Leaf fall disease in Thailand rubber plantations worries Indian growers


The new leaf fall disease in rubber plantations in Thailand seems to have started ringing alarm bells among growers in India. They fear that the emerging situation may play spoilsport on their prospects when natural rubber prices started moving northwards, touching ₹163/kg.

The growers have sought immediate intervention of the government in containing the spread of the disease, especially when the sector is witnessing peak production. It is pointed out that the disease has spread so fast across borders of South-East Asian countries due to the transfer of raw rubber.

Rubber output hit

The Rubber Authority of Thailand in November reported that the total affected area is 90,000 hectares with a loss of production potential running to 130,000 tonnes on an annual basis. The total natural rubber production in Thailand which was 5.14 million tonnes had come down to 4.9 million tonnes in 2019. It is expected to go down further to 4.36 million tonnes in 2020.

Rubber Board officials noted that the disease has the potential to spread rapidly in the near future and the impact could worsen as the pathogen has already established its root in the rubber growing areas in the South. There are also serious concerns on the possible widespread incidence of the leaf fall disease in Southern Thailand, causing steep fall in rubber production in the coming months.

In India, the leaf fall disease was noticed in small pockets in Kottayam two years ago. This year, there are indications of this disease in approximately 300 hectares spread over Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur districts, said KN Raghavan, Executive Director, Rubber Board.

He told BusinessLine that the Board is setting up a taskforce to conduct prophylactic spraying of oil-based copper oxychloride in all susceptible plantations before commencement of next season to prevent onset of the disease.

Tightening raw material imports

Ajith BK, Secretary, Association of Planters of Kerala said that the rubber sector has raised serious concern on the transfer or import of raw unprocessed rubber into the country as it could be carriers of pathogens of this disease. Likewise, the import of cup lumps could also lead to spreading of the disease. He also urged the authorities to tighten photosanitary measures against import of any planted material or any unprocessed rubber.

He further added that the infected rubber trees become weak and the growers could not do fertiliser application for the past 4 to 5 years due to non-remunerative prices.

He requested the Centre to impose a protocol similar to the one done in the case of South American Leaf Blight happened in Brazil.

Thailand is the largest natural rubber producer accounting for 36 per cent of world production. Rubber plantations in Thailand are concentrated in southern provinces which accounted for 80 per cent of production. During 2019, the leaf fall disease was confined to the Malaysian border province of Thailand. However, it spread fast in 2020 in southern Thailand, affecting almost all provinces.



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Coronavirus latest: Indian government tells states to stop public shaming of Covid-19 patients


Peter Wells

The US on Tuesday had its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus deaths in nearly seven months, while hospitalisations reached a record of more than 98,000.

States attributed a further 2,473 deaths to coronavirus, more than double Monday’s increase of 1,136, according to Covid Tracking Project data. 

It was the biggest one-day jump in fatalities since the May 7 record of 2,752 and ranks as the sixth largest of the pandemic according to Financial Times analysis of the data.

For the month of November, coronavirus claimed the lives of 38,935 people in the US, taking the overall death toll in the country to 261,789.

That made it the deadliest month of the pandemic for the country overall after April and May, when fatalities were mostly concentrated in northeastern states like New York and New Jersey, as well as Michigan in the Midwest. However, a total of 26 states reported their biggest monthly tally of Covid-19 deaths in November.

The number of people currently in US hospitals being treated for coronavirus more than doubled during November, hitting a record of 98,691 on November 30, according to data from Covid Tracking Project on Tuesday.

Medical staff prepare to perform a tracheostomy on a Covid-19 patient at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston

About two-thirds of all states reported their highest number of hospitalisations for the pandemic during November, while Hawaii is the only place where hospital admissions are lower than at the end of October.

A further 176,751 Covid-19 cases were reported by states, up from 147,588 on Monday and compared with 167,012 on Tuesday last week. It was the biggest one-day jump since the November 27 record of 193,805.

During November, the US confirmed 4.39m cases, more than any other month, taking the total number of infections in the country to 13.5m.

The seven-day average case rate of every state except New York, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and South Carolina, as well as the District of Columbia, reached a record high during November, according to an FT analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

Increased testing capacity since the summer means cases may not be directly comparable with earlier stages of the pandemic, while better treatments has typically meant fatality rates are much lower than during the spring.



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Australia’s complaint against Indian sugar subsidies to be heard at World Trade Organisation


Two-and-a-half years after lodging a complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against India, Australian sugar cane growers will finally have their concerns heard in the international court.

The formal dispute against India was initiated by the Australian, Brazilian and Guatemalan governments in 2018, saying subsidies for Indian cane farmers caused a glut in the international market and led to a significant drop in global prices.

Paul Schembri, chair of Queensland and Australian Canegrowers associations, said it was a relief the hearings were finally going ahead.

It is a process other industries will be following closely, as Australia prepares to escalate action against China to the WTO over barley tariffs.

In a statement, the Global Sugar Alliance, which represents 85 per cent of the world’s cane sugar exporters, said it had met and reaffirmed its full support “to remove India’s export subsidies and trade-distorting price supports”.

Australian canegrowers and the Federal Government made the initial complaint, which has gone through formal discussions and mediation.

Paul Schembri (right) with Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.(ABC Rural: Melanie Groves)

“We think it’s a blatant breach of WTO rules,” Mr Schembri said.

“Those subsidies have destroyed the world price. For Australian producers, who are highly exposed to world prices, it’s costing us something like $300 million or $400 million a year in lost opportunities and income.”

Decision ‘hopefully’ in early 2021

Formal hearings are usually held in person in Geneva, but due to COVID-19 they will be moved online.

The hearings were initially due to be held in May but were postponed because of the pandemic and have been rescheduled for a few weeks’ time.

“They’ll be undertaken by a virtual format, and that gives us some hope now in Australia that we can get a decision possibly in 2021,” Mr Schembri said.

This is not the first time sugar subsidies have been in front of the WTO, with the European Union’s supports declared illegal in 2004.

A cane harvester cutting sugar cane in the afternoon sun.
Queensland’s cane crush is coming to an end for the year.(ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)

Mr Schembri hopes to see similar results this time around.

“That result came down in favour of Australia and immediately the world price increased very substantially,” he said.

Australian cane farms rely on the global raw sugar prices to drive profit, with about 85 per cent of domestic production exported.

With the global price of sugar often below the cost of production, Mr Schembri said he was hopeful the hearings would lead to long-term change.

“We’re hoping if a decision comes down, we’ll get a turnaround in the world price and that this is sustainable, and that going forward, we can have continuous access to world prices that reflect the cost of efficient producers.”

Alternative solutions

Rather than introducing excess sugar onto the global market, the Global Sugar Alliance has called on India to use its product to develop an ethanol industry.

In a statement, the executive director of the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, Eduardo Leão de Sousa, said his country was working closely with India.

“This biofuel will help to improve air quality in India’s major cities, reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and reduce India’s reliance on imported oil,” Mr de Sousa said.

It is a solution Mr Schembri would also like to see.

“Historically, 93 per cent of decisions ultimately are complied with; we’re hoping India will obviously acknowledge, to stop funding these subsidies or direct surplus sugar into something else such as ethanol,” he said.



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Five COVID-19 patients killed in Indian hospital fire


Ahmedabad, India, November 27 (Reuters) – Five patients were killed in India on Friday in a fire that broke out in a COVID-19 ward, the fourth blaze in a novel coronavirus hospital since the outbreak began, which drew angry questions from the Supreme Court.

The early morning blaze in Rajkot city in the western state of Gujrat gutted the intensive care unit (ICU) of the private hospital, television footage showed. The most likely cause was an electrical short circuit, said government official Udit Agarwal.

“Three of the patients in the ICU died on the spot, and two others succumbed on way to hospital. The two other patients in the ICU were unhurt,” Agarwal told Reuters.

India has recorded 9.3 million infections, the second-highest in the world after the United States, and more 135,00 deaths. On Friday, the health ministry said it reported 43,082 new cases and 492 deaths in the past 24 hours.

The latest fire angered India’s top court, which asked both the federal and state governments to submit a detailed reply on recurring fires in COVID-19 hospitals.

In August, eight COVID-19 patients were killed in a fire in the ICU ward of a hospital in Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from the state, said on Twitter that he was pained by the loss of lives on Friday.

Modi will visit three companies working on coronavirus vaccines, including one in Gujarat, on Saturday, his office said in a post on Twitter.





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Aussie run-machine ready for the Indian bowlers out to take him down


Marnus Labuschagne knows the Indian bowlers will be coming for him this summer, so he’s spent six months getting ready for it.

The Queensland run machine has made a rapid ascension into the elite group of international batsmen, first through his Test exploits and now in the one-day arena where he has entrenched himself in the Australian side.

Labuschagne knows that with every hundred he scores against a red or white ball, and he has five in a short time, the target on his back, and his helmet, grows.

That’s why he expects the Indians will come to the ODI and Test series “well rehearsed” in their plans to curb his growing influence.

But for every bit of research the tourists have done on Labuschagne, he’s matched that by watching the Indian bowlers at work, using his time in a winter lockdown to prepare himself for every challenge set to be thrown his way this summer.

I would assume just like any other team that if someone was doing well we would be doing more research and trying to find out ways we can get them out, where they have been scoring runs. So they are going to come in well rehearsed,” Labuschagne said on Thursday, the eve of the opening ODI clash in Sydney.

“But that’s what the last six months have been for. I’ve had the last six months to think about how they are going to bowl, what they are going to do and how I am going to play them.

“They are coming prepared, no doubt. I am coming to the series making sure I am ready for them too.”

Labuschagne said he had watched his “fair share” of the Indian Premier League in recent months, zoning in on which bowlers were in form, assessing their strengths, and working through his own way of combating them.

He showed his readiness for the summer with two big Sheffield Shield hundreds for Queensland in Adelaide, a possible entree to more against India.

Those runs only heightened expectations for Labuschagne to continue his run spree against India.

He conceded he felt that pressure but said it was part and parcel of international cricket.

“I love the pressure. You need to like the pressure if you like international cricket because there is never really time you are not under pressure,” he said.

“If you are going well, you are under pressure to keep going well, and if you‘re not, you’re under pressure to go well. There’s never really a gap where you go ‘oh geez, this is really nice now’.”

The 26-year-old conceded preparation for the ODI series had been “different” while the Australian squad was split in half in Sydney because of quarantine restrictions.

But he said he had got all the work done he wanted and was ready to leap into what looms as a frantic few months of cricket.

“It feels like it’s gone a bit slow leading up. Everything is ticking along, but you just want the game to start,” Labuschagne said.

“Looking at the schedule, it’s going to ramp up really quick and get busy going from one-dayers to T20s to Test cricket, it’s going to happen in a short space of space of time.

“I’m just excited to get out there and play.”



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Indian officials use crane to free elephant that fell down a well in 12-hour rescue mission


The elephant, which strayed into a village bordering a forest in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district, fell into the well that was covered with bushes and did not have a fence or wall around it, according to district forest officer Rajkumar.

“It was a deep and narrow well,” said Rajkumar, who goes by only one name. “We were informed by locals early on Thursday and were able to retrieve the elephant only late in the night.”

Forest officials first started by clearing the bushes around the well and then tried to pump water out of the well. But the elephant attacked the pipes pumping out the water, according to Rajkumar.

“Eventually, we sedated the animal with the help of doctors and used a crane to lift it out of the well,” Rajkumar said.

“It was found to be healthy and active when we monitored it for three hours after the rescue.”

Two other elephants have fallen into such wells in the past year in the area.

The destruction of forests, rapid urbanization, and rising village populations have led animals to venture close to human settlements in India. There has been a spate of incidents in recent years of wildlife wandering into villages, and sometimes attacking or being killed by humans.

In 2016, a leopard entered school grounds in the city of Bangalore and mauled three people; days after that incident, a large elephant rumbled through a town in West Bengal state, knocking over walls of small shacks and trampling motorbikes. Nobody was hurt; officials tranquilized the elephant, and used a crane to lift it and return it to the forest. Just last year, a panicked leopard attacked five people in a village in the state of Punjab before it was trapped and tranquilized.



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Indian Medical Association Telangana elections today, many term it undemocratic


Hyderabad: The Indian Medical Association’s Telangana state branch will hold elections on Sunday but many doctors are calling it undemocratic, unethical, stage-managed and a game of musical chairs.

Bitter fighting between the factions is being seen on social media platforms and Whatsapp groups.

 

About 17,000 doctors are members of the TS IMA but only 370 elected state members can vote for the posts. The by-laws of the state IMA restrict  the election only to a few.

Dr T. Kripal Singh, professor and head of the department, forensic medicine and toxicology at Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, said it was “very shameful” that doctors are indulging in such politics. Dr Singh said: “The TS IMA elections are worse than the GHMC elections. Instead of promoting co-operation among the members there are a few who have divided the members into groups. Only these members have the right to stand for elections and vote,”

 

“A primary member of the IMA can contest the central IMA elections but they cannot contest the TS IMA polls. This is atrocious. What has the present body done during the pandemic for the people of the state? They allowed private hospitals to loot people. Has anyone from the IMA uttered a word against this ‘Corona loot’? Why is such a body being allowed to hold elections,” Dr Singh said, adding, “The fraternity is suffering because of them. What is there for the young aspiring medical students of the state.”

 

Many doctors have written to the government asking it to stop these elections.

Dr Sanjiv Singh Yadav, secretary of the state IMA, said, “There are faults and they need to be rectified by electing a new panel. The present body will have to change.” Dr Yadav is contesting for vice president.

Sunday’s elections will be for 85 posts for which there are 270 contestants For president, vice-president and state secretary, two doctors are nominated. For the state working committee, there are 38 contestants for 17 posts. Another 21 persons are contesting for the 12 seats on the central working committee.a

 

This contest has raised a lot of issues which were not highlighted earlier. Former state members and senior doctors said it is a battle for supremacy of one group over another. One group is led by incumbent president Dr Pratap Reddy and another by Dr Ravinder Reddy who is chairman of the TS Medical Council. “The division is not good for the state body,” a doctor said.

Senior doctors who are primary members of the IMA have appealed to the government to not recognise the state IMA body. They demand that members with a standing of 20 to 25 years must be allowed to contest all the posts. Voting must be for all the members. There is also demand for e-voting from senior members. Presently doctors have to go to to head office of IMA Koti to cast their vote.

 

Other senior doctors are upset with the advertisement of IMA panels as that they feel that it demarcates groups which is not good for the fraternity in the long run.

With the Covid-19 pandemic and the existing problems in healthcare, doctors demand that they must be untied and stand as one as they have to strive for health as a priority. Their efforts are defeated with this in-fighting, some doctors feel.



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Soumitra Chatterjee, Globally Acclaimed Indian Film Star, Dies at 85


Soumitra Chatterjee, an Indian actor who incarnated the beauty and fragility of youthful idealism in films by the director Satyajit Ray and helped solidify Mr. Ray’s place in cinematic history, died on Sunday at a hospital in Kolkata, India. He was 85.

His daughter, Poulami Bose, said the cause was brain damage and organ failure brought on by a case of Covid-19.

Mr. Chatterjee, who appeared in more than 350 movies, rose to fame playing the title character in “The World of Apu” (1959). The film, the third in Mr. Ray’s famous “Apu” trilogy, cast Mr. Chatterjee in an epic role familiar from canonical works of literature: A young man imagines a glorious literary career from a shabby garret apartment in a capital city but then encounters the hard realities of adult life, which he struggles to transcend.

The role was Mr. Chatterjee’s film debut, and it catapulted him to critical notice abroad and celebrity in India.

In one memorable scene, while delivering a monologue about the novel he plans to write, Mr. Chatterjee furrows his brow with intellectual severity, strikes the faraway look of an imagination at work, pauses and points for emphasis as he narrates the plot, and finally, with arms raised in triumph, smiles with joy at the act of creation. The sequence appears to have the naturalness of improvisation, but it was actually the product of laborious preparation.

Mr. Ray’s son, Sandip, said he saw the work that Mr. Chatterjee put into his roles when he peeked at one of the actor’s scripts. “It was full of handwritten notes,” he told The Telegraph, Kolkata’s English-language daily, in a recent interview. “Every minute detail of voice modulation, pause, look, movement and whatnot was in there.”

For “The World of Apu,” Mr. Chatterjee kept a diary in which he specified what Apu was doing every moment he was offscreen. He brought the same intensity to “Charulata” (1964), a Ray movie about tensions in an upper-class family set in 1879, in which Mr. Chatterjee plays an aspiring poet and essayist. He spent six months mastering the 19th-century style of Bengali handwriting so that the scenes that depicted him in the act of composition could appear authentic.

The young writers Mr. Chatterjee played in “The World of Apu” and “Charulata” set a template for the other characters he became known for. In Mr. Ray’s “The Golden Fortress” (1974), about kidnappers looking for a long-forgotten treasure, Mr. Chatterjee plays a private eye who also has an ambition that is softened by high-mindedness and impracticality. In “Days and Nights in the Forest” (1969), which follows young friends on a vacation, Mr. Chatterjee’s businessman character is sardonic and self-confident, but, like the aspiring writers, yearns for a different life.

His characters often wore a shabby-chic outfit of sport coats and scarves — even when, in one movie, he briefly appeared as an ash-covered coal miner.

Mr. Chatterjee had the ability to project guilelessness, sometimes as a naïf but on other occasions as a selfless hero. His performance as Feluda, Mr. Ray’s riff on Sherlock Holmes, enshrined the character as a standard-bearer of Bengali cultural values. For a crime-fighting detective, Feluda was unusually intellectual, the sort of sleuth who would blow open a case by discovering, as he does in “The Golden Fortress,” a spelling mistake in a hotel register.

Mr. Ray invented Feluda as a character in a series of children’s stories he began writing in the 1960s, which he adapted into two movies starring Mr. Chatterjee, “The Golden Fortress” and “The Elephant God” (1978). Since Mr. Ray’s death in 1992, there have been more than a dozen new Feluda movies with a succession of new stars, but none have come close to supplanting Mr. Chatterjee’s portrayal of Feluda in the hearts of fans.

Internationally, Mr. Chatterjee attracted an admiring audience, but it was composed mainly of critics and connoisseurs who followed Mr. Ray’s work and lived near theaters that showed foreign movies.

The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael praised Mr. Chatterjee as Mr. Ray’s “one-man stock company” and wrote in 1973 that Mr. Chatterjee and his frequent co-star, Sharmila Tagore, were “modern figures with overtones of ancient deities.” When some of Mr. Ray’s early films were first released in the U.S. in the 1960s, New York Times critics called Mr. Chatterjee’s performances “strikingly sensitive“ and “timid, tender, sad, serene, superb.” American filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson have cited some of the Ray movies Mr. Chatterjee starred in as inspirations.

In 2015, “The World of Apu” returned to theaters across the United States as part of a restoration of the trilogy. American outlets like Criterion have made subtitled copies of movies by Mr. Ray starring Mr. Chatterjee available for streaming online.

Despite the success of their partnership, Mr. Chatterjee spoke later in life about not wanting to be seen as “a Satyajit Ray puppet.”

And yet the line between the two men sometimes blurred. While looking at Mr. Ray’s early drawings of Feluda, Mr. Chatterjee remarked that the character resembled Mr. Ray himself. “Really?” Mr. Ray replied. “Several people have told me that I’ve drawn him with you in mind.”

Soumitra Chatterjee was born on Jan. 19, 1935, in Krishnanagar, a small town in what was then the British province of Bengal. His father, Mohit Kumar Chatterjee, was a lawyer and a member of the Indian Independence Movement, and his mother, Ashalata, was a homemaker. She named Soumitra after a character from Bengali literature and, rather than sing him lullabies, would recite poems by the Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore.

Soumitra starred in plays held in the family’s courtyard, where bedsheets had been transformed into curtains and the aluminum foil of his parents’ cigarette packets became crowns for he and his young relatives to wear as costumes.

He avoided schoolbooks, but he was reading Tolstoy at 14. He skipped class to watch movies not meant for children, but got caught when he overheard a conversation between his parents about a particular scene and chimed in.

He moved to Kolkata to attend City College and graduated with a degree in Bengali literature. He was inspired to become a professional actor after coming under the tutelage of the Bengali actor and director Sisir Bhaduri, who advised Mr. Chatterjee to understand the roles he was assigned by scanning a script for subtext like a detective searching for clues.

In 1960 he married Deepa Chatterjee, his childhood sweetheart.

After Mr. Ray launched Mr. Chatterjee to Bengali superstardom and international art-house renown, Mr. Chatterjee’s artistic ambitions expanded. He founded, with a college friend, a literary magazine, Ekkhon (Bengali for “Now”), which published the work of eminent writers like Mahasweta Devi and illustrations and scripts by Mr. Ray. Mr. Chatterjee also wrote more than a dozen books of poems and wrote, translated, directed, produced and starred in plays. He exhibited his watercolor paintings across India.

Later in his film career, Mr. Chatterjee became typecast as a genial grandpa who upheld the noble values of a bygone era in roles that were, by his own admission, “hackneyed” or even “detestable.” “One feels sad for Soumitra,” one Bengali reviewer wrote.

In addition to Ms. Bose and his wife, Mr. Chatterjee is survived by his son, Sougata, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Chatterjee, who was 14 years younger than Mr. Ray, regarded him as a mentor and paid him a visit at his home every Sunday morning.

His admiration was not “based on external considerations, like how successful he was, how many awards he got or how wild people were about him,” Mr. Chatterjee said in a video interview. “I could see his artistic vision right before my eyes. It was a vast, universal vision. He had an ability to understand all of life.”



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