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DON’T LET ENVIRONMENT PAY THE PRICE FOR MISMANAGED PROJECTS

Large-scale development projects in India, run by poor commercial logic and players insensitive to fragile ecosystems and local communities, are doing a great disservice to the country’s nature and heritage. Public bodies must strike a balance between environmental and commercial considerations.

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In Sikkim, after the earthquake in 2011, there was a state-wide debate on the kind of runaway development path the state is on, specifically with hydropower investments, with 28 projects amounting to 20,000MW under development. Sikkim hosts some 2,200MW of operating hydro projects, soon to rise to 3,000MW. These are large projects, recently commissioned, and they export most of the power generated out of state. These large dams, primarily on the Teesta and Rangeet rivers, have also created enormous environmental problems.

The poster child of such projects is Teesta Urja’s Teesta III 1,200MW project at Chungthang, now majority-owned by the Government of Sikkim, the construction of which has seen, besides embarrassing financial shenanigans worthy of a soap opera, landslides from road construction, deaths of labourers in the tunnel during the 2011 earthquake, the collapse of a bridge by an overloaded truck carrying materials for the projects, disputes over non-construction of fish ladders, issues around e-flow of river water, shareholder disputes, takeover by the state government… a long list of social and environmental failures. Any case study of this project would have to call this gross incompetence and mismanagement, in this case by private management. And yet, the mismanaged project gets away with it, as the cost is borne by the environment and voiceless, isolated local communities.

Conversations with enough Sikkimese convince me that they now have had enough dams for such a small state, and certainly do not need any more power, with less than 100MW used in-state. And yet, even after Chungthang, developers are still eyeing another project on the Teesta, which already has over a dozen large projects operating, with Teesta VI (500MW) recently transferred from bankrupt Lanco to NHPC for completion. This is the Teesta IV project in Dzongu, the Lepcha reserve. Predictably, there is near-total local opposition that has coalesced around this project in a protected location.

Ladakh has very strong and sensitive ecological traditions, given that people have adapted to life in a cold desert. And yet, even after the welcome formation of the UT, there is no progress in a very old idea to expand the protected areas to include the Changthang Cold Desert/High Altitude National Park, which would protect the nesting areas of the Black-Necked Crane at Hanle Plains, Tso Kar and Tso Moriri, all sacred to the Ladakhis. The onslaught of tourism, with images of tourist vehicles driving over the Astragalus and Caragana bushes on the edges of the lakes, obliges a well-supported sustainable model of development based on local culture. Surely, Bhutan cannot get away with the crowning glory of caring for nature when we have similar customs and no less deep ecological thinking!

The NITI Aayog is proposing to construct a mega financial-tourist complex on Little Andaman Island. It would turn the island into an offshore financial hub that could compete with Singapore and Hong Kong. Conservationists say the plan threatens an already-fragile and rich tropical ecosystem and will lead to habitat loss for the vulnerable Onge tribe and the rare wildlife in India’s tiny portion of a genuine tropical forest. The pity is that offshore finance is itself going out of fashion given all the tax loss to OECD countries—offshore is being brought onshore and under regulation worldwide. This project is based on outdated ideas with poorly demonstrated commercial logic (what is the market for yet another offshore centre is not studied), and the irreversible environmental degradation it obliges is against our wildlife laws and will attract worldwide condemnation, and we know that pristine tropical forest, evolved over millennia, cannot be mitigated by pathetic exotic plantations in India as elsewhere.

The Ken-Betwa river inter-linking project is another striking case of the suppression of environmental considerations which only reflects the poor economic viability of the project. The project is proposed to be located in the heart of the Panna National Park and simply cannot make the case that it is designed for the betterment of wildlife, which it has to do under the dual pressure of wildlife laws and the Godavarman case.

As usual, the environmental flaw hides an even bigger economic flaw: there is insufficient water in the Ken to quality it as ‘surplus.’ The water balance studies are decades old (the calculations have not been made public). Upstream dams like Tendughat, reduced rainfall from climate change reducing supply, the need for 30% aviral dhara, and the huge, more recent and uncomputed offtake of water by agricultural pump sets have all been ignored. If only the resettlement costs of insular villages and the cost of the loss of 23 lakh trees were updated to the recently determined values by the Supreme Court (SC), the borderline cost-benefit ratio would go awry. The CEC already reported to the SC in 2019 that the cost-benefit ratio was misleading, given major errors and exemptions. The late water expert Dr Brij Gopal wrote that Bundelkhand was crying for smaller, local water solutions to be delivered in the near-term, not at this huge cost and after decades.  

In all these cases, the projects suffer from poor commercial logic and the environment pays the price. All too often, poor commercial logic is disguised by the need to hustle and short-change the environment. This suggests that environmental scrutiny should be seen as the last resort to check poor economic and commercial decision-making. The environmental consideration is not a check on development, it is a filter for the good projects, and a meaningful contribution to sustainable development: sensible economics and long-term ecological security.

THE POSSIBILITY

Starting with this massive attack on forests and wildlife alike, it is salutary to see some examples which demonstrate the ‘good projects.’ The Kanha-Pench flyover is a case study of a project which incorporates environmental concerns. The wildlife corridor is of obvious importance to tiger conservation and for ensuring the larger landscapes of the Satpuras (comprising 16,000 sq. km. of forest) stay connected. The five underpasses and four minor bridges on this 37km stretch of highway have ensured that the movement of animals is not disrupted. The threat to the Satpuras continues, but a salutary precedent has been set.

The Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi highway nearing construction is also a good example of bringing in environmental considerations at the design stage itself. Since the highway cuts across three wildlife sanctuaries and 35 wildlife focus areas, special wildlife mitigation measures such as 7 overpasses, 17 underpasses and several high box culverts are being built to facilitate animal movement and to avoid road kills. The increase in project costs is insignificant and this should be a case study for other linear projects being considered.

The proposed Delhi-Saharanpur highway also shows a confluence of interests between environmental sensitivity and commercial considerations. This highway plans a 12km elevated corridor that will prevent major damage to the Shiwaliks (and costs) from road-cutting and landslides while permitting wildlife passage underneath. It is hoped over 8,000 sal trees on the Dehra Dun can be saved by smarter alignment or another elevated segment. The Saharanpur sanctuary is also proposed for the Western Dun forests simultaneously.

THE HOPE

We know what needs to be done, we have the laws and precedents, and our culture and spiritual traditions are very clear that in the case of a choice, we should favour nature. The environment-friendly choice can also be the right economic choice. It is the poor projects which seek short-cuts to defy the environmental norms, break the laws, and fix the environment-clearance system.

The world would welcome, and our people would benefit, now and in the future, if India makes a course-correction back to its culture and history, back towards nature. Back towards saving that one peepul tree on a highway expansion, that co-operation between Centre and State to reject the development of the Bandar coal mine near Tadoba in Maharashtra this summer, as a matter of course. Back towards doing surveys before cutting roads which cover up springs with excavated malba in the Himalayas.

Enlightened environmentalism that directs necessary business and infrastructure investments towards more legal, ecological directions is completely in keeping with India’s heritage and the aspirations of its people. I do hope public bodies can recast the false tension between development and the environment to a naturally Indian confluence of interests. India needs this compromise. Nature symbolised by Kamadhenu is once again complaining to the just ruler Parikshit for help, and the ancient sanatan dharma tradition is abundantly clear that the wisdom to use the power of discrimination to find a balance is both possible and timely.

This piece is the second part of an article carried by The Sunday Guardian on 10 March. The views expressed are personal.

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ALWAYS TRY TO TAKE UP RELATABLE PROJECTS: VARUN SHARMA

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX, actor Varun Sharma spilled the beans about his new show ‘Chutzpah’, his working style, and much more.

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Varun Sharma will be seen in a new show ‘Chutzpah’. Talking about it, he said, “Internet is now embedded in our blood and system. It is impossible to live without it. The show talks about three to four different stories. The madness, chaos, craziness, relatability, and the reality of the digital world, is what ‘Chutzpah’ has to offer. I am playing Vikas, who is in love with Shikha. The show talks about how they are in a long-distance relationship due to certain situations, and how things change. The feelings and the rush of emotions are the same but because of not being physically there for each other, they are rather connected virtually and the story progresses further.”

Commenting on the comfort level of again working with people he has earlier worked with, Varun expressed, “It felt like a homecoming as it is the same people. Immediately after ‘Ruhi’, this is coming out. Dinesh Vijan had produced ‘Ruhi’ and it was created by Mrighdeep Singh Lamba. Once you work with friends and the people that you are close with, a lot of things become easier. In that sense it was a blessing to be working with them. The interesting fact is Manjot and I did not shoot together. We were working on different stories but we used to keep chatting about how is it going.”

Speaking about the relatability factor of ‘Chutzpah’, he said, “It is very relatable. Two years back, no one thought that everything will go digital. For example, we never thought of doing virtual interviews sitting in our houses. But things have changed. There is a lot of reality in the show which is relatable. Whether it is ‘Fukrey’, ‘Fukrey Returns’, ‘Dilwale’, ‘Chhichhore’, I have always tried to do, relatable projects. People comment that ‘Oh, even I do this, or my friend does this or this guy is the Chucha or the Sexa of our group.’ Playing a relatable character is something I always crave to do when I want to be a part of a project. That is also the same thought I had in mind when it came to ‘Chutzpah’. The show is out and people will witness how relatable the character is and they would want to talk about it.” Varun added, “This show is also going to be an eye-opener for so many relationships, which are long-distance right now. Couples will think, ‘Why are we talking like this? It is not because I don’t love you but because I am not physically there with you for the longest time.’ That’s why the conversations and the interactions are getting shorter. The camaraderie is getting affected. It is not because the love is fading away but the physical presence is not there. If people realise that it may save certain relationships. There are so many relationships around me that have been called off because of the pandemic and two people not being together.”

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Love thy nature to lessen pandemic anxiety

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The young but fragile Himalaya is blessed with rich biodiversity. Its valuable resources have traditionally served as the foundation for the economic and cultural life of a vast and vibrant population. 

A few attitudinal differences and climate change developments coupled with variation in soil conservation create striking changes in the terrain having fabulous flora and fauna. Such unique biodiversity not only encompasses ecological, scientific or economic values but it is also a capital of inheritance, passed down over generations, stressing the need for sustainable development.

BIOTIC INTERFERENCE 

Developments of past and present indicate extremes of biotic interference. Making wise use of biodiversity inheritance should not be tutored. It has to be felt, imbibed and carried forward when one is confronted with the tentacles of Covid auntie and whims and fancies of the Covid uncle. Without entering into the realm of discussion about the origin of the virus, one should believe that SARS-CoV-2 is an offshoot of the prevailing environment. An environment throttled by one and all.

FAUNA NEEDS FRESH LOOK

Coming to judicious utilisation rather than exploitation of floral and faunal wealth, there may be a need for a fresh approach. Not only do farming communities near forests have to be sensitised to extract forest and non-forest timber products properly but they also have to be briefed to leave enough scope for growth and sustenance of grass, shrubs, water bodies etc, vital for the life of animals such as lions, elephants, tigers, and deer etc. While saying so, one is not aiming to touch upon the crucial food chain, rather the purpose is to prick our mind specifically about the plight of gentle elephants, who, being vegetarian, show full loyalty towards their masters.

Of 27,000 Asian Elephants in India, 21% reside in Assam. Due to the loss of forest habitat, they are increasingly coming face to face with humans. Every year, around 100 of them, unfortunately, get killed. They are also misused in the Tourism industry. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 bans the sale of captive and unregistered elephants.

The mere fact that they live, eat and move in groups or clusters, goes on to show their strong family instincts, something reflected glaringly in:

A) Episode of 18 elephants in Nagaon, Assam in May 2021 crushed by lightning

B) Freak, directionless walk of over 500 km by 15 elephants in Kunming area of Yunan province of China in June 2021.

SYMPATHY IS NECESSARY

Despite the inherent friendly attitude of the elephants and many other animals often the reports of entry into the human habitations hit the headlines. There has to be some reason for such an entry. What they get in return is hectic, irrational, and merciless action. The facial expression of the fauna in such a situation shows their state of helplessness. The onlookers, nevertheless, get sarcastic pleasure in having an exciting glimpse. Whether it is a case of entry by the loveable monkeys, leopards, tigers or the elephants into towns of different states, these should not be considered as an intrusion by the animals.

ASSERTION OF RIGHTS

 It is felt that such behaviour has to be viewed as a valiant act of assertion of rights by certain species to counter the actual intrusion into their bonafide habitat by shrewd human beings. There should be no justification to suppress or subjugate the innocent animals either by mechanical or muscle power.

Will our Forest Service friends wake up and take requisite action especially during the current wave of Covid-19 pandemic, when almost two dozen ‘positive’ tigers and a couple of similarly infected lions have already left the world? Lingering threat to pets and domestic animals who soothes our feelings when we are tired, and exhausted, also fill the atmosphere, time and again.

 Having stated so, I may humbly submit: “When the animal instinct among the humans crosses conceivable limits, the actual and bonafide sons and daughters of mother earth are left with no alternative but to react vehemently or justifiably.”

UNHEALTHY TUSSLE

It is not only the competition or tussle factor for habitat between the animals and human beings but it is a question of displaying adequate love and care for the natural endowments, indiscriminately gifted by the Almighty.

SAVIOUR DUTY

It may not be out of context to remind ourselves about the basic Hindu philosophy of emphasising reverence to the flora and fauna right from childhood. For generations, plants, such as peepal, banyan, tulsi, banana, mango etc. and the animals namely, cow, bull, lion, tiger, elephant, monkey, rat, cobra snakes etc. were being worshipped. Also, the morning ritual of offering water to Sun God, tulsi plant and peepal tree not only has given the requisite faith and confidence to the worshippers but it can also teach us again the forgotten lesson to do everything possible to Preserve flora and fauna.

To sum up, if we are mandated to avoid Social Interaction due to coronavirus and the more lethal third wave, how can we afford to undermine similar ‘social’ instincts among the animals?

Their state of hunger and helpless facial expressions during the last two rounds of lockdowns, calls for improving our overall attitude towards them. The timely food intake and sound health of fauna not only can improve their internal social behaviour but may also ensure a refined attitude towards their human handlers, caretakers or masters.

Even if we get rid of Covidity clinically, the love and affection displayed by the pets may prove much more valuable if not decisive in reducing our anxiety and depression. It may ultimately facilitate satisfactory healing of the community.

The writer is former Chief Secretary, the Government of Sikkim. The views expressed are personal.

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BE THE VOICE OF THE VOICELESS

Article 51-A (g) says that citizens must be compassionate towards all living creatures. Also, there are several wildlife protection Acts. Yet, we have betrayed our moral failure towards voiceless animals.

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India, being the land of sages, has always believed in ahimsa and equality for all living beings. The Constitution of India itself lays down in Article 51-A (g) that Indian citizens must be compassionate towards all living creatures. In the furtherance of it, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 was enacted along with Wildlife (Protection) (WP) Act. However, in the past few years, we, as humans, have betrayed our moral failure towards voiceless animals. The testament to this is the growing reports of animals being subjected to sexual abuse, being burnt alive, acid and pebble attacks, thrown off from the rooftop, lit crackers on their tails, and even cutting them down in marble cutter, the list is endless and horrendous. How have we stooped down so low that we are finding our entertainment in torturing voiceless beings? 

PREVENTION OF ANIMAL CRUELTY

The Constitution imposes a fundamental duty on us to safeguard the wildlife and have compassion for all living creatures as a result of which the PCA Act was laid down as a measure to give rights of freedom and living to animals. The act was made in 1960 shows how little has been done since then. Unfortunately, in our country, the discussion related to animal rights revolves around political arcades, primarily cow slaughter or beef ban and protection for endangered species. Many animal lovers have been helping by rescuing and providing shelter homes, medication, and food to the tiny beings but for a collective measure, a well-executed law has to be made to safeguard the interest of animals.  

The PCA Act in Section 11 defines cruelty and lists a series of offences and prescribes punishment for the same. However, the act lacks basic connotation with today’s time and needs strict amendments. Disturbingly, the punishment for treating animals cruelly is punishable with a fine of Rs 10 that may extend to Rs 50 on first conviction. On subsequent conviction within three years of a previous offence, it is punishable with a fine of Rs 25 that may extend to Rs 100 or imprisonment of three months or with both. Performing operations like Phooka or any other operations to improve lactation which is injurious to the health of the animal is punishable with a fine of Rs 1,000 or imprisonment up to two years or both and experimentation on animals is punishable with a fine up to Rs 200.

The WP Act too provides lists of species of both flora and fauna which need to the protected from increasing commercialisation of animal goods in form of trading of endangered species, uses of their skin for beauty products, selling off their horns in the black market and further being used in medical by-products. The law brings all these malpractices under its supervision. The act also controls the hunting of wild animals, protection of national parks and sanctuaries, restrict the illegal trade of wild animals, and articles. Section 39 specifies that any wild hunted animal found, killed, fed, alive, or dead shall be the property of the state government. Likewise, Section 9 of the act prohibits the hunting of wild birds.

JUDICIAL APPROACH

Our legislative provisions and judicial pronouncements make an effective case for animal rights. But since no rights and laws can be absolute, regulation of animal rights is a must. Therefore, time and again judicial pronouncements have become voices of the animals and their rights.

In 2014, Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in decisions banning the bull-taming festival ‘Jallikattu’ can be described as a watershed moment in terms of animal rights. It not only recognised that animals have a constitutional right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution as well as the right to dignity and fair treatment.

In a landmark judgement of Punjab and Haryana High Court, it was observed that “entire animal kingdom including avian and aquatic are declared as legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person”, touching the matter of animal rights in the purview of Fundamental Rights.

The latest judgment by Delhi High Court states that stray dogs have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed them. The Court observed that “we have to show compassion towards all living creatures. Animals may be mute but we as a society have to speak on their behalf. No pain or agony should be caused to the animals. Cruelty to animals causes psychological pain to them. Animals breathe like us and have emotions. The animals require food, water, shelter, normal behaviour, medical care, self-determination.”

In 2006, the Bombay High Court passed an important ruling, wherein any film meant for public viewing in which animal is used or filmed, has to obtain a certificate from the Animal Welfare Board of India. It safeguards animals from being exploited or ill-treated during filmmaking.

In 2014, Supreme Court banned the illegal transport of cattle to Nepal for the Gadhimai festival that played a crucial role in bringing down the number of animals sacrificed that year.

VIABLE ALTERNATIVES 

The Central government has already initiated the process of amendment of the PCA Act and other viable alternatives are being made for safeguarding the interest of animals at large. Some of the observations are as under:

In the present scenario of Covid-19, when every country is researching making successful medication and vaccines to end this pandemic, millions of mice, cats, dogs, rabbits etc are the ones on whom the trial is being done. This kind of horrible environment exposes animal cruelty. Through the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules (Second Amendment) 2014, animal testing for cosmetic products was prohibited all over India. But this subject needs more attention in today’s time. The present legislation in India needs to be modified by making more stringent laws.

Over the years illegal trafficking and poaching of animals across the borders have led to overexploitation of certain species to the point that their survival has become difficult and caused further cruelty to them. Wildlife resources must be managed sustainably and conserved by the law. For which the Indian Penal Code, 1860, under sections 428 and 429 constitutes that killing, poaching or torturing animals is a cognisable offence and is required immediate FIR and rigorous imprisonment which may extend to up to five years or fine or both.  

There should be finer and stricter rules implemented for the transportation of livestock in India. The amended motor vehicle rule is one such step in this direction which provides that vehicles without special licenses for such transportation should not be ply on roads and a healthy and safe environment should be provided to these animals. The excessive overloading of animals, permanent partition for transportation of individual animals, health checks up can be some of the additions. 

Shelter homes are the need of the hour. An animal that has been mistreated needs support and sometimes immediate for which there should be shelter homes with viable facilities. There should be proper checks and regulations with timely inspection of these shelter homes.

There should be 24/7 medical centres for animals, especially domesticated pets.

The PETA India suggested some regulations mandating the use of anaesthetics before castration and replacement of cruel practices. 

The PCA Act needs refined and stern punishment. The drafted bill has increased the fine three times the cost of animals or Rs 75,000 with the imprisonment of three years that may extend to five or both, has been proposed. 

Steps should be taken for the protection of ‘’dignity of the creature’’ like the law laid down in Switzerland which deemed activities degrading to the dignity of animals forbidden by law.

In many cases reported in India, the barking of dogs has been a cause of beating them and often owners try to stop dogs from barking. This should be considered illegal and pet owners should learn how to take care of their pets.

Registration of pets has become a mandate across the country. This is a huge step for making society pet friendly. Effective implementation of registration should be done and non–compliance to register should be met with dire consequences. People too should be responsible and help the government in this.

As per WP Act, there are some wild and endangered animals not just lions and tigers but a lot of exotic animals are banned to pet or keep domesticated. The reason for this is that these animals enjoy their natural habitats and can’t survive or properly nurture at our homes. We should not play down with the rule of the land and also report such incidents to the authorities at the earliest. 

The issue of animal rights revolves around the question of whether animals should be given the same protections as humans. They should be treated with the utmost respect, care, and love. Animals should not be considered helpless and voiceless beings. In a society, where we all talk about how to be civilised, we buffoon the idea that animals are meant to be caged. There are a lot of things we can do to protect animals. You don’t have to own a pet to help in the cause. Let’s all be the voice they wish they had, and make the choice they wish they could. Stop animal cruelty.

The writer is an Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh. The views expressed are personal.

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I WANTED TO BUILD A PLATFORM THAT COULD HELP OVER A MILLION PEOPLE: RANGANATH THOTA

Fueladream.com is the only crowdfunding platform in the world that funds social causes, products and creative ideas, said its founder and CEO Ranganath Thota during an exclusive interview with NewsX.

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Ranganath Thota is the Founder & CEO of FuelAdream and is doing social entrepreneurship via this platform. Thota in an exclusive interview with NewsX India A-list said “The objective is to try and build something that could help over a million people and the only way you could do it is through this concept called Crowdfunding. Crowdfunding means the act of several people coming together to fund something that they believe in.”

The switch from a media person to a social entrepreneur was because of a turning point that happened six years ago. Thota said, “I used to be in the corporate world for about 30 years where I worked across consumer products, media, worked in India, China, South-east Asia. About six years back, I realised I was making a lot of money and it was not as gratifying as I thought it should be. I realised that helping others was more satisfying and meaningful. I sold everything and decided to start this crowdfunding platform. I read about it for half an hour, discovered what it is and moved to Bangalore six years back.”

When asked what sets it apart from other competitors, he said, “What we discovered is that when people fund creative and innovative ideas, they are overwhelmed and passionate about it and that’s why they support it. Similarly when they fund something for a social need, then they have compassion. You have compassion at one end and passion at the other. But in many cases, people are the same. So, for example, we could fund the education for a child and also something as an electric bike.”

Speaking about one of his innovations, Thota said, “For example, there is a smart wallet with a chip in it that connects to the phone. If you lose your wallet you can call it with your phone and if you lose your phone you can call it with your wallet. You can use the phone camera and take pictures using the wallet. This project was funded four years ago. But the same person will help people with cataract surgery and education. So the same person can be driven by compassion and passion.”

He added, “The second thing is about giving behaviours. In social media, we talk about the food we eat, the holidays we take and the pictures we like but we never talk about giving. It is never understood. But there is a huge science in consumer behaviour related to giving which is very different. Crowdfunding also has a science and has four key elements that go into it. It includes storytelling, technology, consumer behaviour and most importantly, communication. Unless you know all this, you cannot do crowdfunding. The other thing we do is teach crowdfunding to a large number of people. They could be corporate people, students, etc.”

When asked about how he builds rapport, Thota said, “Nine out of ten people don’t know how to crowdfund even if their intention is good. They need a lot of hand rolling and that is where I and my team support them. The other important thing is raising funds. There are a lot of things that we need to understand about the projects that need fundraising. A lot of people come to us with great projects but what they don’t realise is that if they raise five times the amount that they are planning to, they actually cannot execute it. Unlike other platforms where you can start a campaign in an hour, with us it takes two days.”

Talking about the success rate he said, “typically it is about 70%. But if some projects don’t work well it is simply because the person doing it doesn’t manage it well, it is not like the story is not good.”

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ISRAEL MINISTER TO DISCUSS PEGASUS IN FRANCE VISIT

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JERUSALEM: Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz will meet his French counterpart in Paris this week for talks that will include an “update” on the Pegasus spyware scandal, his office said Tuesday. A Ministry statement said Gantz will leave Wednesday for talks with French Defence Minister Florence Parly on topics including the crisis in Lebanon, nuclear negotiations with Iran and the Pegasus malware made by the Israeli firm NSO, which was allegedly used to target President Emmanuel Macron. Pegasus, which is able to switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data, is at the centre of a storm after a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets was leaked to human rights groups. Amnesty International and French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories collaborated with a clutch of media companies, including the Washington Post, the Guardian and Le Monde, to analyse and publish the list. Macron had to change his phone and number. Israel’s defence ministry must approve NSO exports given the sensitive nature of the sector. Israel’s defence establishment has set up a committee to review the firm’s business, including the process through which export licenses are granted. Pegasus’s list of alleged targets includes at least 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 human rights activists and 65 business leaders. NSO insists its software is only intended for use in fighting terrorism and other crimes and says it exports to 45 countries.

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NORTH, SOUTH KOREA AGREE TO RESTORE SEVERED COMMUNICATION LINKS

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SEOUL: North and South Korea restored their cross-border communication lines that had been severed for over a year, the South Korean presidential office said on Tuesday.

An official statement said that the two Koreas decided to resume their direct communication hotlines as of 10:00 am local time. This comes 13 months after North Korea cut off all communication lines with South Korea in protest over Seoul’s supposed failure to stop activists from sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets into the communist nation, Yonhap reported.

Since June last year, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) cut off ties in protest against Seoul’s inability to stop civic activists from sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets into the DPRK.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged personal letters several times since April to communicate about issues on the restored inter-Korean relations, the statement said.

Moon and Kim agreed first to restore the severed inter-Korean communication lines, the statement read. The two leaders also agreed to restore mutual trust and enhance inter-Korean ties at the earliest.

Seoul said the resumed inter-Korean communication lines would play a positive role in the improvement and the development of inter-Korean relations.

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