Tuesday, September 28, 2010

David Andow on BT Brinjal risk assessments

Abi alerts us to a remarkable happenning A slap in the face of India's science academies:
"Clearly unhappy over the report which he (the Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh) had sought from the country’s leading academic institutes, the Minister said, “I do not want the six top science academics to tell me Anand Kumar’s view. I already know that.” "
It seems that he did even better. From the preface to Bt Brinjal: The scope and adequacy of the
GEAC environmental risk assessment by DAVID A. ANDOW
"The Minister instituted a process by which he invited documented responses to the
EC-II. The Minister also contacted the United States National Academy of Sciences (US-NAS) for a scientific evaluation of the EC-II. The research arm of the US-NAS organised and solicited comment from a small group of about 10 noted US scientists, including the author of this report, who are internationally-acknowledged experts on the environmental risks of genetically engineered crop plants. The US-NAS is held in great esteem by its ability to generate balanced, objective scientific comment to complex social controversies, injecting logic and structure to help policy makers better understand the issues and take more reasoned decisions. The author of this report along with other solicited scientists submitted such comments to the Minister, which were duly included among the responses he received to his invitation.

Minister Jairam Ramesh’s initiative is unique, and the global response he received is also unique. The global scientific community responded to his invitation with an outpouring of comment, significant both in number and quality. Together, these provided a searching critique of Mayhco’s Bt brinjal bio-safety dossier and the EC II Report. Such a response is astonishing because it is based purely on altruistic concerns – none of the commenting scientists received compensation for their efforts – but it reflects the importance of the implications of releasing the world’s first major GM food crop, the brinjal and in a centre of diversity and origin of that crop.

On 9 February 2010, Jairam Ramesh declared a moratorium on the commercial approval of Bt brinjal, citing the need for further safety testing.

This Report is the outcome of a series of discussions with several scientists, at the request of Aruna Rodrigues, Lead Petitioner to the Supreme Court, following the moratorium on Bt brinjal called by Minister Jairam Ramesh. The aim of those discussions was to provide a comprehensive appraisal of the bio-safety impacts of Bt brinjal and the regulatory protocols that were used by the GEAC. In a meeting in Delhi during 19-21 February 2010, it was decided that the author with the assistance of Dr. G. K. Veeresh would present an analyses of the EC-II assessment of the environmental effects of Bt brinjal. This is expected to be the first of two appraisals of EC-II to be produced during 2010. The other analysis is expected to
address the human and animal health effects of Bt brinjal, and will be undertaken by other scientists."

I quickly browsed through the paper. It seems to me to a good primer on the problems involved while introducing genetically modified seeds and the research that should be done. The author does not seem to be any particular camp. In another recent paper The Risk of Resistance Evolution in Insects to Transgenic Insecticidal Crops, he says "Resistance risks are real and serious. However they can be managed to preserve the usefulness of transgenetic insecticidal crops in to the future."
See http://www.gmwatch.eu/reports/12511-david-andow-book for brief summary.
P.S. (20th October 2010) Another recent article How competent is Indian science? via Nanopolitan

Monday, September 27, 2010

Catching up on posts missed during the trip-1

in between weeding.
Annie Zaidi writes about some of the prize winnersPeople who give of National Innovation Foundation.

Churchill's Secret War - An Appreciation of Madhusree Mukerjee (Narayan). Just got a present of Kindle and downloaded the book. Can read but cannot underline or write in the margins. Jonah Lehrer worries about The Future Of Reading

Rajib Khan on Simple rules for inclusive fitness

More on grit
and teaching methods from Jonah Lehrer What Are We Measuring In School?. See also the comments.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

RTI awareness low

says this article by Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao in The Hindu Information as a right .

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Benami Transaction Act in the news again

From Indian Express Govt revamping Benami Transaction Act to keep check on black money:
"Worried over the speedy growth of a parallel economy in the country, with black money amounting to almost one-fourth of India’s GDP, the government is planning to crack down on such illegal transactions, at least those related to property. The finance ministry is revamping the Benami Transaction Act, 1988, to keep a check on such transactions, which are entered into for avoiding taxes and hiding accumulated assets.

Though there exists the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988, prohibiting benami transactions and providing for government acquisition of the property held benami, the rules to make confiscation of property and other provisions effective have not been issued due to several lacunae in the Act.

Sources told The Indian Express that the Central Board of Direct Taxes has started working on the Act, which was though enacted 22 years ago, it has not been implemented as yet because of several loopholes in the Act. For the same reason, the rules for the Act were also not framed and meanwhile, the parallel economy in India swelled to around Rs 15 lakh crore, according to a World Bank study called ‘Shadow Economies All over the World’. “The earlier act was very sketchy and had too many loopholes. It lacked clarity and there were deficiencies too. There was no clarity on recovery and punishment and no body knew who is the competent authority to implement the act, under what circumstances should a property be confiscated, what will happen to agricultural property etc” the sources said."
Here is Introduction to The Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Act, 1988.
From an earlier Press Release of IRI (September, 2009)Forging a Public Movement for Recovery of India’s Stolen Assets (Black Money) from Foreign Countries:You are aware that several reports have appeared in the Press in the last one year or so suggesting that Indian nationals held $1456 billion (about Rs.70 lakh crore) in secret Swiss Bank Accounts....Recently, Swiss Authorities have also reportedly told Government of India that they are not going to give names if India just throws the Telephone Directory at them! It is strange that despite Government being seized of the matter since 2008, it has, so far, not presented specific cases to them. Recovery of India’s public money from foreign countries especially Switzerland can go a long way in setting the country firmly on the road to becoming an economic superpower!" and recommends among other things "viii. Prescribe procedure for confiscation of benami property under Section 8 of the Benami Transaction Prohibition Act (BTPA), 1988."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A must read article on Kashmir

according to Chapati Mystery: Kashmir’s Forever War by Basharat Peer. Excerpts:
"Two decades of insurgency and counter-insurgency have resulted in the creation of a state of affairs that provides incentives to troops and policemen to show ‘kills’. Those involved in counter-insurgency in Kashmir receive fast-track promotions, as well as monetary and other rewards for getting results. In February, the Indian government awarded one of the highest civilian honours, the Padma Shri, to Ghulam Muhammad Mir, a notorious counter-insurgent who worked with the Indian troops in central Kashmir and has several urder and extortion charges still pending against him..........Two highly controversial Indian laws, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act, which have been in operation for twenty years, give the troops stationed in Kashmir the power to shoot any person they suspect of being a threat, and guarantee impunity from prosecution. To bring a soldier before a civilian court, India’s Home Ministry has to remove his immunity and grant the Kashmir government permission to prosecute him. More than 400 such cases are still waiting for that permission.
Young Kashmiris, who are coming of age with war, cable television, mobile phones and the Internet and are exposed to political images from other conflicts, see echoes of the Israeli occupation of Hebron and Gaza in India’s military control of Kashmir. Palestinian stone-throwers become their inspiration."
P.S See also the discussion.

Some impressions

Recently, I visited Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai. Chennai roads are not too bad but others and the amount of filth around them was depressing. The state of roads in Hyderabad is described by Vinod Ekbote here:"The round manhole covers, rising a minimum of one foot above the surface of the road do resemble tombs. When one spots another manhole, inches away but with the manhole cover at least six inches below the surface of the road then one wonders, just wonders, if the engineers are building them like they should be or like they want them to. It seems to be the prevailing trend in Hyderabad, to do things as one wishes, especially when it comes to driving, so it is no wonder that the engineers too are following the trend." And the repairs generally seem not really repairs but speed breakers. The impression is that there is probably a lot of looting by contractors colluding with government officials. Nothing moves unless somebody is bribed and even getting the requisite clearances after paying the dues apparently needs bribes unless one is well connected. There is a lot of disparity between private properies and public places with filth accumulating in public places. Some gated communities and central institutions seem to maintain facilities and physical standards compared to the best any where in the world, but just outside it often stinks. Now about Commonwealth games we have this news Bridge collapse adds to Commonwealth Games woe:
"Dismal preparations have, for many, underscored the out-of-touch, slow-paced leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Congress government, raising questions how a graft-ridden, inefficient state can hope to compete with China.

The government's pro-poor voter image may suffer from tales of billions of wasted dollars. A perception of India's entrepreneurial prowess threatening Western jobs may slip if roofs leak and journalists wonder where the Wi-Fi is.

"Fingers crossed, India may pull off a miracle," said Boria Majumdar, a sports historian who has written the book 'Sellotape Legacy: Delhi and the Commonwealth Games'.

"But it will have to be a miracle. No doubt about that"."

My impressions are similar to those of Sagarika Ghose in No honest brokers, But Shekhar Singh says that it is an exaggeration. Rahul Banerjee after the despair of "Recovering the Lost Tongue" which ends with his experiences up to 2001 says that there is improvement since 2005 after RTI and various pro-poor legislations. M. Rajshekhar says that there is some encouraging news from Chattisgarh on rural health Chhattisgarh: How workers improved healthcare for 18 million people. I hope that they are correct.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Back from India with some books

Among them Annie Zaidi's 'Known Turf' reviewd here. There is no table of contents, the book is uneven but there are some excellent pieces. From the review above:
"To me, most moving chapter in the book was about hunger deaths in Sahariya tribe in Madhya Pradesh. Only for this chapter, the book was worth it. It made the meaning behind words, ‘Reality Bites’ oh so apparent. Abysmal number of tribal children in MP die young due to malnutrition. These tribals were displaced and their suffering is ensured by cruel, heartless mix of inaction and corruption right from ground level.
Other two chapters that moved me are ‘Looped with Silk and Silver’ and ‘Prone to Bondage’. The first one is about starving families of weavers and embroiderers of Benaras. Read it to know why you should not mind paying for the authentic but expensive embroidery, how much hard work that is. Second is the piece that breaks the stereotypes about affluence of Punjab. There are lot of landless, bonded labourers. Caste-ism exists, Annie recounts the story of a Dalit Bant Singh who his lost his three limbs because he refused to take his case back against rich landlords who raped his daughter."

Parts of 'Prone to Bondage' (page 109 onwards, the ones about Sahariya tribe from page 53) can be also seen as a continuation of of the discussion of transformations in the society discussed in Butter Chicken in Ludhiana. So it seemed to me because I read the two books together.

Among other books recommended by acquintances during the trip The Persistence of Caste: India's Hidden Apartheid and the Khairlanji Murders. An earlier review of a paper from the 'New Economist' blog Explaining the persistence of India's caste system and Tyler Cowen's comments Was the Indian caste system efficient?.

Then some suggested books about the idea of India. Various books suggest that the idea arose out of contact and confrontations with the west, see for example,
Sunil Khilnani's The Idea of India , V. Krishna Ananth's India Since Independence: Making Sense of Indian Politics.

P.S I have uploaded some of the picures from the trip. I forgot to take the pictures of a few I met like M. Rajshekhar, Rahul Banerjee.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New book by Chandralatha

More details here. Some details:
శ్రీ వీవెన్ గారు తెలుగును తెరకెక్కించడంలోని
మెళుకువలను ,ఉపకరణాలను , బ్లాగు నిర్వహణను
ఇతరేతర e- తెలుగు సమాచారాన్ని అందిస్తారు.
మరికొందరు e - తెలుగు మిత్రులతో పాటు.
మీ సాంకేతిక పరమైన సందేహాలు,సంశయాలను వారు వివరణలు ఇస్తారు.
మరి మీరు వచ్చేటప్పుడు వీలైనన్ని ప్రశ్నలను వెంటపెట్టుకు రండి !
మీ ప్రశ్నలను ముందుగానే
prabhava.books @ gmail.com కు పంపగలిగితే మరీ మంచిది.

19 సెప్టెంబర్,ఆది వారం
ఉదయం 10:00 గంటల నుంచి
సుందరయ్య విజ్ఞాన కేంద్రం ,బాగ్ లింగంపల్లి , హైదరాబాద్
ఫోన్ :27667543
P.S. It was not clear until the end but I had to 'inaugurate' the book(photo here) Never participated in such functions before and managed two mumble for two minutes or so and got every thing wrong. Luckily, Avula Manjulatha gave a suitable speech and saved me from too many mistakes. Abburi Chayadevi attendedthe meeting. Since some of the posts in 'madatapegi' were about sustainable agriculture, genetically modified seeds, poverty etc not too many familiar bloggers were in attendance. I hope that there will be more discussion on such topics in blogs. Veeramachamaneni Rangarao who has been experimenting with various new techniques in agriculture and interacting with local farmers near Hyderabad attended the meeting. He recently developed a variation of SRI which doubled the yield according to him.
P.P.S. Some photos in http://www.flickr.com/photos/chavakiran/, currently on pages 2,3 and 4.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Excellent book బీదబ్రతుకు

by యలమంచిలి వెంకటప్పయ్య (yalamanchili venkatappayya 1898-1997), first published in 1985 and reprinted 2009. In just seventy pages, the author describes his upbringing, social practices in the villages in his younger days, his participation in the freedom struggle and his teaching and writing activities. Navodaya Ramamohanarao has kindly sent me the book and it is proving to be a hit with the friends to whom I lent it.
P.S.Available from, Maitri book House, Jaleel Street, Karl Marx Road, vijayawada-2, Tele: 98486 31604 or from Yalamanchili Maralidhar, Tele: 9440327500 or Navodaya Book House, LANE OPPOSITE TO ARYA SAMAJ bLDG., KACHIGUDA, hYDERABAD

Thursday, September 09, 2010

'No honest brokers' says Sagarika Ghose

No honest brokers
"If connectivity becomes the only ticket for survival, soon India will be converted into a land controlled by a gang of 2,000 super-connected warlords, or oligopolists or individuals who combine in their individual personages immense political and money power and rule their individual empires with no truck with the State or the State's arms like the judiciary or police."