Researchers in England are hoping to help root out modern-day slavery in northern India by using detailed satellite imagery to locate brick kilns — sites that are notorious for using millions of slaves, including children.
A team of geospatial experts at the University of Nottingham use Google Maps and dozens of volunteers to identify potential sites of exploitation and report them to authorities.
“The key thing at the moment is to get those statistics right and to get the locations of the brick kilns sorted,” said Doreen Boyd, a co-researcher on the “Slavery from Space” project.
“There are certainly activists on the ground that will help us in terms of getting the statistics and the locations of these brick kilns to [government] officials.”
Anti-slavery activists said the project could be useful in identifying remote kilns or mines that would otherwise escape public or official scrutiny.
“But there are other, more pressing challenges like tackling problematic practices, including withheld wages, lack of transparent accounting … no enforcement of existing labor laws,” said Jakub Sobik, spokesman at Anti-Slavery, a London-based nongovernmental organization.
Millions of people in India are believed to be living in slavery. Despite a 1976 ban on bonded labor, the practice remains widespread at brick kilns, rice mills and brothels, among others.
The majority of victims belong to low-income families or marginalized castes like the Dalits or “untouchables.”
Nearly 70 percent of brick kiln workers in South Asia are estimated to be working in bonded and forced labor, according to a 2016 report by the International Labor Organization. About a fifth of those are underage.
The project relies on crowdsourcing, a process where volunteers sift through thousands of satellite images to identify possible locations of kilns. Each image is shown to multiple volunteers, who mark kilns independently.
The team is currently focused on an area of 2,600 square kilometers in the desert state of Rajasthan — teeming with brick-making sites — and plans to scale up the project in the coming years.
Researchers are now in talks with satellite companies to get access to more detailed images, rather than having to rely on publicly available Google Maps.
The project is one of several anti-slavery initiatives run by the university, which include research on slave labor-free supply chains and human trafficking.
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A government-run laboratory in India announced Monday that is has developed a portable kit which can determine whether a sample contains beef in 30 minutes.
The technology will be used in a number of police departments to minimize arrests and detentions of people suspected of selling or eating beef, which is banned in several states as cows are considered sacred by many members of India’s Hindu majority.
Currently, it can take days for laboratory results to determine the presence of beef in a sample, often leaving innocent people in jail awaiting results.
The new portable devices developed by the Directorate of Forensic Science Laboratories, are priced at roughly $120 each.
The announcement comes as vigilante murders of suspected beef traders has risen sharply in India.
“Not in My Name” demonstrations denouncing rising intolerance and calling on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to condemn increased attacks against Muslims and low-caste Hindus for trading or eating beef were held across India last month.
Prime Minister Modi has since condemned the violence, saying that killing people on the pretext of protecting cows is illegal. But many fear that vigilantes have been empowered by his right-wing Hindu nationalist party since its election in 2014.
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India early on Saturday introduced its biggest tax reform in the 70 years since independence from British colonial rule.
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) replaces more than a dozen federal and state levies and unifying a $2 trillion economy and 1.3 billion people into one of the world’s biggest common markets.
The measure is expected to make it easier to do business by simplifying the tax structure and ensuring greater compliance, boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic credentials before a planned re-election bid in 2019.
At a midnight ceremony in parliament’s central hall Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee together launched the new tax by pressing a button.
“With GST, the dream of ‘One India, Great India’ will come true,” Modi said.
For the first midnight ceremony in the central hall in two decades, Modi was joined by his cabinet colleagues, India’s central bank chief, a former prime minister and major company executives including Ratan Tata.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends an event a day ahead of the implementation of the nationwide Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Ahmadabad, India, June 30, 2017.
The launch, however, was boycotted by several opposition parties including the Congress Party, which first proposed the tax reform before it fell from power three years ago.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – the architect of India’s economic reforms – also gave it a miss.
It has taken 14 years for the new sales tax to come into being. But horse trading to get recalcitrant Indian states on board has left Asia’s third-largest economy with a complex tax structure.
In contrast to simpler sales taxes in other countries, India’s GST has four rates and numerous exemptions.
The official schedule of rates runs to 213 pages and has undergone repeated changes, some taking place as late as on Friday evening.
Many businesses are nervous about how the changes will unfold, with smaller ones saying they will get hit by higher tax rates.
Adding to the complexity, businesses with pan-India operations face filing over 1,000 digital returns a year.
While higher tax rates for services and non-food items are expected to fuel price pressures, compliance is feared to be a major challenge in a country where many entrepreneurs are not computer literate and rely on handwritten ledgers.
“We have jumped into a river but don’t know its depth,” said A. Subba Rao, an executive director at power firm CLP India.
‘One Tax, One Market, One Nation’
Poor implementation would deal a blow to an economy that is still recovering from Modi’s decision late last year to outlaw 86 percent of the currency in circulation.
In a bid to mitigate the impact on the farm sector, the GST rates for tractors and fertilizer were slashed on Friday to 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
HSBC estimates the reform, despite its flaws, could add 0.4 percentage points to economic growth.
An end of tax arbitrage under the GST is estimated to save companies $14 billion in reduced logistics costs and efficiency gains.
As the GST is a value added tax, firms will have an incentive to comply in order to avail credit for taxes already paid. This should widen the tax net, shoring up public finances.
“The old India was economically fragmented,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said. “The new India will create one tax, one market for one nation.”
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Indian police are reviewing reports of missing children to try to identify a girl who was found living in a forest with a group of monkeys.
The girl, believed to be 10 to 12 years old, was unable to speak, was wearing no clothes and was emaciated when she discovered in January and taken to a hospital in Bahraich, a town in Uttar Pradesh state in northern India.
She behaved like an animal, running on her arms and legs and eating food off the floor with her mouth, said D.K. Singh, chief medical superintendent of the government-run hospital.
After treatment, she has begun walking normally and eating with her hands.
“She is still not able to speak, but understands whatever you tell her and even smiles,” Singh said.
Some woodcutters spotted the girl roaming with monkeys, police officer Dinesh Tripathi told The Associated Press on Thursday. They alerted police.
“They said the girl was naked and was very comfortable in the company of monkeys. When they tried to rescue the girl, they were chased away by the monkeys,” the officer said.
She was rescued later by a police officer in the Katarniya Ghat forest range. “When he called the girl, the monkeys attacked him but he was able to rescue the girl. He sped away with her in his police car while the monkeys gave chase,” Tripathi said.
He said police are trying to determine how the girl got into the forest and who her parents are.
She will be sent to a home for juveniles until she is identified, Singh said.
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Nearly six decades after he fled his homeland, Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama had an emotional reunion on Sunday with the border guard who escorted him into India when he was 23 years old.
The Buddhist monk, now 81, met the border guard, Naren Chandra Das, who is 79, in Guwahati, the capital of the northeastern Indian Assam state, at a ceremony organized by the state government.
The Dalai Lama had trekked for two weeks across the Himalayas in 1959 disguised as a soldier and seeking asylum in India, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.
Embracing Das, who escorted him for part of his journey in India, the Tibetan spiritual leader said he was very happy to meet with him. “Looking at your face, I now realize I must be very old too,” he told him in jest.
It was the first exchange of words between the two. Das recalled he and several other guards who escorted the Dalai Lama had been given orders not to speak to him when he crossed into India. They had never met since.
Das later told reporters he was overwhelmed by the warmth with which the Dalai Lama met him.
‘I experienced freedom’
The Tibetan spiritual leader, who arrived in Guwahati en route to the famous Buddhist Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, said he had an emotional attachment to the region that revived his memories of escape from Tibet.
The Dalai Lama recalled how when they sent some men to the Indian border, they readily agreed to give them entry. “The days prior to my arrival in India were filled with tension and the only concern was safety, but I experienced freedom when I was received warmheartedly by the people and officials and a new chapter began in my life,” the Press Trust of India quoted him as saying.
The visit has raised China’s ire. Beijing, which calls the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist, has strongly protested the Indian government’s plans to host him in the sensitive border state of Arunachal Pradesh, that is controlled by New Delhi, but is also claimed by Beijing.
The Indian government has responded by saying it is a religious visit and has no political meaning. The Dalai Lama has called China’s opposition “normal.”
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