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Monsanto has violated the basic human right to a healthy environment and food

Judges at The Hague called on international lawmakers to hold corporations like Monsanto accountable

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Monsanto has violated the basic human right to a healthy environment and food(Credit: AP/Francois Mori)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

 

“Most opinion tribunals have had a considerable impact, and it is now accepted that they contribute to the progressive development of international law.” — International Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion, The Hague, April 18, 2017

On Tuesday, April 18, representatives of the Organic Consumers Association and our Regeneration International project gathered in The Hague, Netherlands, along with members of other civil society groups, scientists and journalists.

We assembled to hear the opinions of the five judges who presided over the International Monsanto Tribunal. After taking six months to review the testimony of 28 witnesses who testified during the two-day citizens’ tribunal held in The Hague last October, the judges were ready to report on their 53-page Advisory Opinion.

The upshot of the judges’ opinion? Monsanto has engaged in practices that have violated the basic human right to a healthy environment, the right to food, the right to health, and the right of scientists to freely conduct indispensable research.

The judges also called on international lawmakers to hold corporations like Monsanto accountable, to place human rights above the rights of corporations, and to “clearly assert the protection of the environment and establish the crime of ecocide.”

The completion of the Tribunal judges’ work coincides with heightened scrutiny of Monsanto, during a period when the company seeks to complete a merger with Germany-based Bayer. In addition to our organization’s recently filed lawsuit against Monsanto, the St. Louis-based chemical maker is facing more than 800 lawsuits by people who developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being exposed to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. As a result of recently-made-public court documents related to those lawsuits, pressure is mounting for Congress to investigate alleged collusion between former EPA officials and Monsanto to bury the truth about the health risks of Roundup.

The timing couldn’t have been better for the Monsanto Tribunal to announce its opinions. But is time running out for us to hold Monsanto accountable — and replace its failed, degenerative model with a food and farming system that regenerates soil, health and local economies?

Citizens’ tribunals historically contribute to developing international law

The Monsanto Tribunal judges had barely finished delivering their opinions before Monsanto spit out the usual pablum, claiming to be committed to finding “real solutions” to the challenges of hunger, food security and the role of farmers to “nourish our growing world sustainably.”

In a statement issued by the biotech giant’s Global Human Rights Steering Committee (who knew?), Monsanto claimed the Tribunal was “staged by a select group of anti-agriculture technology and anti-Monsanto critics who played organizers, judge and jury.”

In fact, organizers of the Tribunal had no say in the judges’ final opinion. And the judges themselves are all independent, highly qualified lawyers and legal experts, recognized by the international legal community for their accomplishments and credentials.

In their Advisory Opinion, the judges didn’t directly address criticism of the Monsanto Tribunal specifically, nor did they address attempts to delegitimize citizens’ tribunals (which the judges referred to as “Opinion Tribunals”) in general. But the judges did outline what an Opinion Tribunal is mand is not, and why they are important:

Their objective is twofold: alerting public opinion, stakeholders and policy-makers to acts considered as unacceptable and unjustifiable under legal standards; contributing to the advancement of national and international law.

The work and conclusions of opinion tribunals are shared with all relevant actors and widely disseminated in the national and international community. Most opinion tribunals have had a considerable impact, and it is now accepted that they contribute to the progressive development of international law.

Judges: Monsanto violated basic human rights

As we wrote last year, the Monsanto Tribunal judges were asked to consider six questions, referred to as the “Terms of Reference.” During two days of testimony, the judges heard from 28 witnesses (representing about 15 countries) on matters relating to the six questions.

On four of those questions — whether or not Monsanto violated the right to a healthy environment, right to food, right to health, and right to freedom of expression and academic research — the judges concluded in all cases that yes, Monsanto’s activities have violated all of those rights. (Detailed answers to all questions are included in the Advisory Opinion.)

On the question of war crimes, related to Monsanto supplying Agent Orange to the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, the judges concluded:

Because of the current state of international law and the absence of specific evidence, the Tribunal cannot give any definitive answer to the question it was asked. Nevertheless, it seems that Monsanto knew how its products would be used and had information on the consequences for human health and the environment. The Tribunal is of the view that, would the crime of Ecocide be added in International law, the reported facts could fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

And that brings us to question six: Could the activities of Monsanto constitute a crime of ecocide, understood as causing serious damage or destroying the environment, so as to significantly and durably alter the global commons or ecosystem services upon which certain human groups rely?

Possibly — if ecocide were recognized as an international crime, under the Rome Statute. Because it isn’t, at least not yet, the judges could only add to existing calls for the International Law Commission to amend the Rome Statute to include ecocide on its list of international crimes.

On complicity in war crimes, the Tribunal judges wrote:

The Tribunal assesses that international law should now precisely and clearly assert the protection of the environment and the crime of ecocide. The Tribunal concludes that if such a crime of ecocide were recognized in international criminal law, the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide. Several of the company’s activities may fall within this infraction, such as the manufacture and supply of glyphosate-based herbicides to Colombia in the context of its plan for aerial application on coca crops, which negatively impacted the environment and the health of local populations; the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture; and the engineering, production, introduction and release of genetically engineered crops. Severe contamination of plant diversity, soils and waters would also fall within the qualification of ecocide. Finally, the introduction of persistent organic pollutants such as PCB into the environment causing widespread, long-lasting and severe environmental harm and affecting the right of the future generations could fall within the qualification of ecocide as well.

International law has “failed woefully,” but we have to hope

We can’t do justice here to the Tribunal judges’ 53-page Advisory Opinion. The Opinion, which include 120 citations, paints a detailed picture of how Monsanto violates human rights and ravages the environment, on a global scale. In their published Opinion, the judges call for changes in international law in order to give priority to human rights, over the rights of corporations, and to hold corporations accountable for violating human and environmental rights.

While according companies like Monsanto unprecedented rights and entitlements, international law has failed woefully to impose any corresponding obligation to protect human rights and the environment. However, it is beyond the scope of this advisory opinion to consider the breadth of reforms required to re-align the respective priorities of commercial and public interests that must be brought about under international law. Therefore, the Tribunal strongly encourages authoritative bodies to address the legal and practical limitations that currently confine the scope, content and ultimately the effectiveness of international human rights law.

As she wrapped up the April 18 press conference in The Hague, Tribunal Judge Françoise Tulkens said that while the judges’ work was done, the work of civil society has just begun.

“Now this Advisory Opinion is in your hands, it’s for you to use it. You, as in civil servants, as in lawyers and judges, if it’s possible . . .  maybe this Opinion will serve in the development of international law, and of course international law does develop under the impetus of civil society, so for that maybe we have to wait one year, two years, decades, maybe centuries, I don’t know, but we still have to hope that it’s possible.”

As we hope for international law to start holding corporations like Monsanto (or Bayer or Dow or Syngenta) accountable for the devastating consequences of their poisonous chemicals, we must also look for hopeful solutions for feeding the world’s growing population. Monsanto will have you believe that its failed GMO monoculture model provides those solutions—but increasingly, the world is wising up to that lie.

In 3 Big Myths about Modern Agriculture, David R. Montgomery, professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, says that conventional farming practices that degrade soil health undermine humanity’s ability to continue feeding everyone over the long run. Montgomery writes:

I no longer see debates about the future of agriculture as simply conventional versus organic. In my view, we’ve oversimplified the complexity of the land and underutilized the ingenuity of farmers. I now see adopting farming practices that build soil health as the key to a stable and resilient agriculture.

Do we have decades or centuries, as Tulkens suggests, for international law to crack down on Monsanto? Probably not, if climate scientists’ predictions are correct. But as humans with rights, and consumers with responsibility for our purchasing decisions, we can help fuel a Regeneration Revolution that can both cool the planet and feed the world — without poison.

Watch the Monsanto Tribunal April 18 press conference

Summary of the Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion

Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion — full document

http://www.salon.com/2017/04/29/monsanto-has-violated-the-basic-human-right-to-a-healthy-environment-and-food_partner/

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Was India truly the party pooper at WTO?

Author(s): Aruna P Sharma
Date:Aug 2, 2014

Last year, when commerce minister of UPA government had agreed to the trade facilitation pact pushed by developed countries, it was perceived as compromising the interests of poor nations that need to stockpile foodgrains for public food programmes

imageProtesters get ready to take to the streets ahead of the ninth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Denpasar, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on December 3, 2013

After weeks of speculation on whether India would sign on the dotted line, the new World Trade Organisation agreement to ease worldwide customs rules collapsed late Thursday night in Geneva.

Many (including Indian policy experts) painted India as the villain of the piece by driving itself into “splendid exclusion”. It had vetoed a deal, which, after all, would have been the first global trade reform in two decades.

Trade diplomats in Geneva said they were “flabbergasted”, “astonished” and “dismayed” and described India’s position as “hostage-taking” and “suicidal”, according to a news report in the Economic Times.

The talks collapsed basically over India’s “tough stand” on its food security concerns that would require stockpiling of food grains for public distribution at subsidised rates. This was a major concern that was expressed by the G-33 countries—a bloc of 46 WTO members with sizeable poor populations and small farmers—at last year’s 9th Ministerial at Bali where the Trade Facilation Agreeement was reached. At the time, the developed world had responded with minimum concession.  A peace clause in TFA said that food security schemes in existence could be in force for another four years till a permanent solution is found, for which the deadline was 2017.

At the Bali meet, the then commerce minister in the UPA government, Anand Sharma, had gone to the meeting saying he would not compromise on food security (a pet legislation of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi), but he appeared to have keeled to pressure of developed nations at the end of the meet and was perceived to have alienated India from poor nations in the G-33 bloc and food importing countries like the Philippines. Sharma had agreed to a July 31, 2014 deadline for TFA and a 2017 deadline for the pact on food security.

The peace clause in TFA, however, had brushed aside the long-standing demand of the developing countries for a thorough overhaul of the Agreement on Agriculture with its outdated methods of calculating the support price provided to low-income farmers (see ‘Fighting a flawed WTO regime). India’s agreement to the deal at that time was described by many as a “compromised deal” to usher in “major reforms”, which, according to Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce, would push up global income by US $1 trillion and add 20 million jobs, of which 18 million would be in the developing world.

Thursday’s meeting was simply supposed to formally adopt the final trade negotiation text into the WTO rulebook, following its agreement by ministers at the Bali meeting last December.

After the deal collapsed, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, currently on a visit to India, told Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday that India’s refusal to sign a global trade deal sent the wrong signal, and he urged New Delhi to work to resolve the row as soon as possible, according to a Reuters report. The report also quoted officials of developed countries discussing plans to push ahead with the pact by excluding India from WTO.

With the NDA government showing no signs of backing down to pressure from developed countries this time, it remains to be seen if developing and poor countries can wrangle a better deal for themselves.

Read more – http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/was-india-truly-party-pooper-wto

 

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Press Release – Call for release of jailed Pakistani journalist #PressFreedom

faizullah-1_61a2e44f4a_01_ac701f0d05

faizullah-1_61a2e44f4a_01_ac701f0d05

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joints its affiliate Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in urging the Afghanistan government to pardon the Pakistani journalist jailed for crossing the border into Afghanistan without complete documentation.

Faizullah Khan, a reporter with ARY News, was arrested in April by Afghan security forces in Nangarhar province and on July 12 was sentenced to four years in jail for ‘entering without travel documents and communicating with militant sources’.

The IFJ and the PFUJ have condemned the arrest and called for his release in view of his professional right to collect information and report freely.

The Government of Pakistan has also joined the appeal for the journalist’s release with the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Pervez Rashid, this week urging Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, to issue a presidential pardon.

Rashid said in a news conference: “I appeal to Afghan president Hamid Karzai to use his powers to pardon Faizullah Khan.”

Four journalists have died in recent months while three have been detained and arrested by Afghan security forces in the course of doing their jobs.

“This is a concerning pattern of threat and direct action against media workers,” IFJ Acting Director, Jane Worthington, said.

“The court has handed down an excessive punishment to a person merely carrying out their journalistic duty. Media workers continue to take huge risks to investigate stories for the betterment of the society and ensure the public’s right to information from all sides of the story. A wildly excessive jail term is not the answer and we strongly press the Afghanistan government to let common sense prevail and allow Faizullah Khan safe passage back to Pakistan in this case.”

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Woman gang-raped at gunpoint in Delhi #Vaw #WTFnews

Woman gang-raped at gunpoint in Delhi

New Delhi, July 24: A 22-year-old woman was raped by a gang of four men at gunpoint, police said Thursday. The woman, who hails from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, was returning from Gurgaon Tuesday when a group of men intercepted the car she was travelling in near National Highway 8 and gang raped her at gunpoint, police added.

“The men also took away the Rs.5,000 she was carrying,” police said. The police are looking for the assailants and their car.

This incident is yet another one in rising cases of rape across India and shows the country in shameful light.

Read mor ehere – http://www.india.com/loudspeaker/woman-gang-raped-at-gunpoint-in-delhi-101811/

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India is the largest consumer of antibiotics #healthcare

Alarming increase in global use of antibiotics

Author(s): Aprajita Singh 
Date:Jul 14, 2014

A research published in a medical journal has sounded an alarm on overuse and misuse of antibiotic drugs.

imageAbout 76 per cent of this increase has come from developing economies like China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Russia

A research published in a medical journal has sounded an alarm on overuse and misuse of antibiotic drugs.

The study, published by a team of researchers from Princeton University in journal Lancet Infectious Diseases last week, has revealed that the consumption of antibiotics around the globe has surged between 2000 and 2010. While globally, the antibiotic use has increased by 36 per cent, India has emerged as the world’s largest consumer of antibiotics with a 62 per cent increase in use.  About 76 per cent of this increase has come from developing economies like China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Russia.

The researchers studied consumption of antibiotics in 71 countries and seasonal differences and patterns in consumption in 63 of them. “Despite a fall in usage of antibiotics over the last decade, the US still has the greatest per capita consumption rates, more than double of that in India,” said the study.

Some good and bad news
The findings of the study indicate an increase in antibacterial usage in developing countries, implying that more people had access to medicine. But unfortunately, most of the use was not monitored by health officials. An alarming increase was also seen in the consumption of last-resort drugs such as the kind belonging to carbapenem class, which are broad spectrum antibiotics prescribed only for diseases for which there is no other known cure.

Researchers have also found that antibacterial medication was being misused at times. For example, in most countries, usage peaked around flu season. Since, flu is caused by virus, the medicine would have little or no effect on illness. It would, instead, pave the way for microbes to develop resistance to the drugs. In India, the usage peaked around the end of monsoon. A similar trend was noticed for other virus-borne and fever-producing diseases like chikungunya and dengue.

Such unmonitored use of antibiotics has led to an alarming increase in antibiotic resistance. Diseases caused by resistant bacteria have been known to be unresponsive to normal treatments and result in a higher probability of death. “New resistance mechanisms emerge and spread globally threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases, resulting in death and disability of individuals who until recently could continue a normal course of life,” said World Health organization (WHO), in its recent report on antimicrobial resistance.

The researchers from Princeton University have called for rational use of antibiotics through coordinated efforts, particularly by the BRICS countries where the increase in usage has been the most marked. It was noted that public health officials in these countries were using antibacterial medicine as a quick fix to health woes rather than actually implementing sanitation reforms to prevent the occurrence of disease in the first place.

 

Read more here- http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/alarming-increase-global-use-antibiotics-india-largest-consumer

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Unrealistic – 1 toilet every second: Modi government’s 100 day target

 

 
Author(s): Jitendra 
Date:Jul 7, 2014

Union ministry issues orders to all states to meet target of constructing 5.2 million toilets by end of August

 

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Some 50 families in Motuka Nangala panchayat in Haryana have taken up construction of toilets following awareness programmes. Sanitation missions need to be supported by awareness programme and effect behavioural changes to be successful (Photo: Jitendra)The Ministry of Drinking water and Sanitation on Friday finalised its 100-day plan, under which it has decided to construct one toilet every second by the end of August this year.

Sarswati Prasad, joint secretary for sanitation, issued an order to each state, giving them their respective targets for the next two months.

The ministry has set the target of constructing 5.2 million toilets by August 31. The total target of 2014-15 is 12.5 million toilets

The new BJP-led government, which was sworn in on May 26 this year, had asked the ministry to prepare a 100-day plan. The 100th day ends on August 31.

This impractical target follows in the wake of the poor progress report of construction of toilets in April and May. According to Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) website, zero number of toilets were constructed in April. The total number of toilets constructed in April and May put together comes to about 86,000. This means that a large number of toilets would have to be built in a short period to meet the targets.

The calculation by Down To Earth (see box), showing how unrealistic this target is, has not included the number of community sanitation complexes, school toilets, and aanganwadi toilets. It is only for individual household latrines (IHHL), in which case the target appears even more absurd.

In the order, the ministry has directed the states to take immediate steps to achieve their targets within the stipulated time and also ensure reporting of the progress on the online monitoring system of NBA on priority basis. 

Unrealistic target
Target for IHHLs till August 31st (100 days) 5,222,068
Toilets constructed (IHHL) till May 86,271
Remaining target to be achieved by August 31 5,135,797
Toilet would be constructed each day 82,835
Toilets to be constructed each hour 3,451
Toilets to be constructed every minute 58
Toilets to be constructed every second 1

 

 

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Maharashtra orders corruption probe into construction of check dams

Author(s): Aparna Pallavi 
Date:Jul 1, 2014

Newspaper and TV reports, in last few months, have made allegations that quality of construction is poor

imageA check dam in India (Photo: Sandeep Das)The Maharashtra government has ordered an investigation to probe the allegations of corruption involved in building of cement check dams in the state.

The minister of employment guarantee and water conservation, after meeting the officials from ministry, has ordered a government resolution directing four investigation teams to probe the case. The teams comprise of officials from ranks of deputy commissioners, executive engineers and vigilance officers at division-level.

Though the investigation will primarily focus on Sangola, Maan and Atpadi tehsils in the Solapur, Satara and Sangli districts respectively, a few other areas have also been picked for probing as the areas are also drought-prone districts and a fair amount of construction of cement check-dams has been carried out around them. The districts include Beed, Aurangabad and Usmanabad.

According to the resolution issued by the Water Conservation Department, about 5,000 cement check dams have been constructed in the state since 2011-12. In the last few weeks, local newspapers and TV channels have highlighted the inferior construction work of check dams and talked about possible corruption. The minister has ordered the teams to hold the investigation between July 1 and 5, 2014 and submit a report by July 10.

The investigation is to scrutinise the compliance by authorities with the guidelines issued for construction of check-dams and is based on an order, dated November 12, 2013, highlighting the concerns raised by the media and complaints received by the district agriculture officials.

 

Read more here –  http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/maharashtra-orders-corruption-probe-construction-check-dams

 

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#India – ‘Disadvantaged groups have little access to public goods’

Author(s): Jitendra 
Date:Jun 12, 2014

Most severely and consistently excluded groups are women, Adivasis, Muslims and the disabled, confirms India exclusion report by NGO

The report notes government schools provide poor quality education and that the poor who look to private schools are denied equal access to them in spite of education being made a right (Photo by Prashant Ravi) The report notes government schools provide poor quality education and that the poor who look to private schools are denied equal access to them in spite of education being made a right (Photo by Prashant Ravi)

A recent report by a Delhi NGO undermines government claims on reaching welfare schemes to the needy and disadvantaged sections of society. The report, titled The India Exclusion Report 2013-14, says the government has failed miserably in providing equal access to public goods to the most disadvantaged groups.

The report, prepared by Delhi-based Centre for Equity Studies, reviewed access to four essential public goods—school education, urban housing, decent work in labour markets and legal justice in relation to anti-terror legislation in India. The yet-to-be published report has been exclusively accessed by Down To Earth.

One of the striking findings of the report further confirms the general view that the most severely and consistently excluded groups are women, Adivasis, Muslims and the disabled.

Public goods also include access to nutritious food, certain basic healthcare, decent work, decent shelter and social protection. Many of these public goods are now rights under legislation like the Right To Education Act, and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

No access to equal education

The poor quality of government schools force disadvantaged groups to look towards private schools which are marginally better. But then most of them are unable to access these schools.

This is in spite of the fact that right to education is a fundamental right. Says the report: “..a publicly guaranteed Right to Education lies in the grim and dark reality of millions of children in the country who, due to the specific nature of their vulnerabilities, continue to be deprived of education. This, coupled with the discrimination faced by children within schools, and the continued inequality of educational opportunities for children based on the accident of their birth, means that India’s children require the right not just to free and compulsory education, but the right to free, compulsory and equal education.”

Urban housing

Providing shelter to its citizens is another area where the state has failed. The report pitches for housing facility which can be used as collateral for financial credit. Besides, a decent shelter aids in better health, education, psycho-social development, cultural assimilation, identity and economic development.

The report gives an example of how decent shelter helps in ameliorating the condition of marginal workers. As a bidi worker and member of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Manjuben, says, “My house is my asset, my savings, my workshop and my place to rest and belong”, the report quotes.

The report advocates making housing a right as in other countries like South Africa. The report also points to different courts rulings in which court advocated for the provision of right to shelter in the Constitution.

Safety net for workers missing

The report defines decent work as productive work by men and women in conditions of freedom, equity, safety and dignity. The Constitution does not guarantee right to work as such but there are at least 44 Central labour protection laws, innumerable state laws and a law for social protection of unorganized workers. Besides, there are special laws that prohibit exploitative labour arrangements like boundless contract labour, bonded labour and trafficking for labour exploitation.

However, the report shows the state has thus far failed a large section of the population by not ensuring equitable and sustained access to decent work. The state even failed in sufficient employment creation, protecting rights of employees and providing social security support system for those who are unable to secure employment.

Legal justice and anti-terror legislation

The report closely scrutinises access to justice in the context of terror laws. It points out that by  design and implementation, terror laws are unfair.

The report points to frequent violation of fundamental rights under Articles 21 and 22 of the Constitution that provide against arbitrary arrest and detention.

The report says the government needs to ensure fair investigations and establish strict monitoring mechanism of all anti-terror cases. Apart from it, police should also be made accountable for extra-judicial measures like torture and killings; this can be achieved through increased representation of marginalised groups in police forces.

Absence of credible data

Absence of large-scale, credible and empirical data on exclusion is also perpetuating the problems. According to report, there is large amount of anecdotal evidence that point to exclusion of certain groups. This exclusion is also visible in government budgets and programmes.

In the case of school education, there are serious questions on the reliability of the District Information System on Education (DISE), the primary official source of data on access and quality of school education. DISE relies solely on information provided by teachers, without a process of community or parental participation. It focuses on collecting information on enrolment levels, not actual school attendance, and provides highly inaccurate estimation of access to education.

In case of urban housing, the only source of data are Census surveys, conducted every 10 years. There is limited information available on the conditions of the housing of poor — slum dwellers, residents of illegal settlements and unplanned colonies, or those living in congested and poor quality houses.

There is paucity of data regarding labour markets. The report points to complete lack of information on the nature and terms of employment, particularly in the informal sector. This is also reflected in the state’s unwillingness or inability to accurately count the large number of people working in exploitative labour conditions, like child workers, bonded labour, migrant workers, home-based workers, domestic workers, and manual scavengers.

The government has also made no attempt to collect data relating to persons charged under anti-terror laws and their socio-economic backgrounds despite large number of complaints of misuse of power by police.

The report talks about need of holistic measures to counter all types of discrimination.

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Sand mafia attacks journalists again #WTFnews

Author(s): M Suchitra
Date:Jun 5, 2014

This is the third attack on mediapersons in the past one month

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Senior news editor V M Deepa and camera person Prashant Albert, both of prominent Malayalam television channel Asianet News, were attacked by the goons of sand contractors at Kuzhitalai in Karur district of Tamil Nadu on Tuesday. The goons beat up Prashant and threatened to kill him and his driver.

In the past one month, this is the third time that musclemen of sand contractors have assaulted and intimidated mediapersons at Kuzhitalai where large-scale mining in the Cauvery is going on. On May 3, S Chandran, stringer with Tamil television channel Puthiya Thalaimurai, was attacked by the goons. On May 22, this correspondent and the team of Asianet television channel were attacked.

On June 3 evening, Deepa and Prashant were returning from Tiruchirappalli after a shoot for their TV programme, ‘Nalla Mannu’ (Good Earth), an environment and agriculture-based weekly programme. They were on their way to Karur town, about 80 km from Tiruchirappalli, by road. Kuzhitalai is located midway between the two towns.

“When our taxi reached Kuzhitalai, we saw five to six goons on bike waiting for us. Someone may have informed them that we were reaching. Without stopping the vehicle we proceeded towards Karur. But they followed us,” says Deepa. “The driver started driving fast so they got left behind and after a while disappeared from sight. We thought we were safe. But after a few kilometres, a man riding a bike told our driver that one of the tyres of our car was punctured. When he slowed down, another biker came and stopped his vehicle in front of the car and across the road, forcing us to stop. He started accusing us of hitting his vehicle and trying to speed away. It was a ploy to stop us,” says Deepa.

The argument peaked and Prashant and the driver got out of the car to talk to the man. By that time, the goons who were following the vehicle also reached there. “They surrounded the vehicle and started searching for our camera. They insisted that we had captured pictures of sand mining. When they failed to find the camera, they started beating me,” says Prashant. The goons took out a dagger and threatened the driver, who is a local man from Tiruchirappalli. “When I tried to stop them, they threatened me with the dagger before leaving,” he says.

The three have not registered a case with the police. “Last time when mediapersons were attacked, police asked them to leave the state. They were reluctant to register a case. Besides, our driver was so frightened that he just wanted to drop us somewhere and leave as soon as possible,” says Deepa.

Mediapersons in Karur and Tiruchirappalli say it is extremely dangerous for journalists to report on illegal sand mining in Tamil Nadu, specifically Karur. “The Public Works Department of the state government holds the mining leases. But in reality, it is the contractors who handle the sand reaches. They violate all the rules and regulations and court verdicts. They use heavy machinery, mine from more area than allowed and take more than the permitted amount of sand,” says V Charles, chief of bureau of Puthiya Thalaimurai in Thiruchirappalli. Both the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam government led by J Jayalalithaa and Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam government led by M Karunanidhi, the political parties that have been ruling the state, are hand in glove with the contractors, he alleges.

“Sand mining mafia is all powerful and it is useless to file a case against their illegal activities, intimidations and attacks,” says Chandran who was taken away by goons and kept in a closed room for hours when he tried to take pictures of mining activities. “They deleted the pictures from my mobile and video camera and threatened to kill me if I took pictures again. They later dropped me at a place away from the spot,” he says.

Chandran had registered a complaint, but the goons lodged a complaint against him. The police did not take any action and he was finally forced to compromise. “They would not have allowed me to live otherwise. They have money and muscle power,” he says. The mafia tries all ways to silence the media, says Shanu L of Kumudam weekly in Tiruchirappalli, who accompanied Chandran to a police station on May 2 night. “We had to make several phone calls just to get a receipt of the complaint,” he says. “We report on illegal sand mining risking our lives,” he adds.

Since 2001, at least five revenue department officials have been killed by the mafia. In July 2011, revenue inspector P Ramu was run over by a tractor smuggling sand at Thurayur near Tiruchirappalli. Some people who opposed illegal transport of sand faced a similar fate. In March 2012, 21-year-old Satish Kumar was run over by a truck laden with illegally mined sand from Nambiyar river, in Tirynelveli district, when he tried to stop it.

Unless the government and political parties understand the damage indiscriminate sand mining can cause to the environment and check it, the sand mafia with their money and muscle power will rule the roost, say journalists.

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Sand mafia goons attack Woman journalist in Tamil Nadu #Vaw #WTFnews

Date:May 23, 2014

Journalists were shooting visuals showing illegal mining in Cauvery river bed in Tamil Nadu

sandPhoto: Sayantoni Palchoudhuri

M Suchitra, the Down To Earth (DTE) correspondent in-charge of southern India, and news persons from a Malayalam new channel were attacked and manhandled by goons of mining mafia at Kulitalai in Tamil Nadu’s Karur district. They were shooting pictures of river Cauvery where indiscriminate mining of sand is taking place. Suchitra was with V M Deepa, senior news editor of the Malayalam news channel, Asianet, and the channel’s camera persons, V B Hiran and P Praveen.

The incident happened on Thursday afternoon when the journalists started taking visuals of the river from a bridge away from the quarries. Around 20 to 30 men reached the site on motorbikes and threatened them, asking them to leave the place immediately. The goons tried to snatch away the cameras, and forced the DTE correspondent to delete the visuals she has taken. T Shanmukam, a local farmer who accompanied the team, was slapped on the face.  Even after the journalists left the spot, the mining mafia chased them for an hour in a Bolero jeep and motorbikes banging the windows of the car in which the team was travelling, not allowing them to even slow down their vehicle.

To escape the thugs, the team took refuge in Mayanur police station on the way to Karur, the district headquarters 40 km from Kulithalai.  Later, they were escorted by two police personnel to the hotel.

Karur district police superintendent, Nirmal Kumar Joshi, asked the journalists to leave the state immediately, citing safety grounds. He said the journalists should have taken proper permission from the district authorities before taking visuals of the river.

The Karur Town Circle Inspector, Cedric Immanuel, told the team that all the police officials were busy with local Mariyamman festival and would not be able to ensure the safety of the journalists.  “If you want to take the visuals of Cauvery, you can find some other locations and get the prior permission of the district collector and the SP,” he said.

Indiscriminate mining

There are 44 sand mining leases along the Cauvery and its tributary Coleroon in Karur, Tiruchchirapalli and Tanjavur districts, of which 27 are functional now. These quarries cater to about 60 per cent of the requirement of the sand in Tamil Nadu.  All the sand mining clearances are in the name of the state public works department (PWD).

However, local farmers and activists who are engaged in legal battle against the indiscriminate sand mining point out that instead of mining directly, the PWD has engaged in raising contracts, and contractors are flouting all the rules and regulations while plundering the sand from the river.  Mining is taking place 24 hours without any respite.

While the state rules permit to use only two earth moving machines, the miners use 10-15 machines. The miners dig about 15 feet on the riverbed, violating the rules which allow mining only up to three feet. Many farm lands and paddy fields have been converted into stockyards. Each quarry has a shed where 20-25 goons will be on the watch 24 hours.  Around 7,000 to 8,000 truckloads of sand are transported daily from Karur district alone.  A portion of the mined sand is illegally transported to Kerala from where a part is transported to the Gulf countries as dry sand mixed with cement, point out the activists.

“The successive state governments led by Jayalalithaa’s  All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam as well as Karunanidhi’s  Dravida Munntera Kazhakam, have worked hand in glove with the mining mafia,”  says K Sivasamy, Karur district president of Bharatiya Janata Party.

In 2013, when Sivasamy tried to take pictures of sand mining, members of the local mining mafia broke his car. “The local police had registered some false cases against me,” he adds.
There are about 18 cases against Cauvery sand mining in the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court. Some complaints are pending before the National Green Tribunal.

Recently, on April 30, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court passed an interim order banning  instream mining and mechanised mining in 18 quarries.  However, the Supreme Court has vacated the ban on mechanised mining on May 9. The case will be heard again by the High Court on June 4.

(With inputs from M Suchitra)

Read more here– http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/sand-mafia-goons-attack-down-earth-correspondent-asianet-senior-news-editor

 

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