My dog is really special. I know, this is what every dog owner says. But, my Sultan is truly, truly special in a very, very special way. We understand each other. We talk to each other. I have a constant conversation going on with him all the time. We just look at each other and we know what we ought to be doing. We love similar foods. We love similar activities. For examples, both of us love chewing flowers. Both of us love rolling on the cold floor naked. I think he looks like me. I am not kidding! I read a survey that proved that dogs tend to look like their owners. We eat from the same plate. He loves eating Borolin, toothpaste… something that I used to do when I was a kid. He is a rebel. Just like me, if you call him a bad boy, you must explain why you are calling him a bad boy… or else he will keep arguing with you. He hates it when somebody points finger at him. He doesn’t take shit from anybody. It is November 2 today. This was the day, exactly a year ago, when I took him in my arms and got him home. He had swag even when he was just a month old. He would force his way into your lap and sleep, eat from the red little apple shaped plate and lift his hind legs into the air… he had spikes too! Sultan was an explosion in my life. He forced me out of depression like a hero. He is my hero. His arrival in my world was like an explosion of a million emotions that my heart had long forgotten. My Sultan is Sultan. The real Sultan. The one and the only absolute king who rules the center of my being. I love you, my baby! My life is unimaginable without you!
Last night, we were on our terrace watching the sky lit up. The peace of watching the sky bloom like a shy bride, with the person you love, is incomparable. We had finished all our crackers. Tubri or Anaar has always been my favourite… Not the conical ones but the ones in earthen balls because they spill stars. We got plenty of them. We lit the sparkling fire-fountains one by one… and marvelled at them. It was perhaps the fourth or the fifth one, when I saw the smoke that silently goes up, unnoticed while everyone is busy watching the fireworks. The dark smoke creeps up like a rebel guest trying to escape an embarrassing party.
Later, when other people of the apartment were busy lighting up their crackers with family, kids, friends… we stole a quieter corner of the terrace for ourselves and saw the beauty of the Delhi sky on Diwali. A Faanush (sky lanterns) floating, bloated with promises and wishes, colourful fireballs doing all sort of acrobatics… we tried to imagine the talent of firecracker makers who manage to crumple and stuff their beautiful vision in a roll of cardboard with just layers of something so, so grey and dark.
And as the crackers lit up the sky and burst so close to us that it lit our faces and smiles, we could see our sadness and worries, creep out of us like jailbirds.
We woke up to the news how polluted Delhi air had become. We had felt the heaviness of the trapped ambitions, insecurities, worries, jealousy, adulthood in the air last night. Who could imagine that humans could derive pleasure from such a thing? Who invented firecrackers? Chinese? Who also invented kites? But who was it exactly? One man or woman? Who knew how to satiate the animal in each one of us and yet with such incredible beauty?
I just wish such beautiful things did not come with a price so heavy.
I got a call from a fake NGO today. They asked for money for a child’s treatment. They have a Facebook Page. They have a LinkedIn account. They claim to be registered but they are not.
Since I had a lot of free time, I decided to call Delhi Police’s Cyber Crime Cell and report the matter. Several websites list +91-11-4362203 and +91-11-4392424 as Cyber crime’s number. These seven digit landline numbers are obviously not correct. So, I called 100. The officer connected my call to enquiry. The officer handling enquiry calls asked me to call 011-23239077 or 8750871243. The landline number was not working and the mobile number belonged to somebody who had nothing to do with Delhi Police.
I tried to see how the “Online Complaint Lodging System for Economic and Cyber Offences” on Delhi Police’s website works. Tried to log in, but it does not work either.
So, I called 1090, the toll-free number that Delhi Police calls “Eyes and Ears”. Remember the radio ads, where Delhi police ask people to become their eyes and ears and help them stop crime? Yes, the same number.
The officer who picked up the phone seemed to be in a hurry. As soon as he heard me speaking (a woman’s voice), he asked me to call women cell. I explained that my complaint relates to cyber crime. So, he gave me 2 more numbers: 011-23348398 and 23746782. Call to the first number remained unanswered. When I dialed the second number, another officer picked up and told me it was a wrong number and the correct number for cyber crime is 011-23364421.
So, I dialed 011-23364421. The number was busy for quite some time. I kept calling. After 15 mins, the call got connected but nobody picked up.
In the meanwhile, I sent tweets to @CPDelhi @DelhiPolice. I received a standard reply: “@sbasu_in @CPDelhi Please report the matter at your local Police Station for necessary action.”
But, if you go to the police station, duty officers say, “Yaha se nahi hoga” or “you are not the sufferer so leave it”!
So, people, Delhi Police’s ‘eye and ear’ thing is a sham. You cannot provide them information on an impending crime. Half of the officers have no clue what cyber crime means or uses of social media. Half of them want to evade responsibility. So, Delhi Police will rather wait for the crime to happen than take action to avert it.
PS: They promised a 24X7 cyber crime helpline in July. 2016. It’s still not there.
A death is what it took the police administration in Muzzaffarnagar to wake up to the security concerns of the Gupta family, whose family members have been hiding for a year fearing for their lives after giving statements against self-styled godman Asaram Bapu. Asaram has been accused of raping two women at his Surat ashram.
Akhil Gupta (35), a key witness in the rape case, was shot dead with a 12mm pistol on Sunday at 7:45 pm near Mahalakshmi Enclave on Jaansath Road when Gupta was returning home from his dairy at Meenakshi Chowk.
Gupta is the second key witness in the case who was killed by unknown assailants. But the Gupta family has no time to mourn. The safety of their daughter-in-law, Varsha (32), another witness in the case, is now their main concern. Both Akhil and Varsha had given statements against Asaram in October 2013.
Six months ago, Amrut Prajapati, another witness in the case, was shot dead in Surat.
Varsha had joined Asaram’s ashram about 10 years ago and married Akhil in 2008 with Asaram’s blessings. They have two kids – of age 4 and 1.5 years. Though Rohit Gupta, elder brother of Akhil, says that they have “full confidence in the legal process of the country,” the family is so scared that they are not even talking to the police or aiding the investigation.
After the incident, two guards have been posted near Gupta’s house for Varsha’s protection but a close friend of Akhil, Vijay Saini, said that the Gupta household feel that it was just a “half-hearted effort by the police and it was too late now.”
After Akhil and Varsha gave their statements to the Gujarat police in October 2013, the Gujarat DGP wrote a letter to the SSP of Muzaffarnagar, asking that the couple be provided security.
“Akhil had been informed of the letter but he told me that he will not go begging to the police to ask for protection. The police should give protection on its own. The letter went unheeded and the family never got any security,” said Saini. Rohit Gupta, who works as a chemical engineer in Muscat, Oman, arrived on Monday morning and has been driving the media away from the house.
Saini says that the Guptas were residents of Ubupura, but after giving the statements, Akhil shifted his residence to Geeta Enclave last year, which was on the city fringes. He used to maintain a low profile. According to shop owners near Akhil’s dairy, he was a man who spoke less and always helped others. They said that his only friend in the locality was Sanjeev Singhal, another businessman whose shop is near Akhil’s dairy. Singhal said Akhil would only speak of business affairs with him and kept his personal life to himself. Earlier, he used to work till late hours, but after his visit to Gujarat to give the statement to the police, he would leave right on time.
“He was always worried about the safety of his family. He tried to be invisible but he failed at last. Now the family is scared about Varsha, who, too, is witness. Both Akhil and Varsha were about to appear in court regarding the case soon,” says Saini.
After the overwhelming victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi assembly polls, when Arvind Kejriwal takes oath as chief minister next Sunday, will he keep coughing as he habitually does? The AAP convenor has a chronic respiratory problem, caused by the poisonous mix that goes by the name of air in India’s capital.
There are days when Delhi competes with Beijing for the dubious distinction of being the world’s most polluted megacity. A dirty blanket of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot envelops the city and hides the sun for much of the winter. The pollution routinely reaches the “alarming” level by the standards of the India Meteorological Department, though there is no system of issuing public warnings.
Nor was there any talk of air pollution during the poll campaign that occurred under this smog blanket. And this in a city where respiratory ailment numbers are many times the global average.
Reva Bisht, a 36-year-old homemaker who lives in Patparganj, East Delhi, recently shifted to a bigger house to provide her parents an extra room when they come to visit her from Almora, Uttarakhand. For the last two years, her parents have had to come to Delhi once in every two months to get their medical check-up at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
However, on each visit, Reva’s 80-year-old father complains of cough, wheezing and shortness of breath. “They are hill people. They are used to clean air. He suffers from a lot of breathing trouble when he comes to Delhi. They have been thinking of discontinuing their treatment at AIIMS because of this. My father says old age ailments in Almora are less painful than choking every day in a city like Delhi,” says Reva, blaming the polluted air of India’s capital.
“A study (by the World Health Organization) has found that Delhi is the most polluted city in the world when it comes to air quality,” adds Reva to validate her point.
She belongs to the 67% of Delhi’s voters who voted on February 7. Even when the polluted air of the city peeves her the most, she voted over water issues. “Not one political party promised clean air. The next most important issue was water and that’s what I voted for,” clarifies Reva.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), AAP and the Congress ran quite aggressive campaigns before the Delhi assembly elections, but their manifestoes did not have much to offer when it came to environmental problems in the city. Some parties merely did a touch-and-go. BJP stressed clean energy. Congress promised to increase Delhi’s green cover by 25%. The AAP manifesto was more detailed. It promised to check deforestation of the Delhi Ridge, improve public transport to reduce congestion by cars, provide incentives for low emission fuels like CNG and electric vehicles, encourage car-pooling and a crackdown on fuel adulteration to reduce pollution. But, its major plank remained 700 litres of free water to each Delhi household every day.
“Well, who cares if there is deforestation in Delhi ridge? Even if the public transport is improved, I will continue travelling by my car and my car is petrol driven. So, honestly, these promises sound good but will it benefit me?” asks Ankit Jain, a 56-year-old businessman. Jain agrees that pollution level in Delhi should be checked but does not make the link between clean air and public transport or low emission fuels.
However, Jain understands the economics of 700 litres of free water. “Free water means a lower water bill. The political party also promised a lower electricity bill. Of all the promises being made by the political parties, these results are attainable. This affects me directly and so, this is something a person can vote for,” he says.
So is average Delhi resident not concerned about environmental problems?
Anumita Roychowdhury, expert on transport and clean air at the think tank Centre for Science and Environment, says there is public concern about these problems which gets reflected in the media. Several newspapers have run campaigns to clean Delhi’s air. Another major intervention in this front has been by the judiciary through Public Interest Litigations (PILs) suits. This shows that people are concerned, says Roychowdhury.
But there are no road shows, rallies or social media campaigns to force the government to take action. One possible reason is the lack of a common platform. Plus, people may be aware of a problem and want to do something about it but they may not be aware of the solution. If a car owner is charged extra parking fees to check rising number of cars, he may not understand the connection. “People have to be made more aware of the solutions,” says Roychowdhury.
What about the water
People are forced to choose from what political parties offer. But when they speak for 700 litres of free water, is it truly a positive change or another delusion?
The AAP promise of 700 litres of free water a day to each household is for homes with water connections provided by the government. But 32% of Delhi’s 2.5 million households are without such connections, according to government estimates. The party has assured that all homes will benefit, but has not said how. Till it finds a way, the poorest will be paying the most for water, since they are the ones without the connections. About 25% of the city area remains uncovered by piped water supply. According to a recent survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), 16% of Delhi’s urban households and 30% of its rural ones don’t get sufficient drinking water throughout the year.
India’s Ministry of Urban Development has set a benchmark of providing 135 litres per capita per day (LPCD) of water. The AAP has promised 140 LPCD. Taking leakage into account, this will mean having to supply 175 LPCD.
“Supplying 175 LPCD is too much and against global practice. This can easily be reduced to 110 LPCD with conservation efforts like using mug and bucket in place of flush or shower,” says Manoj Mishra, convener of the conservation NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan. He also suggests that instead of providing free water, government should have tariffs and charge as low as 50 paise (less than a cent) per litre for the first 700-litre bracket.
Mishra also points out that none of the manifestoes promised anything about Yamuna, the lifeline of Delhi that has been reduced to a drain due to high pollution and encroachment of the river bed.
He says that the 22 km stretch of Yamuna in Delhi is the most threatened stretch of any river in the country, even after Rs 1,500 crore (US$241 million) has been spent since 1994 in an effort to clean it. The National Green Tribunal recently set a fresh roadmap with a 2017 deadline for its rejuvenation.
R.K. Pachauri, head of The Energy and Resources Institute, recently said that the political class would deliver what the voters demanded of them. “We (the people of Delhi) really don’t have that sense of pride, belonging and connection with the city…Why is it that we don’t articulate the importance of such issues so that the political parties and their candidates can be held accountable for what they are going to do in this particular area? I would expect that the public would be asking questions of the candidates on what they are going to do to clean up Delhi’s air.”
This has not happened during the campaign. It remains to be seen if the new government will do anything about it.
Over 100 corpses that surfaced three days ago in river Ganga near Periyar Ghat in Unnao could be the unclaimed bodies that state police dumped in the river after autopsy.
More than 100 dead bodies, in various stages of decomposition, were seen floating in the river in Unnao and 10 bodies in river Betwa in Jhansi in the three two days. While the local administration of Unnao and Jhansi are claiming that the bodies could be of people who, according to Hindu tenets, are either buried along the river banks instead of being cremated or immersed in the river, environmentalists and locals claim that the corpses could very well be the unidentified bodies that police used to dispose off by throwing them into the river.
According to sources, the corpses, tied in white cloth, that were retrieved from the river had clothes on, for example, shirt and trousers or saree. In case of religious cremation, naked body of the deceased is covered in white cloth before immersing it into the river.
According to Rajan Kashyap, a boatman near Sisamau nalla near Bhaironghat in Kanpur, police often dumps as many as 60-70 unclaimed bodies at a time from Shuklaganj bridge or Jajmau bridge. Kashyap and his fellow boatmen have often seen police vehicle on the bridges dropping bodies in the middle of the night into the river. Vijay Kumar, a local fisherman, near Parmat ghat, Kanpur, also confirmed that police dumps unclaimed bodies from not only the two bridges but also from Ganga barrage in Kanpur. Because of the water current, the bodies could have piled up near Unnao.
Rakesh Jaiswal, chairman of Kanpur-based non-profit Eco-Friends, says that way back in 1997, his team had done a Clean Ganga Campaign and in a span of two days, they had fished out about 180 bodies from the 10km stretch of Ganga in Kanpur. On doing to a survey to ascertain reasons for so many bodies floating in the river, they found that one of the major reasons was police officials dumping unclaimed bodies in the river after autopsy.
The non-profit filed a public interest litigation in Allahabad High Court in 1997 which led to several directions issued by the court including complete ban on the practice of dumping bodies in Ganga by police, formation of high level committee to check on the issue of dumping bodies in the river, augmentation of river police force and the court also made the SP and the SSP responsible for fishing out bodies from the Ganga and cremating them.
“However, due to lack of awareness police in several other regions such as Kannauj and Farukhabad and other cities downstream continue to violate the court orders. Even if they had not dumped the bodies, it was the duty of the police in various places the river flows through to retrieve the body and cremate them,” he said.
In 1998, the court ordered all state-sponsored crematoria to standardaize the cost of cremation to Rs 500 per dead body to cover operating costs at the crematoria and allow any unclaimed bodies to be cremated at no charge.
Since, several cities along the bank of Ganga in Uttar Pradesh do not have electric crematorium and wood cremation is expensive, the amount earmarked for each unclaimed body (for wood cremation), according to a state government directive dated May 8, 2013, was increased from Rs 1500 to Rs 2700. The amount included a body bag, cremation cloth, transportation of the body to crematorium etc, says Deputy SP, Allahabad, Asutosh Mishra.
According to sources, several police officers dump bodies into Ganga to save themselves of the hassles of proper cremation and also to pocket the amount earmarked for the bodies. Sources also said that last evening, district administration made residents of Periyar village, near the bodies had piled up due to low water level, a declaration which stated that they have a practice of immersing bodies into the river.
On being asked about this whether the allegation that police dumps bodies into the river was true, Additional SP (Unnao), Ram Krishna Yadav disconnected the phone and calls to his phone later remained unanswered.
Commanding Officer (Safipur), RK Singh, said that he was busy in a political meeting.
The controversial Liaquat Shah case is turning out to be a major embarrassment for the Delhi police, who are deploying all possible tactics and making u-turns to protect tainted officials placed in its Special Cell.
In a major setback, Delhi police withdrew an application filed against NIA’s chargesheet in the Liaquat Shah case within hours after filing it with the special court of NIA on February 3.
According to well-placed sources, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had summoned Delhi police chief BS Bassi and persuaded him to withdraw the application to avoid any sort of confrontation between the two investigating agencies. NIA, in its chargesheet, has accused Special Cell officials of falsely implicating Liaquat Shah in a terror case.
Earlier, Bassi himself had given ‘written’ clearance for filing the application on behalf of the Special Cell officials with the NIA court. The application says that the Delhi police are the original complainant in the Shah case.
The Delhi police had given several evidences against accused Shah, but NIA drew erroneous conclusion by not considering those evidences. Thus the Delhi police, the application contests, must be given an opportunity to defend its officials before the court takes any decision on NIA chargesheet filed against them.
Within hours, this application was reportedly withdrawn and instead the Delhi police wrote in its withdrawal application that it will file an application/affidavit at an appropriate time.
When asked about the developments, Bassi said, “Please don’t go by rumours. I will talk to you after the police-week celebrations end in about ten days.” Bassi had ardently supported his Special Cell team operation.
NSA could not be contacted for confirmation.
NIA counsel Shilpa Singh, however, confirmed that the Delhi police had filed an application in the court and then withdrew it. “They had stated that they don’t want to press the application. And we (NIA) were not provided with the copy of the application,” Singh told dna.
NIA chargesheet has blamed Delhi police Special Cell officials for entire faux pas. The Delhi police at the time of arrest of Shah at Indo-Nepal border had given credit to DCP Sanjeev Yadav, ACP Manishi Chandra, Inspector Sanjay Dutt and Inspector Rahul Kumar and a few constables for the operation. NIA sources say all the senior officials of Special Cell will be named after they arrest absconding police informer Sabir Khan Pathan, who had allegedly planted weapons and explosives in Haji Arafat Guest House near Delhi’s Jama Masjid purportedly to show that Liaquat Shah along with his helping hands had planned a terror attack in the Capital.
Defending his officials and denying that the operation was a botch-up, Special Commissioner (Special Cell) S N Shrivastava had then told media: “We had human intelligence that he (Liaquat Shah) was coming along with others to cause terror in the city. He has confessed to plans and this resulted in the recovery of weapons. I am confident about the intelligence, otherwise I would not have gone ahead.’’
The story, however, doesn’t end at withdrawal of the application from NIA court. In a desperate attempt to defend its officials, the Delhi police, on behalf of Bassi, wrote to Delhi Government (Home) on February 10, requesting appointment of four senior lawyers, namely, former additional solicitor general Sidharth Luthra, Dayan Krishnan, Rajiv Mohan and Sanjeev Singh to defend Delhi police in this case.
The letter (F/05/MISC/15), marked ‘Most Urgent’, states that these lawyers may be appointed as special counsels to represent Special Cell, Delhi police in the matter of chargesheet filed by NIA in the Special Court. Not only this. The letter also recommends that these lawyers should be engaged till the matter ends in subsequent courts.
Only the Lt Governor is authorised to clear this request. But the Home department of Delhi Government shot back a letter to the Delhi Police Commissioner, saying the Union home ministry has sought disciplinary action against the officials whom Bassi wants to appoint as lawyers.
“Home ministry wrote to us seeking disciplinary action against inspector and below ranking officials, who had investigated Shah’s case. When Delhi police letter concerning appointment of lawyers came, we informed the Delhi police commissioner about the Union home minister’s directions. We have asked the commissioner to give it in writing, if he still insists,” a senior Delhi government official, privy to the developments, told dna.
Besides, Home ministry has separately moved files to take action against senior Delhi police officials, who had investigated the case. Special Cell arrested Shah from Sanauli village at Indo-Nepal border in March 2013, claiming he was planning to carry out terror strikes in the capital on the eve of Holi. The sleuths claimed he wanted to meet with his accomplices at a guest house in old Delhi with AK-56 rifles and explosives.
It all started with Omar
Omar Abdullah, then J&K chief minister triggered a controversy saying Shah was returning along with his third wife and daughter from Muzaffarabad, under the rehabilitation policy of the state government for former militants. The Home ministry handed over the investigations to NIA and subsequently Shah was released from Tihar jail on bail in July 2013.
Sabir a police informer?
NIA in its recent chargesheet stated that DNA test confirmed that Sabir Khan Pathan was police informer who went missing immediately after Shah’s arrest. NIA states that he spoke to special cell officers many times when he planted explosives in the guest house. Even when the guest house was being raided by the Special Cell, with Shah in custody, Pathan received a call from one of the officers.
The air that residents of New Delhi breathe cuts three years off their life spans, says a recent study by Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago.
The study, involving environmental economists from Harvard and Yale universities as well, says, “Bringing all regions of the country into compliance with air quality norms would increase the life expectancy of the millions of people living in these areas by 3.2 years on average or a total of about 2.1 billion life years.”
The study quotes data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which reveals that 77% of Indian cities and towns exceeded national air quality standards for dangerous airborne particles known as PM10 in 2010.
Estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggest that 13 of the 20 cities in the world with the worst fine particulate (PM2.5) air pollution are in India, including New Delhi, the worst-ranked city. India has the world’s highest rate of death caused by chronic respiratory diseases.
Public apathy, government myopia, climate fallout
Any corrective measure comes up against public apathy, especially the ambition of every resident to buy ever-larger cars that use diesel. Any move to equate the costs of diesel and petrol faces opposition from farmers who use diesel irrigation pumps – a fact used to great effect by car manufacturing lobbies.
As for the government, it continues to advocate the use of coal as the mainstay of power generation in India. The country has increased its coal generation capacity by 73% in the last five years, and current plans are to add another 110 GW of coal power by 2022. Supporters of this policy say it is the only way out, as electricity generated by burning coal is cheaper than by using sunlight or wind. But this does not take into account the cost that individual Indians bear to treat respiratory diseases caused by coal burning. Nor does it take into account the lost productivity as millions of people are unable to go to work due to such diseases. Nor does it take into account the destruction caused by coal mining.
Coal burning is the biggest contributor to India’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The country is already the world’s third largest emitter of GHGs, which are causing climate change. In this year when an international deal to combat climate change is being negotiated, India is under pressure from the global community to rein in its emissions. But the government is refusing to take any step on the coal burning issue, on the plea that around 300 million Indians who are outside the power grid must get electricity. While that need is irrefutable, using coal power for the purpose is estimated to take global GHG emissions on a steep upward curve, while affecting the health of millions of Indians.
Health affected already
The study says that broad areas of the country, particularly in north India, are well out of compliance with the standard. This non-compliance holds in rural as well as urban areas. Fine particles can travel long distances from where they are originally emitted, imposing health costs on even those people who live far from major sources of pollution.
Rural India also directly faces particulate air pollution from local sources, such as biomass combustion. The study states that over half the population – 660 million people – live in regions that do not meet national air quality standards (40 μg/m3 micrograms per cubic metre) and over 20% of the population live in regions with air pollution levels at more than twice this standard. Nearly every Indian (99.5% of the population) lives in an area with PM2.5 pollution above WHO’s guidelines.
The study finds that Indian cities, with an average PM2.5 concentration of 46.0 μg/m3, are far more polluted than those in Europe (21.7 μg/m3) or the US (9.6 μg/m3), and polluted even in comparison to China, where cities average 40.4 μg/m3. A number of Indian cities have very high fine particulate levels – above 75 μg/m3.
Moreover, Indian national air quality standards are far less stringent than in other countries. “At the current prescription of 40 μg/m3 for annual PM2.5, the Indian standard is four times the WHO guideline and is the least stringent of the four regions,” states the study.
“The loss of more than two billion life years is a substantial price to pay for air pollution. And yet this may still be an underestimate of the costs of air pollution, because we do not account for the impact of other air pollutants, the impacts of particulates on morbidity or labour productivity, as well as preventive health or avoidance costs borne by Indian households,” the study states.
Greenstone says that past studies have shown that environmental improvements in developing countries can lead to longer and healthier lives, which are critical ingredients for economic growth.
In a study released in 2013, Greenstone found that people who live in northern China are set to lose a total of 2.5 billion years of life expectancy compared to those living in the south, due to the extensive use of coal in power boilers for heating north of the Huai River.
“The Government of India has a tremendous opportunity to improve the health of its citizens by reducing air pollution,” Greenstone said. “And we now know that this is feasible because environmental regulations have been shown to work in India when the public demands them. We can also draw from these results that no matter what climate deals are worked out internationally, India seems unlikely to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions unless its people consider climate change an urgent issue and strongly call for action.”
US embassy monitors air
On February 18, the US launched a joint air quality programme at select diplomatic missions, including New Delhi. Since real-time air quality data are unavailable in many areas, the State Department and EPA’s collaboration will provide data from these missions to EPA’s AirNow platform. “It also will enhance the availability of ambient air quality data and expertise around the world, offering a greater opportunity for the United States to create partnerships on air quality with other nations,” says the Department of State.
During US President Obama’s visit to India in January, one of the agreements reached was to implement EPA’s AIR Now-International programme and megacities partnerships, focused on disseminating information to help urban dwellers to reduce their exposure to harmful levels of air pollution, and enable urban policy planners to implement corrective strategies to improve air quality. However, any progress in the initiative is yet to be seen.
Agenda to fight air pollution
Recently the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) presented an agenda for action to fight air pollution in India’s capital. The agenda was aimed at the Aam Aadmi Party, which was elected to power in Delhi a few weeks ago.
In February 2015, CSE monitored air pollution levels in buses, autos, the metro, and while walking – mainly to assess the level of pollution that average citizens are exposed to on a daily basis while travelling in the city. The CSE analysis showed that SPM exposure in all transport modes is very high. The average levels recorded are 2-4 times higher than the background levels reported by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
The CSE study showed pollution levels increase when traffic is stationary at junctions and in traffic jams. In a traffic jam on a stretch close to Paharganj in central Delhi, levels peaked at 1,170 μg/m3.
CSE asked Delhi’s new Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to implement pollution emergency measures, improve vehicle emissions standards , tax diesel use and improve public transport, especially last mile connectivity.
Going to buy fish today? If you are living in India’s West Bengal state, where fish is a daily staple for millions of people whether rich or poor, beware! More than one study has pointed to the alarming levels of mercury in fish, way above permissible limits and posing a grave danger to health.
And no matter how much you crave them, avoid katla (Catla catla), bhetki (Lates calcarifer), chital (Chitala chitala), pabda (Ompok pabda) and tangra (Mystus aor) fish, whether they are steamed or fried, dry or in a curry. In the state capital Kolkata’s popular Gariahat market, for instance, samples of katla, chital and pabda fish showed that mercury concentration was twice as high as prescribed standards.
This has been known for years, as have the dangers of mercury exposure, such as neurological disorders and impaired IQ levels. But there has been little action.
Six years ago, in 2009, two NGOs, Toxics Link (New Delhi) and Disha (Kolkata), studied 60 samples of fish and various varieties of crabs from markets across Kolkata and 204 samples from the Ganga at Farakka, Damodar and Jharkali in the state as well as from water bodies of the East Kolkata Wetlands. The results were alarming. The percentage of methyl mercury in the samples was found to be 70-500% higher than the limit set by the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) expert committee on food additives and the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and Rules, 1954.
The joint FAO-WHO committee recommended that the methyl mercury Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) be taken as the standard: 1.6 μg/kg (microgram per kilogram) of body weight of an individual per week or 0.228571 μg/kg of body weight/day.
Applying the WHO-FAO criterion, among children of 25 kg, the study found that for 105 samples, PTWI exceeded by more than 100% and for 54 samples by over 200%. Among adults of 60 kg, PTWI exceeded in 155 samples – for 80 samples, by over 100% and for 37 samples by over 200%.
Which meant that a child weighing 20 kg who ate fish bought in Gariahat market consumed 199.38% more methyl mercury than the tolerance level while an adult weighing 60 kg consumed 149.48% more methyl mercury than the tolerance level.
In 2012, another study based on samples collected from the Ganga in West Bengal by M. Pal, S. Ghosh, M. Mukhopadhyay and M. Ghosh of the University College of Science & Technology, University of Calcutta, found a strong positive correlation between mercury levels in muscle with food habits and fish length (age). Contamination in katla, mottled eel (Anguilla bengalensis bengalensis), chital, rita (Rita rita) and pabda was above the 0.25 μg Hg/g of wet weight, the limit set by the PFA for the maximum level for consumption of fish exposed to methyl mercury. In bhetki and tangra, the levels were threatening.
The 2009 study by Toxics Link and Disha was given to the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB). Six years on, no local level remediation programme has been initiated. In 2010, as a response to the study, Biswajit Mukherjee, senior law officer, WBPCB, had said the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had set 2012 as deadline for two factories – Durgapur Chemicals and Hindustan Heavy Chemicals – to replace mercury or treat the chemical waste they release. The official has changed but the answer remains the same. The factories continue to spew poison into the water. Recently, when thethirdpole.net asked WBPCB chairman Kalyan Rudra about any initiative by the board to check mercury contamination in the state, he said he would check previous reports and find out.
A copy of the study was also sent to the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP). In 2013, more than 140 nations agreed to a treaty to limit mercury emissions and releases. The Minamata Convention— named after Minamata city that witnessed one of the worst incidents of industrial poisoning by mercury, which killed hundreds and disabled thousands of people in the 1950s and 60s —required its signatory nations to phase out the use of mercury in certain types of batteries, fluorescent lamps, and soaps and cosmetics by 2020. India signed the treaty in 2014, a year after the adoption of the Convention.
Hazards of mercury
Fish absorb methyl mercury from water as it passes over the gills and they feed on aquatic organisms. Cooking does not reduce the methyl mercury content of the fish.
“Mercury can cause manic depressive tendencies and irritation, among other ailments. It affects brain, nervous system and most importantly the womb. Babies with less body weight are most vulnerable to its ill effects and can be born with physical and mental disorder,” said Shantanu Chakraborty of Disha who conducted the study with Toxic Link’s Abhay Kumar. The FDA recommends that women who are pregnant, or may become pregnant, should avoid fish that may contain unsafe levels of methyl mercury.
The problem gets worse since many local doctors do not know that environmental pollutants can cause such diseases. “If there is an ailment because of mercury, doctors would give symptomatic treatment to the patient. Presence of mercury in body can be detected by conducting hair or blood test. But I have rarely come across anybody who has undergone such a test. But, we have thousands of babies born with mental disorder and people with neurological problem nowadays,” said Chakraborty.
Mercury can also bring down IQ-level in children. “The government of India has no policy for diagnostic and therapy of ailments caused by environmental pollution. We had conducted the study only in West Bengal, but the contamination may be much higher in other states if studied,” he said.
Why West Bengal
As part of the Ganga delta, West Bengal gets not only the contaminants from its own factories, but also from those upstream. Uttar Pradesh has 687 factories categorized as grossly polluting industries (GPI) by the CPCB. Mostly tanneries, sugar mills, paper mills and chemical industries, they spew 270 mld (million litres per day) of untreated wastewater into the Ganga. Water pollution in the states between Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal – Bihar and Jharkhand – is just as bad.
Rudra says fresh water dilutes the contaminants regularly. “It is unlikely that mercury has reached critical level because in West Bengal influx of sea tide dilutes the contamination in the rivers in the southern part of the state.” The studies show otherwise.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar launched India’s first national air quality index this week to monitor pollution levels in a country which has the world’s most toxic air.
The air quality index from the Central Pollution Control Board explains in layman’s terms the effect that breathing the air in 10 cities could have on a person’s health.
The central and state pollution control boards already monitor air quality in 240 cities across the country, but the data generated is voluminous and difficult for ordinary people to understand.
“It was important that information on air quality is put up in public domain in simple linguistic terms that is easily understood by a common person,” said Javadekar.
The index translates detailed information on eight different pollutants into a colour-coded warning system (including PM2.5 the smallest most dangerous particulate matter). Previously systems only recorded three pollutants.
The index, overseen by the environment ministry, calculates the average pollution for a day, which the government says is a better way to judge air quality.
Environmentalists have welcomed the new air quality index, however there are concerns about the accuracy of data.
It is vital to ensure monitoring stations produce good quality data and are properly maintained, warned Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of transport and air quality at the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
So far, India’s collection of pollution data has been haphazard and compares poorly with China.
Days after launching, the system ran into technical problems. As of April 10, the AQI website readings from three of the five stations in Delhi showed “Insufficient Data for computing AQI”. And in some cases, data was missing for periods of time. Stations also only showed recordings for five out of the eight pollutants.
Functioning stations in Delhi this week showed an average air quality of “moderate” which means “breathing discomfort” to people with asthma as well as those with diseases of the heart and lungs. But in some places the levels of PM2.5 hit 12 times the World Health Organisation’s safe limit.
Elsewhere in India, stations in Chennai showed alarming levels of PM2.5 and the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganga River recorded an AQI as high as 252 or “poor” , which means “breathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure” and is far higher even than pollution levels in Delhi.
Action on smog needed
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has called on the government to take immediate action to reduce smog.
India has joined the global league of countries like the US, China, Mexico, France and Hong Kong that have implemented smog alert systems. However, other countries also implement emergency measures to bring down the peak pollution levels, CSE has pointed out.
Air quality warning systems in Beijing have helped build public awareness about the health impacts and put pressure on the government to take action (though there are still big concerns about data rigging).
Beijing has also come up with a pollution contingency plan. On red alert days, schools are closed, car-use is restricted, polluting factories have to cut emissions and barbecues and fireworks are banned. US and European cities have similar systems.
Greenpeace India has also voiced concerns about the lack of action to curb existing pollution levels in Delhi and to safeguard the health of the public. A recent Greenpeace survey revealed school children are consistently exposed to unacceptable levels of pollution.
“Delhi is facing a public health emergency and an Air Quality Index needs to be matched with actionable plans on how to bring the pollution levels down, at the very least with a health advisory,” said Aishwarya Madineni a Greenpeace campaigner.
“This [AQI] is merely band aid on a wound that needs stitches, the bleeding is going to continue,” she said.
Fresh ban on old diesel cars
Delhi has taken recently taken measures to control pollution from vehicles, a major culprit behind the city’s toxic air. Within days of a National Green Tribunal (NGT) ruling banning diesel-run vehicles over 10 years old in Delhi and the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the Delhi police had rounded up 100 vehicles.
Chairperson of the green tribunal, Justice Swatanter Kumar, noted that diesel is prime source of air pollution in Delhi and the situation has become so alarming that people are being advised to leave Delhi due to adverse effects on health.
Last November, the Tribunal passed a ruling to ban all vehicles over 15 years old. However, the ban was not implemented by the states.
Delhi authorities need to enforce tighter emissions standards for vehicles and fuel taxes, argued Vivek Chhattopadhyay from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). About 45% of cars in Delhi are diesel run and pollution from one diesel car is equal to about seven petrol cars, he said.
The new order is expected to cover around 1.19 million private diesel cars and about 35,000 commercial vehicles (these were registered before Delhi made clean natural gas compulsory for commercial vehicles). The ban will also restrict the entry of about 10,000 cars registered in Noida and Ghaziabad into Delhi.
Vishnu Mathur, director general of Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), argued the ban should been implemented nationwide since old vehicles will simply be resold and continue to pollute elsewhere.
Other countries have taken strong steps to phase out old vehicles. In 2014, about 7 million vehicles were banned from the road in China because they failed to meet emissions standards, though cities are still struggling to curb car fumes.