News 360° - Briefs

Published: Sunday 15 February 2009

Provident fund feud

Goa's regional provident fund commissioner has initiated an investigation against the Salgaocar Mining Industries Pvt Ltd after employees complained that they were not enrolled under the provident fund (PF) scheme. More than 130 employees working with the mining company for the past 16 years filed the complaint on December 29, 2008.

"On January 5, the management closed down the mine without notice. Our officials visited the site on January 12 and found the mine locked up. The workers were sitting outside," said Salil Shankar, Regional PF Commissioner, Goa. The commissioner has asked the company and the workers' union for details of the employees.

"In case it is established that the company failed to enroll its workers under Employee's Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, the company would be prosecuted," said Shankar.Owned by independent mla Anil V Salgaocar, the company mines and exports iron ore to Japan, China and Europe. Its mining reserves in Goa are estimated to be over 300 million tonnes.

400 years of open pits

The Peruvian government has signed a law to relocate part of its city Cerro de Pasco that has borne the brunt of open-pit mining for over 400 years. The government declared that the relocation plan involving 11,000 families was a "public need and national interest".

Located 4,380 metres above sea level in Peru's central highlands, the city became one of the world's richest silver producing areas after the metal was discovered there in the 1600s. Mining intensified in the 1900s, after copper was discovered in the area. Although silver and copper have now been exhausted, the city remains an active mining centre for lead and zinc.

The decision came after several studies highlighted the impacts of centuries of mining on people's health and the region's environment. In 2007, a study by the US Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that 91 per cent of the children and 82 per cent of the adult had high levels of toxic substances like lead, cesium and thallium in their blood. In 2006, a study by the National Institute of Civil Defence, Peru, concluded that 85 per cent of the housing around the mine is uninhabitable.

Down to Earth great barrier reef
Corals to stop growing by 2050

Global warming is slowing the growth of corals on the world's largest reef, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Scientists down under have shown that the growth of the most robust corals on the reef has slowed 13 per cent since 1990. At this rate, the corals would stop growing altogether by 2050.

The scientists linked the decline to rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification. As oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, they become more acidic, affecting the rate at which corals absorb calcium from seawater to build their skeletons, said the scientists. Such decline in coral growth is unprecedented in 400 years. The situation would create a devastating chain reaction for the area's biodiversity, said Glenn De'ath, the study's principal author. "Algae will replace corals, small fish will lose their habitat, then the larger fish that eat the small fish will starve," De'ath said. Protected as a national park, the reef extends for 2,600 km along the coast of Queens-land. The state government now plans to regulate chemical run-off from farms into the reef.

Down to Earth conservation
Rabbit boom kills plants

Attempts to eradicate cats to save birds on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, a World Heritage Site, have caused an explosion in the rabbit population and damage to plant life.

The rabbits have destroyed 40 per cent of the island's vegetation. Their number had reduced from 130,000 in the 1970s to 20,000 in the 1980s after myxomatosis, a disease affecting rabbits, was introduced to bring the population down. Scarcity of rabbits drove the cats, introduced in the early 1800s, to hunt the island's native burrowing birds. In 1985, a cat eradication plan began. However, after all the cats were killed, myxomatosis failed to keep rabbit numbers in check. Australian state of Tasmania, which manages Macquarie, now plans to eradicate all 130,000 rabbits, 36,000 rats and 103,000 mice that live on the island. The plan will cost US $16.2 million.

Down to Earth
Down to Earth
Down to Earth

Rains give Uruguay a miss

Uruguay declared an agriculture emergency to combat the drought that has gripped large areas of this dairy and beef producing country. The country is experiencing a three-decade low rainfall, which is threatening crops and livestock, said the government after an emergency meeting on January 12. Until a week ago Livestock Minister Ernesto Agazzi had downplayed the intensity of the drought. At the meeting, Agazzi admitted the situation is far worse than he believed earlier. The emergency measures include importing fodder and cow feed, aid for pumping water and postponing tax and energy bills. The low rainfall has also affected neighbouring Argentina, where farmers asked for emergency aid.

thermal power plant
Public hearing farce quashed

Public hearing for a proposed thermal power plant in Chhattisgarh was cancelled midway on January 15 after people voiced strong opposition.

Hyderabad-based Athena Power Projects plans to set up 1,200 megawatt thermal power plant in Jangir-Champa district. The district administration had organized a public hearing in village Singhitarai of Dabhara tehsil. But people accused it of not disclosing the project's environment impact assessment report before the hearing. On the hearing day, thousands of people from nearby villages approached the venue with placards saying "No information, No hearing". They also alleged the administration for deliberately fixing the venue in an interior village. The presiding officer admitted the lapses and cancelled the hearing. Earlier, Athena Power had planned to set up the plant in Raigarh district. It shifted the project to Jangir-Champa after farmers protested.

Down to Earth water pollution
China coast eutrophied

Raw sewage and agricultural run-off polluted 83 per cent of China's coastal waters in 2008, according to the latest report of the State Oceanic Administration. This resulted in a loss of US $3.03 billion.

The polluted areas were mostly affected by eutrophication, a process in which waterbodies receive nutrient-rich pollution such as sewage effluent and agricultural run-off resulting in algal bloom or excessive growth of aquatic weeds. This brings down oxygen level in the water, thus killing large amounts of marine life. At least 13,738 sq km of the coastal area was contaminated by algal bloom in 2008, up by 2,128 sq km from the previous year. In August, algae bloom sparked fear for the sailing competition of the Olympic Games when it engulfed waters surrounding the sailing venue in eastern China's Qingdao city. About 10,000 soldiers and volunteers had to clean up more than one million tonnes of the foul-smelling algae ahead of the competition.

air pollution
Tehran air too thick for crows

Down to Earth Crows, too, fled the city sky after a thick curtain of smog hung over Tehran for weeks on end. Several bird species, including nightingales and pigeons, had deserted the city in the last week of December 2008 when air pollution rose to alarming levels. Less than three weeks later, a large number of crows also fled the city. This has worried environmentalists as crows were hitherto known for their pollution resistance. "The crow exodus is the sign of a disturbed eco system," said Mohammad Bagher Sadough, head of the city environment agency. Eventually, the remaining bird species will also leave, turning the city into an urban desert of high-rise buildings and traffic jams, said Sadough.

Air pollution in Tehran has long been a health hazard for its 12 million people. A recent study by the health ministry shows over the past three years, there have been only 63 days of clean air in Tehran. Automobiles contribute to 87 per cent of Tehran's air pollution.

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