News Wrap


Arecent report of the Central Water Commission (CWC, 2016) shows about 60 to 70% of Indian landmass is under drought. Overall farmer suicides increased by about 44% in India, particularly for Maharashtra and Karnataka, between 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17. There is about 12% deficit in annual rainfall in India, with about 30% the landmass under deficit. Drought is caused by rainfall patterns and rather temporal deficits therein. The storage available in groundwater reservoirs dropped from 20 BCM average (2014) to 10 BCM (2017). Depletions in groundwater reservoirs occurred in all states. Farmers are committing suicides largely owing to acute water scarcity, unprecedented crop losses and soaring debt burdens. Unleashed groundwater drafting is aggravating the drought scenario. There are no enforceable laws to regulate groundwater abstraction. Consistent methods to quantify drought, devoid of subjective bias, scarcely exist. The CWC report lacks information on drought intensity, projected duration of drought, state-wise corresponding declines in groundwater levels, or changes in surface water flow parameters.

Nallamala forests
The Chenchu men and women are the Telegu speaking food gatherers, and hunters of the Nallamala forest hill range of the Eastern Ghats. The dense Nallamala forest hosts India’s largest tiger reserve, the 3728 sq km Nagarjunsagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR). Between 1990 and 2006, the Chenchus were caught in the cross-fire, between Maoists and Greyhounds, the elite anti-Naxal force of the Andhra Pradesh police. The scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act) or FRA 2006 provided the Chenchus with forest land rights. Around 1502 Chenchu families got rights over forest land spanning 5700 acres in Prakasam district, with corresponding figures for Kurnool and Guntur being 443 families and 1250 acres, and 149 families and 452 acres, respectively. An order of 28 March 2017 from the National Tiger Conservation Authority, proclaims that no rights shall be conferred in Critical Tiger Habitats, which is notified under the Wild Life (Protection Act) 1972. The Chenchus will no longer be able to claim Nallamala forests, as their home. Since 2006, only 5000 out of the 64,000 odd Chenchus have secured forest rights including land for cultivation. 72% of Chenchus are illiterate. 40% earned their livelihood by collecting non-timber forests produce. 60% of adult Chunchus are under-nourished.

Cow Nationalism to Buffalo options
With increasing cow nationalism and several state governments banning cow slaughter, the cost-benefit economics of cow-breeding have, of late, prompted farmers to turn to the more financially viable option of buffalo breeding. The number of cows is 2/3rd of the total 300 million cattle, buffalo being the remaining 1/3rd. Farmers have been turning to cows, because the realisation from cow milk was better than from buffalo. With cow nationalism, farmers are keeping cows for more years, and milk them for longer periods. Till now after fifth lactation or at around 8 years of age of a cow, cows were sold to a slaughterhouse, because its milk production dropped significantly. But the animal still has 4 to 6 years more productive years to its life, after the fifth lactation, but at one fourth the previous quantity. The total milk availability in India has increased. There is almost 50 to 50 contribution of buffalo and cow milk, in the total milk production of about 160 million tons per annum. People have started consuming high fat products like ghee, ice cream and cheese, which makes buffalo breeding more attractive. About three years ago, milk fat prices and skimmed milk prices were same. Today fat prices are three times higher. The buffalo milk is more lucrative than cow milk.

Beijing loans to Pakistan
To help Pakistan stave off a potential currency crisis, China has increased its economic sway over its neighbour South Asian country, by providing more than $1 billion in loans, in the past one year. State backed Chinese banks have come to the rescue of Nuclear armed Pakistan on two separate occasions; with $900 million coming in 2016, followed by a further $300 million in the first three months of 2017. Pakistan’s stocks of foreign currency is perilously fragile, which have been depleted in the past few months, as imports have risen, while both exports and inbound remittances from Pakistanis abroad have fallen. Amid strains between Pakistan and USA, Beijing’s financial help underlines the increasingly close relationship between the two Asian neighbours. China is investing at least $52 billion to build a highway, energy pipelines, power generation and industrial parks, from the western port of Gwader in the Gulf to the Chinese border to the north. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the infrastructure project, is set to further deplete Pakistan’s stocks of foreign currency, needed to pay the contractors and suppliers. State Bank of Pakistan figures show that Pakistan had $17.1 billion of new foreign exchange reserves at the end of February 2017, down from $18.9 billion at the end of October 2016 and a peak of $25 billion several years ago. Of the $1.2 billion from the Chinese institutions, $600 million came from the government-run China Development Bank, and a further $600 million from the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the only mainland bank to have a branch in Pakistan. Pakistan completed repaying the IMF debt, incurred in 2013, only in 2016. Ministers in Pakistan are likely to try and wait for parliament elections planned for 2018 to return to the IMF.

Vol. 50, No.9, Sep 3 - 9, 2017