Archives  >  2019  >  November  >  4th

Delhi’s Inability To Breathe

1. What’s the story?

The National Capital Region is choking. Over the last few days, pollution levels in the capital have reached “severe-plus emergency” category – leading to urgent shutdowns of schools and colleges in Noida, and public hazard announcements by the Government. At 12 noon on Sunday, the air quality index (AQI) of Delhi was 625. For comparison, New York’s AQI on Sunday hovered around 25. (Quick recap: An air quality index is used by Government agencies to communicate to the public how polluted the air currently is or how polluted it is forecast to become. Public health risks increase as the AQI rises.)
Tell me more.

Political entities across parties are not convinced where the fault lies.

“While addressing the citizens through the AK App, the chief minister (Arvind Kejriwal) urged people not to blame the residents of the city for the situation. “Where is our fault? Between February and October, the air was clean. What has happened in the last few days? I don’t suppose the people here purchased over one lakh vehicles. The pollution is due to stubble burning from neighbouring states,” he said.

At least 32 flights have been diverted from Delhi towards Jaipur, Amritsar, and Lucknow, news agency PTI reported. Air India also said that 12 of its flights have been diverted due to bad weather conditions.

On Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged him to find a consensus on a solution for the health emergency, and admitted that stubble fires, accompanied by wind direction, were partly to blame.

A statement by Punjab CMO said Singh made it clear that he had no intent of brushing his hands off the state’s responsibility, but added that the entire country, including Delhi itself as well as the Centre, had allowed “this state of affairs to emerge and sustain, with our various acts of commission and omission”.

Punjab actually reported increased levels of farm fires the day after Diwali — the day when leftover crop is traditionally burned to make way for a new crop cycle. That smoke, plus the direction of winds, ensured that NCR found itself enveloped in a thick fog of smoke for days. 

One only has to take a cursory glance at the satellite map here to understand the truly hazardous levels of pollution across North India.

“Another measure of the toxicity of North India’s air comes from satellite imagery. When pollution figures from NASA’s and European earth observation systems are converted into colour they show a red swirl enveloping North India, in stark contrast to the rest of Asia and the world.

“Cars, trucks, industry, coal plants, trash burning, crop residue burning, construction, even traditional stoves and household fires to keep warm: air pollution is caused by a complex list of sources,” writes economist Dean Spears in his new book on North India’s air pollution crisis. The exact contribution of each source, however, is still a matter of contention because India lacks high-quality data on air pollution, he explains in this excerpt from the book.

So, what now?

Delhi Government has announced the return of the Odd-Even Scheme from Monday — in hopes to curb some amount of pollution. (Quick recap: The Odd-Even Scheme refers to the scheme where cars with number plates ending in an even number are allowed on the road on even-numbered dates, and cars with number plates ending in an odd number are allowed on the road on odd-numbered dates.) The Supreme Court has also announced a complete ban on construction and many other related industries for a few days, till the pollution levels go down. An air purifier van has been deployed by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to purify the air in and around Taj Mahal. Meanwhile, certain ministers have invited a spate of criticism by suggesting alternate ways of avoiding pollution.

“As Delhi struggles with its worst air pollution crisis of the year, two tweets by union ministers on Sunday triggered a wave of criticism online. While Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar’s post was a music recommendation, Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan suggested eating carrots as one of the ways to counter pollution-related health problems.”

Keep your eyes on this space. We’ll keep you updated. 

2. What else should I be keeping an eye on?

The Indian women’s hockey team, that’s what. The team beat US 6-5 on aggregate to confirm its place in the Tokyo Olympics next year — only the third time in history that it has had this honour. Captain Rani Rampal contributed much to this historic victory with her 48th minute strike against the Americans.

“And then the 49th minute arrived, which will remain etched in the memories of Indian fans, especially the likes of teenagers like Laremsiami, Sharmila Devi and Salima Tete, who would have never experienced anything like this before. Rani had scored the goal that earned India the ticket to Tokyo. 

Coach Sjoerd Marijne, though, may not have any nails left, as the game tested the mental strength of the best. But he isn’t just content with reaching the Olympics. 

“The preparations start tomorrow”, he replied on being asked about the party tonight.”

3. What more?

In appalling news filtering in from Tripura, refugees in relief camps have been starving to death. “Where’s the right to food?”, the Bru people have been asking. (Quick recap: The Bru people are an ethnic group living in Thailand, Laos, India, and Vietnam. They are closely linked linguistically and culturally to the Mountain Khmer but are heavily influenced by Laos.)

“Thirty-four days back, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stopped food and ration supplies for six Bru relief camps in Tripura’s North district as the ninth phase of repatriation of 32,000 migrants living here since last two decades commenced.

But a month after these meagre supplies were halted, four persons have died in the camps and many others have been hospitalised, which migrant leaders claim to be the consequence of severe starvation.

According to a relief package announced by the Centre six months after Bru refugees came here in 1997, 600 grams of rice is provided to every adult Bru person each day and 300 grams is allotted daily for minors. The package also had provisions of cash dole of Rs 5 per adult per day, Rs 2.5 for every minor in a day, a soap in one year, a pair of slippers every year and a mosquito net in every three years.

A gathering of nearly a thousand Bru migrants are holding a road blockade at Dasda-Anandabazaar area since last four days now. They are sporting placards of ‘Don’t force us by empty stomach’, ‘Please continue ration immediately’, ‘Stoppage of ration is unconstitutional’ and ‘What happened to Right to Food?’ 

Nearly 37,000 Bru people … fled Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts of Mizoram during ethnic conflict in 1997. Twenty two years later, 5,000 have returned to Mizoram in eight phases of repatriation. 32,000 people still live in six relief camps in Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of North Tripura, where they have makeshift bamboo thatched huts, no permanent power supply, no safe drinking water supply system, no health centres for their treatment and no schools.”

4. Anything else?

In a major cricketing upset, Bangladesh registered its first-ever T20 victory over India in a smog-laden Delhi on Sunday. “The strategy of working the ball around rather than playing aggressive worked wonders for the visitors.”

“There were no demons in the wicket though the odd ball was gripping the surface. None of the Indian batsmen could play a substantial knock after being put in to bat.

At the top, after skipper Rohit Sharma’s early dismissal, Shikhar Dhawan scored at a slow pace, managing just 41 off 42 balls.

Dhawan, who has been struggling to find his touch since his comeback, was top-the scorer for India but he consumed seven overs before running himself out and it affected team’s scoring rate.”

5. Is that all?

In an ironic turn of events, smugglers have been actually sawing through Donald Trump’s much-touted “impenetrable” wall on the US-Mexico border

“Smugglers have found that all you need to cut through the wall is a $100 saw.

Smuggling people and goods into the US is a profitable industry for criminal organizations, which is why they are motivated to innovate when it comes to breaching barriers. Of late, smugglers have reportedly been cutting through the wall — which is made of steel bollards that are partially filled with concrete — to make gaps large enough for people and goods to pass through.

To do so, smugglers are reportedly using a reciprocating saw that can be bought for as little as $100. The tool can cut through the wall’s steel and concrete in minutes when fitted with the appropriate blades, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have said.

After cutting the steel bollards, smugglers have taken to returning them to their original positions in hope of reusing the passage without being detected by border officials.

Agents now reportedly patrol the wall in search of defects, which are mended. However, those repaired sections of wall are prime targets for smugglers, as it is easier to cut through the welded metal than it is to make new cuts.”

6. Before you leave…

Read about how “a funeral in eastern Germany ended on an involuntary drug high when mourners were accidentally served hash cake.

“Rostock police said on Tuesday that after the burial in Wiethagen, the funeral party had gone to a restaurant for coffee and cake, as is customary in Germany. But after eating the cake, 13 people experienced nausea and dizziness and needed medical treatment.

A police investigation revealed that the restaurant employee in charge of the cakes had asked her 18-year-old daughter to bake them.

However, the mother accidentally took the wrong cake from the freezer to the funeral. She took a hash cake that the teenager had made for a different occasion.”

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