India braces for worst air pollution season

New Delhi’s air quality had plummeted to the worst possible category, the government’s central pollution agency said. (AFP)
Updated 26 October 2018
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India braces for worst air pollution season

  • India has the dubious distinction of having the world’s ten most polluted cities
  • Crop burning will be at its peak in the first week of November as farmers prepare their fields for sowing

NEW DELHI: With the air quality reduced to “very severe” in the Indian capital region, authorities are bracing for a major Hindu festival featuring massive fireworks that threatens to cloak New Delhi with more toxic smog and dust.
The government’s Central Pollution Control Board on Friday said New Delhi’s air quality had plummeted to the worst possible category. The level of PM2.5, tiny particulate matter that can dangerously clog lungs, read 187, more than six times higher than the World Health Organization considers safe.
The board warned people to avoid jogging outdoors in the early morning and after sunset, and to keep medicine nearby if asthmatic. It also advised people to wear masks as a precaution.
The most recent air pollution data from the World Health Organization released in March this year gave India the dubious distinction of having the world’s ten most polluted cities.
India’s capital, which once was the world’s most polluted city, ranks sixth. But experts say the data does not suggest that New Delhi’s air quality has improved, but rather that more Indian cities’ air has worsened.
A Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Authority warned on Thursday that air pollution in the capital region is likely to peak from Nov. 1 as toxic fumes from stubble burning in agriculture farms in neighboring northern states of Haryana and Punjab could gush in because of a change in wind direction.
“Weather conditions are projected to become adverse from November 1,” warned the India Meteorological Department.
Crop burning will be at its peak in the first week of November as farmers prepare their fields for sowing the winter crops, mainly wheat. They have been ignoring the government warnings of a penalty saying they can’t afford to buy harvesting machines costing up to 50,000 rupees ($675) apiece.
Some activists urged India’s top court to order a complete ban on bursting firecrackers during the Hindu Diwali’ festival less than two weeks away. The court, however, only imposed certain conditions for the sale and use of firecrackers.
The court earlier this week ordered that firecrackers could be burst between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the festival night on Nov. 7 and could not be sold online. It also said that only less polluting firecrackers could be manufactured and sold.
Saurabh Bhasin, one of the three advocates who brought the firecrackers case to the Supreme Court on behalf of the advocates’ young children, said the focus is now on finding ways to force implementation.
“With air, while individuals can do their best, at the end of the day the solution does lay with the government and the authorities a lot more than with us. From an implementation perspective, frankly, now the ball really does shift to the government and local authorities,” he said.
Authorities also are trying to lower the amount of dust in the air by sprinkling water in many neighborhoods and ordering builders to cover construction sites.
The transport department is checking buses entering the region for valid emission papers and threatening to punish violators. The government itself has banned diesel vehicles that are more than 10 years old.


Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

Updated 42 min 26 sec ago
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Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

  • Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately
  • Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month

HONG KONG: Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately. Others continued toward Central, a key business and retail district and the site of the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins.

Large protests began last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the bill. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in city.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of 'one country, two systems.' Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday’s march from a public park, carrying a large banner that read 'Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law.' 'Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!' the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since last month. “No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march’s organizers. Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month.

Their main demands include universal suffrage — direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents — as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a 'riot' and dissolving the Legislative Council.                   

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday. “We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies,” they said, “but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people.”

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows.

Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building.

Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.