Varanasi’s temple corridor destroys old neighborhood

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Some 300 homes have been earmarked for demolition. (AFP)
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India’s ancient city of Varanasi is clearing the way for a grand temple corridor by razing hundreds of houses, wiping away its oldest neighborhood and irking locals. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2019
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Varanasi’s temple corridor destroys old neighborhood

  • Residents have been offered compensation and relocation options but said that some residents feel it is not adequate reimbursement
  • The $85,000 demolition project has also unearthed several ancient temples, statues, and historic buildings

NEW DELHI: India’s ancient city of Varanasi is clearing the way for a grand temple corridor by razing hundreds of houses, wiping away its oldest neighborhood and upsetting locals.
The aim is to improve accessibility for pilgrims by providing a direct pathway from the Ganges river to the 18th-century shrine of Lord Shiva, the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
For centuries Hindus have visited Varanasi to cremate their dead but it has often required navigating crowded alleyways to reach the city’s ghats, or riverside steps, where the caretakers of the cremation grounds pass flaming torches to the bereaved families to ignite wooden pyres dotting the banks.
Some 300 homes have been earmarked for demolition but locals, whose families have lived in the area for generations, say some of the properties being destroyed are as old as the temple itself.
Local resident Ajay Kapoor hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose constituency is Varanasi.
“Why should he care? By demolishing 300 houses, he will lose not even 10,000 votes,” Kapoor told the Hindu daily.
“But Banaras (Varanasi) is defined by its galis (narrow lanes), and by creating this corridor, he is robbing Banaras of its very identity.”
The report added that residents have been offered compensation and relocation options but said that some residents feel it is not adequate reimbursement for losing homes in an area of prime real estate.
The $85,000 demolition project has also unearthed several ancient temples, statues, and historic buildings, prompting debate on how best to preserve these whilst constructing the corridor.


Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

Updated 23 March 2019
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Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

  • Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products
  • Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil

JAKARTA: Biofuel producers in Indonesia called on the Indonesian government and EU to find a “win-win solution” to a dispute over legislation that will phase out palm oil manufacturing in the region, risking jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.
Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products, including passengers jets, train coaches, and motor vehicles.
“We want a win-win solution. Retaliation is not a favorable option but, eventually, what else can we do? It could become necessary if we keep being intimidated,” said Master Parulian Tumanggor, chairman of the Indonesia’s Biodiesel Producers Association.
“If they stop biofuel, millions (of workers and farmers) will become unemployed. We don’t want that,” he added.
Pandjaitan said that with Indonesia’s aviation industry expected to expand threefold by 2034, the country will require about 2,500 aircraft in the next two decades — a big market for European companies.
Aircraft demand from Indonesia is worth more than $40 billion and it will create millions of jobs.
“It’s a matter of survival. If they treat us like this, we will retaliate strongly. We are not a poor country, we are a developing country and we have a big potential,” Pandjaitan said in a briefing with the EU ambassador to Indonesia, Vincent Guerend, and European investors.
Darmin Nasution, chief economic minister, said Indonesia is considering a challenge to the EU legislation via the World Trade Organization, and will seek support from the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi spoke with her Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, on the sidelines of Organization of Islamic Cooperation emergency meeting in Istanbul on Friday.
“We agreed to work together to fight against discrimination of palm oil in the EU,” she said via Twitter.
Nasution said palm oil contributed $17.89 billion to Indonesia’s economy in 2018 and almost 20 million workers depended on the plantations for their livelihood.
On March 13 the European Commission adopted new rules on biofuels based on sustainability criteria with a two-month scrutiny period. The EU said “best available scientific data” show palm oil plantations are a major cause of deforestation and climate change.
Palm oil plantations in Indonesia have resulted in massive deforestation on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Guerend acknowledged the importance of palm oil to Indonesia in terms of jobs, but said that there was some flexibility in the regulation.
“It will be further modified in a few years’ time. It’s not cast in stone forever as the industry is dynamic, expanding, and reforming, and we take that into account,” he said.
“Our invitation for everyone is to work on sustainability because it’s in everybody’s interest,” he added.