World
Why Greenpeace is first on the chopping block

A total of 1,199 new coal-based thermal power plants with a total installed capacity of more than 1.4 million MW are proposed worldwide, the lion’s share — 455 plants — being in India, according to data from the World Resources Institute

 

As Greenpeace India struggles to stay afloat, the real reason why the government wants to shut down the global environmental NGO hasn’t got much attention: Coal, the single biggest source of primary energy in India, is at the heart of the Narendra Modi government’s ambitious plans to ramp up industrial production in the country.
 
A total of 1,199 new coal-based thermal power plants with a total installed capacity of more than 1.4 million MW are proposed worldwide, the lion’s share — 455 plants — being in India, according to data from the World Resources Institute.
 
India is overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — which meet more than three-fourths of the country’s energy needs, despite Modi’s plans to promotealternative energy sources.
 
Of the fossil fuels, oil and gas account for just about 30 percent of India’s energy needs, the bulk imported (80 percentin the case of crude oil). India has abundant reserves of coal, the fourth-largest in the world.
 
Coal meets 54.5 percent of India’s energy needs and 61.5 percent of the installed power generation capacity, and plays a key role in industries like steel and cement.
 
India is set to more than double its coal consumption by 2035 and become the world’s largest coal importer by around 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.
 
The cheapest of fossil fuels, coal is also the most polluting in terms of carbon emissions. Coal-burning power plants are the single biggest cause of climate change, way ahead of the burning of petroleum in transportation.
 
Greenpeace has been at the forefront of a global campaign against coal mining and burning, and its Indian wing has mounted several high-visibility campaigns against coal-burning thermal power plants and coal mining in forest areas.
 
Coal India and Adani in the spotlight
 
Especially irksome to the government must have been Greenpeace’s targeting of two domestic entities that are also major global players in coal — the public-sector Coal India, India’s fifth most valuable company by market capitalisation at $35.9 billion (Rs.2.3 lakh crore) and the Gujarat-based Adani Group, whose promoter Gautam Adani is known to have a close relationship with Modi.
 
Coal India is number one and the Adani Group number three on the list of the top 200 coal companies globally ranked by the potential carbon emissions content of their reported reserves, according to Fossil Free Indexes, a stock market index that promotes ethical investing.
 
Greenpeace has campaigned against both companies, exposing their claims on reserves and financial health, and documenting environmental and other violations.  Greenpeace’s Australia chapter has opposed Adani’s plans to develop the world’s largest coal deposit, the Carmichael mine in Queensland, which it acquired for $16.5 billion dollars.
 
Breakneck industrialisation, Chinese style
 
Companies like Coal India and Adani are expected to play a vital role in the Modi government’s grand plan for India to take over from China as the new ‘factory of the world’.
 
With GDP growth dipping to seven percent for the first quarter of 2015 (the lowest since 2009), China is clearly slowing down. India seems intent on capitalising on this slowdown and the newfound limits on growth imposed by environmental and health concerns in China.
 
The first signs that the Modi government is pushing for a Chinese-style industrialisation project came when it announced a clutch of mega projects under the Make in India initiative. Work is underway on the most ambitious of these projects, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, across six states, to be built at an estimated cost of $100 billion.
 
For the government, one of the chief obstacles in this path is land acquisition, which is being tackled through amendments to the existing legislation. The other big hurdle is energy, in which coal will continue to play the biggest part – and this is at the core of its grouse with organisations such as Greenpeace.
 
Coal and Climate Change–an existential threat
 
The burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas, in that order — releases massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and has been proven to be the biggest culprit behind climate change.
 
With carbon-dioxide levels at record highs—asIndiaSpend reported — only a fraction of the known extractable fossil fuel reserves, least of all, coal, can be burned without endangering the world’s future, the reason why campaigners like Greenpeace are dead set against the fuel.
 
But for the Modi government, and India’s elites and middle classes in general, this would amount to the big prize being snatched away from sniffing distance. That’s why the shots fired against Greenpeace may be only the first in the long, bruising battle ahead.
 

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Cabinet approves project-exit policy for highways developers

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), in a meeting here chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the two proposals to give a renewed thrust to the highways sector

 

The government on Wednesday approved a project-exit policy for highway developers and also authorised the state-run National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to intervene in languishing projects that are suffering from lack of funds.
 
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), in a meeting here chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the two proposals to give a renewed thrust to the highways sector.
 
According to the CCEA, the comprehensive 'exit policy' framework now permits developers to divest 100 percent equity two years after the completion of construction. 
 
"It is relevant to note here that during the last few years, PPP projects have not been able to attract bids; one of the primary reasons being lack of availability of equity in the market among qualified bidders," the CCEA said in a statement adding that the move will unlock equity from completed projects that can then be re-invested into new projects. 
 
"This decision will also harmonise conditions uniformly across all concessions signed prior to 2009 with the policy framework for post-2009 contracts," the statement said. 
 
The statement pointed out that there are 80 such Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) projects awarded prior to 2009 that have been completed and the lock-in equity in them works out to be Rs.4,500 crore. 
 
"Once this (equity) is unlocked and is re-invested in new projects, this could support 1,500 kms of new highways in PPP mode, thus reviving the response to BOT(T) projects," the statement said. 
 
On the decision to allow NHAI to intervene in languishing projects, the CCEA said the approval is for projects that are in advanced stage of completion but are stuck due to lack of additional equity or the lenders' inability to disburse funds further.
 
The statement elaborated that NHAI will provide funds to such projects from within its overall budget on a loan basis at a pre-determined rate of return. 
 
"This loan is to be recovered along with interest as the first charge from the toll receipts immediately after completion of construction," the statement added. 
 
Estimates with the government show that there are 16 projects that are languishing in various part of the country due to lack of funds.
 

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How brain balances hearing between the ears

A team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) sought to understand the biological process behind the 'olivocochlear' hearing control reflex

 

Researchers have answered the long-standing question of how the brain balances hearing between the ears. The balance is essential for localising sound, hearing in noisy conditions and for protection from noise damage.
 
A team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) sought to understand the biological process behind the 'olivocochlear' hearing control reflex.
 
"The balance of hearing between the ears is dependent upon this neural reflex that links the cochlea of each ear via the brain's auditory control centre," explained senior researcher Gary Housley.
 
Our hearing is so sensitive that we can hear a pin drop and that is because of the "cochlear amplifier" in our inner ear. This stems from outer hair cells in the cochlea which amplify sound vibrations.
 
In animal experiments, the team found that the cochlear's outer hair cells, which amplify sound vibrations, also provide the sensory signal to the brain via a small group of auditory nerve fibres of previously unknown function.
 
In mice lacking the sensory fibre connection to the cochlear outer hair cells, loud sound presented to one ear had no effect on hearing sensitivity in the other ear.
 
In normal mice, this produced an almost instant suppression of hearing. The researchers speculate that some of the hearing loss that humans experience as they age may be related to the gradual breakdown of this sensory fibre connection to the outer hair cells.
 
The ultimate goal is for cochlear implants in both ears to communicate with each other so that the brain can receive the most accurate soundscape possible.
 
"This research will help us move closer to that goal," the authors concluded in the paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

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