Citizens' Issues
Environment activist says unmonitored movement of sand barges is a security loophole government must plug

Sumaira Abdul Ali, who succeeded in getting a ban on sand dredging in Maharashtra last year, asks Union home ministry to check movement of barges

Almost a year after the Maharashtra government declared the dredging of sand as illegal, unregulated barges continue moving about unmonitored, often even docking at the city's ports. Now, noted environmental activist Sumaira Abdul Ali, whose efforts resulted in the ban, has written to the government to monitor these vessels as they cause a huge security loophole.

"In the wake of the most recent bomb blasts, I appeal to you to intervene to tighten the sea route and ensure that sand barges plying through Mumbai harbour be subjected to the strictest levels of security, including Customs checks, and that they should be registered by the Director General of Shipping along with appropriate permissions from the Mumbai Port Trust," Ms Ali has written in a letter to home minister P Chidambaram.

It is relevant to mention here that terrorists responsible for the serial attacks on The Taj Mahal Palace hotel, the Oberoi Trident and a some other prominent sites in November 2008 were found to have used boats to travel to Mumbai. "Security is not my cup of tea, but I do keep track of illegal sand dredging and smuggling," Ms Ali said. "All I am saying is these barges go unchecked when they are out in the sea, and we don't know what happens after they reach the docks. We don't know what happens there and what they are carrying when they reach the port."

"In my e-mail, dated 3rd December 2010, I requested tightening of the use of the still wide-open sea route by unregulated sand barges. While it is difficult to know the route any contraband can come by, it appears prudent to block unmonitored access to city ports," she says.

Ms Ali had faced several attacks during her struggle against the sand mafia. After she and a journalist accompanying her were attacked in Mahad, last year, she filed RTI applications to all the nodal agencies monitoring ship movements. In their replies, neither the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB), nor the Directorate-General of Shipping (DGS), neither the Port Trust nor the India Coast Guard said who was responsible for monitoring the movement of sand barges.

None of the agencies accepted responsibility and no records have been maintained about these barges. The DGS said that the MMB is responsible for licensing, regulating and monitoring of sand barges, while the maritime board said they had no role in monitoring the movement of sand barges. The MMB said they provided NoCs to the sand barges after the letters of approval came from the district collectorate.

The MMB gave a supplementary reply to Ms Ali a few months ago, saying that the regional port offices were to check the registration of these barges. Ms Ali opines that the contraband is routed through creeks in Raigad and Ratnagiri districts and then brought in through the harbour. When the barges go to sea and come back, they can dock at Navi Mumbai or Mumbai, without any more check, and then nobody can know what they are carrying or offloading.

However, her messages have not been acknowledged by the ministry to date.


Record foodgrain output, but need to produce more: PM

The prime minister noted that foodgrains demand is projected at about 280 MT by 2020-21 and to meet this requirement, the foodgrains output needs to grow by 2% annually, which he termed as an 'enormous task'

New Delhi: Announcing a record foodgrain production at 241 million tonnes (MT) in 2010-11, prime minister Manmohan Singh today said the country still needs to produce more to meet the rising demand, besides controlling high food prices, reports PTI.

The overall growth of agriculture is likely to be 3% during the 11th Five year Plan (2007-2012), which is less than the targeted 4%, he said.

"Although foodgrain production has since (after 2006-07) regained the requisite momentum and the agriculture sector as a whole is set to grow at 3% per annum during the 11th Plan, we cannot be complacent.

"We must note that this is less than the targeted 4% and a consequence in recent years has been unacceptable levels of food price inflation. I expect the 12th Plan to contain all measures that are required to accelerate our agricultural growth rate," he said, while delivering foundation day lecture of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

The foodgrain production in 2010-11 crop year (July-June) at 241 MT is higher by 5 MT than the forecast made in April and 23 MT more as compared to the previous year.

"An estimated production of 241 MT was achieved because of record production of wheat, maize and pulses," Mr Singh said

He, however, said the challenges that the agriculture sector faces in the coming years 'remain large'.

Pointing out that the country is still facing problem of under-nutrition and is dependent on imports of pulses and edible oils, Mr Singh said: "We clearly need a second Green Revolution that is broad-based, inclusive and sustainable. We need to produce more."

The prime minister noted that foodgrains demand is projected at about 280 MT by 2020-21 and to meet this requirement, the foodgrains output needs to grow by 2% annually, which he termed as an 'enormous task'.

"The enormity of the task ahead is indicated by the fact that during the 10-year period (1997-98 to 2006-07), our foodgrain production grew at an average annual rate of only 1%," Mr Singh said.

Expressing concern over stagnated crop yields over the years, he stressed that 12th Plan should contain all measures to accelerate the farm sector growth.

Mr Singh emphasised that there is need to step up spending in agriculture research, increase irrigation facilities and promote biotechnology carefully to boost crop productivity and enhance farmers' income.

"India currently spends about 0.6% of its agricultural GDP on agricultural R&D. This needs to be enhanced at least 2 to 3 times by 2020, since a substantial portion of our agricultural growth would come through the application of new technologies," he said.

He further said India's agriculture is largely dependent on the monsoon and there is an urgent need to improve the efficiency of irrigation facilities from the existing 30% to 50%.

Mr Singh also pointed out that the climate change has emerged as a major challenge for the agriculture sector in the country and there is a need to develop climate resilient crop varieties, cropping patterns and management practices.

In order to bridge the gap in farm yields, the prime minister told agri-scientists, "...your main client is the farmer. You must get your research questions primarily from the farmers. This is perhaps the most difficult of the challenges that you must overcome in the years ahead."

Mr Singh awarded five states-Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Assam, and Tripura-with 'Krishi Karman' award for achieving high foodgrain output in 2010-11.


In a range: Weekly Market Report

Market to move sideways till Nifty reaches 5,520

The market ended in the red this week after three weeks of gains. The decline was mainly due to global factors and lower expectations on first quarter results. Lower industrial output for May weighed down by the manufacturing and mining sectors was also contributed to the decline.

The market closed lower for the first two days on weak global sentiments. Institutional buying support and firm Asian markets helped the indices close in the positive on Wednesday. Poor inflation numbers led to a flat close on Thursday. While the market opened in the green on Friday, it lost direction and ended lower, as investors were concerned that rising inflation will prompt the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to hike rates at its review meeting at the end of the month.

Overall, the Sensex fell 2% (down 296 points) to close the week at 18,561 and the Nifty shed 1% (down 56 points) to 5,581. We expect the market to move sideways in the days to come until the Nifty reaches 5,520.

BSE Healthcare and BSE Oil and Gas (up 1% each) were the top sectoral gainers, while BSE IT (down 6%) and BSE TECk (down 5%) were the major sectoral losers.

The main gainers on the Sensex were Reliance Industries (up 2%), ONGC and ITC (up 1% each). Infosys (down 8%), Hindalco Industries (down 6%), Jaiprakash Associates, Hero Honda and Wipro (down 4% each) were the top losers in the index.

The major gainers on the Nifty were IDFC, Dr Reddy's, Sesa Goa (up 3% each), Reliance Industries and Kotak Mahindra Bank (up 2% each). On the negative side, Infosys (down 8%), Hindalco (down 6%), SAIL, Jaiprakash Associates and Hero Honda (down 4% each) ended at the bottom of the index.

The country's industrial growth fell to 5.6% in May, the slowest in nine months, from 8.5% in the corresponding period a year ago, mainly due to poor performance of the manufacturing and mining sectors. The latest data is further confirmation that high inflation and a tight monetary policy by the RBI are putting the brakes on economic growth.

With inflation hovering at about 9%, it is widely expected that the central bank will hike rates further this month, which if implemented would be the 11th increase since March 2010. The recent rise in fuel prices is also expected to push inflation up further.

Headline inflation rose to 9.44% in June due to rising prices of fuel and manufactured products. Inflation, as measured by the Wholesale Price Index, stood at 9.06% in May and was 10.25% in June 2010. The rise in inflation can partly be attributed to the hike in prices of diesel, cooking gas and kerosene announced by the government on 24th May.

Snapping a two-week declining trend, food inflation for the week ended 2nd July rose to 8.31% on the back of soaring prices of protein-based items, cereals and vegetables. Food inflation rose by 0.70 percentage points during the week under review from 7.61% in the previous week ended 25th June.

Among corporates, Infosys on Tuesday announced a 15.72% increase in consolidated net profit to Rs1,722 crore for the first quarter ended 30 June 2011, over the Rs1,488 crore in the previous corresponding period. The company maintained its full-year dollar revenue forecast of 18%-20%, which was lower than analysts' expectations. The company's performance has been hurt by wage hikes and intense competition from rivals such as Tata Consultancy Services, IBM and Accenture. This highlights the prevailing global economic uncertainty and concerns about top management changes the company has been undertaking recently.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) on Thursday posted a 26.7% rise in its net profit at Rs2,415 crore for the first quarter of FY11-12. Revenue grew by 31.4% to Rs10,797 crore for the period under review, the company said. However, sequentially the profit has declined from the Rs2,623 crore profit in the last quarter of the previous fiscal.

On the global front, a top official of Standard & Poor's on Thursday expressed concern that the US faces the risk of losing its AAA credit rating in the next three months, even if lawmakers reach an agreement to raise the country's debt ceiling later this month. The House of Representatives is to vote next week on a plan to raise the debt ceiling with equal cuts. Five rounds of talks this week still produced no agreement, with the talks likely to resume over the weekend.

Eight banks, including two Greek banks, five Spanish banks and one Austrian bank have failed the European Banking Authority's (EBA) stress tests. The market's expectations for the stress tests were low, with many investors and analysts saying that unless they proved to be very strict, they would fail to boost confidence in the European policy response to the crisis, and could cause the sovereign crisis to spill over into a banking one.

In a related development, Italy's parliament on Friday gave definitive approval to a 48 billion euro austerity package aimed at averting a full-scale financial crisis, but there were growing questions about the government's capacity for further reforms.


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