WHILE YOU SLEPT

Debris Confirmed, Spring Angst, Scandinavialand

SPOTLIGHT: SPRINGTIME ANGST IN PARIS

It’s spring in Paris: the trees are bursting with foliage, café terraces look inviting, the French Open is about to kick off. Shall we indulge in that apéro? Mais, non! The mood in the City of Light feels anything but spring-like right now. There is the fate of EgyptAir Flight 804, which took off from the capital’s Charles de Gaulle airport, and is believed to have crashed yesterday with 66 people on board, including 15 French nationals. While passengers’ families await more information, the rest of the country wonders if France again is the target of terrorists.


But the risks in Paris don’t only come from abroad, or above. Road blockades and train strikes have crippled traffic the past week following more than two months of often violent demonstrations. On Wednesday, protesters attacked a patrol car and set it on fire with two policemen inside.More than 300 police have been hurt so far and about 1300 arrests have been made since violence first broke out.


The focal point of this wrath? Proposed reforms to France’s labor laws, in addition to negotiations over working conditions and pay. So far, President Francois Hollande has stuck to his guns. He is unwilling to withdraw the bills that would make hiring and firing easier, measures he believes would encourage companies to recruit more people and reverse France’s stubbornly high unemployment.


But the economic and social policy questions, more than ever, are interwoven with the issue of public security. On Thursday, lawmakers voted, once again, to extend the state of emergency first put into place following the November 13 terrorist attacks in and around Paris. The government had argued for the two-month extension, which allows law enforcement to hold people under house arrest, in order to reinforce security to cover two big sporting events coming up in France: the 2016 Euro soccer tournament and the Tour de France cycling race. Here’s hoping for safety in sports, and a better summer in Paris.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY (& WEEKEND)

  • Search continues for clues to the fate of the Paris-Cairo EgyptAir flight 804. Egyptian and Greek authorities confirmed this morning that flight debris and victim remains had been found in the Mediterranean.
  • Turkey’s ruling AKP party is expected to choose a new Prime Minister to replace Ahmet Davutoglu.
  • Austria holds national elections on Sunday.


VENEZUELA COURT APPROVES STATE OF EMERGENCY

Venezuela’s highest court has validated a far-reaching state of emergency imposed by the country’s embattled president Nicolas Maduro. More violent protests are expected ahead of a major military show of force on Saturday.


SHOOTING FORCES S.F. POLICE CHIEF OUT

Just hours after a fatal police shooting yesterday of an unarmed black woman, San Francisco’s mayor, Ed Lee, has forced the city’s police chief, Greg Suhr Law, to resign. Details from the San Francisco Chronicle.


â€" ON THIS DAY

East Timor independence and the birthday of a singular American singer-actress are part of your 57-second shot of history.


VERBATIM

"The State of Israel is patient and tolerant toward the weak among it and minorities. But to my great regret extremist and dangerous elements have overrun Israel as well as the Likud party.” Israel's outgoing defense minister Moshe Yaalon had harsh words today as he resigned amid reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would replace him with Avigdor Lieberman, the country’s far-right former foreign minister.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Christoph Behrens of German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung reports on one of Mao Zedong's most grandiose ideas â€" an aqueduct stretching 3,500 kilometers. For better or worse, it is now becoming a reality decades after Chairman Mao’s death. “Construction workers have driven concrete blocks deep into the earth at Jinan to form an underground canal, only a few kilometers south of the ‘Yellow River Park.’ These form part of the arm of the ‘South-North-Water-Transfer-Project,’ a network of pipelines, tunnels and aqueducts that will run across thousands of kilometers in China, partly at ground level, partly underground or a few meters above the ground. They have been building it for 12 years and three routes are envisaged to transport the water: a western, a middle and eastern passage. The eastern route, which runs from Shanghai to the water poor region of Shandong and Beijing, is more than 1,500 kilometers long, approximately the distance between Denmark and Italy. Read the full article: Mao’s Aqueduct: Biggest Water Project Ever Rises In China.


REPORT: ANOTHER BOKO HARAM VICTIM FOUND

Nigerian authorities are reporting the rescue today of another one of the more than 200 girls seized in 2014 in the town of Chibok by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The report comes a day after the rescue of a 19-year-old, who has since given birth to a baby girl. The BBC says that doubts have arisen about the second reported victim.


â€" MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH


SCANDINAVIALAND?

A Norwegian billionaire has a radical idea: turn Sweden, Denmark and Norway into a single nation of 20 million. Reaction hasn’t been all cold.


â€" Crunched by Sruthi Gottipati

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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