Focus

SMOG OF THE DECADE: DELHI’S COCKTAIL OF DUST, SMOKE AND GAS

Post Diwali, India’s capital witnessed its worst smog in 17 years leading to a closure of over 5,000 schools, bans on construction activity, shutting down of the Badarpur power plant, ban on burning of leaves and a lot more to combat it. The question is, are we combating it at all?

Words: Tillana Desai

India Gate, Delhi

smoggy_delhi

Post October 31, Delhi has witnessed some of the darkest days possible – primarily because a thick, deadly and hazardous layer of smog blocked the sun for several days. It was Delhi’s worst smog in 17 years that blocked visibility beyond 200m. So what caused this kind of a situation with the air quality levels? The answer is high levels of PM specifically PM 2.5 and PM 10 in the air that is being breathed and inhaled in Delhi as you read this.

The high levels of air pollution that Delhi suffered from were on the rise specifically after Diwali celebrations. They were mainly due to firecrackers and the paddy stubble in Punjab and Haryana, coupled with low wind speed apart from other factors. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s government banned construction for a few days, tried to implement the odd-even rule, closed over 5,000 schools to give kids respite, shut down the Badarpur power plant, and banned burning leaves.

Citizens are trying to reduce their exposure to this hazardous air by opting for purifiers, flexi work timings, work from home arrangements and face masks; however the situation is still far from being under control.

This city of more than 20 million people is one of the most polluted in the world and is battling an endless struggle against cleaning a cocktail of dust, smoke and gases from its air. Such conditions recur every autumn and winter as the city is buffeted by farmers burning crop stalks in neighbouring states and atmospheric changes inhibit dispersion of regular pollution.

According to a Central Pollution Control Board 2010 study, small particulate matter penetrates deep into lungs and can reach the alveolar region, causing heart ailments. These fine particles cover a large surface area, absorb toxic compounds such as heavy metals and organic compounds with high carbon content, the study said.

These particles — spewed primarily from vehicles, factories and construction sites — are not dispersed and stay suspended in the air.

According to estimates, air pollution levels hit 999 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter in some areas of the national capital, more than 15-16 times the limit considered safe.

A lot of citizens, fed up of the government’s ineffectiveness organised a protest at Jantar Mantar recently. They were disappointed when Arvind Kejriwal cited farmers burning crop stubble in neighbouring states such as Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh as the reason for Delhi turning into a “gas chamber”.

On the other hand, NASA’s satellite imagery suggested a sharp increase in the number of crop fires in Delhi’s neighbouring states, proving the CM to be partly correct.

A_view_of_Delhi

Thick smog overlooking the national capital

5543835085_fb0b017685_o

PM (particulate matter) 2.5 are tiny particles in the air that reduce visibility. It is fine dust that can get into the lower lung chamber, making its way into the heart and blood stream and causing serious health issues in the long run.
PM 10 is fine dust which breaches the upper lung system and causes asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments. It is believed to cause heart attacks and cancer in the long term. It is 70 times finer than the thickness of a human hair, goes directly into the bloodstream and is potentially more dangerous than the pollutants made notorious by Delhi’s recent smog nightmare. And no one knows how much of it is in the air we breathe.

This crop burning is observed in preparation for the next harvest, where farmers burn crop stubble instead of manually removing this – a phenomenon which is common in Southeast Asian countries. Smoke emanating from these fires produce a thick smog, effecting its neighbours.

Health Problems on the rise
• Inflammation in the lungs
• Damage to the heart and blood vessels
• Acute respiratory infections
• Chronic bronchitis
• Asthma
• Itching and Redness in the eyes
• Skin irritation
• Headaches and dizziness
Time-bound action plan needed
Unless we chalk out a national policy, frame a time-bound action plan, and employ a strict monitoring and enforcement systems that can be effectively followed, the future looks hazy and distorted. Temporary solutions will yield nothing in the long term and we will have nowhere to turn to for fresh air.

Reader’s Speak:

Rajendra Shukla

Rajendra Shukla:

I was in Delhi for 3 days for a function. During my whole stay my eyes stung and burnt so much that it was unbearable. Visibility was very poor. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for those who stay in this city.

Ankit Shripat

Ankit Shripat:

I need to commute a slightly long distance to reach office. This journey is extremely uncomfortable for me. My eyes constantly water and I see skin reactions on my body. I am left with no option but to stay indoors unless extremely unavoidable.

Swati Purohit

Swati Purohit:

Due to smog, the visibility was hazy. It was very difficult for me to breathe properly and I did not go for my morning walk due to smog. My child did not go out to play. There is an urgent need to take some very serious measures and to curtail down the pollution.

Akshay Acharya

Akshay Acharya:

I’ve been living in the city for 25 years and never has the air quality been this bad. In the past, the deteriorating air has always not been visible. But this time, we can see how terrible it is with our own eyes and people wearing masks is not common in Delhi. While the government assesses what, further steps need to be taken to control the situation it is upon us to take measures to reduce air pollution.

THE WORLD’S MOST IMPORTANT RAILWAY MARKET FOR US

‘WE SEE HUGE OPPORTUNITIES IN INDIA, THE WORLD’S MOST IMPORTANT RAILWAY MARKET FOR US’

Montreal-headquartered Bombardier is a global leader in transportation, which moves millions of people every day around the globe through more than 110,000 rail vehicles that are in operation globally. As a global leader in rail technology, it has significant international experience in manufacturing, engineering, technological innovation, services and fleet management – all of which it plans to bring to India. Excerpts of an interview with Harsh Dhingra, chief country representative, India, Bombardier Transportation (BT):

Words: Team Urban Vaastu

Could you give a quick snapshot about Bombardier’s India operations?
India is one of the world’s most important railway markets for us. We have a well-established manufacturing operation, engineering capabilities, supplier and employee base (over 1,900 highly skilled employees) in India.

We see huge opportunity in India, with Mass Transit systems planned in over 50 cities by 2050, modernisation of Indian Railways network and plans for semi-high speed and high speed trains.

In India, we have a railway vehicle manufacturing site and bogie assembly hall at Savli near Vadodara, Gujarat. We have a propulsion systems manufacturing facility at Maneja, near Vadodara. We also have a Rail Control Solutions Centre for project delivery, product engineering and Information Services hub near Gurgaon, and an Engineering Centre in Hyderabad.

In 2007, we invested €33mn in a state-of-the-art railway vehicle manufacturing facility at Savli. Overall, we have invested more than $100mn over the last two decades in Indian manufacturing sites, people, engineering, local supplier network and proven technologies.

We are actively contributing in the ‘Make in India’ programme by delivering rail vehicles, products and solutions that are developed locally, for both Indian and foreign markets. We also support the Indian Government’s vision on ‘Skill India’ with locally-grown talent now delivering projects, as well as the ‘Clean India Movement’ by regularly arranging clean up drives in Vadodara.

Bombardier truly incorporates “Make in India for India” and “Make in India for the World”.

How has your relationship been with Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC)?
Bombardier is Delhi Metro’s largest supplier of signalling systems and one of its largest suppliers of rolling stock with more than $1.2 billion worth of orders placed since 2007. We have delivered 614 BOMBARDIER MOVIA metro cars with an additional order of 162 cars recently received from DMRC, making it one of the largest operating fleets in the world for Bombardier. We have also delivered signalling solutions for more than 120km track length for Lines 5, 6 and 7.

What has your relationship been with Indian Railways (IR)?
Bombardier’s long-standing relationship with IR began in 1993, with a design-and-build contract for electric mainline passenger and freight locomotives. We now supply propulsion equipment to IR for locomotives. In June, we completed in house production for the supply of propulsion and electrical equipment to Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) for 72 twelve-car trains.

What are the potential opportunities in India in the metro segment, over the next 5 years?
Over the next 5-7 years, various cities in India will do procurement of approximately 3,000 metro cars and 20 signalling lines. The Indian government expects 50 cities will have a population of over 2mn by 2050 and is encouraging them to develop mass transit systems.This will generate demand for the urban transit solutions that we excel at.

Harsh Dhingra, chief country representative, India, Bombardier Transportation

avatarP19

We are focused on projects which we consider as strategic and have long term prospects for our operations in India.

We are closely pursuing various metro projects in the cities of Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Vijayawada, Vizag and Bengaluru along with light rail projects in the state of Kerala.

How much localisation of technology have you achieved at your India plant?

Bombardier’s investment in Gujarat has attracted global vendors to set up production facilities, within Gujarat, around our sites, increasing the local content considerably (currently at around 70%), from the time manufacturing started at the site in 2008.

This means an increasing amount of our product is truly Indian, with components available in rupees, and not subject to the volatility of international currency markets.

BOMBARDIER-MOVIA-metro-car-delivered-to-Delhi-Metro_1

What is competitive landscape in this segment?
In terms of manufacturing facilities, 3 companies have a base in India – Bombardier, BEML and Alstom. Along with these companies, we compete with Korean, Japanese, Chinese and a host of other European players in the Indian rail market.

How have exports been from your Indian factories?
Bombardier Savli site has developed extensive export-oriented activities. We are currently supplying Bogie components for Adelaide EMU’s Victoria trains, Riyadh Metro and São Paulo monorail and 75 six-car trains with bogies for Queensland New Generation Rolling stock (QNGR) project.

Vehicle assembly and bogie manufacture for QNGR project is taking place at the Savli facility while the Maneja facility is supplying a portion of the propulsion equipment. Three six-car trains have been delivered to date and they are undergoing testing at our Wulkuraka Maintenance Facility in Ipswich, Australia. These trains have travelled more than 10,500 km by road and sea from Savli, India to the Port of Brisbane.

Have you seen any changes with the new government at the Centre taking charge since 2014?
The Indian government, formed after the 2014 general election, is actively pursuing long-term vision for a sustainable and stable railway in India. Its ambitions are huge and focused, with emphasis on improving safety, expanding rail infrastructure, increasing track capacity, reducing congestion, raising passenger comfort levels, technological innovations, and faster train speeds.

Rail is considered a significant engine of inclusive growth for India, with the potential to contribute up to 2% of GDP, compared to current 1% levels. To maintain historic levels of national growth at 7-8%, railway needs to grow by ~9.5% every year. This will create new jobs, save energy and improve the environment, while moving people, raw materials and goods more efficiently nationwide.

Where the money will come from, to transform India’s rail transportation?
The Ministry of Railways has set out its vision for rail as a key provider of connectivity and enabler of economic development, with a proposed $125bn investment over the next five years. (2014¬2019).

During its initial days in office, the government introduced a plan for 100% FDI in the railways. In all, 17 areas have been identified where industry players can invest up to 100% from which IR expects to collect around $13 bn.

In funding mass transit systems, ~20-25% is contributed by both state and central government, with the rest funded by outside agencies such as Japan’s JICA, Germany’s KfW, the French AFD, European Investment Bank, and Export Import Bank of India.

What is the scope of driverless trains, which will be used by DMRC Phase 3?
The driverless technology goes back to 40 years – Bombardier was amongst the first company to start implementing this technology in 1983. The key advantage of driverless technology is that it brings down the headway to 90sec from the current levels of around 2 minutes, which is a welcome introduction for the commuters.

Driverless technology has 2 parts – rolling stock and signalling, which have to be properly interfaced. For the Phase 3 of Delhi Metro, 60% of signalling has been done by Bombardier, whereas trains are supplied by Rotem.

How important is the Indian rail market to Bombardier?
Bombardier aims to transform rail transportation in India, which is one of the world’s most important railway markets. Bombardier has been investing in India for over 50 years.

We are actively collaborating in the ‘Make in India’ programme by delivering rail vehicles, products and solutions that are developed locally, for both Indian and foreign markets.

India is putting its transport system under scrutiny as never before, with investment in national carrier Indian Railways (IR), the nation’s vast 70,000km railway network and mass transit systems central to its plans. For an established company like Bombardier, operating and investing in India is key for a sustainable growth and future for our operations in India.

What’s been Bombardier’s biggest success in India?
Bombardier is one of the few rail companies in India which is truly supporting the Government’s Make in India campaign. It is not only making rail products and solutions for the Indian market which are manufactured in India but also delivering it for exports from India.

During a meeting with Bombardier officials in May 2016, the Prime Minister said: “I appreciate the efforts of Bombardier Transportation to invest in India through the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) route. We acknowledge the contribution of Bombardier in supporting India’s “Make in India” and “Skill India” programme by producing trains for India and for exports from India.”

Mumbai-suburban-train-equipped-with-Bombardier-MITRAC-propulsion-system

What are the fundamental aims and objectives of Bombardier’s mission in India?
Bombardier Transportation in India has the capability to address the country’s rail industry requirements for the production of metros, electric multiple units, semi high speed and high speed trains, intercity trains as well as mass transit solutions such as monorails, light rail vehicles, etc. Also for equipment supply for advanced IGBT propulsion systems and bogies manufacturing along with supply of signaling systems and maintenance.

India is the second most populous country in the world with a population of 1.25 billion people. Already with around 9 cities having a population over 5 million and foreseeing to have in 2051 more than 35 cities reaching that volume, India is a prime example of a country which needs a comprehensive, sustainable and integrated rail transportation system.

The Indian metropolitan cities have been growing rapidly and the traffic volumes on the roads have also been increasing enormously. Overstretched rail and road networks have created an urgent need for a suitable transport system within the Indian cities.

The commuter transport has become hazardous with severe overcrowding and maximum commuters resorting to road use. The escalating transport problems forced city planners and the government to find a solution to provide fast, reliable, convenient, efficient, modern and an economical transport system India urgently needs.

As India embarks on an overhaul and expansion of its rail transportation network, we look forward to being its key partner in the ever-changing railway scene.

2016-10-02_160920

What are the challenges of having an extensive presence in the Indian market?
India’s geography, traditions, social organisation, easily understands that railways, for mass transit as well as for inter-city traffic, play an extremely important role as it is the backbone of mobility in the country.

Bombardier has been investing in India for the last 50 years.

Challenges like any other country on identifying funding for projects, administrative issues, etc still remain but with the new vision and efforts of the current government, we see an ease of doing business in India with focus on stabilizing railways and clearing pending projects.

Are there any particular elements of the Indian market that make it different from others that Bombardier operates in?
In terms of the Indian rail market, it operates in a very similar passion to any other market with international bidding process followed for procurement with transparency compliant to global standards.

To operate in India, understanding of local requirements and customer expectations is a must and with our local standing presence, Bombardier is well positioned to support the transformation of Indian rail transport industry.

What future plans does the Bombardier Transportation have for its Indian operations?
We strive to be the first choice rail technology provider for India. As a global leader in rail technology, Bombardier has significant international experience in manufacturing, engineering, technological innovation, services and fleet management – all of these assets Bombardier will bring to bear wittness in India.

There is a great scope for incorporating our rail solutions in order to address the increasing demands of rail operators for efficient, modern and eco-friendly transport in Indian cities.

Bombardier Transportation President Laurent Troger recently announced plans to “double our business in India”, reaching between $700 million and $1 billion. How could such a plan be turned into reality?

In the overall landscape of Bombardier Transportation, India is a significant country. The climate now is very favourable in India, for investment.

Compared to the global scale of business to the tune of about $8.5 billion, India’s revenue was about $300 million, but with the government’s thrust on drives like Make in India and Skill India, Bombardier sees a hoard of opportunities here.

On infrastructural front, the government is very keen that it is linked to the GDP and, this can attract a lot of other players. We consider that we have the largest footprint by having the right and newest technology.

The government is open to private financing through contracts and is also open to soft loans from other countries like Japan and Europe which will help the projects to be cleared faster with more governance and processes in place.

MODERN MAKEOVERS OF VILLAGES

PUNSARI IS THE ANSWER TO INDIA’S QUESTION FOR MODERN MAKEOVERS OF VILLAGES

Words: Steffi Mac

punsari direction

It generally doesn’t come as a surprise if we show pictures of a certain underdeveloped village to any given Indian. We are used to it! That is our general idea of the term ‘village’ per say. They are supposed to be dirty, filthy and nowhere close to the look cities have enjoyed with their flashy malls, all under the pretext of ‘development’.

And even when one does mention development loosely before a set of people who can make it happen, the first question is who will invest and will that investment ever be enough? More so, would the person/body be ready to invest in a village? As ridiculous and painful as it may sound villages never have any bidders in our country.

But what if we were to tell you that this time, this one single time, someone did invest and changed the definition of a ‘village’ in this country forever?! Punsari, A village, barely 100kms from Ahmedabad (Himmatnagar), Gujarat, could be a text book case for management and development in top grade B schools.

From closed-circuit cameras, water-purifying plants, air conditioned schools to Wi-Fi and biometric machines (something that top colleges in the state don’t have!) -the village has it all and more! And if you begin to smirk and question how many years did this face lift take; allow us to tell you that it only took eight years and a mere Rs. 16 crore to get the job done.

“Himanshu Patel- Sarpanch : I have not replicated the model of any other village. Considering local needs and local problems, I decided to put in efforts to change the lifestyle of my people. My vision was to have the soul of a village with facilities of metro cities”

The man behind this commendable transformation is a 31 year old young sarpanch Himanshu Patel. A graduate from North Gujarat University, Mr. Patel won the panchayat polls in 2006, at the age of 23! In the span of the next eight years, Mr Patel chalked out a concrete plan to change the conditions in his village (they didn’t even have a road back then) along with the help of the district administration. The next step was to manage the funds to turn that blue print into a reality. He stitched up funds from the District Planning Commission, Backward Region Grant Fund, 12th Finance Commission, and those under Self Help group Yognas and began the development of his village.

The results are astounding, but obvious. A team from central ministries of the rural and urban development visited the village to study its ‘Development Model’. The village is now readying for a high-profile visit of the additional secretary of the Union government to study the model so that it can be replicated across 640 districts in India. After all, wouldn’t it be fantastic to have air-conditioned primary schools equipped with CCTV cameras with cooks preparing mid day meals in every village?

punsari
punsari-gujarat

And while we may see this as the be all and end all of the village, the Sarpanch is already onto his next project- a unit producing electricity out of plastic waste and e-rickshaws for garbage collection.

The state government has already sanctioned `52 lakh for the same.

Major credit must be given to the village Sarpanch who understands and values the importance of education over everything else.

From 300 students attending the school in the village in 2006, it now has close to 600 students.

Apart from the air conditioners, the school also has computers and projectors. Believe it or not, but Mr. Patel hasn’t asked for a single penny from the MLA fund. In the past eight years, the village has only received `1 lakh from the MP fund.

Punsari has won the National as well as State Award for the Best Gram Panchayat in 2011.

“The village has demonstrated how understanding various schemes available and leveraging them properly can bring about a qualitative change,” said Bhavnagar collector Banchha Nidhi Pani to NDTV India.

Punsari deserves all the love, attention and motivation from every Indian and it is definitely the best village model available for the other sarpanchs to ape. It is one of those rare cases where a village hasn’t reached the heights of organized development with the help of NRIs, but has completely relied on the state and central government funds to reach where it has right now.

In a country were infrastructural development hasn’t gone down well in its cities; Punsari’s progress is nothing short of inspirational.

punsari - himanshu patel

“I have not replicated the model of any other village. Considering local needs and local problems, I decided to put in efforts to change the lifestyle of my people. My vision was to have the soul of a village with facilities of metro cities”

Himanshu Patel- Sarpanch


A lecturer by profession and a writer by chance, Steffi is an ardent reader and a self-confessed food addict.

She can be reached at: steffimac@gmail.com

punsari 9

SATHYA SAI WORLD YOUTH FESTIVAL

Celebrating love and service Delegates from around the globe gathered at Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh and participated in a two-day youth festival in July.

Words: Team Urban Vaastu

ABOUT 3,000 delegates from over 70 countries participated in the three-day Sathya Sai World Youth festival, held in Prasanthi Nilayam, the main ashram of Sathya Sai Baba, at Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh between July 12 and 14.

Piyush Goyal, minister of state with independent charge for power, coal and new and renewable energy, was the chief guest at the festival. Goyal drew attention to Sathya Sai Baba’s quintessential message that the mind sees separateness, but love sees unity. He said there was no greater happiness than making a difference to somebody who is less privileged than oneself. He shared his belief that these ideals can change the world.

The theme of the festival was: Love is the Source, Love is the Path and Love is the Goal. Dr Shivendra Kumar, international youth coordinator, Sathya Sai International Organisation, highlighted the objectives of the festival: to celebrate the joy of knowing Sathya Sai Baba at a young age; to celebrate his life and teachings; to preserve his message through new initiatives; and to interact with elders of the organisation.

He said over 320 volunteers had been working tirelessly over the past six months to successfully bring the festival to life.

Dr Narendranath Reddy, chairman of the Prasanthi Council, commended the Sathya Sai Youth for putting together a unique programme that has been “of the youth, for the youth, and by the youth.” He said this was the first youth festival which incorporates athletic, artistic and creative components.

Reddy reiterated Sai Baba’s instructions to the youth to follow the four variations of ABC’s – Always be Courageous, Always be Compassionate, Always be Calm and Always be Cheerful.

Nimish Pandya, all-India president, Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation of India said the true qualities of the members are a manifestation of self-confidence and “knowing that Sathya Sai Baba is our only friend.” He reminded the delegates that the greatest adventure they should embark on was to conquer the mind through love and service.

Representatives from Venezuela offered a beautiful melodic outpouring of love through a newly written song entitled ‘Mi Destino’, which means ‘My Destination’.
A video excerpt of Sathya Sai Baba’s discourse was also screened, reminding all that truth is one and same for the whole world.

Ceremony of Flags 02 12 July

An exhibition, ‘Ready, Steady… Goal’ was also inaugurated in the presence of senior leaders and dignitaries.

On the second day, the delegates took part in yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, volleyball, basketball, football and a hike to the Hanuman statue at the summit of a hill that overlooks the Hillview stadium.

The hike took them past the statues of Krishna, Buddha, Christ and other faith leaders that adorn the hilltop, underscoring the unity of major religions of the world. The walk was sanctified with bhajans at the feet of the statue of Lord Hanuman – the embodiment of devotion.

Later, three speakers – Saiusha Haridas, youth coordinator, southeast Asia; Dr Chandinie, Sathya Sai Youth of India; and Alida Parkes, chair, southern Europe – shared their personal stories of transformation by the grace of Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

Guest speaker Dr. Chandrasekhar Narayan, director of research, IBM, USA shared his laboratory’s ground breaking findings in environmental sustainability. He reminded delegates of Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings about respecting nature and caring for Mother Earth.

Address by Sri Nimish Pandya
Address by Dr Reddy 12 July_1

There followed a lively and engaging debate between two global youth teams on the importance of righteousness versus love in the lives of the youth today.

A heart-warming presentation on service projects conducted by Sathya Sai Youth drew applause.

Youth from around the world shared their personal experiences of serving in the divine mission in a session called Sai 360. The central theme that emerged was that all action should be dedicated to the Lord.

Four concurrent workshops were also held on the second day. In ‘Secrets to Spiritual Fitness,’ participants discussed the interconnection between virtues, happiness and health.

The second workshop, ‘In tune with the name,’ focused upon the practice of ‘namasmarana’ and its ability to generate love, leading to inner peace and supreme bliss. Step up to Serve, which is based on the spiritual significance of selfless service, identified areas of need and building solutions to alleviate the suffering of others.

Address by Hon Minister Piyush Goyal 12 July

Post, Tweet, Like & Share encouraged those developing social media platforms to inspire fellow youth in developing spiritual content, through the use of graphics, designs, videos and text.

Lorenzo Casadio from Italy highlighted the nine forms of devotion, of which the highest form is friendship with God. Ramachandra Venkataraman, executive director of the Tata Foundation and alumni of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning reminded youth to embrace adversity for their own good and discussed Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings and exemplary life in serving and inspiring others.

Other cultural events included a drama by the global Sathya Sai Youth; a musical offering by the Sathya Sai World Music team; and a variety programme –Puttaparthi’s Got Talent – comprising a Balinese performance, a Mexican boy’s choir, and an entertaining ‘Bhajan Antakshari.’

The final day also saw speakers address the gathering. They included Julio Vivenes Villavicencio, the zone youth coordinator from South America; and R.J. Ratnakar, trustee of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust.

INDEPENDENCE DAY FACT FILE

AS India celebrates its 70th
Independence Day this month, we bring you some interesting aspects of the historic event. Read on…

» On August 15, 1947, when India became free, Mahatma Gandhi was in Calcutta, spending his day in prayers, fasting and spinning and also protesting the communal violence in the city.

» Lord Mountbatten, the then newly appointed Viceroy, chose August 15, for handing over power to an independent India, as he wanted it to correspond with the second anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces. But he later told a journalist that he decided to quit earlier than 1948, the originally agreed upon date, as the situation in India was slipping from his hands.

» August 15 also marks the independence of three other nations – South Korea won its independence from Japan on the same day in 1945, Bahrain from the UK in 1971 and the Republic of the Congo from France in 1960.

» Independence Day celebrations are officially held at the Red Fort, Delhi, a tradition that has been followed since August 15, 1947. However, according to the records of the Lok Sabha secretariat Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister, unfurled the flag and spoke from the Red Fort on August 16, 1947.

» Nehru had the privilege of hoisting the national flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort – and addressing the nation – for a record 17 times.

» National flag was hoisted first on August 7, 1906 at the Parsee Bagan Square in Calcutta. The flag was composed of horizontal strips of red, yellow and green. The red strip at the top had eight white lotuses embossed on it in a row. The green strip had a white sun on the left and a white crescent and star on the right.

» It is said that the first version of the current national flag was made by Pingali Venkayya at Bezwada in 1921. It was made up of two colours-red and green-representing the two major communities. Gandhiji suggested the addition of a white strip to represent the remaining communities of India and the spinning wheel to symbolise progress of the Nation.

» When India became independent on August 15, 1947 there was no National Anthem. Even though the Bengali invocation of Jana Gana Mana was written in 1911, it was not considered as national anthem till 1950.

» Hindi is not India’s national language as many think or believe; it’s the official language. Article 343 of the Constitution states that Hindi in Devnagari script is the official language of India. But Hindi is the first official language of India and Hindi was declared the Official Language of the Union on September 14, 1949.

» The Sanskrit name for India is Bharat Ganarajya. That is the reason why it is also called Bharat. The name “India” comes from the Indus River, which is where earliest settlers made their homes. The Indus valley is one of the world’s earliest urban civilizations.

INDIA’S DYING LAKES

Unchecked dumping of effluents and decades of neglect have led to the tragic demise of countless lakes in India

By Revati Rajwade

focuslake1

WATER has played a major role in the growth of human civilisation. Ancient civilisations grew only along or around a source of water, which was required for fulfilling the basic necessity of food.

Without water, life would cease to exist. Centuries later, we are at a juncture where we will soon be grappling for our existence owing to the collateral damage done to our water bodies. Lakes have been neglected in urban and rural areas alike.

The demand for land surged in urban areas and was met not only by taking over peri-urban areas but also encroaching upon the city’s breathing spaces like green covers, ponds and lakes. The vanishing of lakes has caused loss of irrigated lands, drinking water sources as well as threatened agricultural activities, greenery and recreation activities.

Many lakes in India do not possess potable water due to the presence of water hyacinth and pollutants. Encroachments have led to a loss of flood absorbing capacity leading to the frequent phenomenon of urban floods. In rural areas, lack of knowledge led to people washing their clothes, utensils and even vehicles, and defecating in the lake.

India once boasted of hundreds of scenic lakes. However, the grim face of India’s celebrated lakes portrays human negligence and apathy. The reasons for the demise of the purity of several lakes all over the country are vast but the root cause remains the same.

For several years, a million gallons of liquid waste would slither into the Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad. Also, the damage caused by silting of solid pollutants such as zinc, lead, copper, manganese and mercury was disastrous.The lakefront has been developed, water has been treated and tourism has been boosted due to the statue of Buddha in the centre the lake, but regardless of these labours the water is heavily degraded.

The Nacharam lake of Hyderabad did not receive much and disease-carrying mosquitoes began thriving in the polluted waters. Contamination due to direct sewage outlets into the lake has led to sludge, weeds and parasite plants like hyacinth which deprive the water of oxygen, affecting marine life.

In Maharashtra, several lakes have died a slow death, one of the reasons being the ritual of immersion of Ganapati idols. The Powai in Mumbai has been taken over by hyacinths and weeds and there is hardly any water in it.

Fishermen search for offerings thrown in by worshippers in the polluted waters of the river Sabarmati in Ahmedabad

The mystic Dal Lake in Jammu and Kashmir has been ruined owing to houseboats and doongas (service boats) which discharge sewage and other waste into the lake. Effluents from the paper, carpet and wool industries were being let out into the lake.

The Loktak lake in Manipur is a natural treasure since it is the only one in the world with phumdis – a series of floating islands. The barrage on the Manipur river at Ethai has affected Loktak because the river is it’s only natural outflow.

The waters from the hills that enter the Loktak no longer flow out at their former rate, causing siltation. Thousands of hectares of cultivable land have also been submerged. However, the same amount of fertilisers and pesticides are used on reduced land holdings to try and maintain output.

The run-off from these fields has been polluting the lake. In addition, fishermen pour toxins to kill fish and increase catches.

The Chilika in Orissa faces a similar situation since it has shrunk to half its size owing to the heavy siltation that has choked the northern mouth of the brackish lake. There has been rampant growth of weeds since the past 13 years.

Excessive fishing and dumping of the fishing nets in the lake has drastically threatened marine life and dwindled it exponentially. The other lake in Orissa, the Ansupa, has a similar story to tell. It has suffered due to severe erosion of the catchment area and heavy exploitation of vegetation, accompanied by increased growth of hyacinth and algae.

These have been turning this large freshwater lake into a swamp. The direct impact on the ecosystem is alarming since migratory birds no longer visit the area. It can be seen how the repercussions of natural damage spreads its tentacles far and wide affecting the entire spectrum of flora and fauna.

The threat because of pollution was evident in Bengaluru last May when the Bellandur caught fire twice in three days. The lake had been polluted by effluents from detergent factories and sewage and the flames could be attributed to the oil and phosphorus on its surface. The huge amount of foam slithering onto the road and the ferocious fire proved to be a daunting sight. The city once had about 2,000 lakes, but only 60 of them remain.

Water hyacinth due to pollution

Chetan Pandit who has worked for almost four decades in the Central Water Engineering Service and retired as the member (water planning and projects) of the Central Water Commission says that it is essential to classify lakes into large and small ones since their natures are different and so are the causes of pollution.

“The Pushkar lake is land locked and has only one small opening for outflow of water,” he says. “Over the years, immersion of ashes has grossly polluted the lake. Since the water has no path to flow out the stagnant water quality is declining by the day.”

The foremost reason why small lakes in the city dry up is because the water is in no way replenished. The channelised storm water drainage in cities is not let out into the lake and the paved surfaces act as an impervious one. Hence, water sources are diverted elsewhere resulting in the lakes drying up.

It is common knowledge that the damage needs to be reversed but Pandit notes that treatment of waste water has to be managed from the general tax paid by citizens and since it incurs great expenditure, the entire process becomes unaffordable. Hence, purification of the lakes remains a dream in most cases.

However, in spite of such odds there are examples of exemplary persistence and vision coupled with a strong body of work which has resulted in changing the face of some of India’s lakes.

One such example is the transformation of the Kankaria lake in Ahmedabad. Similarly, efforts are being made in Bhopal’s Upper lake to boost the oxygen content of the water by installing aerators. The task at hand is one that will require decades of work but as they say ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’

It is the need of the hour to make sincere efforts to minimise the damage caused to lakes and try to maintain a fine balance between development and the environment.

Revati is an Architect and Interior Designer by profession and a writer by passion. She can be reached at: revati@urbanvaastu.com

FACT FILE ON INDIAN LAKES

Largest lake – Wular in Kashmir
Longest lake- Vembanand in Kerala
Highest lake – Tso Lhamo in north Sikkim at an altitude of 17,490 ft.
Largest salt water lagoon – Chilika in Orissa