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Greening Delhi needs more will power than wallet power

As Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are proactively supporting plantation drives, the national capital should also encourage farmers to surround the city with green walls of trees.

Indra Shekhar Singh

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A panoramic view of the iconic India Gate and its green suburbs.

What happens when the cars and emissions rise in our cities? When the silence of the trees is robbed and the radiance of the sun is fogged by flumes and honks? Would we readapt to sooty skies? Do we urban citizens have a moral imperative to save our environment? These were some thoughts that were floating as my mother and I were planting our 300th sapling this August in Delhi.

When she thought about the idea of celebrating her 50th birthday by planting trees (it was in June 2020), we had a little idea of where to plant or the money required. But we willed it and the universe did conspire to make it happen. Soon, we had some money in our tree fund but the Delhi government announced that it would be distributing free saplings to plant.

With the first problem dealt with, now where to plant? For this we chose a DDA park, took necessary permissions and began planting. Most of our saplings are alive and growing faster. What we did was a small measure to save our immediate environment and our city Delhi. This was also an act of healing and small gratitude for all the things nature gave us. How did it happen? God along with nature works in mysterious ways. If we are silent enough to hear her hums, she guides us. Our planet and our cities need human agents to heal her and support her. The Covid-19 crisis has given the world an opportunity to re-value our environment. Starting from the Big Bang, the trajectory of connected events has led to creation of the earth, and humans. Our purpose here is a simple one: To cohabit with the earth and all her beings, to nourish ourselves and them.

 But can our government embrace this quest? Yes, and for starters, RWAs should be asked to intensify plantations of native varieties and urban food gardens in their areas. DDAs and public parks need to open doors for citizens to plant trees in them. This will also decrease the budget restraints on horticulture departments. A certain time period may be notified each year for people to plant. RWAs need to set voluntary targets and be recognised by local city authorities for this work. As a block or sub-division within the city, officials need to remove non-native species and replace them with indigenous plants and trees. We need to create mini-forests in our parks, using the ‘Miyawaki’ method. This step can help increase carbon sequestration and develop mini-lungs throughout our cities.Urban gardens and rooftop gardens need to be encouraged through an urban food policy. But at city level, a lot more can be done. For example, let’s take Delhi, a city surrounded by farms and an under-utilised budget for agriculture. We begin with a plan to surround Delhi with a green-wall of trees or green buffer zones.

But how will this be made possible? The Covid-19 agri-stimulus package has already allotted budget and subsidies for plantation. For the state of Uttar Pradesh, farmers can get up to 60% subsidies, if they choose to start a plantation. In Haryana, the government is offering up to 75% subsidy in various plantation crops to the farmers. As Haryana and UP are already very proactively supporting plantation drive, Delhi should create a map of the buffer zone and encourage as many farmers as possible to surround Delhi with a green wall of trees. These can be fruit crops, etc. The Delhi government may chip in by giving farmers additional subsidies. This should be considered as assistance given by them for eco-services and not charity. This way they can phase out paddy production from surrounding areas and decrease straw burning too.

The three state governments can work in tandem to create this zone around Delhi. The produce from these zones should be branded by the government and sold to marketing co-operatives like Mother Dairy, etc. With a contract farming model in the pipeline, various governments can enter into contracts with farmers or FPOs to produce food and fruits agro-ecologically, hence not only saving the environment but also the health of urban dwellers. This will help break the dust winds entering the city too. If during the lockdown a scheme can be developed and implemented, it will go a long way in ensuring that Delhi’s and other cities’ air, water and food supply are cleaner.

The author is director at Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India. The views expressed are personal.

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Former Assam CM Tarun Gogoi shows some improvement but still critical

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The health of former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has slightly improved after deteriorating on Saturday, the Superintendent of Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, where he is admitted, said on Sunday. His condition, however, is still critical.

“Last evening former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s health deteriorated so we intubated him, he was critical yesterday. His AGB (arterial blood gas) test and parameters are slightly better today,” hospital Superintendent Dr Abhijit Sarma told ANI here.

Gogoi’s heath had deteriorated on Saturday. He was “critical” and on ventilator support following post-Covid complications. There were also reports that Gogoi is suffering from multi-organ failure.’

The 86-year-old Congress leader had become “completely unconscious” on Saturday afternoon after difficulty in breathing, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said. He also suffered multiple organ failure, the minister confirmed.

Since Saturday, Gogoi has been on mechanical life support at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, where a team of doctors is monitoring his health and efforts are being made to revive his organs with medicines and dialysis.

The GMCH doctors are in constant touch with experts from Delhi’s premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences who have ruled out the possibility of shifting Gogoi outside the state in this condition.

Tarun Gogoi’s son, Congress leader and MP Gaurav Gogoi, is at the hospital.

The three-time former Assam CM had tested positive for Covid-19 in August. On 26 October, he had thanked the medical team at Guwahati Medical College and Hospital including the specialists, doctors, nurses, staff, for their “excellent care for the past two months” and had said that he looked forward to continuing his recovery at home under medical supervision.

With agency inputs

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Bharti Singh, her husband sent to judicial custody till 4 December

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On Sunday, a court in Mumbai sent comedian Bharti Singh and her husband Haarsh Limbachiyaa to judicial custody till 4 December. The two were arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in connection with the alleged consumption of cannabis.

Before producing the couple in the court, the NCB took them to the hospital for medical examination.

Bharti Singh was held on Saturday while Haarsh Limbachiyaa was arrested a day later on Sunday.

“Charges of consumption of drugs have been invoked against them,” said Sameer Wankhede, Zonal Director of the NCB, Mumbai.

NCB on Saturday raided the production office and house of comedian Bharti Singh and recovered 86.5 grams of ganja (cannabis) from both places.

The NCB had earlier raided a place in Khar Danda area and nabbed a trafficker aged 21 years with various drugs including 15 blots of LSD (commercial quantity), ganja (40 grams), and Nitrazepam (psychotropic medicines). In follow up and in corroboration with previous inputs, the NCB raided the production office and house of comedian Bharti Singh.

This comes as the probe, which began from the drug case in connection with the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, continues to expand to the alleged drug abuse by Bollywood celebrities.

Recently, a raid was also conducted at the residence of actor Arjun Rampal, after which he and his girlfriend were summoned by the NCB for questioning in the matter.

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With rise in respiratory diseases, Covid-hit Delhi in a health soup

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Amid the massive spike in Covid-19 cases in the national capital, Delhi-NCR has another cause for big concern: Deadly smog and its health implications. With pollution seeing a big rise with the first hint of winter in the sight, health experts on Sunday said they have seen a substantial increase in patients with respiratory disorders in the Delhi-NCR region.

Air pollution is an important cause of worsening of respiratory disorders, including sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, bronchitis and respiratory difficulty in those patients who do not smoke or have pre-asthmatic conditions.

According to experts, air pollution also plays a significant role in making Covid infections worse. Dr Praveen Gupta, Director and Head, Neurology, Fortis Hospital in Gurugram told IANS: “Pollution has been identified as a leading cause of stroke and heart disease increasing the risk by 25 per cent in people who do not have risk factors for stroke or any heart ailment.”

“Exposure to high levels of air pollutants may cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, wheezing, coughing, breathing problems. Air pollution can also affect existing lung and heart conditions,” he added.

Smog can cause irritation in the eyes, throat and can damage the lungs, can also lead to fatigue, migraine, headaches, anxiety and depression.

“It can also worsen the skin, cause allergic disorders as well as significant hair problems,” Gupta added.

He has observed a 25 per cent increase in patients with respiratory disorders in the OPD in past weeks.

Dr. Puneet Khanna, HOD and consultant-Respiratory Medicine, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals in Delhi said that as the winter approaches, smog is exacerbated by low temperature and slow movement of air.

“Ground-level ozone O3 and PM2.5 play a significant role in the formation of smog. Besides industrial activities and public transportation, stubble burning and road dust are majorly responsible for smog in winters,” Khanna informed.

The vulnerable group include newborns and children, pregnant women, elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, diabetics, angina and cardiac diseases.

Peaks in air pollution often irritate the upper and lower respiratory system making it harder to breathe besides aggravating symptoms of asthma and COPD.

According to Dr. Khanna, even a small increase in air pollution leads to heavy rush in OPDs, increased emergency room visits, hospitalisations and deaths. Long-term risks include lung cancer and reduction in life expectancy.

“During smog periods, these people should avoid intense physical activity outdoors particularly in morning and evening hours. They should venture out if absolutely essential and preferably wear an N95 mask during peak hours,” he said.

Dr. Navneet Sood, Pulmonary Consultant, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital said that “the apparent effect of air amid Covid pandemic is creating more problems for people living in Delhi-NCR”.

“A comprehensive approach is needed to deal with the problem. Wear a mask whenever stepping out of the house, avoid going out early morning and late evening, follow every precaution related to Covid-19,” Sood advised.

With IANS inputs

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Moderna may cost up to Rs 2,700 per dose, Sputnik V to be much less

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel says that governments willing to purchase Covid-19 vaccine may have to shell out Rs 1,854 and Rs 2,744 per dose—depending on the size of the order.

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Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel has said that governments seeking to purchase Moderna’s potential Covid-19 vaccine may have to shell out $25 and $37 per dose—which amounts to Rs 1,854 and Rs 2,744—depending on the size of the order. Bancel said that this would be a “fair price” and that the company was not interested in “maximum profit”.

However, on Sunday, the official Twitter handle for Russia’s Sputnik V tweeted that their vaccine will cost governments much less than that of Pfizer’s (estimated at Rs 1,446) and Moderna’s.

“Translating pharma lingo: the announced price of Pfizer of $19.50 and Moderna of $25-$37 per dose actually means their price of $39 and $50-$74 per person. Two doses are required per person for the Pfizer, Sputnik V and Moderna vaccines. The price of Sputnik V will be much lower,” said the tweet.

According to a spokesman for the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), RDIF is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the price of the Russian vaccine will be made public next week, TASS news agency reported.

Sputnik V is the world’s first registered vaccine against the Covid019 pandemic. It was developed by the Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Russian Health Ministry. However, it was officially registered and given regulatory approval by the Russian government ahead of large-scale clinical trials.

According to the Russian Health Ministry, these vaccines have proved their ability to form lasting immunity for a period of up to two years.

The third, post-registration, stage of clinical tests for the vaccine had begun on August 25 and the first batch of the vaccine was dispatched to Russian regions on September 12, said the TASS report.

Meanwhile, US pharma giant Moderna said last week that its vaccine has shown more than 94.5 per cent effectiveness in preliminary data from the company’s ongoing study. Before Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech had said that their vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19.

Moderna is expecting to produce approximately 20 million doses of its mRNA-1273 vaccine by the end of 2020. The company said it remains on track to manufacture 500 million to 1 billion doses globally in 2021.

The Moderna CEO also said that his company was engaged in negotiations with the EU Commission for the delivery of its vaccine against Covid-19, adding that talks have been “constructive”, and that it was “only a matter of days” before the contract is signed.

On the other hand, Pfizer said on Friday that it was moving ahead with its request of asking the US regulators to grant emergency approval of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate.

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Won’t back down: Australian PM rebuffs Chinese grievance list

A Chinese official gave a dossier to Australian media containing 14 grievances, saying: ‘If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy’.

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Australia will not bow to pressure from China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday after Beijing released a laundry list of complaints about the country. A Chinese official gave a dossier to Australian media containing 14 grievances, highlighting the increasingly fractious relationship between the two nations.

“If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy,” a Chinese government official reportedly told three prominent outlets on Wednesday.

Among the complaints are Australia’s strict foreign interference laws, the country’s ban on Huawei’s involvement in its 5G network and decisions that blocked Chinese investment projects on “national security grounds”.

PM Morrison said the “unofficial document” came from the Chinese embassy and would not stop Australia from setting “our own laws and our own rules according to our national interest”.

“We won’t be compromising on the fact that we will set what our foreign investment laws are or how we build our 5G telecommunications networks or how we run our systems of protecting against interference Australia’s way we run our country,” the Australian PM told Channel Nine.

The document also claimed Canberra had engaged in “incessant wanton interference” in China’s affairs while singling out Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. It accused Australia of “siding with the US’ anti-China campaign and spreading disinformation” about where the virus originated—a particularly sore point for Beijing.

Relations between China and Australia have reached a new low in recent months, leaving Australian government ministers unable to persuade Chinese counterparts to even accept their phone calls. The discord has left Australian exporters exposed as their largest trading partner places a series of retaliatory bans on agricultural goods including beef, barley and timber.

With agency inputs

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Big B to do ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign around Kevadia

Amitabh Bachchan’s campaign will no longer be just about Kutch. The new tagline will be: ‘If you haven’t seen Kevadia, then you have not seen anything.’

Abhijit Bhatt

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Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister, he had a dream that Gujarat would become a tourism hub, now that dream is coming true. Gujarat’s tourist places have become world-famous, first after the development of Kutch and now the Statue of Unity and the development of Kevadia around it which is being considered to promote the campaign starring Amitabh Bachchan.

The ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign will no longer be just about Kutch. A senior government official said that the campaign is being planned around Kevadia. “If you haven’t seen Kevadia, then you have not seen anything,” the new tagline will say.

Sources reveal that the discussions have started that Big B is going to star in a new ad film to promote Kevadia’s tourism development around the Statue of Unity. The world’s tallest statue and the new attractions built around it have enhanced its tourism value.

The Gujarat government led by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani wants the ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign to attract the attention of the tourists from all over the world and this time only Kevadia would be there.

The earlier done ad films done for the campaign included Kutch, Gir, Buddhist Caves, Ambaji, Gujarati Handicraft, Saputara, Gujarat’s Architect Modhera’s Sun Temple and Ahmedabad. Since Kevadia has been revamped, the Gujarat government is now considering this campaign and shooting dates are likely to be announced soon. Once the campaign agreement and shooting dates are set, Amitabh Bachchan will come to Gujarat. Apart from the Statue of Unity in Kevadia, the veteran actor is likely to do jungle safari, river rafting and also visit Butterfly Garden. Amitabh Bachchan’s new ad film might be shot around these tourist spots.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated 17 projects in Kevadia. Preparations are going on to invite Big B for international branding.

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