICU.

Three ‘superbugs’ in particular – Klebsiella, Acinetobacter, and E. coli – were associated with more than half (53 per cent) of the infections. Out of this 1,934 babies (14 per cent) were resistant to drugs and 496 babies (26 per cent) died due to causes attributable to drug resistance and formerly curable infections.

Multi drug resistance was the highest with Acinetobacter followed by Klebsiella and  E. coli

Study results grim

The study results show that we are exposing newborns to deadly infections even within 72 hours of their being born. Over 80 per cent of Acinetobacter infections were multi drug resistant, confirming a pan-resistant, untreatable problem of high mortality in our neonatal [newborn] nurseries. We are at a breaking point and India needs to clean up its birthing facilities.

Sepsis or meningitis in newborns accounted for 4,21,000 deaths, or about 16 per cent in the category in 2013. Estimates indicate that 56,524 newborn babies die each year from resistance to first line antibiotics.

 New single-dose treatment shows promise in anti-malaria battle

Scientists have discovered a series of a novel compound (bicyclic azetidine series) that shows great promise in the battle against malaria.

Four candidate agents were characterised and one compound was found to act on all three life stages of the malaria parasite.

The compound was found to cure the disease with just a single, low-dose treatment, provide prophylaxis and prevent disease transmission both in the lab and in animals. The prophylactic effect lasted for as long as 30 days in mice

The compound was able to achieve extraordinary results in mice as it targets the parasite’s protein translation machinery (phenylalanine tRNA synthetase), which is the very core of the parasite’s housekeeping function of synthesising about 5,000 proteins. Protein translation is vital at every stage of the Plasmodium life cycle.

Since the target is so essential for the parasite’s functioning, it is quite unlikely that it would undergo mutations. So, there are less chances of the parasite developing resistance against the compounds. “In a standard tool for measuring for generation of resistance, we found a low propensity for resistance,” Dr. Marshall L. Morningstar, a co-author of the paper from Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard said in an email.

Addition of a highly potent drug component to the already very successful artemisinin combination therapy will go a long way in stemming malaria infections, and may present therapeutic options when artemisinin drug-resistance becomes a problem.

 Sardar Sarovar dam irrigation project brings migrants back to Saurashtra

An ambitious Rs. 12,000 crore project to bring the water of the Narmada River to Gujarat’s parched Saurashtra region is helping reunite families, but experts caution that such lift-irrigation schemes had failed the world over.

Thousands of men from the region, who had to leave their homes in search of livelihood due to crop failures, are returning home, a visit to the area revealed.

SAUNI, abbreviated in Gujarati from Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation Yojna, plans to fill up 115 dams of the region with excess run-off water of the Sardar Sarovar Dam across the Narmada River. The dams will be fed through a network of pipelines and water will be supplied for drinking and irrigation.

Water problem triggered migration

Villagers mostly grow cotton during the kharif season. But now they will also grow oilseeds, sugarcane or wheat during the rabi season (January-April). With the promise of assured water supply in the area, we can grow two crops every year,” Chabariya said.

Villagers also said they had to dig deep to get drinking water and this was often saline.

The SAUNI project promises to provide water to over 900 villages in all the 11 districts of the Saurashtra region and is slated to be completed by 2019.

Independent experts feel that pumping water to the parched region is going to be a tough task for the Gujarat government.

The Sardar Sarovar Dam can accumulate about 28 million acre feet of water in its reservoir but Gujarat has been allocated only nine million acre feet from the tribunal (that adjudicated the issue). No one can guarantee how much water the dam will get every year depending upon the rainfall.

Extension of contract between India and the International Seabed Authority

The Union Cabinet has approved the extension of contract between Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for exploration of Polymetallic Nodules for a further period of 5 years (2017-22). The earlier contract is expiring on 24th March 2017.

By extending the contract, India’s exclusive rights for exploration of Polymetallic Nodules in the allotted Area in the Central Indian Ocean Basin will continue.It would open up new opportunities for resources of commercial and strategic value in area beyond national jurisdiction.

It would also provide strategic importance for India in terms of enhanced presence in Indian Ocean where other international: players are also active.

International Seabed Authority

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is an intergovernmental body based in Kingston, Jamaica, that was established to organize, regulate and control all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, an area underlying most of the world’s oceans.

It is an organization established by the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention. It was established in 1994.ISA governs non-living resources of seabed lying in international waters.

 Cabinet approves establishment of Higher Education Financing Agency

The Union Cabinet has approved the creation of the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) to give a major push for creation of high quality infrastructure in premier educational institutions.

The HEFA would be jointly promoted by the identified Promoter and the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) with an authorised capital of Rs.2,000 crore. The Government equity would be Rs.1,000 crore.

The HEFA would be formed as a SPV within a PSU Bank/ Government-owned-NBFC (Promoter). It would leverage the equity to raise up to Rs. 20,000 crore for funding projects for infrastructure and development of world class Labs in IITs/IIMs/NITs and such other institutions.

The HEFA would also mobilise CSR funds from PSUs/Corporates, which would in turn be released for promoting research and innovation in these institutions on grant basis.

The HEFA would finance the civil and lab infrastructure projects through a 10-year loan. The principal portion of the loan will be repaid through the ‘internal accruals’ (earned through the fee receipts, research earnings etc) of the institutions. The Government would service the interest portion through the regular Plan assistance.

All the Centrally Funded Higher Educational Institutions would be eligible for joining as members of the HEFA. For joining as members, the Institution should agree to escrow a specific amount from their internal accruals to HEFA for a period of 10 years. This secured future flows would be securitised by the HEFA for mobilising the funds from the market. Each member institution would be eligible for a credit limit as decided by HEFA based on the amount agreed to be escrowed from the internal accruals.

Cabinet approves creation of GST Council and its Secretariat

The Union Cabinet has approved setting up of GST Council and setting up its Secretariat.

The GST Council has been created as per Article 279A of the amended Constitution.GST Council Secretariat will be set up with its office at New Delhi.

The Secretary (Revenue) will be appointed as the Ex-officio Secretary to the GST Council.

The Chairperson, Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), will be included as a permanent invitee (non-voting) to all proceedings of the GST Council.

One post of Additional Secretary to the GST Council in the GST Council Secretariat (at the level of Additional Secretary to the Government of India) will be created.

Four posts of Commissioner in the GST Council Secretariat (at the level of Joint Secretary to the Government of India) will also be created.


 The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-second Amendment) Bill, 2016, for introduction of Goods and Services tax in the country was accorded assent by the President on 8th September, 2016, and the same has been notified as the Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016.

As per Article 279A (1) of the amended Constitution, the GST Council has to be constituted by the President within 60 days of the commencement of Article 279A. The notification for bringing into force Article 279A with effect from 12th September, 2016 was issued on 10th September, 2016.

As per Article 279A of the amended Constitution, the GST Council which will be a joint forum of the Centre and the States, shall consist of the following members: –

  1. Union Finance Minister -Chairperson
  2. The Union Minister of State,in-charge of Revenue of finance -Member
  3.  The Minister In-charge of finance or taxation or any other Minister nominated by each State Government-Member

As per Article 279A (4), the Council will make recommendations to the Union and the States on important issues related to GST, like the goods and services that may be subjected or exempted from GST, model GST Laws, principles that govern Place of Supply, threshold limits, GST rates including the floor rates with bands, special rates for raising additional resources during natural calamities/disasters, special provisions for certain States, etc.

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