nilekani meets modi, saves aadhaar

There is enough evidence to suggest that the crucial July 1 meeting between Nilekani, the prime minister and the FM, brought forth a volte face in the government stand on UIDAI. Only two days before this, on July 3, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Telecom, IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Planning Minister Rao Inderjeet Singh had met with top officials to discuss UIDAI versus the National Population Register (NPR), an entity under the home ministry that conducts the decadal census. The conclusions did not favour UIDAI in the form it was running till then.

a story by my colleague vikas dhoot and me which goes some way in explaining a surprising about-turn by the government re the aadhaar project.

MGNREGA ver 2.0

out today, this story on the changes planned by the nda for nrega.

Sanitation projects to reduce open defecation, increasing green cover and emphasis on creating assets form the crux of the Narendra Modi-led government’s blueprint for redeploying UPA’s flagship social sector programme — the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MGNREGA.Top officials aware of the government’s re-orientation roadmap for the rural employment guarantee scheme, being steered by rural development minister Nitin Gadkari, told ET that assessment of its outcome would go beyond number of man days of work offered to tangible ground-level changes it achieved.

For instance, people digging a pond will have to mention the storage capacity being created, its impact on groundwater level, and so on. Similarly, folks digging compost pits will have to outline the quantum of compost they will generate. According to the officials, it is proposed that about half of the scheme’s fund allocations will be earmarked for rural sanitation projects and plantation of trees along highways and rural roads.

is this a good idea? on one level, yes. rural india’s tree cover is falling. as are its groundwater levels and organic carbon in its soils. at another level, however, are these changes good for nrega?

The question is whether these problems should be fixed using MGNREGA. Corruption and payment delays have shrunk the number of people seeking work under the NREGA, said Himanshu, assistant professor in economics at JNU’s Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies.”MGNREGA is not a sanitation programme, but a safety net for people who can demand work whenever they need it. In the process, some assets also get created,” he told ET, adding that the Act ceases to deliver ‘work available on demand’ the moment it gets linked to another program like sanitation. “What if the money for sanitation is not released? Then NREGA, with 20% of its budget earmarked for sanitation, will suffer,” he added.

on aadhaar, npr and the nda

my colleague and friend vikas dhoot and i have this update on the continuing aadhaar and npr saga.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has backed the UPA’s Aadhaar programme for now, but that may not be the final word on whether it will be retained. The government has asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which runs Aadhaar, and the census office under the home ministry to test their databases against beneficiary lists of schemes such as the LPG subsidy programme as well as documents such as passports to determine which one is more accurate, said senior government officials aware of the development. “Line ministries in charge of different schemes like education subsidy, LPG cylinders and identity documents such as passports, have been requested to share data to enable this matching exercise,” said one of the officials.

on the quantum of natural forests in india

India has no more than 3.3 lakh sq kms of land under real forests, less than half the number claimed by the environment ministry in the 2013 forest survey released last week.

for the longest time, india’s environment ministry has been claiming india is adding forests, not losing them. this assertion, as a bunch of academics have argued, is built around increasingly lax definitions re what qualifies as a forests. this old article describes their concerns. the good news is that the forest survey of india, which conducts these biennial forest surveys, has vastly improved its methodology in its latest report. what it found echoes what many have felt — but the state has denied — for a long while. india’s natural forests are in steep decline. and now stand at less than half of what the government claims as forest cover.

it is likely to fall lower yet. the ministry continues to ease forest diversion processes. see this recent story.

photos from here and there

other photos from the trip (see earlier posts)

10,000 years ago, the glacier hiding in the clouds in the distance extended all the way till the wooden walkway. as it retreated, the glacier left behind a natural dam of the soil and rocks it had been pushing ahead of itself.

at lake louise, canada. 10,000 years ago, the glacier hiding in the clouds in the distance extended all the way till the wooden walkway. as it retreated, the glacier left behind a natural dam of the soil and rocks it had been pushing ahead of itself. glacial melt, trapped by the dam, is what created lake louise.

walking in the cotswalds, uk.

walking in the cotswalds, uk.

this is one of the strangest sights i have ever seen, (still in the cotswalds)

cotswalds (this and the one below). this is one of the strangest sights i have ever seen

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more from the cotswalds. this was taken shortly after we passed a sheep shearing pen. the cotswalds, incidentally, are also increasingly home to the very affluent. the other striking thing i saw was a farm left fallow, with native species growing rambunctiously. this was partly due to an EU subsidy that tries to control food production by paying farmers not to grow -- something i first heard about in yes prime minister.

more from the cotswalds. this was taken shortly after we passed a sheep shearing pen. the cotswalds, incidentally, are also increasingly home to the very affluent. the other striking thing i saw was a farm left fallow, with native species growing rambunctiously. this was partly due to an EU subsidy that tries to control food production by paying farmers not to grow — something i first heard about in yes prime minister.

jezebel, at a soho pub i visited.

jezebel, at a soho pub i visited.

trilobites!!!

i have been reading about trilobites for a while now. first in an essay called ‘hard parts’ by david quammen. and then a spluttering succession of other books. these were the first lifeform on the earth to develop an exoskeleton, which is one reason why they are so well preserved in the fossil records.

but there is another reason why they are special. in the 20 million years between 545 million AD and 525 million AD. the diversity of life suddenly exploded. a staggering array of new lifeforms, new body plans, new phylums, came into being. this was the cambrian explosion of life. and trilobites were one of the major lifeforms during that period. as things would turn out, they were also the most successful family to occupy the earth.

for about 300 million years, from the beginning of the cambrian to the end of the permian, the earth saw the age of trilobites (see this for more info). a period that i am still unable to fully imagine in my head. dinosaurs, in contrast, were around for about 170 million years, starting from 231 million years AD and vanishing about 66 million years ago. hominids, in contrast, started out about 20 or so million years ago.

about eight months ago, a friend gifted me an ammonite. later that night, that ammonite in my hand, the brain struggled to comprehend what the hand was holding. how does one absorb the fact that the tiny creature, whose fossilised shell i held in my hand, lived 175 million years ago? how does one even understand what 175 million years connotes?

that daze returned during the trek to mount stephen. after tadoussac and quebec, i had headed to field. a small village about 200-250 kilometres to the west of calgary. field lies between two mountains familiar to anyone who has read about trilobites — mount stephen and mount wapta. the first is where trilobites were first found in the modern age — by workers building the trans-canadian railway. the second is where charles walcott found the burgess shale fauna, a hitherto unknown site containing many more cambrian lifeforms, some very well-preserved indeed.

to cut a long story short, i went on a parks canada trek up mount stephen. and, at the quarry, shale slabs covered the mountain’s sloping flank. trilobite fossils, embedded in the slabs, were all around. survey any set of slabs — say, 3 or 4 — and chances were you would see a trilobite. it was stunning to see something — in the metaphorical flesh — after reading about it for long.

and so, i slowly walked around in the — there is that word again — daze, pausing every so often to take a closer look. some photos.

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and that there is the pincer of anomalocaris, one of the apex cambrian predators.

the pincer of anomalocaris, one of the apex cambrian predators.

these trilobites are said to have lived at the foot of the "cathedral escarpment. shallow seas next to a limestone cliff. periodic mud flows fell on the trilobites, entombed them, stopped oxygen from reaching them, and so resulted in their fossilisation. the escarpment runs along this part of the rockies. and cambrian fauna and flora has been found all along it, at the walcott quarry between mount wapta and mount field, on mount stephen, and most recently, in kootenay national park nearby.

these trilobites are said to have lived at the foot of the “cathedral escarpment”. shallow seas next to a limestone cliff. periodic mud flows fell on the trilobites, entombed them, stopped oxygen from reaching them, and so resulted in their fossilisation. the escarpment runs along this part of the rockies. and cambrian fauna and flora has been found all along it, at the walcott quarry between mount wapta and mount field, on mount stephen, and most recently, in kootenay national park nearby.

the cambrian gave rise to some extraordinary lifeforms. google hallucigenia.

the cambrian gave rise to some extraordinary lifeforms. google hallucigenia.

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ps – books. on the cambrian explosion of life, ‘wonderful life’ by stephen jay gould and ‘the crucible of creation’, by simon conway morris who violently disagrees with gould’s analysis. on trilobites, trilobites, by richard fortey. and trilobites, by riccardo levi-setti. there is a new book out by levi-setti which i am yet to read. the trilobite book, a visual journey. as things stand, this is still an emergent subject. a lot is still being figured out. definitive books are few and get overtaken by more recent discoveries quickly. for the science, check this link out.

the inuit with his beluga

(from tadoussac, i went to the city of quebec. from there, some inuit scupltures i saw.)

an inuit hunter carries a beluga home

an inuit hunter carries a beluga home

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and this, a swimming polar bear. look at the fluidity the artist has captured.

and these carvings on a walrus skull. what do you see? i see huskies, a dog sled, an eskimo, an igloo, another eskimo; on the other side, a seal, a walrus, a polar bear, another igloo and an eskimo; at the back, two small whales and an owl; and at the front, a chick and a bear’s claw.

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an inuit family with their dog

 

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