Eye in the sky: Space technology aiding Meghalaya to expand boro rice cultivation

By Sahana Ghosh, Shillong, (IANS/Mongabay), In Meghalayas tough hill terrains that limit field visits, space technology is aiding the selection of areas that are suited for growing and expanding cultivation of boro rice which is sown in winter and harvested in spring/summer, officials said.
Boro refers to a special type of rice cultivation on residual or stored water in low-lying areas after the harvest of kharif (winter) rice. Space technology has zoomed in on potential stretches in the state and offered a bird’s eye view of tracts that are best suited for growing boro season rice.
This will help bridge the demand-supply gap in Meghalaya, where 81 percent of the population is dependent on agriculture but the net cropped area is proportionately quite less: only about 10 percent of the total geographical area of the state.
So, to identify areas for expansion of boro rice in Meghalaya, the North Eastern Space Applications Centre (NESAC) at the request of the Meghalaya’s Directorate of Agriculture, tapped into a suite of geospatial technologies.
These technologies such as remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems are a range of modern tools contributing to the geographic mapping and analysis of a range of data about people, such as population, income, or education level and also about landscapes.
The move to expand area of rice grown in the boro season comes under the Meghalaya State Rice Mission (MSRM) aimed at narrowing the gap between rice production and consumption by doubling the production of rice – a major staple food of the northeastern state, accounting for over 80 percent of the foodgrain production.
In West Bengal and Bangladesh, expansion of irrigation, essential for supporting the boro rice production, led to a rapid increase in boro rice area and production during the past two decades and Meghalaya can benefit by deploying a similar strategy of expanding the boro season area, the state agriculture department opined.
Previous estimates from the rice mission document peg the consumption at approximately 400,000 tonnes annually during the years 2010-11. This estimate is double the rice produced during that period.
“Rice recorded an annual production of 3,01,076 metric tonnes during the year 2015-16 at an average productivity of 2.72 metric tonnes per hectare. Our spring rice/boro paddy produces an average yield of 4.28 metric tonnes per hectare under assured irrigation,” the agriculture department said.
In Meghalaya, the rice crop is distributed in three rice ecosystems. They are low- altitude rice that covers 70 percent of total rice growing areas, mid-altitude rice covers 25 percent and high altitude rice that covers five percent.
In a report submitted to NITI Aayog, the Meghalaya government has said that the under-utilisation of land during the winter season has resulted in shortage of rice for the ever-increasing population.
In addition, with assured irrigation, boro paddy yield is double the average yield per hectare compared to sali rice.
“Boro paddy gives an average yield of 4 MT per hectare compared to the average yield of 2 MT per hectare of sali paddy,” according to the report.
Further, winter planting is free from flash floods and is well-suited for SRI (System of Rice Intensification) technique with yields of 6-7 MT per hectare, the report said, justifying the augmentation of boro paddy cultivation in areas where this practice was not in vogue.
With the NESAC data at its disposal, the department of agriculture has initiated steps for application of the findings by taking a policy decision to link the activity for growing boro rice with the Indian government’s National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREGA) program.
“This will achieve both the objective of providing assured employment under NREGA and also productive output and income for the NREGA wage earner cum farmer,” an agriculture department official said.
Space tech can reduce time lost on trial and error
“By using satellite images and data with ground information on parameters such as slope, soil and climate, we mapped potential areas for expansion of boro rice cultivation. This was one of the first of its kind project in the northeast,” Pratibha T. Das of NESAC told Mongabay-India.
Having space technology focus on potential areas saves time and money in implementation by skipping the field trial stage, explained Das.
In an email communique to Mongabay-India, officials at Meghalaya’s agriculture department also reiterated that this approach eliminates the trial and error method “saving time, effort and money and scale of implementation in a given (short) period of time.”
Das further said: “Even though the identified areas are small, the agriculture department need not conduct field trials; they can directly select the potential areas from the maps and start cultivation.”
he mapping exercise covered landscapes spread across nearly 5000 square km at elevation below 200 metres and excluding forest, built up and barren rocky areas. The findings published in Current Science show that out of 4903 sq. km study area only 807 sq. km (16.5 percent) is suitable for boro rice cultivation.
Though 16.5 percent area is suitable for boro rice, only 0.8 percent (6.35 sq. km) area is highly suitable, which is found in West Garo hills district. Around 581.74 sq. km is marginally suitable whereas 219.07 sq. km area is moderately suitable.
“The data tells us that slope, soil texture, soil fertility (acidity) and soil drainage are the major limiting factors/problems, because of which maximum areas are found marginally and moderately suitable for boro rice expansion,” said Das.
Based on problems/limitations of the land, land users and planners can decide on crop management strategies to increase productivity, she said.
Thematic maps like soil drainage, soil texture, soil depth, flooding and gravel/stoniness and land use maps were dovetailed with soil sample analyses and digital elevation models to get a clear picture on ground.
Soil samples were collected from 121 locations and analysed, revealing that sandy clay soil texture, that was best fit for boro rice, was distributed in six percent of the area examined.

India needs a competency-enhancing, job-creation master plan

By Frank F. Islam , (Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are personal).
When Narendra Modi was running for office, he promised to create 10 million jobs per year. The Modi administration has come nowhere near generating that number of jobs during his tenure in office, with the Indian economy expanding but the growth being essentially “jobless”.
This shortfall was not focused upon much in the early years of the Modi’s time as Prime Minister. As India has moved through 2018 toward a national election in May of 2019, however, job creation, or the lack thereof, has become a contentious topic.
Modi and his supporters — using data which now includes jobs that have moved from the informal to the formal sector of the Indian economy due to factors such as tax payments, government loans and health care coverage — claim numerous jobs have been created recently. His opponents assert that the data is being manipulated to give the appearance of job creation while doing very little actual development of new jobs.
As a result, this debate about jobs has become more a matter of partisan bickering and a political football rather than a concerted and collaborative attempt to address India’s very serious job creation and employment problem. Here are some facts about the nature of India’s economy and the dimensions of that problem:|
* India has a huge workforce of 470 million people with “almost half” of that workforce being self-employed.
* Over 80 per cent of the Indian workforce is in the informal as opposed to the formal sector.
* Approximately 12 million Indian youth enter the workforce each year.
* The desperate lack of “good jobs” is captured by the fact that, in 2015 in Uttar Pradesh, 2.3 million youth applied for 368 low-level jobs of “peons” (office attendants) requiring only a fifth-grade education. The applicants for these jobs included 150,000 university graduates, 25,000 individuals with master’s degrees, and 250 with doctorates.
These are staggering numbers. The most critical one relates to the percentage of the Indian workforce currently in the informal sector.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) recently released a report titled “Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture”, in which it observes that for a country to be developed it must have a high percent of its workforce in the formal sector which provides meaningful employment and benefits for employees.
According to the ILO report, India, with more than 80 per cent of jobs in the informal sector, ranks much worse in this regard than other nations in the South Asian region such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
This is a formula for failure. For India to become a developed nation, it must have a modern jobs, workforce and economy. This cannot be achieved, as is currently being contemplated by the Modi administration, by merely providing some nominal assistance to those holding “jobs” in the informal sector and then beginning to count those receiving that assistance as part of the formal sector.
What is needed instead is an approach that is truly transformational. This could be accomplished by creating and implementing a citizen-centered and competency-enhancing job creation master plan.
That master plan should be developed based upon a comprehensive, objective and strategic assessment, including a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of India’s current and future job situation and the employment and employability needs of India’s citizens and employers.
As part of this assessment, the plan should study how Japan and Germany transformed their economies after WW-II through a laser beam focus on technical and vocational education. It should also compare and contrast what China has done in terms of evolving its informal sector.
The master plan should clearly spell out a vision, goals, strategies, strategic action programmes, implementation requirements, facilitating factors, potential obstacles or barriers, and critical success factors. It should present a detailed budget and cost-benefit analysis.
The master plan must be multi-faceted, addressing all areas that are essential for building and evolving a modern Indian workforce and economy, including: Rural and urban differences, literacy enhancement, skill development, vocational and technical education, apprenticeship and mentoring, entrepreneurship, small- and mid-size business assistance, high-growth firm focus, public service employment as a means for propelling national and state-level initiatives forward, and, implementing a uniform job creation and employment measurement methodology.
India has many of the bits and pieces for job creation today. For example, it is an international leader in information technology driven by the private sector; it has the Make in India manufacturing focus driven by the government; and, it has numerous start-ups driven by fledgling entrepreneurs. Bringing these pieces together into an integrated and coordinated master plan will solve the job-creation puzzle in a manner that will make India and its people economic leaders in the 21st century.

The year when Modi’s charisma appeared to wane

By Brajendra Nath Singh, New Delhi, (IANS), Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP face a tough challenge in the Lok Sabha elections in the coming summer in the wake of its defeat in the recent Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and mounting worries on the economic front.
Even at the end of 2017, no one would have given the opposition a chance in the next general elections after BJP’s sweeping success in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in the wake of demonetisation and surgical strikes on terror hideouts across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and its ability to come to power in other states where it was not the largest party.
However, the BJP was contained in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in the year-end Assembly elections where it was stopped short of the 100 mark, signalling the green shoots of recovery for the Congress.
The change in the last one year became evident after a united Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party defeated the BJP in the Lok Sabha by-elections in its strong holds like Gorakhpur and Phulpur and along with the RLD, in Kairana in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress worsted the BJP in parliamentary by-elections in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and in Karnataka.
Also, the Congress was quick to learn from BJP’s game elsewhere and surrendered the Chief Minister’s post to the JD-S in a post-poll tie up to keep the BJP out of power in Karnataka, despite the saffron party emerging the single largest in the summer of this year.
The results of the recent Assembly polls in five states, where the Congress snatched power from the BJP in the Hindi heartland, has given a major boost to the opposition parties and could be a factor in the battle for control of the next Lok Sabha. During the year, the BJP had lost seven out of the 13 by-elections in parliamentary constituencies. Of these, it held nine since 2014. It could retain only Palghar in Maharashtra and Shimoga in Karnataka.
Since 2014, the BJP managed to retain just six Lok Sabha seats in by-polls. Besides Palghar and Shimoga, it had won Lakhimpur in Assam, Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh, Beed in Maharashtra and Vadodara in Gujarat.
In the last four-and-half-years, the party has lost Lok Sabha by polls in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, Gurdaspur in Punjab, Alwar and Ajmer in Rajasthan, Kairana, Phulpur and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Bhandara-Gondiya in Maharashtra and Bellary and Mandya constituencies in Karnataka. The BJP’s tally in the Lok Sabha has come down to 268 from 282 in 2014.
The results of the recent Assembly polls and the by-elections may have signalled the weakening of the “Modi wave” of 2014 the road ahead may not be easy for the saffron party, given the fact that major parties like SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh are planning an anti-BJP alliance and formation of the RJD-led alliance in Bihar, the two states which send 120 of the 543 elected MPs to the 545-member Lok Sabha, where two members are nominated.
Although the BJP-led government has been counting various of its schemes including Mudra, Ujwala, Saubhagya, opening of ‘jan dhan’ bank accounts, One Rank One Pension, and decisions on demonetisation, GST and the surgical strikes across the border in Pakistan as its major achievements in last four-and-a-half-years, the issues related to farmers and impacts of demonetisation and GST, NPAs crisis have come as a major dampener for the ruling party.
Unlike in 2014, when they were the challenger at the Centre and in many states, when an untested Modi made various promises, he and his party would now face a lot of questions to answer on the “achhe din” they had offered to the electorate.
During the last election campaign, Modi had promised one crore jobs a year and depositing of Rs 15 lakh in each persons account from the black money to be repatriated from abroad. The opposition is likely to rake up the issues and demand answers over the crisis of unemployment and agrarian distress among others.
Besides, the party is also facing the heat from the VHP and RSS, which have been mounting pressure on the government for constructing a Ram temple at Ayodhya by bringing a law or ordinance. Opposition parties allege that the sangh parivar, headed by RSS, may like to raise the political temperature on their pet issues to polarise the political situation.
Although the Supreme Court has given a clean chit to the government on the Rafale fighter jet deal, the issue remains live as the Congress has been pushing for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe.
In the Hindi hearltland of Bihar, where the BJP had won 22 of the 40 seats in 2014, Chhattisgarh (10 out of 11), Haryana (10-10), Himachal Pradesh (04-04), Jharkhand (12-14), Madhya Pradesh (16-29), Rajasthan (25-25), Uttarakhand (05-05), Uttar Pradesh (71-80) and Delhi (07-07), 182 out of 225 seats came into the party’s kitty in 2014.
In the present political scenario, political analysts feel the BJP is unlikely to repeat its performance of 2014, especially in key states like Uttar Pradesh as the coming together of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, social equations are likely to change.
In Bihar, the ‘mahagathbandhan’ of Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress, Hindustani Awam Morcha and Rashtriya Lok Samata Dal has already been formed. Though the Janata Dal-United has now allied with the BJP and the LJP, the grand alliance remains focussed on social engineering of Maha Dalits, extremely backward communities, along with RJD’s traditional Muslim-Yadav votebank.
In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh the BJP has already lost power to Congress and the BJP’s numbers are likley to drop in 2019.
In Maharashtra, the BJP ally, the Shiv Sena, may cause anxiety as both the parties don’t sharing good vibes. Maharashtra is the largest state after Uttar Pradesh as it sends 48 MPs to Lok Sabha. In the last election, the BJP won 23 seats and the Shiv Sena won 18.
In Gujarat, which is considered the BJP’s bastion and the Hindutva laboratory, the state to which Modi and BJP President Amit Shah belong, it may not be easy to repeat the 2014 performance given the Congress’ fightback in last year’s Assembly polls. Andhra Pradesh has 25 seats in the Lok Sabha. Earlier, the BJP and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) fought together, with the BJP winning two seats and the TDP 15. Now, the TDP is out of its fold, the BJP is trying to woo a new ally in the form of YRS Congress – at least post poll.
In Tamil Nadu, where it is facing heavy headwinds, the party is trying to woo the ruling AIADMK, which is itself split, to take on a formidable DMK-Congress combine in which a number of other regional parties will also find a place. The state has a tradition of voting one way and the results in 40 seats including one in Puducherry will be crucial to the national outcome.

More Indians seeking to migrate to Canada due to ‘push factors’, says Canadian report

By Jaideep Sarin, Chandigarh, (IANS),While the Indian government is seeking to project the country as a rising economic and political power, a report by a Canadian government agency has painted a dim picture of India and said that various socio-economic and even environmental factors are pushing more and more of its citizens to opt for immigration and seek refugee status in Canada.
The Refugee Claims Analysis Report (RCAR), recently compiled by the Intelligence and Analysis Section of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which is in possession of IANS, has listed the “push factors” that are encouraging a multi-fold increase in immigration and refugee claimants from India into Canada.
Top factors listed in the report are organised human trafficking, increasing religious tensions, violence against women and girls, honour killings, extensive poverty, widespread corruption and even dangerous levels of air pollution.
The mid-year report of the RCAR stated that 310,796 visas were issued to Indian nationals. It pointed out that in the first six months of 2018 (January to June), the number of refugee claims (asylum seeking applications) shot to 1,805, surpassing the total figure of 1,487 claims made in the entire 2017.
The refugee claims made by Indians in the first six months of 2018 were over 310 per cent of the total claims made in 2016, which stood at 582.
“Organised human smuggling: India is a known source, destination and transit country for human trafficking; insurgency; overpopulation; environmental degradation (i.e. dangerous levels of air pollution); extensive poverty; discrimination; widespread corruption; poor infrastructure; drought; increasing religious tensions (i.e. attacks on religious minorities); violence against women and girls (i.e. sexual assault); honour killings; lack of access to sanitation facilities; lack of access to health care; discrimination against the LGBTQ2 community,” have been listed as the “push factors” for the sharp increase in immigration and asylum seekers from India.
“The strong and active Indian diaspora community in Canada, favorable socio-economic opportunities, family reunification, freedom for LGBTQ2 individuals and strong respect for women’s rights” are listed as “pull factors” in the report for people to opt for Canada.
The number of asylum seekers from India, a majority of them Sikhs, has seen a major spurt — by over 300 per cent in the past two years alone — in Canada, with government agencies openly acknowledging “renewed support for (Sikh) separatism in the Punjab region”.
Indian nationals made the majority (63 per cent) of their asylum claims at inland offices (1,145), followed by airports (614 claims; 34 per cent). While claims were filed in all CBSA regions, most were filed in the QUE (Quebec) region (1,363), specifically at Montreal Immigration (898), the report has stated.
“A frequent basis of claims cited by Indian nationals is the fear of arbitrary arrest or abuse by the police based on accusations of supporting militant organisations. It should be noted that the vast majority of these claims are filed by Indian Sikhs. Other significant basis of claims include honour killings, political persecution of opposition party supporters, and discrimination based on sexual orientation,” the report said.
Most claimants were born in Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
“Eight-eight per cent of Indian claimants were issued TRVs (temporary resident visas) in India or TRV extensions within Canada, showing the likelihood of high rates of TRV fraud with applicants being intending immigrants rather than visitors. Given the high number of inland claims, it is likely that improperly documented arrivals (IDAs) entered Canada undetected at the airport and filed their claim at an inland office rather than at the airport,” the report has pointed out.
The report has cautioned Canadian agencies of the high incidence of document fraud being done in India by those seeking to migrate to Canada.
“Common document fraud includes altered bio-page, Indian passports or genuine Indian passports with fraudulently-obtained, altered or counterfeited TRVs. US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) reporting indicates that facilitators are coaching persons through the refugee process, a process which is likely being replicated in Canada. Additionally, nationals of India have been known to present themselves as fraudulent family units; couples pose as parents to unrelated minors in order to facilitate their entry into the US and Canada in human trafficking cases,” the RCAR report stated.
While highlighting the Indian human smuggling networks, the report has pointed out that “previous reporting has also indicated the presence of a southbound movement of Indian nationals who use human smugglers to transit Canada to reach the US via the PAC (Pacific) region”.
Through 2018, India has maintained its number two rank as a source country for claimants in Canada. Other top source countries include Nigeria, Colombia, Mexico and Romania.
As of June 2018, the acceptance rate at the IRB (immigration and refugee board) for Indian nationals was 26 per cent.

Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan among world’s highest-paid celebs

Akshay, 50, and Salman, 52, are the only two Indians in the list, which was unveiled on Monday. Akshay is ranked 76th, while Salman is placed on 82 in the list, which includes athletes, musicians, personalities, actors and comedians.
According to Forbes, the world’s 100 top-earning entertainers pulled in a combined USD 6.3 billion pre-tax over the past 12 months, up 22 per cent from last year and 11 superstars crossed the $100 million threshold, more than double the number from the last two years combined.
The Celebrity 100 list ranks front-of-camera stars around the globe using their pre-tax earnings from June 1, 2017 through June 1, 2018, before deducting fees for managers, lawyers and agents. Estimates are based on numbers from Nielsen, Pollstar, IMDB, SoundScan, NPD BookScan and ComScore, as well as interviews with industry experts and many of the stars themselves.  Akshay has been described by Forbes as one of Bollywood’s leading men who “has transitioned to socially-conscious roles, such as ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”, a comedy supporting government campaigns to improve sanitation, and ‘Pad Man’ about a guy hoping to provide inexpensive sanitary pads to rural communities”.
“He still mints millions from backend profits and endorsing some 20 brands, including Tata and Eveready,” the description read.
As for Salman, he has been called Bollywood’s “mainstay” who “continues to produce and star in hits such as ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’, cashing in on backend profits. Coupled with a slew of endorsements from Suzuki motorcycles to Chlormint gum, he remains one of India’s top earners.”
Mayweather tops the ranking with $285 million in pre-tax earnings, almost entirely on the strength of his August 2017 fight versus listmate Conor McGregor.
George Clooney finishes second with $239 million, most of it coming from liquor giant Diageo’s purchase of Casamigos, the tequila company he co-founded, giving him the best annual take-home of his or any actor’s career.
Forbes’ cover star Kylie Jenner pulled in $166.5 million to claim the No. 3 spot, boosted by a sprawling cosmetics empire that has her on the verge of becoming a billionaire before she is old enough to drink.
Judge Judy Sheindlin’s $147 million puts her at No. 4 — buoyed by the sale of her TV library for $100 million — while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson rounds out the top five with $124 million thanks to blockbusters like newly-released “Skyscraper”.