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India: GM crops set for more obstacles, with 10-year moratorium proposed

As farmers protest against more trials of genetically modified crops, an official committee has suggested a 10-year moratorium
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Cotton is a thirsty plant and parts of India drought-prone. But the intensive farming process for cotton leaches the soil and requires high pesticide and fertiliser use that pollutes further downstream (India cotton 2012 11 6 0/AFP/Getty Images)

Doing business in India is about to get harder for genetically modified seed companies like Monsanto, an article in this week's Tehelka suggests.

According to the magazine, the latest round of farmer protests against trials of new GM crops marks an escalating opposition to the technology -- which some argue has contributed to the high rate of suicides by farmers in India's cotton belt.

"The anti-GM sentiment in the country has grown louder with states such as Bihar, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh banning field trials," Tehelka reports. "Besides, official committees have also recommended discontinuing such trials."

"The latest report, dated 18 October, was submitted by the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) set up by the Supreme Court. A key recommendation is to put a 10-year moratorium on field trials of Bt transgenics in all food crops (meant for direct human consumption) until specific sites for conducting the trials have been marked and certified, and competent monitoring mechanisms put in place," the magazine said.

As GlobalPost reported earlier this year, the third film of San Francisco film-maker Micha X Peled's globalization trilogy blames US agribusiness giant Monsanto for a wave of farmer suicides that has claimed tens of thousands of lives across India's cotton belt.


Is India's showpiece highway a sparkling death trap?

With 4 deaths over the past 5 days, Indians question the safety of Noida expressway
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Indian farmers block traffic on a national highway during a protest against the state and central government at Rayya village some 35 kms from Amritsar on October 5, 2012. (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

With four traffic deaths over the past five days, one of India's first modern expressways is facing new scrutiny.

According to the Times of India, the 23.6 km stretch of highway linking Noida and Greater Noida, on Delhi's eastern border, has been racking up accident statistics in its first decade of operations, even as the main developer of the area pushes its vision of an India linked by superhighways further east to the home of the Taj Mahal with the recently opened Yamuna Expressway.

As GlobalPost reported earlier this year, the Yamuna Expressway promises to transform the towns and cities along the route between New Delhi and Agra. Its planners project that the promise of speedy travel will draw multinational firms like Honda, Daewoo, and Samsung — which already have factories in a township outside New Delhi called Greater Noida — deeper into Uttar Pradesh. And, in a country plagued by woefully inadequate infrastructure, the project could well transform the economy of India's most populous state, and one of its least developed.

But the death toll is already mounting, as these high-speed thoroughfares continue to be used by slow-moving vehicles such as tractors and 75-100 cc motorbikes, according to the Times of India.

In the past five months, around 20 people have lost their lives on the Gautam Budh Expressway, as the stretch between Noida and Greater Noida is officially called.

"The expressway lacks emergency services like fire stations, tow trucks and ambulance services. The stretch has just two PCR vans, one at both ends — Mahamaya flyover in Noida and Pari Chowk in Greater Noida," TOI writes.


India: US silence leaves India guessing about its post-poll fate

Left out of rhetoric, India must wait and see how next US president treats Iran sanctions, Af-Pak withdrawal, and climate change, says Sumit Ganguly
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It's not surprising that India hasn't figured much in the US election campaign, Indiana University Professor Sumit Ganguly writes in Monday's Deccan Chronicle newspaper. But the poll silence nevertheless leaves India guessing about what the next president's moves will be on India's possible role in post-war Afghanistan, climate change negotiations that could limit India's economic growth and US oil sanctions against Iran that could further limit India's energy supply.

Though outsourcing was a political football in the early stages of the 2012 campaign, as it was in 2008 at the beginning of the economic crisis, Ganguly argues that India's IT services industry has nothing to worry about.

"Once in office, however, [outsourcing] was not a subject that [Obama's] administration returned to with any vigor," Ganguly notes. "Nevertheless his campaign rhetoric had caused much concern to Indian policymakers as well as the titans of Indian commerce and industry."


India closely watching Indian origin candidates in US polls

6 Indian-origin candidates have India closely watching this US election
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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks with employees in the oil and gas industry about U.S. President Obama`s moratorium on Deep Water Drilling on June 10, 2010 in Houma, Louisiana. Jindal is one of only two Indian-Americans have been elected to the US Congress. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Six Indian-origin candidates have India closely watching this US election, as India's diaspora continues to grow in influence in America.

According to India's DNA newspaper, Dr Ami Bera, the Democratic Party candidate from California's seventh Congressional District, has the best chance of winning a Congressional seat out of the six Indian-Americans vying for a seat in the House of Representatives.

So far, only two Indian-Americans have been elected to the US Congress. Dalip Singh Saund was the first Indian-American elected to the House of Representatives in 1950s, while Bobby Jindal, now the Louisiana Governor, was the second, DNA noted.


India: New web site tracks green clearances

India's Center for Science and Environment launches website to clear "grey haze, marred by non-transparency and half-truths."
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In the wake of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call for $1 trillion in infrastructure investment "at all costs," the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) launched a new website designed to refute claims that the environmental clearance regime is slowing India's economic growth.

The site features a slick map that identifies the locations of industrial sites by categories, including thermal power plants, cement plants, iron & steel facilities, bauxite mines, and so forth. There is also a database that is searchable on various different parameters, which should make it easier for journalists and researchers to crunch numbers on India's environmental performance.

As GlobalPost reported earlier this year, CSE and various environmental journalists and activists have long maintained that it is a rank falsehood that green clearances have held up development. 

The new website should provide valuable new data.


India: Congress bets on economic reform to revamp party's future

At huge weekend rally, Gandhis finally back PM on need for economic reforms.
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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (2L) and Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi (R) join Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi (C) as she waves towards supporters during a party rally at The Ram Lila Grounds in New Delhi on November 4, 2012. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

At a huge weekend rally, Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi finally put their full might behind Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's push for economic reforms, in what was widely seen as the party's new election strategy.

The Congress party leaders addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands of supporters on Sunday, attempting to reclaim lost political ground after being battered by a series of corruption scandals, the Associated Press reported.

The rally comes as Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat head to the polls, and as the party begins preparations for national elections to be held in 2014.

According to the Times of India, both Sonia and Rahul delivered a "ringing endorsement" of the PM's reform policies in their speeches, suggesting that the party has realized that its former populist stance has been damaged by the anti-corruption campaign led by activist Arvind Kejriwal. (Previously, the Congress attempted to own the "aam admi" or "common man" slogan, but Kejriwal has co-opted that territory with his attacks on the alleged cosy relationship between Congress leaders and business tycoons).

In his speech, Rahul hit out at the BJP and the Left for criticizing FDI in retail, saying the claim that it would drive small stores out of business was false, the Times of India said. "The truth is that food processing will help farmers," the paper quoted the Congress Party general secretary as saying.

"With Sonia also voicing support, Congress may have fully shed its squeamishness over unabashedly pursuing the growth mantra," the paper suggested.


India: Singh calls for $1 trillion in infrastructure investments "at any cost"

Target of $1 trillion investments in infrastructure over the next five years “must be met at any cost," Indian PM tells cabinet.
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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his newly inducted cabinet that the government's target of $1 trillion investments in infrastructure over the next five years “must be met at any cost" -- implying that neither concerns about corruption or the environment should be allowed to slow the Indian juggernaut any longer.


India: Pity the girls who work for the Indian Playboy

Playboy plans PG-13 clubs and cafes for an India that can't handle cheerleaders.
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In this photograph taken on July 23, 2012, Indian Bollywood film actress Sherlyn Chopra poses during a press event for the first Indian woman to pose nude for 'Playboy' magazine in Mumbai. (STDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Pity the girls who work at India's upcoming Playboy Clubs--if they ever come to fruition.

According to India's Hindustan Times newspaper, Playboy plans to open eight Playboy clubs in India over a period of three years, and ramp up to 120 clubs, bars and cafes in 10 years.

Good luck with that. 

For several years now, Playboy has been talking about launching the magazine in India--which already has Maxim and the like--without full nudity. And this year Bollywood wannabe Sherlyn Chopra became the first Indian-Indian to pose naked for Hef (see here).  But despite the Indian male's desperation--or perhaps because of it--the brand will face a long haul here, in my humble opinion.

Over the past four years since its beginning in 2008, the intercity Indian Premier League (IPL) has repeatedly drawn fire for importing scantily clad cheerleaders to perform during matches. Finger-wagging editorials have lamented the demise of Indian culture--not to mention cricket. Several teams have been compelled to revamp their cheerleaders as dowdy, traditional Indian dancers, in an odd mix of "culture" and sport that was not well received by the louts in the bleachers. And there have been more than a few tell-all reports from the cheerleaders themselves of the nightmare gauntlet of lechers they're forced to endure for the chance to high-kick for cash.


India: Anti-corruption crusader takes aim at Reliance's Ambani

Indian anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal alleges billionaire Mukesh Ambani routinely manipulates government policy for his company's profit.
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n a file picture taken on October 13, 2012, India Against Corruption (IAC) activist Arvind Kejriwal delivers a speech at Jantar Mantar after he was released from Bawana Jail in New Delhi. Arvind Kejriwal chuckles as he considers how his all-out assault on corruption has united India's political elite in outrage. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

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India: Anti-corruption crew targets India Inc

After politicians, anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal takes aim at India's tycoons
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Indian anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal -- who has emerged as this country's version of Julian Assange or its Joseph McCarthy, depending on who you ask -- now aims to take on some of the country's biggest industrialists.

Already, Kejriwal has sent serious shock waves through the establishment by leveling accusations against political figures like Robert Vadra (married to Sonia Gandhi's daughter), Salman Khursheed (leader of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh) and Nitin Gadkari (president of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party). But now observers are beginning to question what comes next, and whether India's largely impotent court system can follow these allegations through with legitimate prosecutions.

So the next step is.... Go after the company big wigs.