Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Yakub Memon case: one chart that shows just how partisan India’s criminal justice system can be

Yakub Memon case: one chart that shows just how partisan India's criminal justice system can be

India pursued justice with great vigour in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case but showed no interest in convicting those behind the riots that preceded the bombings.
  · Jul 27, 2015 · 10:30 am
Photo Credit: IANS
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Last week, the Supreme Court rejected a curative petition filed by Yakub Memon, a convict in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts, to reconsider his death penalty. His impending execution, scheduled for July 30, has raised a series of questions about India's justice system.

Memon came back to India from Pakistan to surrender and brought with him proof of Pakistan's involvement in the bombings. This fact was pointed out by none other than B Raman, the person who coordinated the operation for Memon's return from Karachi. At that time, Raman headed the Pakistan desk at the Research and Analysis Wing, India's primary foreign intelligence agency.

"The cooperation of Yakub with the investigating agencies after he was picked up informally in Kathmandu and his role in persuading some other members of the family to come out of Pakistan and surrender constitute, in my view, a strong mitigating circumstance to be taken into consideration while considering whether the death penalty should be implemented," Raman wrote.

Memon's death sentence is just one questionable decision. The partisan manner in which India's justice system works can be seen from the following chart:

As many as 100 people have been convicted for the 1993 Bombay serial blasts which took 257 lives. However, in the 1992-'93 Mumbai riots, an act of mass violence that killed 900 people, just three convictions have been achieved.

Even these three were for the relatively minor charge of hate speech and only carried jail time of a year. There were no convictions for the numerous incidents of murder, rape or arson.

What explains this massive gulf?

Two approaches

The answer lies in the Indian state's approach to the two crimes. The Maharashtra government mostly didn't bother about punishing the people who led the anti-Muslim massacres of December 1992 and January 1993. All it did was appoint a commission – the Indian politician's go-to answer when he wants to do nothing.

When this commission, headed by Justice BN Srikrishna, did submit its report, it was damning. The report described Shiv Sena chief Bal Thakeray's role as that of a "veteran General" who "commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims".

The process of damning, sadly, never moved on to any damnation: no action was taken on the Srikrishna Report.  Thackeray was, in fact, given a state funeral – Maharashtra's Congress government maybe taking the "General" bit literally

Not only Thackeray, the police barely pursued any riot cases. In fact, as many as 60% of cases were summarily closed with the remark "true but undetected".  Later on, the Srikrishna Commission found that even blindingly obvious cases, such as when victims had named assailants who were their neighbours, were ignored and dismissed.

In contrast, the blasts were prosecuted with rare vigour. A special investigative team was appointed and the stringent Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was applied liberally.

The results are borne out by the number of convictions.

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Yakub Memon hanging: In an unprecedented move Supreme Court opens for hearing at 3-am

Hanging at 7-am hangs in balance as petitioners seek a 14 days stay after rejection of mercy plea.
Scroll Staff · Jul 30, 2015 · 00:47 am
Yakub Memon hanging: In an unprecedented move Supreme Court opens for hearing at 3-am
Soon after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected Yakub Memon's mercy plea on Wednesday night,  on the advice of the government, a group of lawyers went to the residence of the Chief Justice of India asking him to hear a fresh petition moved by Memon's lawyers arguing that the President could not decide on the mercy plea overnight and also that Memon's execution should not be allowed to proceed for the next 14 days.

In an unprecedented move, it was finally decided that a three judge bench would meet in the Supreme Court to hear the petition at 2.30-am on Thursday, July 30. The hearing was delayed to about 3-am to allow Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi to allow time to reach the court.

According to the death warrant, Memon was to hang at 7-am on Thursday morning. But the lawyers contended that guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in January 2014 mandate the passage of minimum 14 days between the rejection of the final mercy plea and the execution of a prisoner.

In October 2013, Memon's brother had appealed to the President to commute his brother's sentence. The President had rejected the plea on May 21, 2014 on the recommendations of the Maharashtra government and the Union Home Ministry, saying there was no cogent reason to show mercy.

The plea that was heard and rejected by the President on Wednesday was the first one moved by Memon himself.

In January 2014, a Supreme Court bench headed by the then Chief Justice P Sathasivam, while passing final orders in a writ petition filed by death convict Shatrughan Chauhan, laid down "guidelines for safeguarding the interests of death row convicts".

7. Minimum 14 days notice for execution: Some prison manuals do not provide for any minimum period between the rejection of the mercy petition being communicated to the prisoner and his family and the scheduled date of execution. Some prison manuals have a minimum period of 1 day, others have a minimum ...

KFC on the Indian Railways might kill the nostalgia, but it is a necessary step

Don't think of the availability of KFC food on trains as the invasion of a multinational, taking the place of traditional, local food.
Aloke Mukherjee, · Today · 09:30 pm
KFC on the Indian Railways might kill the nostalgia, but it is a necessary step
Photo Credit: Noah Seelam/AFP
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Last week, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation decided to tie up with KFC to deliver food to passengers on Indian trains.

Quite a few articles describe the move as possibly the biggest bonanza for rail passengers in recent times. And going by the readers' reactions to these articles, people are excited about the move. But there are many who question the logic of tying up with multinationals that serve downright unhealthy food, especially when Indian chains with slightly less artery-clogging fare exist. Still others bemoan the move as the final nail in the coffin of the "romance" or "uniqueness" of a journey on the Indian Railways.

I definitely didn't expect to use the words "KFC" and "necessary" in the same sentence. However, as much as I love the railways, the fact still remains that authentic, flavourful food on trains is an exception than the norm today – two notable exceptions being the Mandovi Express from Mumbai to Goa and the Deccan Queen Express from Pune to Mumbai.

More often than not, train food is limited to rotis, watery dal, rubbery paneer, and what is euphemistically labelled as "biryani" – usually boiled rice with a few limp carrots (or a bony piece of chicken, should the non-vegetarian option be ordered). This only if you happen to be lucky enough to find yourself on a train with a pantry car, or one that has a long stop around mealtimes.

While prices for meals at railway canteens and stalls at stations are usually regulated to keep them affordable for the masses, being overcharged for food by the catering staff on moving trains is hardly uncommon, often stretching to over Rs 100 ...

In 10 years, Indian courts handed down 1,303 capital punishment verdicts

In 2007, India opposed a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to abolition capital punishment.
In 10 years, Indian courts handed down 1,303 capital punishment verdicts
Photo Credit: Patrick Feller/Flickr
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A death sentence – such as the one handed to Yakub Memon, convicted for the 1993 Mumbai serial bombings – is common in India, with 1,303 capital-punishment verdicts between 2004 and 2013, according to this National Crime Record Bureau prison statistics report.

However, only three convicts were executed over this period, one each in West Bengal (2004), Maharashtra (2012) and Delhi (2013). India saw an execution-free period of seven years between 2004 and 2012.

* On 14 August 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged at Alipore Central Jail in West Bengal on his 42nd birthday, convicted for the rape and murder of a teenage girl.
* On 21 November 2012, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab the only terrorist to have survived the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, was hanged in Pune's Yerwada Jail.
* On 9 Februrary 2013, Mohammed Afzal Guru, a convict in the 2001 Parliament attack casewas hanged inside Delhi's Tihar jail.

In addition, 3,751 death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment during this period.

Former chartered accountant Memon is set to be hanged on July 30, 2015, the day he turns 53. A debate has now broken out over the verdict against him and the death sentence in general.

In July 2007, Yakub and 11 others were convicted and sentenced to death by a special court for planning or carrying out the 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed nearly 260 people and injured 700.

In March 2013, the Supreme Court upheld Memon's death sentence, while commuting the death sentence of 10 others (one died later) to life imprisonment.

On social media, a raging debate w ...

Mr Environment Minister, India is carrying out deforestation, not reforestation

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar wants to gloss over the large-scale deforestation in India by replacing the term 'diversion' of forestland with 'reforestation' in official communication.
M Rajshekhar · Today · 07:30 pm
Mr Environment Minister, India is carrying out deforestation, not reforestation
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On Wednesday morning, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar gave India one more reason to think of him as among the country's worst environment ministers till date.

As the Indian Express reported, the minister sent out an intra-ministry letter on July 16 asking bureaucrats to replace the term "diversion" of forest land with "reforestation" in their communications. When asked about this, Javadekar told the Express: "For every diversion of forest land for a project... compensatory afforestation on equal area of non-forest land is a must. So ultimately, it is reforestation only. This is all about thinking positive and using the right expression."

The power of positive thinking apart, what Javadekar said is wrong. Compensatory afforestation is not working in India.

Any project coming up on forestland – hence requiring a "diversion" of forestland to non-forest uses – needs to create a fresh forest in its place. This could either be done by afforesting an equal area of non-forest land, so that the country's forest cover doesn't go down, or by regenerating twice the area of degraded forestland. Project proponents do not create these forests on their own – they pay the environment ministry a net present value of the forest lost, and the ministry then plants saplings to grow fresh forests.

In practice, this is not working. Take the Comptroller and Auditor General's scathing report in September 2013 on compensatory afforestation. Between 2006 and 2012, it says, the state environment departments were to get 103,382 hectares of non-forest land for afforestation fro ...

The message is clear: The BJP is against terrorists only if those terrorists are Muslim

If it has got away with this blatant hypocrisy, it can only be because a substantial proportion of the population shares that view.
Girish Shahane · Today · 06:30 pm
The message is clear: The BJP is against terrorists only if those terrorists are Muslim
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If Yakub Memon hangs, will it be because of his faith? That's what Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen suggested, setting off a predictable storm of outrage. On his news programme, Arnab Goswami called Owaisi's statement, "Completely unnecessary, provocative and seen as an attempt at religious polarisation", and accused the politician of, "insulting the supreme court of the country."

Owaisi countered that the killers of Punjab's chief minister Beant Singh and India's former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had their sentences commuted thanks to political backing, which Memon lacked, presumably because he was Muslim.

Logjam on death row

To understand whether Owaisi is on to something, it is useful to look back at the history of capital punishment in independent India. The nation frequently executed convicts in the decade after independence but as voices against state sanctioned killing grew stronger around the globe leading to the practice being banned in over a hundred nations and moratoriums being placed in over 50 others, we became increasingly hesitant to use the gallows. However, although the Supreme Court ruled as early as the 1970s that death be awarded only in the rarest of rare cases, it wasn't particularly reluctant to condemn criminals to hang. The combination of the willingness to convict and unwillingness to execute created a logjam on death row.

The last recourse for those sentenced to hang is usually a plea for mercy to India's head of state. For almost a decade, between 1997 and 2007, such mercy petitions were simply ignored. KR Narayanan and Abdul Kalam were excellent Presidents, but both kicked the capital punishment can down the road. Narayanan didn't decide on a single case during his term in office, and Kalam made a judgment on just two petitions, accepting one and rejecting one. Pratibha Patil, a controversial replacement for the inspirational Kalam, may have proved lacklustre in office generally, but considered dozens of mercy pleas, and gladdened liberal hearts by commuting a record number of death sentences. The damage to the process, however, had already been done. Rajiv Gandhi's killers were spared the noose on grounds of inordinate delay, even though Patil rejected their mercy plea.

A similar commutation was offered to Devinder Singh Bhullar, a Khalistani militant convicted for planting a bomb that killed 9 people, though not its intended target, the Congress leader Maninder Singh Bitta.

Before the Supreme Court's final verdict in those cases, politicians launched campaigns on behalf of the convicts. Tamil Nadu's legislative assembly passed a resolution against hanging Gandhi's assassins, while the Akali Dal adopted Bhullar's cause.

The Akalis have also demanded mercy for for Balwant Singh Rajaona, one of Beant Singh's assassins. Astonishingly, Rajaona has been elevated to the status of Living Martyr (Zinda Shaheed)   by the high Sikh religious authority, the Akal Takht.

Pratibha Patil's successor Pranab Mukherjee has been even more energetic than she was in tackling mercy petitions, but with a very different perspective. He has ruled against commutation in the vast majority of cases before him. Of the 24 people thus condemned, three were convicted of terrorism, or political killings, while the others were murderers of a more common variety. The appellants in the three terror-related cases all happened to be Muslims: Afzal Guru, Ajmal Kasab, and Yakub Memon. The first two have since been hanged, the only individuals put to death by the Indian state in the past decade.

Double standards

It's difficult to decide, based on the small sample size available, whether Guru and Memon were ill-served by the judicial process because they were Muslim (Kasab's case was, of course, open and shut), or whether they were simply unlucky to be convicted in a period when presidents took relatively expeditious decisions on mercy pleas, thus eliminating the "inordinate delay" recourse. I find the attitude of the public to these cases more worrying than anything that happened in court. When Omar Abdullah spoke out against executing Afzal Guru, he faced a backlash that his DMK and Akali Dal counterparts had not. Hetweeted about this and created a bigger stir. The BJP made hanging Afzal Guru part of its political platform even while condemning the supposed violation of the "cultural and human rights" of Hindus under trial for bombing civilians, and partnering with the Akali Dal that supported convicted Khalistanis. It's difficult not to conclude that the party is against terrorists only if those terrorists are Muslim. If it has got away with this blatant hypocrisy, it can only be because a substantial proportion of the population shares that view.

I understand why people feel threatened by Islamist terrorism and extremism, but when they adopt double standards as a consequence, it only causes disaffected Muslims to be drawn to identity politics of the kind peddled by the Owaisis, or something far worse.

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Despite being a modest man with modest achievements, Kalam captured the imagination of young India

He made it his life mission to exhort the young to greatness.
Mohan Guruswamy · Today · 05:44 pm
Despite being a modest man with modest achievements, Kalam captured the imagination of young India
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In mid-2003, I wrote a paper titled "The Economic Strangulation of Bihar" which was first published in the Economic and Political Weekly and then expanded into a booklet. I sent a copy to former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar, who was the one who introduced me to Bihar and with whom I travelled extensively in that state. Chandrashekharji sent it to the then President APJ Abdul Kalam.

Within a few days I received a call from Rashtrapati Bhavan saying the president wants to meet me. I was a few minutes late, but the president was waiting in the company of Chandrashekharji. The president wanted me to elaborate on what I had written. I told him that I had a PowerPoint presentation and would like to run the slides past him before a discussion. I get very eloquent and emotional when I speak about Bihar.

I think the PPT was adequate and the points made with telling effect. There was a brief moment of silence. Then President Kalam asked me softly, "How can India go forward leaving Bihar behind?" He kept repeating this phrase for many months from various public forums.

But the politicians were not interested and little has been done since then. There was an aftermath to this. In 2004, Lalu Prasad Yadav had the booklet translated into Hindi and a few thousand copies of it disseminated in Bihar during the elections. Whenever he was asked about his government's dismal performance, he waved this report and said there was a conspiracy against him by starving Bihar of its rightful funding and the proof was in the report. Lalu won and went on to become the Railway Minister where he performed yet another sleight of hand. And Kalam was left still asking, "How can India go forward leaving Bihar behind?"

Unlike presidential predecessors

APJ Abdul Kalam had little in common with his predecessors. He did not have the educational attainments of Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussain and Shankar Dayal Sharma who had PhDs from top- ...

Yakub Memon to hang: Supreme Court upholds death warrant, Maharashtra governor rejects mercy plea

Memon will be hanged on July 30, his 53rd birthday, in Nagpur jail.
Shoaib Daniyal · Today · 04:41 pm
Yakub Memon to hang: Supreme Court upholds death warrant, Maharashtra governor rejects mercy plea
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A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court today confirmed that Yakub Memon will hang by rejecting doubts raised over the legality of the dismissed July 21 curative petition and upholding his death warrant. Simultaneously, the Maharashtra governor also rejected Memon's mercy petition. Memon has filed another mercy petition with the President. If the President rejects it, Memon will be hanged on July 30, his 53rd birthday, in Nagpur jail.

After a sharp difference in opinion had cropped up between the two judges hearing the case on Tuesday, Yakub Memon's petition was rescheduled to a three-judge bench today. On Tuesday, one of the judges, Justice Dave, quoted verses from the Manusmriti while rejecting Memon's petition and allowed for the hanging to go ahead as planned. The other judge, Justice Joseph, however, pointed out the procedural violations in Memon's July 21 curative petition and asked for a stay on the death warrant scheduled for Thursday.

On Wednesday, the three-judge bench consisting of Justice Dipak Mishra, PC Pant and Amitav Roy, however, rejected Justice Joseph's arguments against the curative petition and held that due process of law had been followed. Memon's death order was upheld.


Yakub Memon was held guilty of being a part of the conspiracy to plant a series of bombs in 1993 in Mumbai which lead to the deaths of 257 people. His brother, Tiger Memon was also one of the main accused along with Dawood Ibrahim, both of whom are ...

Are travel philanthropists doing more harm than good?

Tourists seeking to make voluntary work part of their holidays have helped build a sizeable industry which is now open to sharp criticism.
Marina Novelli, The Conversation · Today · 04:30 pm
Are travel philanthropists doing more harm than good?
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It seems like the best of both worlds. People using their hard-earned vacation time to give something back to those worse off than themselves. At its finest, travel philanthropy is seen as a form of direct development assistance – a benign initiative flowing from the travel industry and travellers into conservation initiatives, community projects and philanthropic organisations.

As Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai commented at a conference in Tanzania in 2008:
Travel philanthropy was born out of the frustration with conventional aid and ineffective philanthropic giving, as a form of development assistance flowing from the travel industry and travellers directly into conservation initiatives, community projects and philanthropic organisations.

The notion that one can "do good" by "giving back" while engaging in leisure or travel is an extremely attractive proposition. However, the reality is that we often fail miserably to fully understand our role as individuals travelling into unknown lands.


Philanthropy has shifted from being the preserve of the rich and famous to one of ordinary citizens interested in sharing their more modest wealth. Springing from the consequent democratisation of charitable gift-giving and from the growth of international travel and tourism, travel philanthropy is embedded into an increasing worry, or we might say "guilt", about the socio-economic welfare of those living in less-privileged conditions around the world. So how can we ensure the intention to do good while travelling has a positive outcome?

In my research into the ways in which different types of travel philanthropy can facilitate mutually beneficial exchanges between hosts and guests, I have found that it is a growing niche within the broader field of philanthropy. My research in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa has highlighted that it can share much with strategic, social entrepreneurship and social justice philanthropy, but can also exhibit tonalities of traditional philanthropy, at times leading to dependency and other related sustainability issues.

The giving of time and money can be the core purpose of the tourism experience, such as in conservation holidays. It can also be an incidental consequence of travelling to locations affected by poverty or major health and environmental problems; a tourist might be inspired to sponsor a school place or decide to assist communities affected by HIV/AIDS, or species in danger of extinction.

Geography of compassion

Tourism has somehow become a vehicle to channel acts of giving between international visitors, who perceive themselves as being more fortunate than others, and those who live in more precarious conditions.

However, there are doubts about whether travel philanthropy actually translates into effective and equitable development, or whether its expansion has caused what Mary Mostafanezhad from New Zealand's University of Otago calls a "geography of compassion", with associated problems of aid dependency, a worsened poverty cycle and delivering ambiguous evidence on its sustainability and impacts.

Clearly, there is a risk that even the most well-intentioned traveller can end up doing more harm than good.

Problems exist when the goal of altruism, the pursuit of individual gain and the desire for social status become blurred motivators behind the act of giving and volunteering. The boom of so-called orphanage tourism is a disturbing example, criticised for promoting voyeurism and encouraging unscrupulous

There is a warning in the idea of "voluntourism" which since the 1980s has sent individuals with particular skills to volunteer in developing countries. It has proved so popular that it has ballooned into a commercial tourism product in its own right, now worth about $2 billion annually. Every year, armies of westerners – usually young and white – descend on countries in Africa and Asia and tour operators often end up manufacturing work for these volunteers to do.

Facebook fodder

While it allows the participant to beef up their résumés – or add a feel-good photo to their Facebook profile – it doesn't necessarily mean they're making any meaningful difference to the local community.

I recall visiting newly built schools funded by well-intentioned philanthropists who had visited remote rural villages in Namibia, Tanzania and Swaziland. They were turned into empty shells with no teachers as the local government could not afford to employ qualified teachers, or relying on the service of unqualified volunteers from the West. Worse still, I saw schools being painted every two to three weeks at the arrival of a new batch of willing volunteers.

In the view of such criticism, identifying and implementing sustainable forms of travel philanthropy can be challenging, but not impossible.

Amy Scarth, an expert in tourism and international development and director of volunteer tourism firm Big Beyond, urges people to leave the "honourable" tourists alone and focus any criticisms on careless organisations. She argues that it is no crime for the volunteers to get something out of the experience themselves, but she also calls for a focus on longer-term "human impact" that reduces the need for external support, rather than a short-term cash injection.

The University of Brighton is involved with projects such as the Peer2Peer Capacity Building in Tourism students' initiative in The Gambia which seeks to move away from traditional philanthropy and make the process more about an equal exchange of knowledge than about the givers and recipients of largesse.

Local participants get training in niche tourism product enhancement, business planning and entrepreneurship development, while those visiting benefit from local knowledge, indispensable for the completion of their final-year project work at the university. For a change, power relations are shifted, whereby those "helping" are not just those visiting, but those visited. It is a "trade-plus-aid" form of philanthropy where participants offer far more than just fees for their travel and accommodation, and follow fair trade principles and practices.

Travel philanthropy can be an unpredictable form of giving. There are clear risks of inappropriate practices and interrupted projects. What we have learnt is that if philanthropy is to benefit local communities in developing destinations, it should have a long-term plan agreed and implemented in partnership with local players. And it should provide what the community (not the donor) wants and needs. Lastly, it should aim to become sustainable, whether it focuses on an individual scholarship, aims to help a broader community through school or clinic infrastructure, or is a combination of the two.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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Indians think ISIS and climate change are more dangerous to us than China

A Pew survey found that more than 73% of Indians considered climate change the top threat.
Mayank Jain · Today · 03:45 pm
Indians think ISIS and climate change are more dangerous to us than China
Photo Credit: AFP PHOTO
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Indians may not seem to take climate change seriously. We're more concerned about getting power to our houses than saving it, we're not exactly in any mood to shut down our coal plants and our prime minister has insisted that it isn't the climate that has changed but the people. But that doesn't mean Indians aren't worried about climate change. A Pew Global Research Centre survey finds climate change is considered the biggest threat the world over, including India where nearly three-fourths of those surveyed considered it the top concern.

The survey, conducted in 40 countries took in views of more than 45,000 respondents while attempting to measure global threat perception of various issues and climate change emerged as the clear winner. Out of the 40 countries polled, 19 ranked climate change as their top concern.

The figure was particularly high in India, where 73% of the respondents ranked it as the top threat to the country, fifth highest figure across the world. This comes at a time when the National Democratic Alliance led government is being criticised for its rash decisions with regards to the environmental clearances and a dangerous liquidation of laws and regulations meant to protect India's forests, wildlife and tribal rights.

Source: Pew Research Center

While globally, developed countries such as the United States and France were found to be much less worried about climate change, their counterparts in the developing world such as Africa were found to be much more concerned about it.

Payback time

Back  home in India, voices have begun to emerge about India's efforts not being enough to combat climate change that could worsen over time with an expl ...
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