India to spray New Delhi from on high to combat toxic smog

According to a 2016 World Bank report, nearly 1.4 million people died in India due to air pollution in 2013, causing an economic loss worth 7.7 percent of the nation’s GDP. (AFP)
Updated 10 November 2017
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India to spray New Delhi from on high to combat toxic smog

NEW DELHI: India plans to spray water over its capital, New Delhi, to try to combat toxic smog that has triggered a pollution emergency, officials said on Friday, with conditions expected to get worse over the weekend.
Illegal crop burning in farm states surrounding New Delhi, vehicle exhaust in a city with limited public transport and swirling construction dust have caused the crisis, as they do year after year.
“Sprinkling water is the only way to bring down the dangerous pollution levels,” said Shruti Bhardwaj, the environment ministry’s senior most official in charge of monitoring air quality.
The government was finalizing the plans to spray the water from a height of 100 meters, which would be unprecedented, she said, without saying how much of the city of 22 million people would be covered.
The thick blanket of grey air and pollutants has enveloped Delhi for the past four days. A US embassy measure of tiny particulate matter, called PM 2.5, showed a reading of 523 at 9am on Friday — the outer limit of “good” air is 50.
PM 2.5 is 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.
The air has remained consistently in the “hazardous” category or beyond those levels, despite a litany of government measures: ordering a halt to all construction activities, restricting vehicular movement and raising parking charges four times to push residents to use public transport.

Commercial trucks are now banned from the city unless they are transporting essential commodities and the Delhi transport department said it re-introduced 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 day.
The scheme was introduced in the Chinese capital a decade ago to fight traffic and pollution with mixed success.
The Delhi high court issued an order on Thursday suggesting the city’s government consider “cloud seeding” to induce rainfall artificially, a practice also used in Beijing.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi, said sprinkling water will help, but it won’t solve everything.
“Each and every dust control measure has to be put in place to ensure that air quality improves as soon as possible,” she said.
Satyendra Kumar Jain, New Delhi’s health minister, said laborers living in urban slums or beneath road fly-overs were suffering the most. Government hospitals in the city, Jain said, were treating thousands of patients with respiratory ailments.
“The only solution left is that we start spraying water right at the street level, especially along heavy traffic roads,” Jain said.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of Delhi, called the capital a “gas chamber” earlier this week as his government sought urgent meetings with the federal government and neighboring states to find solutions.
Affluent residents and large private companies have been placing bulk orders for air purifiers and filtration masks.
“I have installed six air purifiers in my home, closed all the windows, but my eyes are still watering,” said Ranveer Singhal, a commodity trader living in leafy neighborhood of the city.
According to a 2016 World Bank report, nearly 1.4 million people died in India due to air pollution in 2013, causing an economic loss worth 7.7 percent of the nation’s GDP.
Organizers of music festivals and open air parties are now canceling events after the Central Pollution Control Board said air quality could deteriorate further during the weekend.
Pronab Sarkar, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, said air pollution had also hit tourism.
“Many tourists are canceling their bookings for Christmas holiday,” he said.


BJP drive to change names of Mughal-era cities in India opposed

Updated 16 November 2018
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BJP drive to change names of Mughal-era cities in India opposed

  • Allahabad was established by the 16th-century Mughal ruler Akbar, adjacent to the ancient city of Prayagraj, a revered place for Hindus
  • Prayagraj is believed to be a place for a highly revered Hindu saint, and Ayodhya is allegedly the birthplace of the supreme Hindu deity, Ram

DELHI: Irshadullah, 40, from Allahabad, or what is now known as Prayagraj, finds it difficult to accept the new name of his birthplace — he says that history cannot be changed.
“It’s not the issue of the change of name of a particular place, it’s the question of our existence and history in India,” said Irshadullah, a social worker and political activist from Allahabad, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
His anger and frustration are palpable.
“The only reason why the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government wants to change the name is that it has been given by the Mughal ruler. This I feel is not only an attempt to obliterate India’s Islamic history but also to create a wedge in the multicultural society in the name of religion,” Irshadullah said.
Last week, in a slew of decisions by the BJP government in UP led by the controversial monk and Hindu nationalist politician Yogi Adityanath, the names of the medieval city of Allahabad and Faizabad were renamed Prayagraj and Ayodhya respectively.
Allahabad was established by the 16th-century Mughal ruler Akbar, adjacent to the ancient city of Prayagraj, a revered place for Hindus. Similarly, Faizabad also cropped up next to the Hindu city of Ayodhaya.
Prayagraj is believed to be a place for a highly revered Hindu saint, and Ayodhya is allegedly the birthplace of the supreme Hindu deity, Ram.
However, Hindu right-wing politicians claim that Allahabad and Faizabad were built replacing Hindu names.
“The Mughal ruler Akbar built the city Allahabad without disturbing the area closer to the river, known as Prayagraj,” Irshadullah said.
“With a name you have history associated with it. When you change it, you tamper with its historicity. The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh and the center, they don’t have anything substantial to demonstrate as their achievement — that’s why they are indulging in this political polarization,” Irshadullah said.
Faizabad-based historian, Prof. N.K. Tiwari of Dr. Rammanohar Lohia Avadh University, said the Mughals never changed the name of any Hindu place of worship.
“From the historical point of view, the change of names of medieval cities is wrong. But the political climate now is such that if you raise your voice you are termed anti-Hindu or anti-national. The whole episode has made me highly uncomfortable,” Tiwari told Arab News.
The opposition parties in UP have called the move “a desperate attempt to hoodwink people before the elections next year.”
“They failed as a government and now they are back on their agenda of divisive politics with vehemence. But people now understand the BJP’s politics,” said Sanjay Tiwari, a local leader of the Congress Party in Allahabad.
But the BJP said the “name change is a normal process.”
“India, which was subjugated twice — first by the Mughals and second by the British — must rediscover its soul. Name change is one way of remembering our past glory,” said Sudesh Verma, a national spokesperson for the BJP.
“Prayagraj or Ayodhya sounds more cultural than Allahabad or Faizabad respectively,” he said.
While talking to Arab News, he denied changing Muslim names. “India cannot be complete without Muslims and other minorities. But it is true that a nation cannot celebrate invaders, rapists and those who forcibly converted using swords and were religious bigots,” Verma said.
Earlier this year, the BJP government in UP renamed Mughalsarai, an iconic railway station in the eastern part of the state, after its founder, Deen Dayal Upadhaya.
Last year, the Yogi government deleted the Taj Mahal in Agra from the list of tourist sites, but after huge protests the regime revised the list.
Now the BJP legislator from Agra Jagan Prasad Garg wants to rename the historic city “Agrawal.” “Agra has originally been the place for the Hindu Agrawal community and the Mughal ruler changed its name to Agra. I demand the restoration of the old name,” Garg told Arab News.
The demand for the name change has come for the historic city of Ahmadabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat, the home state of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
“Changing the name itself is not an issue. Names have been changed in the past also. Bombay became Mumbai, Calcutta became Kolkata because they wanted to correct the pronunciation,” said the historian Prof. Aditya Mukherjee from Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
“These changes are being done to demonize the Muslims. The picture is being created that Muslims are foreigners, they invaded India, they did all kinds of crime and, therefore, their name should be changed,” he said.
“One of the essential features of fascism is that it creates the enemy from within. What the BJP is doing is that they are creating an enemy out of Muslims, Christians, Dalits and other minorities,” Mukherjee told Arab News.
“The consequences for this kind of politics would be dangerous for the country. We must fight it. Each one of us — intellectuals, teachers, writers, journalists — we need to fight it when there is time. There is no point in fighting when the damage has penetrated deep.”
Irshadullah refused to change the place of birth in his birth certificate. “It is not easy to adapt to the change, I have with Allahabad so many memories, they can change the name of my city, but I will still call it Allahabad, not Prayagraj.”