Monthly Archives

March 2019

Environment

Widespread losses of pollinating insects revealed across Britain

A widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades has been revealed by the first national survey in Britain, which scientists say “highlights a fundamental deterioration” in nature.

The analysis of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species found the insects have been lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980. A third of the species now occupy smaller ranges, with just one in 10 expanding their extent, and the average number of species found in a square kilometre fell by 11.

UK pollinating insects survey: losers and winners – in pictures

A small group of 22 bee species known to be important in pollinating crops such as oilseed rape saw a rise in range, potentially due to farmers increasingly planting wild flowers around fields. However, the scientists found “severe” declines in other bee species from 2007, coinciding with the introduction of a widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, which has since been banned.

Researchers have become increasingly concerned about dramatic drops in populations of insects, which underpin much of nature. Some warned in February that these falls threaten a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, while studies from Germany and Puerto Rico have shown plunging numbers in the last 25 to 35 years.Advertisement

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, is based on more than 700,000 sightings made by volunteers across Britain from 1980 to 2013. These are used to map the range of each species of bee and hoverfly over time. The data did not allow the assessment of numbers of insects, but some researchers think populations have fallen faster than range.

Pollinating insects are vital to human food security, as three-quarters of crops depend on them. They are also crucial to other wildlife, both as food and as pollinators of wild plants. “The declines in Britain can be viewed as a warning about the health of our countryside,” said Gary Powney at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, who led the research.

He called for more volunteers to take part in the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme: “Their contribution is vital for us to understand what is happening in our landscape.” Another recent study found that allotments, weedy corners and fancy gardens can all be urban havens for bees.

The biggest factor in the decline in pollinators is likely to be the destruction of wild habitats and use of pesticides as farming has intensified. But the analysis also revealed a particularly big drop of 55% in the range of upland bee and hoverfly species, and significant falls in northern Britain, which may result from climate change making conditions too warm.

Among the bees whose range has shrunk are the formerly widespread red-shanked carder bee, whose extent fell by 42%, and the large shaggy bee, whose range fell 53%. But the lobe-spurred furrow bee, which was once rare, has expanded its range fivefold and is now considered an important crop pollinator in England.

Powney said the increased range of the bees most commonly pollinating crops is good news and might be a result of more oilseed rape being grown, as well as wildflower margins being planted. But he also warned: “They are a relatively small group of species. Therefore, with species having declined overall, it would be risky to rely on this group to support the long-term food security for our country. If anything happens to them in the future there will be fewer other species to ‘step up’.”

Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex and not part of the latest research, said: Previous studies have described declines in UK butterflies, moths, carabid beetles, bees and hoverflies – this new study confirms that declines in insects are ongoing.”

If the losses of upland and northern species are due to climate change, “then we can expect far more rapid declines of these species in the future, as climate change has barely got started”, he said. Goulson also said the start of more rapid declines in southern bees after 2007 coincided with the first use of now-banned neonicotinoid pesticides.

Roy van Grunsven, at the Dutch Butterfly Conservation project, said the decline in numbers of insects was very likely to be a lot higher than the shrinking of their range: “Going from flowery meadows full of bees to intensive agriculture with a few individuals in a road verge does not result in a change in distribution, but of course is a huge change in [numbers].”

Matt Shardlow, of the conservation charity Buglife, said unless the pesticide approval process was improved to help bee safety and green subsidies were targeted to create corridors that connect wild spaces, we can expect the declines to continue or worsen.

by Damian Carrington, Environment editor, The Guardian

Development, Economy

Who is afraid of job survey?

The Centre has effectively sounded the death knell for a quarterly employment surveyBy Basant Kumar Mohanty in New Delhi

Union minister Arun Jaitley termed as 'preposterous' suggestions of job losses in the country
Union minister Arun Jaitley termed as ‘preposterous’ suggestions of job losses in the countryPicture by Shutterstock

Finance minister Arun Jaitley had on Tuesday called more than 100 academics “purported economists” and “compulsive contrarians” for issuing an appeal to restore the credibility of economic statistics and described as “preposterous” suggestions of job losses in the country.

Less than 24 hours later, it emerged how the Narendra Modi government was frittering away a golden chance to prove the “compulsive contrarians” and doubters wrong.

The Centre has effectively sounded the death knell for a quarterly employment survey by not clearing the air on its fate in spite of a funding deadline lurking round the corner.

An expert committee, appointed to look into whether it has lost its relevance, had recommended that the survey be discontinued. The quarterly survey was instituted in 2008 during the global downturn, covering establishments engaging over 10 workers in sectors such as manufacturing, construction, trade, transport, IT/BPO, education and health.

Curiously, the committee to review the relevance of the survey was set up in June 2018 after the figures showed that new jobs had remained below 2 lakh in all quarters since July 2016 and the growth was either negative or flat in manufacturing and construction.

In January this year, the committee headed by former chief statistician T.C.A. Anant recommended discontinuation of the quarterly survey as it felt that the “wealth of information” from the database of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (whose figures differed with those of the quarterly survey) “can be used more rigorously….”

However, by then, jobs had become a hot-button political issue and unpalatable questions were being asked about Prime Minister Modi’s pre-election promise to create 2 crore jobs every year.

Since then, a perceived suppression of indigestible statistics and periodical revisions have landed the official statistical machinery in controversies. Against this backdrop and with elections fast approaching, the government appears to have developed cold feet in taking a clear stand on the fate of the quarterly survey.

Concern had begun to grow in the Labour Bureau, a labour ministry wing that conducts the quarterly survey, because the request for funds to carry out the exercise has to be placed by the last week of March.

Unsure whether the survey will survive or not, the Labour Bureau had written to the Union labour ministry two months ago seeking a clarification.

But the labour ministry has not yet responded, sources said. The dithering stands in sharp contrast to the finance minister’s swift and acerbic response in less than five days to the appeal by 108 economists and social scientists to restore integrity to official data.

However, the Labour Bureau has sent a separate proposal for funds for implementing the newly started area frame survey, which gathers job data in informal units employing less than 10 workers in the eight sectors. The ministry is currently processing the proposal for funding for the new survey.

The Labour Bureau spends around Rs 10 crore every year on the quarterly survey. “The service of the surveyors engaged in the quarterly employment survey will end this month. The survey may stop completely from next month,” an official said.

Sources suggested that the government was not averse to dumping the old survey but it may not take any decision until the elections are over.

Not everyone agrees with the recommendation of the committee to scrap the quarterly survey. Santosh Mehrotra, chairperson of the Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said the data sets from the quarterly employment survey and the EPFO were not comparable.

“The quarterly survey covered both organised and un-organised sectors. The EPFO covers only the organised sector,” Mehrotra said.

Economy

Raghuram Rajan says global economists creating own India index after govt’s tinkering with macro indicators

India’s tinkering with lead economic indicators and suppression of discomforting economic data is prompting global economists to plan an independent index for India, former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan told India Today TV’s Rajdeep Sardesai and Rajeev Dubey.

“There is a whole lot of noise around our statistics to the extent that investors are starting to get worried and people are talking about a Li Keqiang index for India,” says Rajan.

The Li Keqiang Index was created by The Economist and named after head of China’s Liaoning province who allegedly said he did not trust government statistics and maintained his own index of broad industrial indicators that couldn’t be easily fudged such as electricity consumption and railway volume.

India has restructured the GDP methodology and, of late, withheld discomforting employment data prepared by NSSO which suggested unemployment is at a 4-decade high. India also held back FDI data inexplicably.

Earlier this month, 108 economists had issued a statement objecting to the tinkering with India’s economic indicators. “The national and global reputation of India’s statistical bodies is at stake. More than that, statistical integrity is crucial for generating data that would feed into economic policy-making and that would make for honest and democratic public discourse,” the economists said in a statement.

Their move was later countered by 131 chartered accountants who endorsed the government’s statistics and called the economists’ intervention “baseless allegations with political motivations”.

A US State Department memo exposed by WikiLeaks said, Li Keqiang who was then the People’s Party Committee Secretary for Liaoning, told US ambassador that he did not trust Liaoning’s GDP numbers. Hence, he created his index of three leading indicators: Rail cargo volume, electricity consumption and credit issued by banks.

Investment bank Haitong Securities also used the term ‘Keqiang index’ in its index to indicate the deceleration in China’s economy since 2013.

“Some people are developing a Li Kequiang Index for India because they are no longer paying attention to the GDP numbers. Our GDP numbers are not being trusted by international investors which is why we need some outside opinion, a committee of experts, may not be all from outside the country but who can reliably pronounce on the quality of our statistical structure,” says Rajan.

Incidentally, right after the restructuring of India’s GDP methodology, Mumbai-based broking firm Ambit Capital had created its own Keqiang Index. Ambit’s Keqiang Index captured power consumption, air cargo, vehicles sales and capital goods imports.

Economy

India’s happiness ranking drops to 140; way behind Pakistan, China, Bangladesh

The world happiness report for 2019 has put Finland on the top spot on the most happiest country for the second consecutive year. According to reports, Finland is the happiest country amongst 156 nations surveyed by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. India has dropped down seven spots in the happiness rankings as compared to its 2018 ranking. Media quoted the report saying with the increase in population, the overall happiness has dropped worldwide.

In 2018, India was placed on 133 position, but this year its ranking went down to 140. In 2015, India was on 117 spot, in 2016 it was ranked on 118 spot. The position went up to 122 in 2017, according to reports.

Various factors that determine the happiness levels of a country include life expectancy, social support, income, freedom, trust, health and generosity, amongst others.

The immediate neighbours of India including Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are way ahead in the happiness rankings. In this report, Pakistan stands at 67th rank, China at 93, Bhutan at 95, Nepal at 100, Bangladesh at 125 and Sri Lanka at 130, leaving India way behind.

Here’s a list of Top 10 happiest countries of the world:

The World Happiness Report 2019 has disclosed the list of happiest and unhappiest countries worldwide. Finland, for the second consecutive year, has topped this list. It is followed by Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria.

Here’s a list of Top 10 unhappiest countries of the world:

South Sudan has topped the list of the unhappiest countries of the world. It is followed by Central African Republic at 2nd spot, Afghanistan at 3rd and Tanzania, Rwanda, Yemen, Malawi, Syria, Botswana and Haiti, respectively at the next spots.

The World Happiness Report is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness. It ranks the citizens of 156 countries based on how happy they perceive themselves to be. The World Happiness Report 2019 focuses on happiness and the community.

International

Good rains to continue in Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland

The weather system affecting the eastern states of India will move east/northeastwards and merge with the cyclonic circulation over parts of Assam. This will result in increased weather activities over the northeastern states.

AssamMeghalayaArunachal Pradesh and Nagaland in particular will receive good rain and thundershowers on March 27 and 28. Thereafter, for 48 hours the intensity of rain will decrease significantly over most parts of Northeast India.

Weather Alert – Rain and thundershowers with squally winds and lightning will occur over Anjaw, Changlang, Dibang Valley, East Kameng, East Siang, Kra Daadi, Kurung Kumey, Lohit, Longding, Lower Dibang Valley, Lower Siang, Lower Subansiri, Papum Pare, Siang, Tawang, Tirap, Upper Siang, Upper Subansiri, West Kameng, West Siang, Baksa, Barpeta, Biswanath, Bongaigaon, Cachar, Charaideo, Chirang, Darrang, Dhemaji, Dhubri, Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Golaghat, Hailakandi, Hojai, Jorhat, Kamrup, Kamrup Metro, Karbi Anglong East, Karbi Anglong West, Karimganj, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Majuli, Morigaon, Nagaon, Nalbari, N.C.Hills, Sivasagar, Sonitpur, South Salmara-Mankachar, Tinsukia, Udalguri, East Garo Hills, East Jaintia Hills, East Khasi Hills, North Garo hills, Ribhoi, South Garo Hills, South West Garo Hills, South West Khasi Hills, West Garo Hills, West Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills districts of Arunachal Pradesh Assam and Meghalaya during next 24 hours.

However, from March 31 to April 2, we once again expect fairly widespread rain and thundershower activities over the northeastern states, due to the formation of a cyclonic circulation over Assam and adjoining areas, which will extend up to 3.1 km above mean sea level.

During this period, we expect moderate spells with few heavy showers accompanied with lightning strike and isolated hailstorm activity over Northeast India.

April 2 onward, weather will once again start clearing up over most parts of Northeast India. However, intermittent rain and thundershower will still continue in parts of northeastern states.- See more at: https://www.skymetweather.com/content/weather-news-and-analysis/assam-meghalaya-arunachal-pradesh-and-nagaland-to-continue-with-good-rains/#sthash.sorgeJS1.dpuf

Climate Change, Environment

Odisha to plant palms to arrest lightning bolts

Satyasundar Barik

The Odisha government has decided to revive the traditional practice of planting palm trees to deal with the issue of deaths caused by lightning every year. Approximately 500 lives are lost annually due to lightning in the State. Palm trees, being the tallest ones, act as a good conductor when lightning strikes.

Palm tree plantations will come up along the forest boundaries on National and State Highways and in common land in coastal villages. The State Forest and Environment Department has issued instructions to all regional conservators of forests and divisional forest officers in this regard.

Traditional practice

“Earlier, planting palm trees was a traditional practice in villages, but this has now been discontinued due to urbanisation and development. The tree has a wide range of uses — its fruits are eaten, the stem is valuable as wood, and baskets and mats are woven with the leaves. It is also learnt to be helpful as a bulwark against lightning casualties,” said D. Swain, principal chief conservator of forests.

“Lightning usually hits the tallest object first. The palm tree being the tallest among other trees in its surroundings works as a lightning conductor, decreasing deaths by lightning,” said Mr. Swain. Palm trees also protect coastal areas from storms and cyclones, while its roots protect embankments from soil erosion.

According to Bishnupada Sethi, managing director, Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA), as many as 1,256 lightning deaths took place in the State in the last three years, most of them (about 85%) in the May-September period. Lightning deaths account for about 27% of the total number of ‘disaster deaths’.

The OSDMA has taken up a massive awareness drive, educating people on how to react during a thunderstorm.

The neighbouring Bangladesh, which also sees many deaths every year due to lightning strikes, has announced a similar programme to plant one million palm trees.

Politics

PM will turn dictator: Kejriwal

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday said that if the BJP formed the next government at the Centre, Narendra Modi would remain Prime Minister forever as there would not be any election after the 2019 poll.

He alleged that the Modi government was following “Hitler’s tactics” to run the country. Mr. Kejriwal appealed to the people to ensure the defeat of the saffron party.

“Today, every patriot should have only one motive to stop the Modi government from coming back to power again at any cost… if they [the BJP] come to power in 2019, he (Mr. Modi) will be the Prime Minister forever,” he said.

He was speaking at a function to unveil a book “Vada Faramoshi”, a compilation of replies under the Right to Information Act to queries on the Central government’s works. The book was written by Neeraj Kumar, Sanjoy Basu and Shashi Shekhar.

The Chief Minister made the claim referring to the recent incident involving a “brutal” attack on the members of Muslim family in Gurgaon, and said the people from minority community were being “beaten up, harassed and murdered today without any fault”.

“Today, anyone who questions the Modi government is labelled an ‘anti-national’,” he added.

The seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi will go to polls on May 12. The Hindu

Sc. & Tech.

IIT Guwahati’s bone graft aids extensive bone formation

by R Prasad

A scaffold made of silk–bone cement composite doped with silicon and zinc metal ions has been found to regenerate new bone tissue in rabbits in three months. The newly formed bone forms a seamless joint with the existing bone and has blood vessels inside it. Tests carried out on rabbits with defective thigh bone (femur) showed extensive bone formation of 73% at the end of 90 days compared with 49% in the case of scaffold made only of silk fibre. Even at the end of 30 days, there was adequate bone regeneration and new blood vessel formation.

Superior graft

The bone graft fabricated and tested by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati is superior to currently available ones, affordable and does not require external use of growth factors for bone cells to grow.

“At the end of three months, the silk fibre had completely degraded leaving behind a homogeneous bone produced by rabbit bone cells. The newly formed bone had healed the defective femur,” says Prof. Biman Mandal from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati who led the team. The bone cement made of calcium phosphate becomes a part of the bone while the biocompatible metal ions (silicon and zinc) get leached out at the end of 90 days.

The team is now validating the bone graft in large animals for clinical translation.

IIT Guwahati’s bone graft aids extensive bone formation

The scaffold is fabricated by first doping the bone cement with silicon and zinc and mixing the bone cement with chopped mulberry silk fibre. The bone cement gets adsorbed on the silk fibre. Liquid silk fibre is then added to bind the chopped fibre and bone cement; the liquid silk also makes the composite highly porous. The silk–bone cement composite has higher density and strength, more surface area and high surface roughness, closely resembling a native bone.

“The zinc and silicon ions get leached from the composite and activate bone and blood vessel cells. This leads to faster regeneration of the bone tissue and blood vessel formation,” says Prof. Mandal. “By doping with these metal ions we are doing away with external addition of growth factor and also making the graft affordable.”

“While the silk scaffold provides the physical cues, the silicon and zinc metal ions provide the chemical cues. These two synergistically mimic the biological cues which people use for tissue engineering,” explains Joseph Christakiran Moses from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati and first author of a paper published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

Explaining how new blood vessels are formed, Moses says: “Silicon and zinc trigger a molecular response within the bone cells which makes them feel that they are lacking oxygen (triggering hypoxia response element). So the bone cells start secreting pro-blood vessel forming (angiogenic) signals leading to vascularisation.”

Bone regeneration

The compressive strength of silk fibre is about 40 kPa, while it is nearly double in the case of the silk–bone cement composite. Though doping with the silicon and zinc metal ions reduces the mechanical properties, particularly the compressive strength, the bulk strength of the doped composite is sufficient to activate bone regeneration.

Through in vitro studies carried out prior to experimentation with rabbits, the researchers realised that incorporation of bone cement and metal ion doped bone cement enhanced the bone tissue regeneration capacity.

                    While the composite was seeded with bone cells for in vitro studies, in rabbits, the composite was used without adding any bone cells. “Bone cells from neighbouring tissue migrate and bind to the scaffold and aid in bone regeneration,” Prof. Mandal says. The high porosity allows the bone cells to migrate and occupy the insides of the composite and regenerate the tissue, while the surface roughness of the composite, which closely mimics the native bone, facilitates faster and better regeneration of the bone.(Source: The Hindu)

Obituary

Darryl D’Monte: mentor to a generation of journalists

Peter Griffin

The Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI) and the Mumbai Press Club (MPC) hosted a memorial meeting in tribute to Darryl D’Monte, the revered senior journalist and environmental activist who passed away last Saturday.

“You’re either networking or not working,” said Joydeep Gupta, FEJI’s vice-president, quoting an aphorism D’Monte frequently used — before recounting incidents to exemplify D’Monte’s use of the power of networks for the environment. “Darryl obviously left behind a void,” he said, “but he has also left behind a whole generation of journalists.”

Senior journalist and former MPC president Kumar Ketkar recalled his long association with D’Monte, and that though they were around the same age, he had looked upon him as a mentor. “I wondered what drove him,” he said, before answering it with one word: people. D’Monte did not describe himself as a liberal — in those days no one did — or secular, he said, but at the heart of all he did was his concern for people.

“Environmentalism meant people. Rights, food, activism, meant people.” Unlike many activists who could be dry, D’Monte was witty and humorous, Mr. Ketkar added, before concluding: “Darryl practised catholicism, not as religion, but as a virtue.”

MPC president Gurbir Singh recalled how D’Monte had pushed the club to include a category for environmental journalism in its Red Ink awards.

FEJI’s founding trustee, Keya Acharya, said the organisation has begun as an organisation with a similar name founded by D’Monte in 1988, the Forum of Environmental Journalists of India. When his health issues first surfaced, he asked her to take over and the body was reconstituted with D’Monte as its Chairman Emeritus.

She said he brought journalists together to understand ecosystems before words like that were in common use, and was instrumental in forming networks internationally too. On his support for environmental issues, she said, “Darryl taught us that we get it on the front page of the paper, not just on an environment page. He was the first to tell us you could write about toilets and manual scavenging; we spent a day talking about nothing but shit.”

FEJI, Ms. Acharya said, is planning to set up a memorial award in his name, to which Mr. Singh promised MPC’s support to the initiative.

Members of the audience, some of who had come from other cities just for the memorial, also offered their memories of the facets of Mr. D’Monte, as colleague, mentor, educator, community member, and companion.

Samir D’Monte, D’Monte’s son, talked of his father’s strict routine while working from home, a discipline that never got in the way of his being there for his family, before thanking the attendees and promising the family’s support for efforts to take his legacy forward.

A portrait of Darryl D’Monte at the memorial meeting.
Environment

It takes a village to save the sparrow

by Kasturi Das 

  • Across Assam, villages have embarked upon a mission to save the house sparrow, by using a simple, low-cost solution: nest boxes made of cardboard.
  • After a state-wide survey in 2009 showed rapid decline of the sparrow population, Prabal Saikia from the Assam Agricultural University, designed a low-cost nest box and started distributing them for free.
  • Over the past decade, Saikia has distributed over 20,000 boxes for free in villages across Assam.
  • As a forerunner to World Sparrow Day on March 20, Mongabay-India brings you this heart-warming tale of entire villages taking sparrows into their hearts.

All the 65 households at Borbali Samua, a little village in the Lakhimpur district of Assam, share their homes with a chirpy, industrious, oft-beleaguered creature: the house sparrow.

Forty-seven-year-old Jayanta Neog, the owner of a rice mill, is one of the principal conservators of the sparrow in this village. He goes around the village, educating the people and children about the importance of the sparrow. On a tour around Neog’s house, one can spot various kinds of artificial bird nests – made of cardboard, wood, shoeboxes and even bamboo.

“We had noticed that there were quite a number of sparrows in the village, but there was a lack of shelter because of new infrastructure — people are now starting to build concrete houses instead of the traditional mud houses,” said Neog, who has been working for conserving the sparrows, since 2013.

The house sparrow (Passer domesticus), one of the most commonly found bird species in urban as well as rural areas in India, is facing an uncertain future. Its number is declining and experts fear that the disappearance of the bird would mean a bleak future for farms and farmers. Apart from feeding on seeds, the bird also thrives on tiny insects and pests.

This social bird, often found in groups of eight to ten, has learned to live in close contact with humans and has coexisted peacefully with humans for years. But the last two decades have seen a steep decline in its population.

Sparrow-nest-Assam
All houses in Borbali Samua village, Assam have installed artificial nests for house sparrows. Photo by Prabal Saikia.

A species on the decline

Meanwhile, Prabal Saikia, the chief scientist at the Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), Assam Agricultural University at North Lakhimpur, had conducted an extensive survey in 2009. The findings were disheartening; the population of the house sparrow was fast declining.

“The decline of the house sparrow is an indicator of the continuous degradation of the environment around us,” said Saikia. “The house sparrow is believed to be declining for various reasons, ranging from the destruction of their habitat to lack of insects for the young, vanishing courtyards, cramped buildings, [and radiation] from phone towers. Their decline is an indicator of things going wrong in the space we live.”

To increase the population of the house sparrow, Saikia came up with a solution – low-cost cardboard nests. He believed that the population of the house sparrow could get a boost if low-cost nest boxes were popularised amongst the common people. He went on to design a low-cost nest box for sparrows and promoted it across Assam.

“The sparrow easily adapts to man-made nests and if they are promoted on a large-scale, it can lead to long-term conservation of the bird,” said Saikia. “Nest boxes are very easy to make and cost almost nothing. In our survey in several districts of Upper and Lower Assam, we have noticed substantial occupancy of the house sparrow in the low-cost nest boxes.”

The predator-proof nest boxes are made of cardboard and it costs around Rs. 10 to make one. In the past decade, Saikia has distributed over 20,000 boxes for free in villages across Assam.

“We are adopting villages and installing nest boxes in the village houses to support the remaining population of the house sparrow,” Saikia said. “We also encourage people to make use of waste, such as shoeboxes, to make nest boxes.”

“A little bit of love goes a long way.”

For the inhabitants of Borbali Samua, it is more than just conserving sparrows. One can feel the love and compassion they hold for the beleaguered bird by merely talking to these villagers.

“You’ll see these birds everywhere. They like to be around people. You eventually become involved in the life of these birds. You put up a nest for them, see them gathering twigs to build their nests, see them have young ones. A little bit of love goes a long way,” Neog said.

Our conversation was interrupted by a group of school children who arrived at Neog’s doorstep seeking bird boxes.

“The cardboard nests given to us by Dr. Saikia have been distributed in every household. We put up quite a number of boxes and we gradually saw an increase in the population of the sparrow. People who visit us also take away those boxes. They are quite in demand,” said Neog, while assembling a few for the children.

School children of Borbali Samua village, Assam, with Jayanta Neog (left) and Prabal Saikia. Photo by Kasturi Das.

The children in Borbali Samua are sensitised at an early age. Caring for and protecting the house sparrow and other wildlife is something that has been ingrained in them. They often attend awareness meetings and have workshops in their school and have learned the importance of conservation of nature around them.

“We have held meetings in schools in and around the village. I think we have been largely successful in our endeavour,” Neog said with a glint of pride in his eyes. Neog was conferred an award by the RARS in 2018, along with six others from various villages in Assam, for their exceptional efforts in conservation of the house sparrow.

Ever since 2009, Saikia has been conducting awareness programmes throughout the length and breadth of the state. This year, the Krishi Vigyan Kendras of the Assam Agricultural University will be observing the World Sparrow Day in 23 districts in Assam.

Saikia claims to have seen a tremendous shift of awareness amongst the common people, in the past decade, regarding the need to conserve wildlife. “I have always maintained that it is only the common man that can save the sparrow, the common bird,” he said, adding that, “It is the need of the hour to start habitat conservation drives by switching to organic gardening, planting hedges and putting up artificial nest boxes dedicated to house sparrows.” (Source: Mongabay)