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Questioning State’s Commitment to Secularism: Tamil Nadu Govt’s Transference of Land to Muslim Associations

Tamil Nadu government's decision to transfer land free of cost to Muslim Associations questions the State's commitment to the principle of secularism as enshrined in the constitution

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Tamil Nadu, Mar 27, 2017: In September 1986, the Tamil Nadu State Government issued a Government Order transferring the public pond at Ullagaram village in Saidapet taluk free of cost on the condition that the mosque must be constructed within a period of two years, failing which the land would be taken back, as reported by The Hindu.

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This Government order caused the Federation of Chennai Suburban (South) Welfare Association to file a petition against the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to transfer, free of cost, 27 acres of “government pond” to Muslim associations for constructing a mosque rose the question. This 9-year old petition questions whether it is against the idea of secularism enshrined in the Indian Constitution, for the State to allot government land, one containing a water body, to a particular religious community to construct a place of worship.

The residents had challenged the government order on the ground that a State government cannot show favor to any religion or religious sect or denomination.

The land in question was currently under the possession of the local municipality, which was using it for a public purpose.

The residents moved to the Supreme Court, after failing before the Madras High Court, contending that the provisional transferring of the government pond in favor of the Muslim association for constructing a mosque violated the principle of secularism.

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A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar asked Tamil Nadu represented by advocate B. Balaji, after a detailed hearing, ordered the State to respond in a detailed affidavit within four weeks.

Noting that the 1986 order was provisional in nature and no final allocation has been made so far, the court had said it would examine the controversy behind the State government’s policy.

Prepared by Upama Bhattacharya. Twitter @Upama_myself

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Farms In The USA Affected Due To Rise In Ocean And Salinity Levels

Farming the land may not be the best option. Another choice is to give in to nature and turn fields into wetlands.

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Dr. Jessica Ball of USGS, a geologist and volcanologist who does research at the US Geological Survey, is updating Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists on the ground during a helicopter overflight of the ocean entry of the fissure 8 lava flow where a laze (lava haze) plume is visible over the active parts of the flow margin near Kapoho, Hawaii, June 8, 2018. VOA

The fields grow shoulder-high with weeds out the window of Bob Fitzgerald’s Ford pickup. The drive through Fitzgerald’s neighborhood in Princess Anne, Maryland, is a tour of dying forests and abandoned cropland.

“A few years ago, all of this was a good farm,” he said. “And it’s gone, as a farm.”

The land along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay has been sinking for centuries. But climate change is adding a second whammy. As the sea level rises, salt water is seeping into the water table, deeper and deeper inland. The ground is becoming too salty for crops to grow.

Maryland’s Eastern Shore is home to some of the oldest farms in America. Fitzgerald’s dates back to 1666. He’s seen big changes in his lifetime.

“You just can’t believe how it’s taking things over in the last 15 or 20 years,” Fitzgerald said. “I can show you land around here that people raised tomatoes on when I was a little boy. And now it’s gone.”

Around the world, scientists warn that coastal farms are under threat from rising seas and encroaching salt water. A World Bank report estimates rice yields in coastal areas of Bangladesh may fall by more than 15 percent by 2050. Another report found that hundreds of millions of people will likely be displaced by rising waters.

Kate Tully aims to help keep Eastern Shore farmers in business as the seas rise.

The University of Maryland agroecologist had seen the “ghost forests” of dying pine trees killed by the increasingly salty soil. When she started looking at maps, she said, “I realized that a lot of the land that was upslope wasn’t just forests, it was farms. And so I started poking around and talking to people and asking if this was an issue on farms.”

It was. But “a lot of people hadn’t really been talking about it” outside their own communities, she said.

With a new $1.1 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tully and her colleagues are aiming to give farmers options.

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Farmer Joe Layton Jr., of Vienna, stands in a field of recently planted soybean crop Wednesday, June 11, 2003. In front soybeans begin to sprout up but because of the wet weather, many seeds rotted in the soil and did not sprout. VOA

Test plots scattered around the Eastern Shore are trying out different crops.

“One thing that I’m very pleasantly surprised about is how well the sorghum does,” Tully said. The grain crop may be a good choice to feed the roughly 600 million chickens raised in the region each year. It’s a hardy crop that can handle salt, drought and heavy rains.

Tully’s group is also testing barley to supply the growing microbrew industry; the oilseed canola; switchgrass, a possible biofuel crop; and salt-tolerant soybeans.

Just being able to grow a crop isn’t enough, though. It also has to be profitable. An economist on the team will be running the numbers.

“I never want to recommend something that would make farmers go out of business,” Tully said.

But farming the land may not be the best option. Another choice is to give in to nature and turn fields into wetlands.

Farms in countryside
Farm in countryside, Pixabay

Wetlands attract waterfowl. Waterfowl attract hunters.

“There’s money in duck hunting,” Tully said. Hunting clubs will pay farmers for exclusive access to wetlands on their property. “It can be a lucrative pathway.”

Also Read:  Whale Art To Raise Awareness About Ocean Pollution

Tully and her colleagues are just getting started. It will be a few years before they have recommendations for what will sustain communities that have been farming this land for centuries.

“There’s a lot of history there. And as these seas rise, some of that history is going underwater,” Tully said. “And I find that to be a pretty moving, pretty motivating reason to try to figure out what we can do for these farmers.” (VOA)