The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 19-03-2023 | 01:45 pm
Some three kilometres from the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal’s Nadia district, patchy rows of date palm trees demarcate plots of agricultural land growing winter vegetables. Just as dusk is about to fall, tightening the knot on his blue chequered lungi, 40-year-old Sanjit Ghosh climbs up the tallest date palm tree in the grove — nearly 20 ft high — and makes a small incision with his knife. Then, he gently inserts a thin bamboo nozzle into the incision and hangs an earthen pitcher at the top of the trunk.The pitcher that Sanjit has left on the tree will be filled by date palm sap that has trickled into it through the night, and on the next day, just before sunrise, he will make a trip up the tree to bring it down. If he is lucky, it will be filled till the brim, he says.Sanjit is harvesting the last of the season’s nolen gur, or date palm jaggery, a coveted food in the region. This date palm is a wild species indigenous to India that grows in abundance in West Bengal and neighbouring Bangladesh, and is cultivated for its sap.But factors like climate change and a complex set of socio-economic conditions are throwing the production of the state’s traditional winter delicacy into jeopardy.Winter; blink & it’s gone Harvesting gur has been a family business for Sanjit, one that he has been engaged in for nearly three decades. In his family, he is the second generation siuli, the Bengali term for the community that extracts date palm jaggery. “We used to have three months of winter and we were able to cut trees till the third week of February. This year we saw that February had just arrived but the winter was almost gone,” he says.During the winter months in the state, the maximum temperature hovers around 20°C, while minimum temperature drops below 15°C. But this year, by the first week of February, winter had been quickly replaced by warmer weather.“My generation has seen the weather changing. We would sell sap to vendors through February but the weather was so bad this year that we hardly extracted any. We have suffered heavy financial loss,” Sanjit says.The vulnerability to climate change is more pronounced in the case of date palm because even a minor rise in temperature severely affects the quality of sap that is extracted. The siuli say that over the past few years, a date palm tree that in ideal weather conditions would give five litres of sap, gives an average of two to three litres now, severely reducing the produce that they are able to sell.Some scientists, however, say that it may be too soon to form conjectures. “I can’t say whether climate change has been a contributing factor, simply because there hasn’t been any research on this,” says Dr. Debabrata Basu, an expert on agriculture at the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya in West Bengal.Growing up in the Nadia district, Basu’s ancestral home had some 40 trees of date palm, known as khejur in Bengali, from which sap would be extracted to produce fresh, unadulterated jaggery. As a result, he has seen the business of gur extraction and production up close, and more intimately than most. “From my observation, I can say that the amount of sap that used to be collected isn’t available any more. This is happening for two reasons: one, the water table has reduced. Date palms love water, which in turn produces sap,” he explains.The second, he says, is more complex. Till a little over a decade ago, monocrops were largely grown in regions in the state with high numbers of date palms, which did not use large quantities of ground water. That has changed, adding additional stress to the water table which is naturally lower during the winters. “Farmers say that because the roots of the date palm tree don’t go very deep into the soil, they aren’t getting enough water, resulting in low yields of sap. It is likely one reason behind the low production of jaggery,” he says.The demand for jaggery has also put pressure on siuli who are cutting into the trees at shorter intervals, says Sanjit, within three to four days of the last extraction. “When my father worked, he used to cut the trees at intervals of five to six days. As a result, the quantity of sap that he would extract was larger and the taste was superior. But our generation needs the money, so we cut them as soon as possible,” Sanjit explains.Dr. J. C. Tarafdar, former principal scientist at the Institute of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, believes that while climatic factors are most certainly a reason why the production of nolen gur has reduced, it could have been overcome if there were enough siuli. “It is really the lack of skilled labour. The skills required for cutting the trees and collecting the sap are getting lost since the new generation doesn’t want to learn it,” Dr. Tarafdar says.Endangered skillsLike other traditional skills that are slowly disappearing, the art of gur extraction is also under threat. The process of harvesting this sap is highly technical and the required skills can only be learned every day on the job, the siuli say. It is also a method of food processing that has not been successfully mechanised, making it entirely reliant on a generation of siuli who do not have successors to whom they can pass on these skills.“The cutting of the bark, the process of collection and the placement of the pitchers are all skills that nobody wants to learn anymore. The insertion of the bamboo nozzle is another skill that is very important in the process. The trees are 15 to 20 feet high and these days, people don’t know how to climb them without harnesses. And the siuli who have aged are unable to climb these high trees,” says Dr. Tarafdar.As a young boy, Sanjit remembers following his father and uncle as they harvested date palm sap, starting his training from scratch, by doing odd jobs like hauling pitchers of sap after collection. Mastery over the skill of gur extraction would take him three decades to achieve.28-year-old Biswasjit Ghosh grew up in Bhajanghat village, some seven kilometres away from Majdiha, and was compelled to take up the profession of his grandfather and father, despite having graduated from college with a degree in Geography, because of a lack of job opportunities.Among the most complex tasks in the process is the cutting of notches into the delicate tissue of the date palm bark from where the sap slowly seeps into the pitchers. If done incorrectly, the tree may be damaged and there will be no sap to collect. An experienced siuli will climb up the tree, and shave a bunch of palm leaves from one part of the top of the trunk. The bark is removed and the delicate inner tissue of the tree is exposed, where a ‘V’ shaped incision is made. A precisely shaped bamboo tube is attached to this incision, from where the sap drips into the pitcher.“This is such a difficult job; it is such a difficult skill to acquire. Just because our forefathers could do it, it doesn’t mean that we can. I have been trying to learn this skill for five years but I haven’t been able to,” says Biswajit.It isn’t just the technicalities involved that make this a difficult profession. While the grace and agility with which experienced siuli climb up date palm trees make the job look simple, it is far from it.Young men in siuli families are increasingly unwilling to take on the risks that come with this job, Biswajit says. “This is a very tough job. You have to climb up a tree without a harness and there is always a concern that if you fall down, you may be seriously injured. Only someone who has done this will be able to explain how difficult it is to balance on trees using just a rope. There are a few people from my generation who are doing this, but the future generation will definitely not want to do this job.”There is also a very short window during which the collected sap can be processed to make jaggery. The pitchers that have collected the sap through the night need to be brought down from the trees before sunrise, after which the process of fermentation increases the alcohol content in the liquid, rendering it useless in the production of jaggery.A question of economicsIt is also a question of economics for young men in villages that have historically been centres of date palm jaggery production in West Bengal. There is little that the siuli get in return for their labour, a factor that has discouraged the younger generation from taking on the profession of their fathers and grandfathers.“The income they earn is very less. There is huge disparity in the price at which the siuli sells the sap and the price at which the customer purchases the adulterated gur,” says Dr. Basu.With fewer siuli extracting jaggery, the quantity of pure gur available for purchase in the markets has drastically reduced over the years. Approximately 80 per cent of the jaggery being sold as nolen gur is adulterated, say agriculture scientists. During the process of heating the sap, in most cases, sugar is added to the liquid in an attempt to increase the quantity of jaggery. But the siuli and middlemen say that they are unfairly blamed for adulteration.“Pure jaggery is sold at Rs. 400 to Rs. 500 per kilo. The siuli near our university tell us that if they don’t mix sugar they won’t be able to sell gur at affordable prices,” says Dr. Basu.Sugar costs Rs. 50 per kilo and when mixed into the sap, it reduces the market price of jaggery, making it affordable for the public. “There is a large percentage of sugar in the gur that is sold at Rs. 150 per kg. None of us get pure jaggery these days. It is very rare,” he says. Not many people are able to distinguish between pure and adulterated jaggery, in part because the process is so difficult and because they have never tasted pure nolen gur.The value and cost of fresh date palm jaggery are usually high because it is available only for eight to ten weeks every year during the winter months, agriculture scientists say. A wide range of Bengali sweets or mishti in the state are prepared specifically using nolen gur and such is the popularity of this seasonal produce, that it has been appropriated for preparing everything from nolen gur essence to ice creams in the flavour.In the name of jaggeryIn his shop outside Majdiha’s railway station, Jhantu Das has been selling blocks of jaggery and jars full of liquid nolen gur, also called jhola gur, for over a decade.“Even 10-12 years ago, the jaggery was good. But these days, sugar is added because the quantity of jaggery available has reduced. The siuli have aged and the younger boys can’t cut the trees. Many of them don’t want to. Although the quantity of jaggery has reduced, the appetite for it has not and so sugar is added to the liquid. It is not just us shopkeepers, but even customers understand that jaggery is adulterated. In Majdiha however, you will still get better quality jaggery because less sugar is added here. But in some other places, they just sell sugar in the name of jaggery,” says Das.An identifying feature of pure patali gur or the solidified blocks of date palm jaggery most commonly sold in markets, is that it is an incredibly delicate food product, and melts at room temperature, explains Tanmoy Bera, the proprietor of Sreemanta Gurer Arat, a 200-year-old establishment in central Kolkata that sells different kinds of jaggery. To increase its shelf life and make transportation of the product easier, sugar is added to give it the form of hard blocks which are then wrapped in newspaper and sold in marketplaces.In West Bengal, date palm trees are also not found in organised plantations, making their numbers drastically less in comparison with the demand for their processed sap. “Date palm is not grown for its fruit in the state and farmers aren’t interested in growing this. These trees were traditionally used for buttressing ponds because it has anti-erosion properties,” says Jayanta Kumar Aikat, Director, West Bengal’s Department of Food Processing Industries and Horticulture.These palms are usually wild, found in several parts of rural West Bengal. In villages across the state, Aikat says, in addition to securing shorelines of ponds, the trees are also used to demarcate land and agricultural fields.In West Bengal, the tree has traditionally not been grown for its fruit. Despite the popularity of its jaggery, especially during the winter months, Aikat says, the state government has not observed any serious demand among farmers for the tree’s plantation.The absence of formal plantations is another challenge for the siuli across the state because they are forced to rely on rapidly reducing numbers of wild date palms. “Khejur trees are reducing in number in many districts across West Bengal because brick kilns are constantly looking for khejur wood. The wood of this tree burns slowly, on low flame, which is ideal for brick making. The siuli have told me that the trees are disappearing because the wood is being sold off,” says Basu. Since there has been no formal documentation of the number of trees that grow across West Bengal, it is difficult to estimate how many are lost each year.The complex socio-economic circumstances and climatic conditions indicate a challenging path ahead for the date palm trees and the siuli of West Bengal. “It is not an exaggeration to say that pure nolen gur will become an endangered product in the future,” says Dr. Basu.
S&P Global Ratings on Monday kept its forecast for India’s economic growth unchanged at 6 per cent in the fiscal year starting April 1, before rising to 6.9 per cent in the following year.In the quarterly economic update for Asia-Pacific, S&P saw inflation rate easing to 5 per cent in 2023-24 fiscal, from 6.8 per cent in the current financial year.It saw India’s gross domestic product (GDP) likely growing by 7 per cent in the current financial year ending March 31 (2022-23), before slowing to 6 per cent in the next 2023-24 fiscal.“India leads, with average growth of 7 per cent in 2024-2026,” the update said.GDP is projected to rise to 6.9 per cent in the following two financial years — 2024-25 and 2025-26 and rising to 7.1 per cent in 2026-27.“In India, domestic demand has traditionally led the economy. But it has become more sensitive to the global cycle lately, in part due to rising commodity exports; and its year-on-year GDP growth slowed to 4.4 per cent in the fourth quarter (October-December 2022),” the rating agency said.Pronounced core inflation in India suggests little slack in these economies, it said.S&P expected the Reserve Bank of India to raise its already high policy rate further following a recent upside surprise to inflation.“In our view, India’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation should moderate to 5 per cent in fiscal year 2024 (ending March 2024) but we also anticipate upside risks, including from weather-related factors,” it said.Stating that the current account balances of energy-importing economies in the Asia-Pacific have deteriorated, the rating agency said in India, the external deficit reached about 3-3.5 per cent of GDP in 2022.S&P Global Ratings maintained “cautiously optimistic outlook for Asia-Pacific,” saying China’s economy was on track to recover this year.“We believe the recovery in China will be largely organic, led by consumption and services. Our GDP growth forecast of 5.5 per cent this year, up from 4.8 per cent in November, exceeds the target of around 5 per cent announced at the National People’s Congress meetings in March,” said S&P Global Ratings chief economist Louis Kuijs.External pressure from rising US interest rates will likely lift interest rates. The US and the eurozone are likely to slow significantly in 2023.“We expect only 0.7 per cent growth in the US this year and 0.3 per cent in the eurozone,” S&P said.“China’s recovery won’t fully offset the impact of the slowdown in the US and Europe on the Asia-Pacific region. But it will alleviate it. The likely acceleration in China this year is broadly comparable to the likely slowdown in the US and Europe.”
I come from the border state of Uttarakhand. Before 2014, whenever I used to visit remote villages in the border districts like Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar and Champawat, I used to shudder upon witnessing mass exodus from villages bordering China. People living in these remote villages have always acted as an important source to report the Chinese army’s suspicious activities along our borders. This phenomenon is not just confined to the border districts of Uttarakhand, other Himalayan states in the Northeast also faced similar challenges. Unfortunately, the UPA government’s policy to shy away from developing our border areas cost us dearly.Since this issue is related to our national security, Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded to it in earnest. He not only focused his government’s attention towards developing infrastructure in the border areas, he also conceived the Vibrant Village Programme, which focuses on the development of our border villages. This will be a milestone in the development of border villages and the progress of the Himalayan states. BJP cadre are committed to making this highly innovative programme a grand success.The Vibrant Village Programme aims to strengthen and enhance basic infrastructure in the villages along the LAC so that migration can be stemmed. Border villages are being provided with all basic amenities including modern housing and good roads; water and electricity supply; good education, health and communication facilities; access to Doordarshan channels, etc. This initiative will soon transform our border villages neighbouring China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar, and address the problem of migration. A total of 2,962 border villages in five states will be developed under this scheme.The scheme will also develop growth centres on the “hub-and-spoke model” through the promotion of social entrepreneurship, empowerment of youth and women through skill development and entrepreneurship and leverage the tourism potential through the promotion of local culture and traditional knowledge. It will also develop sustainable eco-agribusinesses through the “One village-One product” concept.For decades our border villages remained untouched by development. Our enemies took advantage of these lapses and strengthened their position along our borders. Sensing an opportunity, China increased its influence along our borders by rapidly developing its infrastructure and increasing the presence of its army. India also suffered similar setbacks along the Pakistan border due to serious lapses of the Congress governments. Terror activities also increased along the Myanmar border.Immediately after taking over, PM Modi tweaked the PM Gram Sadak Yojna to connect remote villages with all-weather roads. It started with the construction of concrete roads in all villages with over 250 inhabitants. Remote villages were also connected with a robust optical fibre network. Similarly, under PM Awas Yojna, pucca houses were constructed in remote villages. People were provided with water and electricity connections and given toilets. Under the Ayushman Bharat Yojna, villagers were covered under the world’s largest health insurance scheme. The PM then embarked upon the Vibrant Village Programme.In 2018, the Parliamentary Standing Committee pointed towards illiteracy, backwardness and lack of basic facilities in our border areas. The Vibrant Village Programme is an important and commendable initiative that will address all these issues.The BJP is contributing to making the initiative a grand success. As a result, under the leadership of its president, J P Nadda, the party has planned various programmes to step up its communication outreach in border villages. The party will also hold various programmes, ensure the effective implementation of various government schemes and promote art and cultural activities in these villages.People living in border villages are the first line of our defence; they are our sentinels.Under the Prime Minister’s leadership, our border areas are undergoing a social and economic transformation. This will not only make our borders safe and secure, it will also bring remote and border villages into the national mainstream, and make them more vibrant, developed and self-sufficient.The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP and national media head, BJP
NEW DELHI: The government is invoking an emergency rule that will force some of the country’s biggest coal power plants to operate at full capacity, as the country prepares to meet surging electricity demand and avoid blackouts.Power stations operating on imported coal will be asked to run at full capacity for three months during the summer season to ease the burden on domestic coal supplies, according to a February 20 power ministry order seen by Bloomberg News.Several parts of the country are witnessing unusually warm weather for this time of the year and peak electricity demand over the past week is already close to the record levels seen last summer. The government expects peak power demand to reach 229 gigawatts by April, compared with an all-time high of 215 gigawatts seen last summer.The affected plants include Adani Power Ltd’s giant 4,620 megawatt facility at Mundra in the coastal state of Gujarat and Tata Power Co Ltd.’s 4,000 megawatt plant in the same town. Some of these plants with fixed-price power supply contracts have not been operating at full capacity as it’s hard for them to supply electricity at those rates when imported coal prices rise.Press officials at the ministry didn’t respond to an email and a text message seeking comment outside office hours. Reuters reported the order earlier on Monday.The ministry said it would invoke Section 11 of the electricity laws in the “larger public interest” and the order will be effective for three months starting March 16. It previously invoked the emergency rule last summer at the height of a power crisis. India’s electricity laws allow the government to force any power station to operate as directed in extraordinary circumstances, such as a natural disaster or a threat to national security or public order.
Isolated heatwaves may prevail in the coastal region, said an official. (representational)New Delhi: The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Sunday issued a warning for heatwave in the isolated coastal region specifically in Konkan and Kutch area of Gujarat for the next two days.Speaking to ANI, IMD Scientist Dr Naresh said, "Presently, one Western Disturbance is likely to affect the western Himalayan region from today. It will impact the weather in the entire Jammu and Kashmir region today and eventually start affecting Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand from tomorrow, especially for the next two days."He further said that the Pathankot area in Northern Punjab is likely to get light isolated rainfall in two-three days.Talking about the weather conditions, he said that the minimum and maximum temperature in the country is already 'above normal' in most parts of the country. "If you talk about the temperature rise in northwest India, it usually happens there when there is a dry spell of weather," he added."We have issued statements in the last few days about the temperature reaching between 37 and 39 degrees Celsius in the west coast or Gujarat region, so isolated heat waves may prevail in the coastal region. We have issued a heatwave warning for the next two days in the Konkan and Kutch region except for the Western Himalayas where there is no significant variation," he said.Speaking to ANI, Dr Naresh said a slight fall in temperature in Shimla is expected under the influence of western disturbances."Shimla will continue experiencing the minimum and maximum temperature today, however, under the influence of western disturbance, we are expecting the temperature to slightly fall over these regions from tomorrow onwards," he said.On being asked if the weather in Shimla is an outcome of climate change, he said, "Generally this is an unusual temperature, but whenever there is dry or no weather then we can expect the temperature to rise above normal. However, we would need long-term data to say anything about climate change. We can call it climate change only if such conditions persist for long terms."Addressing the issue of fog in the southern part of the country, the IMD scientist said that the region is not witnessing 'dense fog' and termed it shallow with quite high visibility."The fog we are witnessing in the southern region is not dense fog. It is a shallow fog and the visibility is quite high which prevails when there is humidity. If you talk about the Chennai region, there was about 80 per cent humidity which influenced this shallow fog," he said.In Northwest India, one or two stations are experiencing dense fog in the morning, and this is also because the temperature here has been more than 10 degrees, he said.Dr Naresh said that we often experience dense fog when there is a calm wind and quite high humidity, and since it is prevailing in the Northwest, we have issued warnings in Punjab and Haryana for the next 24 hours. It may prevail till Monday, he added.PromotedListen to the latest songs, only on JioSaavn.comIn the national capital, the minimum temperature is already above 10 degrees but due to western disturbances, it may fall by one degree. There may be no significant change in the weather over Delhi-NCR, he said.(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)Featured Video Of The Day22 Wires Were Already Broken Before Gujarat Bridge Snapped: Probe Report
AHMEDABAD: An Ahmedabad-based businessman, Rakesh Singh, who returned to the city with his family, recounted the devastating earthquake in Turkey, terming the scenes after the quake as "horrific and scary".53-year-old Singh, who has textile business interests in Turkey, Indonesia and Thailand, said that he got up to drink a glass of water, "when the whole building began shaking like a pendulum". Singh was with his wife and son on the second floor of an apartment in Gaziantep city, which bore the brunt of the first quake which hit the region at 4.17am on February 6."I woke up to drink a glass of water and just then, the building started shaking violently. We rushed out without even waiting to take our phones. The weather outside was chilly with rain and snow falling. People were wailing and desperately looking for their loved ones," he recounted on Sunday.Singh said that he later got his phone and passports of family members from the building and called his colleagues, who are also from different cities of Gujarat. "Thankfully they all were also safe," he said. Singh, who returned with his family to Ahmedabad on Saturday morning, said that the situation in turkey is still very grim with people having to wait for more than two days in queues for petrol.Having business interests in Turkey, Singh visits Turkey often and spends about a month there. This time, he had taken his wife and son along, as it snows in that country at around this time of the year. Gaziantep is a major centre for carpet manufacturing and export, he said.