New Delhi declares emergency as toxic smog thickens by the hour

Residents walk along a road amid heavy smog in New Delhi. The Indian capital declared a pollution emergency and banned the entry of trucks and construction activity. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2017
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New Delhi declares emergency as toxic smog thickens by the hour

NEW DELHI: The Indian capital declared a pollution emergency and banned the entry of trucks and construction activity as a toxic smog hung over the city for a third day on Thursday and air quality worsened by the hour.
Illegal crop burning in the farm states surrounding New Delhi, vehicle exhaust emissions in a city with limited public transport and swirling construction dust have caused the crisis, which arises every year.
The problem has been compounded this year by still conditions, the weather office said.
A US embassy measure of tiny particulate matter PM 2.5 showed a reading of 608 at 10 am when the safe limit is 50.
An hour before it was 591.
PM 2.5 is particulate matter about 30 times finer than a human hair. The particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and respiratory diseases.
Residents complained of headaches, coughs and smarting eyes. Many stayed home and restaurants in some of the city’s most crowded parts were deserted.
“I’d like to assure people that the central government shall do everything possible to bring about improvement in air quality in Delhi and the Nation Capital Region,” federal environment minister Harsh Vardhan said as authorities faced criticism for failing to take steps to fight a problem that erupts every year.
The haze covered India Gate, a war memorial in the center of the city where Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were due to pay respects in a two-day trip ending on Thursday.
Schools have been shut for the week and late on Wednesday the city administration announced a set of measures to try to clean up the air.
Commercial trucks have been banned from the city unless they are transporting essential commodities, all construction has been stopped and car parking charges raised four times to force residents to use public transport.
The Delhi transport department said it would take a decision later in the day on whether to introduce an “odd-even” scheme under which cars with license plates ending in an odd number are allowed one day and even-numbered cars the next.
But experts said these measures were unlikely to bring immediate relief.
“There is such a cloud over us that you probably need artificial rain or some such to clear this,” said Dr. Vivek Nangia, a pulmonologist at Delhi’s Fortis hospital.
Video images shot by ANI, a Reuters affiliate, showed farmers illegally burning crop stubble in Rohtak, about 65 km from Delhi.
Farmers in Haryana, where Rohtak is located, and Punjab, the two big agrarian states surrounding Delhi, burn millions of tons of crop waste around October every year before sowing the winter crop of wheat.
State authorities say it is hard to enforce the ban unless farmers, a powerful political constituency, are given funds to buy machinery to clear their land.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said in a Twitter post: “Situation is serious but Punjab helpless as problem is widespread & state has no money to compensate farmers for stubble management.”


Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

Updated 21 May 2019
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Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

  • The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims

DHAKA: As the clock strikes 6 p.m., Shudhhanondo Mohathero hurries to the kitchen to alert his army of 15 monks that they have less than 40 minutes until iftar. 

Soon, people will begin queuing outside the Dharmarajika Bouddha Bihar, a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka, where Mohathero hands out free food packs to fasting Muslims who are too poor to buy a meal to end their fast.

It is a tradition that 89-year-old Mohathero started 10 years ago when he assumed responsibility for the temple’s upkeep.

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” Mohathero told Arab News.

Built in 1951, the monastery, which is located in Basabo in the eastern part of Dhaka, has been involved in various social welfare activities. Since the start of Ramadan this year, almost 200 food packs have been doled out every day, with plans to double the number by the end of the month. The 15 monks who live in the monastery prepare the food boxes for iftar.

At a cost of around 80 cents, which is funded by the temple, each box contains traditional Bangladeshi iftar items such as puffed rice, boiled and seasoned chickpeas, jilapi (a deep-fried sweet pastry), beguni (deep-fried eggplant) and dal bora (a fried item with smashed lentils and dates).

“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” Mohathero said. 

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return.”

Shudhhanondo Mohathero, Chief monk of Dhaka’s Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims.

“I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily-wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” Asma Khatun, a local resident, said.

Another devotee, Sharif Hossain, said that iftar from the monastery “is like a divine blessing.”

“After losing all my properties in a river erosion, I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he said. 

Talking about his experience being part of a project that builds communal harmony, Prantar Borua, an apprentice monk at the temple, said: “We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing. It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.”

The monastery’s generosity has won praise from the Bangladesh authorities, too.

“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and interreligious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said.

“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land,” he added.