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Once in a blue bloom: Kerala’s famed neelakurinji set for rare mass bloom

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Once in a blue bloom

Thiruvananthapuram, July 12 (IANS/Mongabay) Starting late July, the Anamalai hills near Munnar in Kerala will be resplendent, clad in a purplish blue carpet. The famed neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) will burst into flower – a phenomenon that occurs once in 12 years. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to flock to the Munnar hills to behold the spectacle that lasts up until October.

Munnar is home to the highest concentration of neelakurinji plants in the country – spread over 3,000 hectares of rolling hills. Each shrub reproduces once in its life time and dies after flowering. It takes another 12 years for the seeds to sprout again and grow up to 30 to 60 centimetres high, for another glorious bloom.

The neelakurinji belongs to the genus Strobilanthes, which is a tropical plant species found in Asia and Australia. There are about 450 species of Strobilanthes in the world, of which 146 are found in India and of them, about 43, in Kerala.

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Strobilanthes Kunthiana

The blooming of neelakurunji this year has ensured the fourth most important place for the Western Ghats in the Lonely Planet’s 2018 Best in Asia.

According to Prasad Ambattu, a journalist and a resident of Munnar, there are two 12-year cycles simultaneously going on in the Anamalai hills. In one cycle, the last neelakurinji bloom was in 2006 and the next one is now, in 2018. In the other cycle, the last bloom was in 2014.

The mass flowering neelakurinji provides a feast for butterflies, honeybees and other insects. The purple flowers hold a large amount of nectar, which especially attract the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana).

“This honey from the neelakurinji is very special. It lasts for about 15 years without getting spoilt,” said G. Rajkumar, chief coordinator of the NGO Save Kurinji Campaign Council. He added that the honey is supposed to have medicinal properties.

Rajkumar also said that the ecosystem that supports the kurinji plants plays a major role in bringing water to the Amaravati river which is a tributary of the Kaveri river, a main water source for Tamil Nadu. “The Kurinji reserve is in the catchment area of Amaravati river,” he said.

The tourist boom begins

The forest department expects a large number of tourists to arrive in Munnar during this season, said Lekshmi Rajeshwari, forest range officer at Devikulam, which is part of the Eravikulam National Park, the prime destination where neelakurinji will bloom.

“One million tourists, including travellers from Europe and the United States, are expected to visit this amazing place this year,” she said.

Last October, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had communicated through a social media post that around eight lakh (0.8 million) tourists are expected for the bloom season and the state government aims to introduce a series of measures to protect the Eravikulam National Park. As an unprecedented number of tourists will visit the region, the government plans to restrict the numbers entering the park and the amount of time they spend there, said Vijayan’s post. Action on waste management and required tourist facilities are to be in place to safeguard the national park.

Encroachment on the neelakuri habitats

The Kurinjimala Sanctuary was declared in 2006, during the previous mass flowering to protecting the neelakurinji and its habitat. “This sanctuary gives the rarest, most spectacular view of neelakurinji,” said G. Baburaj, an environmentalist. “But it is eyed by many,” he added, elaborating that the area is being encroached on by resorts, hotels, plantations and small farms.

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Pic, (HT) An encroached plot in Munnar; (inset) the kurinji in bloom.

To put an end to the encroachments, the Kerala government passed an ordinance in 2006, for protecting the Kurinjimala Sanctuary. Since a number of settlements came under the area in the sanctuary, which was raising a stir among locals, the government, in the ordinance, authorised a sub-collector to adjudicate land claims after hearing complaints.

The proposed land that came under this ordinance included 2,041 houses, more than 53 government offices, 12 schools, 62 temples, churches and even banks. There were allegations against local politicians for forging title deeds of land ownership in the areas declared as protected.

However, for Kurinjimala to be declared as a wildlife sanctuary permanently under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, there is need for the settlement officer (in this case the Devikulam sub-collector) to go through the settlement of rights process for those who have inhabited or have rights over the land. This has now happened.

In November 2017, the Kerala Government decided to redraw the boundaries of the Kurinjimala Sanctuary – a move which had invited criticism alleging that it was to support the encroachers.

Following the controversy, Pinarayi Vijayan had promised that the reserve’s area will not be reduced at any cost. He told media representatives that a committee will be formed to study the issues at the reserve and it will look in to the settlement concerns.

There is also a case pending in the Kerala High Court, demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry into the involvement of the local member of Parliament in fabricating documents for the land. Similarly, there are hundreds of such encroachments in the reserve, claims environmentalist G. Baburaj.

Protection for neelakurinji habitat finally declared

Now, in the latest decision as of April 2018, the Kerala cabinet has decided to ensure that the proposed Neelakurinji Sanctuary will have a minimum of 3,200 hectares. Though the cabinet had decided not to evict people with title deeds, it plans to redraw the boundaries in cooperation with the revenue department.

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Picture Credit : iamlark

The cabinet decision includes appointing a settlement officer, conducting drone-based survey to identify the forest land and amending The Kerala Promotion of Tree Growth In Non-Forest Areas Act 2005 to prevent growing acacia and eucalyptus in the reserve forest area, all meant to benefit the Kurinjimala Sanctuary.

(In arrangement with Mongabay.com, a source for environmental news reporting and analysis. The views expressed in the article are those of Mongabay.com. Feedback: [email protected])

India

Jaitley rejects Congress’ demand for JPC on Rafale

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Arun Jaitley

New Delhi, Dec 14 : Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday rejected the Congress’ demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale aircraft deal and said the “family” was not above the Supreme Court in a democracy.

Addressing a press conference here with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hours after the Supreme Court dismissed petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the purchase of 36 Rafale jet fighters, Jaitley said the apex court verdict was absolute and conclusive and the “truth in such matters come from judicial process and not on the basis of political partisan lines”.

“Was there any partiality in the deal? Was nation’s security compromised? Was the due process not followed? Truth in such cases is found through judicial process and not by dividing on partisan basis. Investigations can never be done and reviews of this can never be done by a body of partisan division,” he said.

Jaitley referred to the JPC over Bofors guns deal and said it was divided on political lines and conclusions of its chairman were subsequently rejected by courts.

He did not name Congress President Rahul Gandhi but accused him of spreading lies and attacked him repeatedly.

“In politics all over the world there is a tradition that if you lie, you resign or can be impeached. Presidents have been impeached for speaking lies. At least this should happen. Till yesterday Congress was demanding a discussion on Rafale. Today we said start it immediately. Those who built untruth, they should keep it in Parliament,” he said.

Asked about Gandhi’s allegation of crony capitalism, he said “people not able to understand complex issues rely on such slogans”.

“That is my understanding of his politics,” Jaitley said and termed Gandhi’s allegations of procedures not being followed in the deal as “fiction writing”.

Asked about the Congress stance that judiciary was not the right forum to decide about the deal, Jaitley alleged that the narrative was being created by Nehru-Gandhi family.

“They refuse to accept even the Supreme Court verdict just because of falsehood created by a family. In our democracy, family is not above the Supreme Court. Do they think the untruth of a family is above the Supreme Court?”

He said there was a fundamental difference between truth and falsehood.

“The truth always holds together, explains everything but falsehood was bound to fall apart, indeed it has a short life. In this case, it is few months. Falsehood lowers credibility of creator. The Rafale issue had each of these features. The disrupters have lost and lost on all counts,” he said.

Jaitley said the Congress lost on the count that the need for the fighter jet was “acute and necessary”.

“Why was national security compromised, the need of Indian Air Force compromised,” he asked.

Rejecting charges about the government’s involvement in the award of offsets, he said government had nothing to do with it and Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale fighter jet, had taken the decision.

Asked about the different prices given by the government and by Rahul Gandhi of the Rafale fighter jet, Jaitley said “government is correct and all figures given by Rahul Gandhi are wrong”.

He said the government had stated that the price of basic Rafale fighter was nine per cent cheaper compared to the cost negotiated by the UPA government and that of weaponised aircraft was 20 per cent cheaper at 2016 prices.

He said escalation clauses in the agreement were differently worded and there would be further increase in prices. “Truth only has one version. Falsehood has many,” Jaitley said.

Sitharaman said if the Congress does not stop its allegations, it will also be exposed politically.

The Congress on Friday accused the government of trying to hide its “theft” in the Rafale deal behind the court ruling and persisted with its demand for a JPC inquiry.

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India

RAW and IB chiefs’ tenure extended

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RAW and IB chiefs

New Delhi, Dec 14: The central government on Friday extended by six months the tenure of A.K. Dhasmana, Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) and Rajiv Jain, Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB).

The extensions were approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).

Jain’s tenure was to end on December 30 and that of Dhasmana on December 29.

The ACC also re-designated NITI Aayog advisor as “Principal Advisor.”

IANS

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Sexual exploitation of women now criminal offence in Jammu and Kashmir

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rape abuse exploitation harassment
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Jammu, Dec 14: Jammu and Kashmir on Friday became the first state to have a law explicitly banning sexual exploitation of woman by those in positions of authority, having a fiduciary relationship or by a public servant.

The State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Satya Pal Malik approved the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2018, and the Jammu and Kashmir Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018.

“The Bill seeks to amend the state Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) whereby specific offence under Section 354E is being inserted to provide for the offence of ‘Sextortion’.

“Amendments are being made in Sections 154, 161 and Schedule of Criminal Procedure Code and Section 53A of the Evidence Act so as to bring sextortion at par with similar offences prescribed under the RPC.

“Amendment is being made in Prevention of Corruption Act to amend the definition of misconduct and to provide that demand for sexual favours would also constitute misconduct within the meaning of Section 5,” an official statement said.

IANS

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