The HINDU Notes – 15th July 2019 - VISION

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Monday, July 15, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 15th July 2019

📰 Kartarpur Gurudwara: Pakistan agrees to allow year-long visa-free access

Second formal discussion between New Delhi and Islamabad makes progress on modalities of pilgrimage

•Pakistan on Sunday agreed to give year-long visa-free access for Indian pilgrims to the holy Gurdwara of Kartarpur Sahib.

•The Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that the agreement  was reached at the second formal meeting held at Wagah, at which India took up the presence of Khalistan supporters in Pakistani territory. “It was agreed to allow visa-free travel for the Indian passport-holders and OCI card-holders seven days a week. Throughout the year, 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara per day. The pilgrims will be allowed to travel as individuals or in groups and also on foot,” the statement said.

Permit system

•India proposed that the holy shrine be open to Indian citizens of all faiths. However, a message from the government of Pakistan reiterated that there will be provision for a permit system for the pilgrims travelling through the religious corridor.

•India urged that at least 5,000 pilgrims be allowed to visit the Gurdwara and insisted that 10,000 more be allowed to visit on special occasions and festivals.

•India also asked Pakistan to prevent Khalistan supporters from misusing this historic initiative.

•“Concerns regarding individuals or organisations based in Pakistan who may try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of the pilgrims was shared. A dossier was handed over to the Pakistan side to highlight concerns in this regard,” said the statement, without   naming the Khalistan supporters.

•The Indian team, consisting of delegates from the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs, cautioned Pakistan against building an earth-filled embankment that could create flooding problems at Dera Baba Nanak inside India.

Preparatory work

•Sunday’s discussion highlighted the preparatory work under way on both sides of the border for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. India claimed that significant progress had been made in building the infrastructure needed to handle the pilgrims from India and abroad and said infrastructure on the Indian side would be able to handle 15,000 pilgrims a day. The work is expected to be completed by October 31, a week before the celebrations are expected to begin.

Plea for ‘Nagar Kirtan’

•India also urged Pakistan to allow ‘Nagar Kirtan’ from Delhi to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan in July and during October-November 2019 as part of the celebrations to mark the birth of the first Sikh Guru.

📰 Sexual offence cases not being probed in stipulated time: Report

Sexual offence cases not being probed in stipulated time: Report
Designated fast-track courts are handling other criminal cases too leading to delay in verdicts

•Investigation into nearly half the sexual offences cases are not being completed within the stipulated 60-day period, according to an analysis of crime data of seven States accessed by The Hindu.

•In many States, the fast-track courts designated to handle rape cases are also handling other criminal cases leading to delay in verdicts, an official said. As per the government data, there are already 664 dedicated special courts with 2,021 public prosecutors and another 1,023 courts are planned.

•The Supreme Court noted last week that trial had been completed in only 4% of the 24,000 cases of sexual offences that were filed from January to June.

•In February, the Home Ministry launched an analytics tool — Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences (ITSSO) to monitor and track time-bound investigation. It is part of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS) that connects over 15,000 police stations across the country.

•According to the ITSSO analysis in the seven States — Haryana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh. Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand — final reports were submitted only in 26,343 of the 47,662 sexual assault cases within the mandatory period. The cases analysed were filed from April 21, 2018 to February 13, 2019.

•In Uttar Pradesh, 592 of the 3,420 pending cases were pending for more than six months. In Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the cases where the final report was not submitted by police for more than six months was in 122, 236, 155 and 606 cases respectively.

•To check sexual crimes against women and children, the Centre approved the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2018 last year which prescribed the time-limit for completion of investigation. The law was initially promulgated as an Ordinance on April 21, 2018 following an outcry over the rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir and the rape of a woman in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh.

•Uttar Pradesh DGP O.P Singh told The Hindu that cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) were being evaluated and reviewed and they were focussing on 180 “priority cases” where they expected conviction within a month.

•“We have prioritised 180 cases, we are calling the witnesses, getting the forensic tests done fast etc. But the trial courts are taking time. Some of the districts do not have separate fast-track courts though they have been identified as one. They are also discharging duties other than cases registered under the POCSO,” said Mr. Singh.

•As the government plans to set up more courts, it will have to address lacunae like special courts handling other criminal cases apart from sexual offences.

•The Empowered Committee on the Nirbhaya Fund approved ₹767.25 crore for setting up 1,023 fast-track courts in November last year, but 10 months later the final nod from the Expenditure Finance Committee is awaited.

•Sources in the Ministry of Women and Child Development say 18 States have come on board to set up the new courts and it is now up to the Law and Justice Ministry to appoint judges and public prosecutors for them.

📰 India's foreign policy needs rework in the next five years

In the coming five years, a host of geopolitical and economic issues need to be reconciled

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi has maintained a frenetic pace, renewing contacts with world leaders ever since the results of general election 2019. He was the cynosure of all eyes at the G-20 meeting in June, in Osaka. At the BRICs informal meeting, also in Osaka, he called for the strengthening of the World Trade Organisation and for a global conference on terrorism. He discussed counter-terrorism and climate change issues at separate meetings with China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. He participated in the Japan-India-U.S. trilateral grouping, arguing for a “rules based order” in the Indo-Pacific region. He met with U.S. President Donald Trump, to discuss the future of India-U.S. relations.

A vastly altered situation

•This may convey an impression that everything bodes well for India in the external realm. What is often overlooked is that while we were fortunate in the past to be able to take advantage of a rare combination of favourable conditions, this situation no longer exists. The 2019 election verdict was a definitive victory for Mr. Modi, but it hardly carries an assurance that India can pursue the same policies as before. While it has become commonplace for most Indians to affirm that India has arrived, there are a host of issues that exist which need to be reconciled before we can achieve what we aspire for.

•The past cannot be a guide to the future. In the past, we did manage a shift from non-alignment to multi-alignment, could improve our relations with the United States without jeopardising our long-term relationship with Russia, and paper over our prickly relations with China without conceding too much ground; all the while maintaining our strategic independence. This is too much to hope for at the present time.

•The global situation that made all this possible has altered. Rivalries among nations have intensified. There is virtual elimination of the middle ground in global politics, and it has become far more adversarial than at any time previously. Even the definition of a liberal order seems to be undergoing changes. Several more countries today profess support for their kind of liberalism, including Russia and China. At the other end, western democracy appears far less liberal today.

China, U.S. and Asian realities

•In this backdrop, India needs to rework many of its policies in the coming five years. South Asia, in particular, and the region of our highest priority, according to the new External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, needs close attention. The region is one of the most disturbed in the world and India has little or no say in any of the outcomes taking place. India-Pakistan relations are perhaps at their lowest point. Tarring Pakistan with the terror brush is hardly policy, and stable relations continue to be elusive. India has no role in Afghan affairs and is also excluded from current talks involving the Taliban, the Afghan government, Pakistan, the U.S. and even Russia and China. India might have recouped its position more recently in the Maldives, but its position in Nepal and Sri Lanka remains tenuous. In West Asia again, India is no longer a player to reckon with.

•Across much of Asia, China is the major challenge that India has to contend with. Smaller countries in the region are being inveigled to participate in China’s programmes such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India and Bhutan are the only two countries in this region that have opted out of the BRI, and they seem like the odd men out. The challenge in the coming years for India is to check the slide, especially in Asia, and try and restore India to the position it held previously. India cannot afford to wait too long to rectify the situation.

•Deepening India-U.S. relations today again carry the danger of India becoming involved in a new kind of Cold War. This is another area that needs our special focus. India must ensure that it does not become a party to the conflicts and rivalries between the U.S. and a rising China, the heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and also avoid becoming a pawn in the U.S.-Iran conflict.

•There is little doubt that current India-U.S. relations provide India better access to state-of-the-art defence items; the recent passage of the National Defence Authorisation Act in the U.S. makes India virtually a non-NATO ally. However, such close identification comes with a price. It could entail estrangement of relations with Russia, which has been a steadfast ally and a defence partner of India’s for the better part of half-a-century. Closer relations with the U.S. also carries the risk of aggravating tensions between India and China, even as China and the U.S. engage in contesting every domain and are involved in intense rivalry in military matters as well as competition on technology issues.

•The U.S.-China-Russia conflict has another dimension which could affect India adversely. The strategic axis forged between the Mr. Putin’s Russia and Mr. Xi’s China will impact not only the U.S. but also India’s position in both Asia and Eurasia, with India being seen as increasingly aligned to the U.S. Hence, India needs to devise a policy that does not leave it isolated in the region.

•Again, notwithstanding the ‘Wuhan spirit’, India cannot but be concerned about China’s true intentions, given the regional and global situation and its desire to dominate the Asian region. Within the next decade, China will become a truly formidable military power, second only to the U.S. The ongoing India-U.S. entente could well provoke a belligerent China to act with greater impunity than previously. As it is, China would be concerned at the rise of a ‘nationalist’ India, which is perhaps not unwilling in the prevailing circumstances of today to become embroiled in a conflict over ‘freedom of navigation’ in the South and East China seas.

The new buzzword

•On another plane, as India intensifies its search for state-of-the-art military equipment from different sources, it may be worthwhile for India to step back and reconsider some of its options. Military power is but one aspect of the conflicts that rage today. Experts point out that outright war, insurgencies and terror attacks are fast becoming passé. Nations confront many other and newer threats at present. Today, disruptive technologies have tremendous danger potential and nations that possess these technologies have the ability to become the dominant powers in the 21st and 22nd Centuries.

•A major challenge for India will hence be how to overcome our current inadequacies in the realm of disruptive technologies rather than remaining confined to the purely military domain. The U.S., China, Russia, Israel and few other countries dominate these spheres as also cyberspace and cyber methodologies. New policy parameters will need to be drawn up by India, and our capabilities enhanced in areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and cyber methodology, all of which constitute critical elements of the disruptive technology matrix.

The economy needs attention

•None of this would, however, be possible unless India pays greater heed to its economy. Despite a plethora of official statements, the state of the economy remains a matter of increasing concern. Even statistics regarding the economy are being questioned. Notwithstanding India’s ambition to become a $5-trillion economy by 2024-25, the reality today is that the economy appears to be in a state of decline. Jobs, specially skilled jobs, are not available in sufficient numbers and this should be a matter for concern. The ability to sustain a rate of growth between 8.5% and 9.5% is again highly doubtful. Neither the Economic Survey nor the Budget contain useful pointers to a more robust economy, one that is capable of providing a higher rate of growth, more opportunities for skilled labour, and greater potential for investments.

•The looming challenge for India in the coming five years, therefore, would be how to build a strong economic foundation, one that is capable of providing the kind of power structure needed for an emerging power, and also one possessing the best liberal credentials.

📰 Law Commission to be formed soon

Proposal to be placed before the Union Cabinet in the next few days

•With the country left without a Law Commission since September 2018, the Law Ministry has initiated the process of setting up the body which gives advice to the government on complex legal issues.

•The three-year term of the 21st Law Commission ended on August 31 last year. On at least one occasion, the Ministry had moved the proposal to reconstitute the panel.

•But the proposal could not move further, and the government later went into election mode. Sources said that the proposal to reconstitute the panel would be before the Union Cabinet in the next few days.

•The 21st commission, under Justice B.S. Chauhan (retd), had submitted reports and working papers on key issues such as simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies and a uniform civil code.

•While the Law Commission had supported simultaneous polls, it had said that the time was not ripe for a common code.

•The Cabinet approves reconstitution of the law panel for a period of three years. It is usually headed by a former Supreme Court judge or a former Chief Justice of a High Court.

•In 2015, a proposal was mooted to make the law panel into a permanent body either through an Act of Parliament or an executive order (resolution of the Union Cabinet). The move was shelved after the Prime Minister’s Office felt that the present system should continue.

•In 2010 also, the then UPA government had prepared a draft Cabinet note to give statutory status to the Law Commission, and the Law Ministry had mooted to bring the Law Commission of India Bill, 2010. But the idea was shelved.

📰 Ecological perils of discounting the future

With growing environmental distress, policymakers cannot shy away from adopting best eco-management practices

•In a report last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) called the Chennai floods of 2015 a “man made disaster”, a pointer to how the encroachment of lakes and river floodplains has driven India’s sixth largest city to this ineluctable situation. The Chennai floods are a symbol of consistent human failings and poor urban design which are common to most urban centres in India if not urban centres across the world. Now, Chennai is in the midst of another crisis — one of water scarcity.

•Unlike issues such as traffic congestion or crime which are visible, environmental degradation is not what most people can easily see or feel in their every day lives. Therefore, when the consequences of such degradation begin to wreak havoc, it becomes difficult to draw the correlation between nature’s vengeance with human failings. In Chennai, more than 30 waterbodies of significance have disappeared in the past century. Concretisation or the increase in paved surfaces has affected the percolation of rainwater into the soil, thereby depleting groundwater levels to a point of no return.

Urbanisation without vision

•Chennai, however, is not alone in terms of suffering from the consequences of human folly. Urbanisation at the cost of reclaiming water bodies is a pan-India if not worldwide phenomenon. There are examples in cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad and even Mexico city. In Bengaluru, 15 lakes have lost their ecological character in less than five years according to a High Court notice to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, the city’s administrative body responsible for civic amenities and some infrastructural assets. The lakes, which are now encroached areas, find use as a bus stand, a stadium and, quite ironically, as an office of the Pollution Control Board. In Mexico city, what was once a network of lakes built by the Aztecs in the 11th and 12th centuries, has given way to a downtown city centre. Parts of the city, especially downtown, sink a few metres every year causing immense damage to buildings.

•In Telangana, the byzantine network of tanks and lakes built by the Kakatiya dynasty has disappeared over the years. However, the question is not about what follies were committed in the past, but about what we can do in the present and, more importantly, for the future. In Telangana, “tanks have been the lifeline of the State because of its geographical positioning”. The State’s “topography and rainfall pattern have made tank irrigation an ideal type of irrigation by storing and regulating water flow for agricultural use”.

The Telangana example

•There are a number of lessons that can be learnt. The Chief Minister of Telangana launched a massive rejuvenation movement in form of “Mission Kakatiya” which involves the restoration of irrigation tanks and lakes/minor irrigation sources built by the Kakatiya dynasty. From the perspective of inter-generational justice, this is a move towards giving future generations in the State their rightful share of water and, therefore, a life of dignity. The city of Hyderabad is now moving towards a sustainable hydraulic model with some of the best minds in the country working on it. This model integrates six sources of water in a way that even the most underdeveloped areas of the city can have equitable access to water resources and the groundwater levels restored in order to avoid a calamity of the kind that has gripped Chennai now.

•The larger question is: Can we not take inspiration from the following examples? When Mexico city can create a new executive position of a “resilience officer” to save its sinking urban sprawls, Bengaluru can reclaim Kundalahalli lake (once a landfill) through corporate social responsibility funds in a Public Private Partnership model, and Hyderabad and the larger state of Telangana rebuild its resilience through a combination of political will and well-designed policies such as the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme and Mission, what stops us from learning from each other?

•Why should other urban centres shy away from adopting, remodelling and implementing some of the best water management practices to avoid disaster? The answer perhaps lies in the tendency of policymakers to discount the future and of their obsession of focussing on the here and now.

By 2050

•It is estimated that in just 30 years from now, half of India will be living in cities. If we truly envision a great future for this country, how can we possibly risk the lives of half of our people and the next generations who could be facing a life in cities parched by drought, stranded by floods, mortified by earthquakes or torn by wars over fresh water? What has happened in Chennai now or what happened in Kerala last year in the form of floods are not a case of setting alarm bells ringing, but one of explosions. If we do not wake up now, we have to be prepared to face the consequences of nature wreaking great havoc on humanity. We would not need nuclear bombs for our obliteration.

📰 Tribal SHG women create an organic agro revolution

Reap rich dividends via bio agents

•Even as organic agriculture is gaining momentum in the country, a self-help group of tribal women in Wayanad district of Kerala is scripting a success story in production of 13 different varieties of bio agents to support organic farming.

•Eight members of the Sabari Swasraya Sanghom of Nellarachal tribal hamlet were guided to biotechnology by the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) under the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) at Ambalavayal, a decade ago. They began their venture with production of trichoderma and pseudomonas, biocontrol agents to fight quick wilt disease in various crops, and are producing 13 varieties of bio agents now. “When the Kendra met them on a field visit, they were facing a hard time since their paddy fields had been submerged [in water] from the Karapuzha irrigation project,” said N.E. Safia, head of the KVK.

•The Kendra gave them training for six months in fungal and bacterial culture and packing, she added.

•Last year alone, the members produced nearly 183 tonnes of bio agents, including 16 tonnes of bio fertilizers such as azospirillum, azotobacter, rhizobium, bio potash and vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhiza; 80 tonnes of biocontrol agents like pseudomonas and trichoderma as well as 20 tonnes of bio pesticides, including beauveria, verticillium, pochonia, paecilomyces and metarhizium, said Sruthi Krishnan, research assistant, microbiology, KVK.

•The KVK’s income was in excess of ₹1.67 crore from the sale of the products last year. Under an MoU with Kerala Agricultural University, group members will get 35% of the income, Ms. Sruthi said. Now, the unit is gearing up to produce pseudomonas and trichoderma.

•“When we started off, the various scientific processes in the lab posed a challenge, but now we are acquainted with them,” K. Sharmila, president of the SHG, said.

•Now, each group member gets an average monthly income of ₹8,500. A major share of the produce was procured by the Agriculture Department and the Spices Board for supply to farmers. “Our products have good demand in the market. Many times, we unable to meet the demand,” she added.

📰 Making a killing from skilling raw grads

Skill infographic with 8 steps, parts, options
Post-campus training is catching up as 90% of jobs in India are skill-based, while only 6% of the workforce is skill-trained

•Of the estimated one-and-a-half million graduates who pass out of India’s engineering schools every year, less than 1% land jobs in its top 100 companies. That’s because, a vast majority of them are unemployable and lacking in skills such as creative thinking, problem solving, learnability, human-centred design, collaboration and customer-centricity... all critical to new generation jobs.

•Vikas Gupta, CMD of Wiley India, owned by the $2 billion Jones Wiley & Sons in the U.S., says: “What students acquire mostly is textual education, which has little relevance to jobs in the new economy that requires contextual skills.”

•As per the HRD Ministry, India has 6,214 engineering and technology institutions which admit 2.9 million students. Every year, 1.5 million fresh engineers are released into the job market.

•But sadly, only graduates who pass out of some 200 top colleges in the country come with some level of job-ready skills. Adds Neeti Sharma, senior vice-president TeamLease Services: “A majority of jobseekers don’t get jobs in line with their education or wage expectation, because of a yawning academia-industry gap. Industry seeks people with 90% skill, but 90% of academic activities are still based on theoretical learning.”

•However, for years, IT service companies in India have had no option but to onboard masses of raw graduates and train them on their payrolls for many ‘unbillable’ months before being deployed, says Sridhar Raman, director at Outsourced CMO, a Bengaluru-based consulting firm. “But this model has become increasingly unsustainable given the growing pressure on bottomlines and the life or death need to cut costs. The urgency in reskilling and upskilling engineering graduates is not merely a balance-sheet imperative, it’s a matter of survival,” adds Mr. Raman.

•The problem-solving approach is changing from addressing a huge problem head on, to breaking it down into various problems and solving them from multiple angles.

•Most business problems are open-ended and each would have five or up to a dozen answers, adds Mr. Gupta. Today’s businesses need finance professionals, people managers and intelligent problem solvers, not accountants, payroll assistants and coders, say experts in the training, skilling and reskilling industry.

•Enterprises are scouting for plug-and-play professionals, billable from the start and ready to respond effectively to fast-changing, real-world business challenges. Jayant Krishna, former CEO, National Skill India Mission, says if India has to reap rich demographic dividends, skill development needs to be taken up far more seriously.

•“Our skill initiatives must focus on apprenticeships, full operationalisation of the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF), mainstreaming of employability skills and greater industry participation.” Says Ms. Sharma of TeamLease Services: “Many jobs that exist today won’t even be around 10 years from now. Skill-sets are already getting broad-based, with few takers for people with individual skills.”

Mushrooming schools

•The good news for the industry, particularly for tech firms, is the emergence of players like Wiley, Upgrad, ABC and IIHT in the ‘edu-ployment’ (education + employment) space, with job-readiness programmes designed to upskill engineering graduates with job-ready and future-ready expertise.

•For example, Wiley India has unveiled a 3-month job-readiness programme in India called WileyNXT, in consultation with CXOs of 35 global IT firms and six top universities. According to Mr. Gupta, the programme is co-created with CXOs and academic leaders with the intent of upskilling engineering graduates and setting up a supply line of future ready professionals for industry. Manjunath Aradhya, founder and CEO of ABC, an edu-tech company focussed on skilling, training and upskilling, says: “Industry expectations from freshers has drastically changed. For example, mere framework awareness is no longer enough. IT companies now want to hire people who are well-versed with full stack of Java and data-science.”

•“The market has plenty of jobs for candidates with problem-solving abilities, right attitude and entrepreneurial mindset,” adds Mr. Aradhya of ABC that trained over 30,000 fresh graduates in 2018.

•Training youth to break down problems and solving them from different angles is both challenging and critical — one, because the industry needs it and two, because prospective employees don’t come readymade with these skills. “Though we normally associate youth with exuberance, inventive ability and positive energy, the application of knowledge to work, life skills, and the hunger to be curious and willing to learn and innovate, remain crucial challenging areas for us to tackle,” says Yeshasvini Ramaswamy, MD, e2e People Practices, a people development firm.

•Training and development is a $100 billion market in the U.S., of which corporate training alone accounts for $70 billion. In India, it is already close to a $5 billion business. Going ahead, the opportunity is huge as 90% of the jobs in the country currently are skill-based, whereas only 6% of its workforce is skill-trained.

•The market already has dozens of players, ranging from the traditional NIIT and Aptech to Simplilearn and Upgrad, offering offline and online job-ready programmes. Upgrad, in partnership with University of Cambridge and BITS Pilani, promises to give careers a lift with a range of immersive, industry-curated, online programmes in areas of data science and machine learning and digital marketing.

•Debjani Ghosh, president, Nasscom, said “Nasscom has pioneered the FutureSkills initiative for India’s IT-ITES industries. Our goal is to get India accelerated on the path to become the global hub for talent development in emerging technologies such as AI, ML, IoT, Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Big Data and others.

•“Through various partnerships and skilling programs, we aim to build a future-ready workforce in IT and contribute meaningfully to the tech sector of the country.”

•The apex body predicted that going forward, the industry will face a shortage of 2.3 lakh skilled techies as jobs in AI and Big Data are estimated to reach 7.8 lakh by 2021. Wiley India has set up a think-tank called Wiley Innovation Advisory Council with global industry leaders to co-create curricula and teaching methodologies.

•TeamLease Skill University has trained over 2.5 lakh fresh graduates in the last five years. The latest entrant into this space is Manipal Group, through its strategic investment (close to ₹20 crore) in Jigsaw Academy. The company will offer training in data science, digital marketing, cloud computing and cybersecurity.

Academia should act

•In the face of such tectonic changes, academia faces the real risk of being driven to irrelevance unless it marries curricula and teaching methodologies that are designed around current industry needs, and are flexible enough to respond to future challenges.

•For industry, the drying up of future ready professionals is an existential threat, experts caution.

📰 India is home to 1,256 species of orchid, says first comprehensive survey

Orchids of India : A Pictorial Guide, which was published recently, puts the total number of species endemic to India at 388

•The Botanical Survey of India has come up with the first comprehensive census of orchids of India putting the total number of orchid species or taxa to 1,256.

•Orchids of India : A Pictorial Guide, a publication detailing all the species of India was unveiled earlier this month by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

•The 1,256 species or taxa of orchids belong to 155 genera and 388 species are endemic to India. The publication, authored by Paramjit Singh, former director of BSI, A.A. Mao the present director of the institute, scientists S.S. Dash, S.K. Singh, D.K. Agarwala and J.S. Jalal, also contains photographs of 775 species.

Three life forms

•Orchids can be broadly categorised into three life forms: epiphytic (plants growing on another plants including those growing on rock boulders and often termed lithophyte), terrestrial (plants growing on land and climbers) and mycoheterotrophic (plants which derive nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that are attached to the roots of a vascular plant). About 60% of all orchids found in the country, which is 757 species, are epiphytic, 447 are terrestrial and 43 are mycoheterotrophic.

•The epiphytic orchids are abundant up to 1800 m above the sea level and their occurrence decreases with the increase in altitude. Terrestrial orchids, which grow directly on soil, are found in large numbers in temperate and alpine region whereas mycoheterotrophic orchids, mostly associated with ectomycorrhizal fungi, are found in temperate regions, or are found growing with parasites in tropical regions.

•A State-wise distribution of orchid species point out that the Himalayas, North-East parts of the country and Western Ghats are the hot-spots of the beautiful plant species.

State-wise distribution

•The highest number of orchid species is recorded from Arunachal Pradesh with 612 species, followed by Sikkim 560 species and West Bengal; Darjeeling Himalayas have also high species concentration, with 479 species.

•While north-east India rank at the top in species concentration, the Western Ghats have high endemism of orchids.

•There are 388 species of orchids, which are endemic to India of which about one-third (128) endemic species are found in Western Ghats. The publication points out that Kerala has 111 of these endemic species while Tamil Nadu has 92 of them. Among the 10 bio geographic zones of India, the Himalayan zone is the richest in terms of orchid species followed by Northeast, Western Ghats, Deccan plateau and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. “The publication is the result of years of hard and methodical research through careful examination of protologues, literature and voucher herbarium specimens. Every record has been verified from published floras, revisionary works, doctoral thesis and scientific papers,” Mr. Mao said.

•Considering the importance of orchids in floriculture, the publication, which has photographs of 60% of all species, is the first authentic inventory and will be useful for researchers, growers, nature lovers and people with different backgrounds, Mr. Mao said.

•Marked by extremely beautiful flowers with unique shape and ornamentation, orchids have complex floral structure that facilitates biotic cross-pollination and makes them evolutionarily superior to the other plant groups.

•Another interesting factor is that the entire orchid family is listed under appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and hence any trade of wild orchid is banned globally.

•“Some of the orchids like Dendrobium , Phalaenopsis, Oncidium and Cymbidium are quite popular in floriculture trade and have a demand both within and outside country,” Mr. Dash, an author said.

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