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Manual scavenging still on in smart cities despite tall claims

Amita Singh

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Can a ‘smart city’ co-exist with ethical and legal guilt of manual scavenging? Interestingly, this stark reality has been met with bold denial by leaders of smart cities. Cities of Bhopal, Indore, Bangalore, Surat, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Gurgaon and many others have been generously bestowed top ranks despite the muck they hide in the form of dehumanising and illegal manual scavenging. The priority for district governments under Smart City Mission is technology for services, governance for quality services, environment for clean air lifestyle, mobility and asset management, etc. Building city’s capacity for an inclusive human resource development is absent from the list leaving manual scavengers to continue as before in unhealthy conditions for want of alternative jobs or government support. Their average life span is reduced to 50 years as compared to 70 years for the rest of India despite the fact that they work in smart cities.

Photograph captured in Ward No. 35, Gurugram.

In 2021 the government told the Lok Sabha on the basis of a ‘mobile app’ launched in 2020, that there were no manual scavengers in India even though answering a separate question from TDP and BSP, Minister Athawale revealed that at least there were 321 reported deaths of manual scavengers while cleaning sewers and drains. In fact, the highest number died in 2019 when the first survey for ranking smart cities was being carried on. Just taking the 2020- 2022 data of deaths during septic tank cleaning, two manual scavengers Pramod Teji and Vishal Bamdev in their 30s died in Surat, Indore recorded 2 deaths both migrants from Bangladesh, in Chennai’s Sriperumbudur six scavengers died of inhaling toxic gas, Ahmedabad records a total seven deaths, Bengaluru records almost 1424 manual scavengers as per a Survey carried out by the state government Social Welfare Ministry and representatives of Safai Karmcharis in 2021-22. Bhopal has blatant continuance of manual scavengers and with adjoining Shivpuri can claim four out of six deaths of manual scavengers in the State. In Lucknow, Bhopal, Gorakhpur, Mathura and Bareilly a large number of manual scavengers are still cleaning human excreta due to old building structures where human waste directly goes to drains. Many are still treated as untouchables in rural MP, UP and Rajasthan with direct impacts upon labour supplied to smart cities. None of these smart cities have provided safety gears, medical coverage or insurance to those who contract fatal ailments or those who die. While the government was busy bestowing honours upon doctors and Army officers these grassroots were ignored despite their unstoppable task continuing even during the calamitous pandemic.

Being one of the most hard-hitting questions, the smart cities mission has ingeniously suppressed it under glittering ‘digital models’ considered ‘smart’. The so called ‘engineering metaphor’ prepared by big-budget IT Companies is by now established in its perpetual disconnect with social and caste realities nibbling progress and harmony at the grassroots. A Dec. 2021 data released from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment reveals a shocking figure of 58,098 manual scavengers in the country and a large number of them are employed in smart cities. Experts on the ground such as Dr. Vikram Singh, who conducted an intensive study between 2010 and 2015 through visits and NGO records reveals their number to exceed the estimated 6.76 lacs which was reported by the Ministry in 2002-03. Government estimates are restricted to bucket carriers in dry latrines but since then, these manual scavengers have shifted to sewers, septic tanks, drain cleaners and wet garbage workers where they are subjected to the same dehumanizing and unhealthy conditions in addition to pre-existing social discrimination. While I am writing this piece, the Safai Karmcharis or sanitation workers of Gurgaon are up in arms against the government which according to them has been unresponsive to their demands. This remains the unresolved darkest side of most smart cities.

For the rising upper classes, a morning walk in the wilderness of city parks is a necessary rejuvenation. Rarely do they see those hundreds of boys hauling through heaps of garbage spread around at the hidden end of their beautiful plush locality. These narrow back lanes which are used as garbage dumps are shortcuts to neighbourhood markets or metro points and those who pass by cover themselves up with a double mask to avoid the stench and germs. When I think of these secluded city corners invisible to the district administration, I am reminded of an early nineteenth-century Sufi Saint Baba Jaan who reflects beautifully on the unspeakable sufferings lying suppressed beneath these garbage dump yards. She had made the Char Bawdi (Four Wells) of Pune’s British Army Cantonment her home despite her devotees giving her better places. All the Pune city’s trash and the animal carcass from the neighbourhood slaughterhouses was dumped at Char Bawdi. She probably found this place as the best platform to address discrimination, destitution and inequity, ‘the beginning and the end of all human beings irrespective of size or status is the same, the difference only exists during the journey’. This form of discrimination is spiritually incorrect for any society. She also used concepts of ‘Fana’ and ‘Baqaa’ to make people understand that the arrogance that sustains superiority in society is an obstruction to progress, which can only be achieved ‘through a process of self-annihilation or Fana’. It is only after this is done that boundaries melt away and humans may gain a clearer vision to see the Almighty in fellow beings or achieve a state of Buqaa’. This spiritual argument may not appeal to the digital missionaries but may help to approach this human problem with basic human tools that weave social apparel before one knocks for legal deliverance.

The Cyber City of Gurugram was bestowed with ‘Garbage Free City Award’ by the MoHUA in November 2021. However, an entirely different story sullies the ground. The city’s Manhattan called the Cyber City has more than 20 thousand small and big dhabas (makeshift food points), restaurants, and home delivery kitchens within a diameter of 10-15 km but not even half have bins for their garbage disposal. The Ecogreen Co. hired by the government for house-to-house garbage pick-up arrives every morning with its non-stop noisy doggerel, seen as a bad imitation of Sikkim’s premiere tintinnabulate garbage collection trucks. As this noisy cavalcade enters a locality all online meetings are silenced, seminars are shut and work from home takes a pause. Other than these prescribed locality houses, garbage from markets and also from very large unauthorized but densest housing areas within the cyber city dump all their waste in an abandoned corner. Most empty plots or connecting passages get filled with garbage every night. The Municipal Corporation of Gurugram workers with the help of some good Samaritans have approached the Ward Councillor and the district authorities for their modest demands of garbage bins and safety equipment or at least impose penalties on unbridled garbage dump by food points using their powers under Swachh Bharat Mission. This has met with a habitual impassiveness towards grassroots. The situation is worse in other sectors where there are innumerable pathological labs and hospitals throw their trash in the open.

For reasons best known to the government, the definition of manual scavengers has been so narrowed down in law that most of those trapped in this inhuman ordeal are kept out of any legitimate support offered in law. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 had defined the expression ‘manual scavenging’ limited to ‘a person engaged in or employed in carrying human excreta’. The 2013 Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (PEMSRA) broadened it to, “manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrine is disposed of or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises, as the Central Government or the State Government may notify, before the excreta fully decomposes in such a manner as may be prescribed and the expression manual scavenging shall be construed accordingly.” Despite an extended definition, much depends upon how governments and the judiciary understands and interprets scavenging in a modern city where the state of scavengers remains unchanged. The National Safai Karamchari Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) conducted a survey in 2019 under the aegis of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Of the 87,913 people registered for manual scavenging in the 170 districts across 18 states only 42,303 people or less than half were ‘acknowledged’ by the state governments as manual scavengers. A Survey across the state of Uttar Pradesh, which tops in the number of manual scavengers and also in villages practicing untouchability found that Rs.40,000 promised to those who give up scavenging did not reach even half of them. The Supreme Court Judgement in Safai Karamchari Andolan v. Union of India, (2014) laid down a compensation of Rs. 10 Lakh to families of all the workers who died in the process of sewer cleaning yet most families were found waiting to receive the amount due to them. It is ironical how little the government has done at this level in creating even a mild discourse for alternative jobs or regular medical checkup to protect them from severe health issues like asthma, eye infections, and intestinal damage that they become vulnerable to.

A number of international organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization(WHO), UN Women and the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) have addressed this concern in some of the most affected areas. The five top ranking states in manual scavenging ie; Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat have demonstrated a pathetic management on the ground and Haryana’s defiance to norms is going unnoticed. Few facts which should be placed before smart city planners:

Most of those employed in manual scavenging are Dalits (lowest in caste hierarchy)

They work without safeguard equipment (boots, gloves, masks, caps) against hazardous rotting animal and human waste, inside toxic areas in septic tanks and sewers or hand management of non-household garbage dump-yards.

Considering their health they need additional sanitation materials like soaps and detergents but no such allowance is given to them.

There is no regular health checkup legally required to be conducted for such workers both under the Factory Act as well as the 2013 Act.

They are not employed on defined ‘term contracts’ but simply ‘temporary’. This exonerates the state from any substantial support to them while they are made to live under an illusion of a government job. Their retirement after inhaling the city’s worst toxins throughout their life comes without benefits of pension, provident fund, group insurance, medical card or gratuity.

Human and administrative puniness has failed a strong law. The PEMSRA 2013 has provided for the appointment of Inspectors under sec. 20, who would strictly supervise compliance to this Act. This Inspector has wide-ranging powers similar to those under sec. 94 of CrPC 1973 for visit, search, and seizure of any office material, documents, registers, record of wages or notices on having slightest indication that such an offence has been committed and its mandatory to provide him all this required information as it is under sec.175 and sec.176 of IPC 1860.

The Act has further laid down in Chapter VI that The Chief Executive Officer of the Municipality, in whose jurisdiction the survey is undertaken, shall be responsible for accurate and timely completion of the survey. The State Government may confer, on an Executive Magistrate, the powers of a Judicial Magistrate of the first class for the trial of offences under this Act with powers under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. These offences may be tried summarily (quick trials) and every offence under this Act shall be cognizable and non-bailable.

Further to this under sec.24, every State Government should constitute a Vigilance Committee for each district and each Sub-Division. The Committee is so comprehensive and inclusive in its constitution that even if half of its form is implemented, the broad daylight defiance of law in smart cities would send most special purpose vehicles behind bars. These Committees led by the District Magistrate as its Chairperson, ex officio, all Scheduled Castes Assembly members from the district, the district Superintendent of Police and members of Panchayat, Ward, Scheduled Castes Welfare Board, district-level officers of Departments and agencies who, in the opinion of the District Magistrate have a significant role to play in the implementation of this Act. Yet, while ranking smart cities, this has not even been considered as a factor for considering eligibility as the byword to the ‘smart-list’ is ‘by hook or by crook just get there’. Big grants come to states on reaching these ranks.

State governments have been jumping the gun by launching mobile applications to identify unsanitary conditions and replace manual scavenging, which is the task assigned to Inspectors under the 2013 Act. Indore, Bangalore, Lucknow and other smart cities have been making a beeline to procure‘Bandicoot’, a manhole cleaning robot. From preliminary tests conducted by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation this robot works with a camera in front, can go deep into septic tanks and can clean a manhole in 45 minutes. It costs 35 lacs. Like most apps, this app may also need additional tech support, repairs, energy and a streamlined maintenance care. The cost could easily be doubled. Yet considered to be the best answer to dehumanizing manual scavenging it leaves behind the standard problem unattended ie; What are the alternative employment avenues for those who were so poor to have opted for manual scavenging?

Would the government spend half the amount its spending on ephemeral technology of smart cities on rehabilitating these manual scavengers and put their district administration to better compliance to the demands of 2013 Act. The latter is an everlasting return to country’s governance.

The author is president of Network Asia Pacific Disaster Research Group, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal. This piece is part of a series of five articles on ‘Grassroots Concerns of Smart Cities Mission’.

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Opinion

THE ROAD AHEAD FOR THE GRAND OLD PARTY IS FULL OF POTHOLES

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It was the month of June. The occasion was another Chintan Shivir – the brainstorming camp of the Indian Youth Congress held at Pragati Maidan in Delhi. Present on the high podium was the scion of the Gandhi family Sanjay Gandhi, accompanied by the effervescent Ambika Soni, head of the youth organization. ‘The future of Congress is the future of the country’ was the call given from the podium amid high decibel sloganeering by the congregation. This was way back in 1976. I was working as a correspondent with a major media organization, then. I wrote a long cover story on the event which was published in the weekly. The Chintan Shivir, which was held in the scorching heat of Udaipur between May 13 and 15, was similarly called Sankalp Shivir after it was over, typical epiphanous moments the Congress then had experienced.

The difference this time around was that Ambika Soni was there in the first row on the stage along with other senior Congress leaders and there was Rahul Gandhi, the second-generation member of the family, who was telling us that Congress was indispensable for India’s future. Despite all the cacophony and tall talks of the Chintan Shivir, Sanjay Gandhi received a sound drubbing in the parliamentary elections held a year later in 1977, so did the Congress Party. Both Indira Gandhi and son Sanjay found themselves behind bars, leaving the party high and dry, even leading to its disintegration. Pushed to the wall, the mother-son duo, however, clawed back by fighting a real fight on the grounds, reaching out to the people, and rode back to power in 1980. That was a different era. But in present times, would the ‘walking alone’ policy and launching Bharat Jodo Yatra – Unite the Country Campaign – help the party achieve its goals and lead it back to power? I wonder.

In a democracy, it is natural for a political party to adopt an adversarial role against the ruling power of the day and dream about coming to power and make all-out efforts to realize that dream. The Congress Party, after the three-day-long brainstorming sessions, resolved to remove the BJP from power and adopted some programmes to realize that goal. However, many of those things were voiced in various camps and conferences of the Congress Party in the past, as well. Those resolutions, however, were never implemented when the party was in power. The team of advisors of Rahul Gandhi may, perhaps, be completely ignorant of those resolutions, as Google may not be having details of those decisions taken in that Indira-Rajiv era.

In a democracy, however, having been identified with an ideology at the national level may help a political party. For Rahul, the journey ahead may bring bouquets and brickbats, as the road he has to negotiate is full of potholes. Then, is Congress the only party from Kashmir to Kanyakumari? There are regional parties that have stopped the BJP juggernaut in their respective states. The Congress Party has no significant presence there either. Yet, for Rahul, those parties neither have any ideology nor any real strength as they depend on caste and caste equations. The million-dollar question is: can the Congress Party under Rahul’s leadership remove the BJP from power in the coming assembly and parliamentary elections in 2024 on its own after undertaking this yatra? You are expecting a miracle, isn’t it?

The agenda of Congress Chintan Shivir changed during its course. The unease over Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan which is palpable must have certainly tampered the dreaming. During the course of the Shivir, senior leader Sunil Jakhar, who has been with the party for the past 50 years, openly accused Ambika Soni of playing along Hindu-Sikh lines and Harish Rawat of playing Dalit card. Gujarat is going for elections this year, for instance. Hardik Patel, Working President of the State Congress Committee did not turn up for the Shivir. Surprisingly, Raghu Sharma, in charge of Gujarat, had this much to say, “I have no idea why Hardik did not turn up.” Disillusioned with the approach of the party, Patel left it three days after the Shivir concluded on Sunday. Whether the popular youth leader joins the BJP or another political party, or not is an entirely different issue. But wouldn’t his exit dent the party?

Should party leaders adopt such a method to establish connect with their workers and the people? What fruit would the call to establish connect and dialogue with the people made by Party President Sonia Gandhi and her heir apparent bear? Gujarat is hardly a few hours drive from Udaipur, and Sachin Pilot, if not Rahul Gandhi or Raghu Sharma, could have gone there and brought Hardik around to attend the camp. Infighting in the party was too apparent to go unnoticed. Sachin Pilot was cold-shouldered by the top brass of the party. He did not find any mention as a leader from Rajasthan in the concluding address by Rahul Gandhi, though he is considered close to both Rahul and Priyanka. Pilot was not given a place, either, in the front row during the three-day-long programme, whereas turncoats of all sorts, who have never fought an election and are rather found currying favour with the BJP, were found enjoying a place of prominence there. A leader like Ambika Soni had deserted Indira Gandhi in 1977. Not only that, those who are known for writing and speaking against Sonia Gandhi for the past so many years are now part of the core team of the party. Sachin and his father Rajesh Pilot never deserted the Congress Party and Gandhi family. He was being slighted and his patience tested. It is well known that both Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot are grassroots leaders who have their fingers on the pulse of the people of Rajasthan. As the political sagacity demanded, one of them could have been appointed as the Working President at the state level and the other could have been appointed to the national executive, striking a fine balance of power between the two factions to the benefit of the party. But nothing of this sort happened.

As usual, Rahul Gandhi attacked the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues of inflation, corruption, unemployment, and mishandling of the Corona pandemic. But he forgets that Congress governments in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Punjab too have failed in delivering on similar promises they made to the public there – providing employment, reforming the healthcare system, and economic development. The Congress Party is part of the coaling governments in Jharkhand and Maharashtra. And if these Congress-ruled states are not better off, then what sets them apart from the rest of the country? The party failed to underline the achievements of the governments of the Congress-ruled states and the cooperation from the central government.

It was an irony to see Ajay Makan talking of connect with the people from the podium, for the leader has no connect with the people of Delhi. How many people Rahul Gandhi himself meets for that matter? Contacting the people on a regular basis, identifying with their pain when they face problems and are in crises, helping the party workers and introspection are far more important and effective tools than spouting resolutions and declarations and talking on Facebook and Twitter. Even the BJP and perhaps the Prime Minister may wish them good luck. But when the opponents are strong, every player and the leader in the ring enjoy fighting the fight.

The author is the Editorial Director of ITV Network, India News and Aaj Samaj. Views espressed are personal.

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Biodiversity is our shared future

Amita Singh

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India’s biodiversity

Every year the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) announces a theme-specific for that year’s Biodiversity Day on 22nd May. This year a theme that needs much introspection on the policy front is ‘Building a shared future for all life’. While the theme is a stark reminder to nations maddeningly wiping off biological assets of their weak neighbourhood and in turn closing down any good future for themselves and the world, it is also a reminder of the dark ages when men lived and lost under the impression that they have limitless supplies of everything available in nature. Since men have not changed despite the bacchic death dance of Covid-19 through our lives, so let us think about laws that can cork these barbaric criminaloids back into their genie bottles so that the privilege of appearing on global podiums as saints of conservation is somehow checked.

DESTROYING BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOTS

Biodiversity is a central cause of our presence on this planet. The theme of shared future is like an alert call prior to the 2022 UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) to nations that are carrying business as usual despite causing immense irretrievable harm to biodiversity through their policies of development and infrastructure expansion. India has special responsibility as well as a leadership role in global biodiversity conservation since four out of nine biodiversity hotspots in Asia-Pacific are located in India alone ie; Western Ghats, Nicobar Sudaland, North-East Meghalaya-Assam region, and the eastern Himalayas or Bhutan-Nepal belt, and we are aware of their deteriorating health. The Western Ghats is gasping for survival yet governments continue to rip it barbarically. The much-maligned and rejected Hubballi-Ankola railway line has been revived by the Karnataka government while on the other hand Kerala government is pushing hard for its Silverline rail project despite a united people’s opposition to it. Sawantwadi Mines have already shaken the fragile ecology of Western Ghats and now Goa is heading towards doom through the government’s revival of manganese, iron, and bauxite mining deep into the biodiversity clusters of its forests. The Western Ghats provide the only source of water to South India as some of their major river systems like Godavari, Kaveri, Krishna, Thamiraparani and Tungabhadra which originate in this region supply water to innumerable networks of streams and smaller rivers spread around.Can anyone wait to see the drying up of just one river Tungabhadra which affects the lives of millions of farmers in Karnataka, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. Warning signs are already to the fore with rain deficits increasing as high as 34% and more. Krishna river is already at the verge of going dry speedily to almost 74% since 2017. This year in March, Godavari, a major provider of water to Maharashtra dried up completely. In Kerala, after the devastating 2018 floods even their deep restoration channels of water banks called aquifers have been split open and lost pushing the state to a water emergency even if they get excess rainfall during monsoon months. Viju’s bestseller book ‘Flood and Fury’ (2019) documents in tears the ecological devastation of the Western Ghats which transcends political ideologies which have claimed to be genetically linked to environmentalists and forest people. This story of the Western Ghats is true for all biodiversity hotspots in India but in a maddening race for infrastructure projects, governments continue to dilute environmental norms and play havoc with biodiversity. Governments also tend to underplay the fact that regions with high environmental degradation are also regions with unsustainable economies and low human development indices such as Wayanad and Mallapuram in Kerala, Bijapur in Karnataka, the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu and many more could be looked into.

BIODIVERSITY & DEMOCRACY

Biodiversity is inherently a democratic idea embedded in nature. It reiterates a spiritual lesson that harmony is the key to a strong society. A biodiverse terrain is where every species is allowed to grow and evolve to its optimum, regenerate and achieve sturdiness against outside attacks of any kind ie; natural, chemical or environmental. Every species in the midst of this available freedom interacts with other species of its choice and sprouts into a variety of collaborations and symbiotic relationships which empower and strengthen their families and also extended families reciprocatively. The essence of biodiversity is ‘freedom to grow on one’s selected habitat’. Environmental history of earth shows that the worst of the mass extinctions which ever came on this earth was during the Holocene era of the last 11,500 years or the 6th mass extinction which came under human impact as this was the only animal which the moment it emerged on earth, started stealing and grabbing habitats of other living species. Sometimes, on a lighter side, I feel that this creation of a human-animal was by Almighty’s default science or why would a creator place a time bomb under its own empire.

BIODIVERSITY DESTRUCTION AND PANDEMICS

It is scientifically established since the 2005 US Geological survey that the earth is 4.54 billion years old and any meagre evidence of life was visible only a few billion years later when the molten mass of earth started solidifying. Microbes were the first to appear as studies on fossils in Western Australia have research stories to share. Over these many billion years species have undergone struggles of survival, of symbiosis, and extinctions, and what we find today are just 10-14 million species of the multi trillions which appeared and are today extinct to a level of 99.9%. So human capacity to stay naturally protected from the varieties which were available in the wild is sunk to its lowest. Scientific studies are warning that the current pandemic is only a prelude to much worse viral attacks with many times more deaths that are yet to follow. A Lancet study by Odette Lawlaer and team (2021) and another by Sara Platto and team (2021) in Biomedical research journal have strongly established that global trends indicate that biodiversity losses are directly linked to the spread of infectious diseases. Kate Jones through her ecological modelling at the University College of London has been writing and warning since 2008 but was ignored when she related biodiversity losses to pandemics. Her research paper in ‘Nature’, which appeared in 2008 had linked biodiversity losses to land use and to infectious diseases. Later writings which carried this linkage further suggested that loss of habitats and arbitrary land use in infrastructure buildups have forced species to either go extinct or re-adapt to human habitats. Some sturdier species like bats and rats which survived the migration stress re-adapted to cities and inadvertently became a source of spreading the fatal microbe of which they were the carriers with self-resistance but the human community was vulnerable. The Corona pandemic was attributed to such biodiversity disturbances, shrinking of habitats, and over-culling for consumption of rare species by humans. The UNESCO Reportfrom the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) suggests the same through scientific research. Accordingly, the emergence of pandemics is purely a creation of anti-biodiversity-led human activities. The Report does not end here but warns of many more pandemics in the future which would kill many more and devastate the world economy unless preventive measures are taken immediately by nations. Experts suggest that preventive measures are 100 times cheaper and easier to follow than responding against a pandemic.UNESCO has been emphasizing through its networks and partners to transform the way we live on earth and consume its resources.

AN EQUITY PRINCIPLE IN BIODIVERSITY

Biodiversity conservation is established upon a principle of equity. This principle is a basis for sustainable governance as well. Equity as a principal strategy would demand just distribution in contrast to the same quantity of distribution to everyone, which nonetheless comes under the principle of equality and helps the privileged. A just consumption vis a vis nature follows two basic commandments ie; do not draw beyond the carrying capacity of a natural asset ie; drilling out more groundwater, infrastructural spread over forests, over-mining, building over hills and coastal zones, etc. The second commandment is to abide by the law of inter-generational (current population and the ones to come in the future) and intra-generational (within various segments of the current population) equity and justice. This indicates that there is no overdraft facility in nature that is writ open to serve only a limited number of people. After the Club of Rome revealed in 1968 through ‘Limits to Growth’ that the world is not limitless and coal, oil, petrol and every other asset drawn from earth has a limited life, industrialists were uproarious in a hysterical frenzy to rubbish this report. Now more studies come to suggest limitations on water, topsoil and also slaughterhouses which release 40% of CFC gases. There has been an increasingly outrageous worldwide roar to reduce the production of cattle since 80% of the land is used to grow cattle feed in the world or to ban whale and shark hunting alongside overfishing in the ocean to protect the phytoplankton ecosystem at ocean bed which gives 60% of our oxygen at the earth’s surface. With an explosion of so much information on the internet, vegetarianism is not just a new fad for the emerging younger sensitized population today but an indispensable requirement for the world to manage and survive through current resource consumption challenges about to strike the human race like global disasters.

BIODIVERSITY AS A BANK

Biodiversity is a bank for any country to cherish and a prudent government would be serious enough about maintaining an appropriate balance of payments and Cash reserve ratio in these banks. The total mass of biosphere in the world is valued at 4 trillion tonnes of carbon stock and India’s biomass is valued at 7083 million tonnes of carbon stock. Carbon stocks define eligibility to trade in carbon credits or the right to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or further to adopt industrial processes of production. Besides more than a lac of fauna and 47,000 flora in country’s ten Biodiversity Zones, there is no compatible habitat provision arranged in policies for these numbers to survive. Habitats of forests, wetlands, grasslands, deserts, coastal and marine ecosystems are reducing with each passing day. Human interventions is emboldened as never before since ideas of democratic decision making, constitutional safeguards, human rights and equity is lost to silence in the name of nationalism fed by increased corporatization of government’s regular district level programmes which are now being promoted through CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

A few smaller but local steps can protect biodiversity within our range as COP 15 moves ahead. There has been massive devastation at the fringes of cities and much noise is about preventing it. However, it has become a legitimized right of not just the government but also heads of institutions to dig, excavate, drill out and drain away smaller shrunken biodiversity spots where reptiles, porcupines, rabbits, wild cats, squirrels, foxes and jackals have taken shelter after losing their own habitat. Decision-makers do not think twice about alternative ideas, least use of land and protecting a pond on a priority. For example, Arawali ranges falling inside institutions such as JNU and other institutions should have laws to protect these hidden, scared, and weaker species hiding in refuge from the conceitful eye of a contractor and a robotic institutional head.

Before appointing any institutional head, especially that of an academic body, the government would do great service to the nation if wired and programmed personalities are kept out and a holistic ecosystem personality is given charge of life within the campus. In a kind of developmental pattern which is defining our lives in modern cities, people confine to cosmetic apartment lives, children move in airconditioned school buses, and man-dislocated animals are targeted everywhere in India to be killed, then where would one get a basic sense and a training to co-exist with the biodiverse environment? Biodiversity conservation demands sensitive education, democratic communication, strong environmental regulations, a committed sense towards non-human lives, and ethically just governance. Greed for either political or cash capital will kill even the remotest approach to biodiversity conservation.

Last, the point is about ‘tolerance’. A democratic personality in governance respects advocacy groups standing in support of protecting biodiversity areas and erroneously viewed by the government as anti-nationals or anti-development people. ‘Save Silent Valley’ movement alerted the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to cancel the project and join hands with the conservationists of Silent Valley, a rare biodiversity area. Kerala’s historic 100-day ‘Save the Western Ghats March’ in 1987-88 blew turbulent winds over many governments. One does not need a UN-declared Biodiversity decade of 2011-2020, once ethics is in place for governments since they seem to be most evasive towards conservation. The forthcoming UN Biodiversity Conference may hopefully frame a new set of goals for nature over the next decade and have plans to transform society’s relationship with biodiversity so that humans learn to live in harmony with nature.

The author is president of Network Asia Pacific Disaster Research Group, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.

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‘CHINTA’ ABOUT THE CHINTIN SHIVIR

Priya Sahgal

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There was a lot of hype and coverage around the Congress Party’s introspection meet, or the Chintin Shivir held in Udaipur recently. But let us take a look as to whether this exercise was worth the hype.

Yes on paper decisions were taken. Such as the one to deny more than one ticket (to contest elections) to members of the same family. This was immediately watered down with a proviso – unless the second family member has spent five years working in the organisation. This gives a clean chit to all the three Gandhi family members, and most other families as well. Conditions were also laid down to reserve representation of youth (50 percent under 50) in the CWC, as well as reservations for Dalits, minorities, and tribals. This, in a sense, is to bring back the umbrella coalition that was the hallmark of Congress. Of late, this is a vote bank that has deserted the Congress in favour of regional parties, as well as the BJP. The BJP under Prime Minister Modi has been aggressively wooing the OBCs as well as the tribals with its pro-poor schemes. A sizeable chunk of Muslim women also voted for the party not just for its subsidies and ujjwala schemes but also for progressive legislations like banning Triple Talaq. If the Modi government brings in the UCC then this will further attract the Muslim women vote.

The Congress leadership has realised that it needs to win back the traditional vote bank of the Congress and remould it back to its socialist, secular moorings instead of competing with the BJP on a capitalist, Hindu platform. It has to go back to the Congress of Nehru and Indira instead of competing with the BJP of Modi and Shah. Given that the BJP is arguing that it is now time to remove the words socialist and secular from our Constitution will this gambit have any takers in Modi’s India. (Last week in an interview to ITV Network, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma argued that while socialism has been rejected worldwide, the word secularism too should be dropped as India has always been secular— not in the western meaning of the word, but ‘dharam nirpeksh’. So where was the need to state the obvious, argues Sarma.) This is a cry that will be picked up by other BJP leaders as well. The Congress of Indira and Nehru was not the Congress of Rao and Manmohan. The aspiring middle class was not its vote bank, but it was in the poor and the backwards. Can Rahul walk the party back a few decades?

Certainly, his over 3000 km long Bharat Jodo yatra is aiming to do that. My concern about Rahul Gandhi is not that he will not be able to undertake the strenuous walk. He will do it for he knows that this could well be his last chance to reinvent himself. He will also be able to undertake the physical rigours better than any other Congress leader because he has kept himself physically fit. My concern is whether Rahul will be able to make an emotional connect with the people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari that he encounters on the way. Rahul’s main problem has been the lack of an emotional connect with the rest of India. Maybe it’s due to his slightly formal, westernised mannerisms, but whatever the reason, Rahul does not come across as a spontaneous, instinctive leader, and the public can sense that. The first thing Rahul should do is throw away his mobile when he embarks on this yatra for he needs no distractions.

The other shift at the Chintin Shivir was the prominence given to other Congress leaders and not just members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Apart from hoardings of Nehru, Rajiv, and Indira there were also hoardings of BR Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Subash Chandra Bose, Abdul Kalam Azad, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Sarojini Naidu, and Mahatma Gandhi. What is even more interesting is that even Narasimha Rao found a mention in a hoarding as did Dr Manmohan Singh. Clearly a much more inclusive outlook than the earlier family focus. And it could not have come soon enough, at a time when the BJP and regional parties are appropriating Congress leadership icons.

And of course, those who were hoping that the Shivir would throw up a leadership alternative were in for some disappointment because the one message that came through loud and clear is that the Gandhis are very much in control with Sonia paving the way for a Rahul Gandhi take over. For all its hype and hoopla the G 23 failed to make an impression (did they even try?) at the Chintan Shivir. The election for party president— whenever it happens— will be a token exercise at best, for it does seem that Rahul Gandhi is firmly in place as the leader of the Congress party, with or without allies.

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Opinion

Yogi Adityanath’s secularism has quelled India’s ‘minorityism’

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister seems to be on a mission to dispel common beliefs about the Nehruvian style of secularism that has been adopted by the left for decades.

Yuvraj Pokharna

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The loudspeaker row on Azaan and Hanuman Chalisa— which sparked a national debate on prime time and in political circles, began in Maharashtra with Raj Thackery of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) issuing an ultimatum to the Rana couple sailing on the same boat about the removal of loudspeakers that hung over the minarets of mosques—has now reached Uttar Pradesh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being presented with an idol of Lord Krishna by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during the meeting with UP BJP leaders and ministers, in Lucknow on Monday. ANI

“So far, 53,942 loudspeakers have been removed from different holy locations throughout the state till 7 a.m. (Sunday) this morning,” said Prashant Kumar, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) in Uttar Pradesh. Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, had issued an advisory restricting the volume of loudspeakers within the institution’s premises before this move. The sound level of 60,295 loudspeakers was later decreased by the authorities and brought within normal specifications. As luck would have it, the debate that ensued followed the sectarian violence that erupted in several states during the recent Hindu festivals of Ram Navami and Hanuman Janmotsav, and the subject has been simmering ever since. Raj Thackeray gives Yogi a thumbs up, saying, “In Maharashtra, we don’t have ‘yogis’ in authority; what we have are bhogis (hedonists).”

In reality, numerous courts have noted the following at various times:

1. Supreme Court (2005): In July 2005, the Supreme Court issued an order prohibiting the use of loudspeakers and music systems in public places between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. (except in emergency situations), citing the serious health effects of noise pollution on those who live in such areas.

2. Bombay High Court (2016): The Bombay High Court ruled in August 2016 that utilizing loudspeakers was not a fundamental right. No religion or sect could claim that the capacity to use a loudspeaker or public address system was a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, according to the Bombay High Court.

3. Uttarakhand High Court (2018): “The loudspeakers continue to blare even after 12 a.m.” “The loudspeaker cannot be utilized without proper clearance from the government, including by temples, mosques, and gurdwaras,” according to the court.

4. Karnataka High Court (2021): In January 2021, the state government was instructed to take action against unlawful loudspeakers at religious sites throughout the state by the Karnataka High Court. It ordered the state government to issue immediate orders to the police and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to take action against the use of amplifiers and loudspeakers in religious structures, citing noise pollution legislation and Supreme Court judgements as justifications. The state government was then asked by the Karnataka High Court to explain the statutory provisions that enable loudspeakers and public address systems in mosques, as well as what steps are being done to reduce their use by November 2021.

5. Haryana and Punjab High Courts: The Punjab and Haryana High Courts issued an order in July 2019 forbidding the use of loudspeakers in public places, including religious groups. Public address systems should only be used with prior consent, according to the court, and the noise level should never exceed the permitted limit.

Thus, the Uttar Pradesh government has set the ideal example of communal unity and secularism by removing loudspeakers from mosques, temples, and gurudwaras. While it has been extensively debated how India defines, rather, ratifies itself as a “secular nation” but is, in fact, not, Yogi Adityanath seems to be on a mission to dispel common beliefs about the Nehruvian style of secularism that has been adopted by the left for decades. Academics, ideologues, and activists on the left have cleverly labeled and reduced secularism to expressing ugly and slanderous sentiments on Hindus and their cultures, hence demonstrating their “secular credentials” and “solidarity” with India’s minority groups.

Secularism, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “the conviction that religion should not influence or be involved in the structure of society, education, government, or other institutions.” And that is precisely what the Yogi administration is doing, by questioning the established concept of secularism, which is based only on minority appeasement. Neither Vikas Dubey nor Mukhtar Ansari is safe in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. The government has reduced the volume of loudspeakers at the Gyanvapi Mosque if loudspeakers are not used during aarti at temples such as Kashi Vishwanath Dham, Kaal Bhairav, Sankatmochan Temple, Durga Temple, and Tulsi Manas Temple in Varanasi.

Yogi Adityanath, the saffron-clad Chief Minister, has made no apologies for his tough stance on crime in Uttar Pradesh, declaring in an interview, “Agar apraadh karenge toh thok diye jayenge” (Criminals would be shot). The Chief Minister’s pet initiative “Operation Clean” has taken the hardest measures against criminals, and the Yogi administration seems to have a tight grip on law and order in the state, with crime rates substantially below the national average. On the occasion of Ram Navami, there was not a single case of communal clashes, rioting, or even violence in Uttar Pradesh, which was once known as the epicenter of riots, despite stone-pelting, violence, arson, and nearly Armageddon by Islamistic Jihadis being witnessed across the length and breadth of India. However, the Indian version of Stockholm syndrome has turned “liberals” into the worst racists, who are eager to destroy all the principles they profess to protect for the greater good. This is the core subject that is being used to sell a misleading story about violence: The Hindus incited local Muslim populations by playing “provocative music” and “raising slogans” while travelling through “Muslim regions”. But liberals must be cautious about spreading this argument since by doing so, they’ve reached the precipice and must realize that their days are numbered. If simply playing music in a religious procession is “provocation” for violent acts to be justified, it is not only a call for Hindus to concede more, confining their religion to private spaces while Muslims are free to pray in public places like roads, but it also encourages Muslims to continue using anarchy as leverage. Since 1947, ‘minorityism’ has been the sine qua non of the Indian polity, a neologism denoting a political system or process in which a minority section of a population enjoys a certain degree of precedence in that entity’s decision-making.

It should come as no surprise that music might be used as a “provocation” for violence. “Another evidence of this attitude of exploitation is supplied by the Muslim demand on cow-slaughter and the stopping of music before mosques,” BR Ambedkar said in a chapter on communal violence. In all Muslim nations, music is permitted to be performed in front of mosques. Even in Afghanistan, which is not a secular nation, no one objects to music playing in front of a mosque. In India, however, the Muslims must insist on its halt for no other reason than the Hindus’ claim to it. In his revile and condemnation of Islam, BR Ambedkar, who was famed for his critique of Hinduism, was all the more blatantly caustic at best and brutally honest at worst. However, it’s ironic that two different treatises by the same man, critiquing two different communities, are read so differently, but they both display the most fascinating cocktail of discrimination and “victim card” we’ve ever seen, where even the onus of violence and arson by Islamists on the auspicious day of Ram Navami is laid at the Hindus’ feet.

“But nowhere was there any tu-tu mainmain (arguments)… much alone rioting and disturbance,” the first UP chief minister to take the oath for a second term remarked at a rally. This exemplifies UP’s new progressive mindset. There is no room for rioting and turmoil here. On the Ram Navami anniversary, UP exhibited this. In fact, the monk CM’s ace in the pack this election was Uttar Pradesh’s well-maintained law and order situation. Aside from Rana Ayyub’s habit of referring to Yogi Adityanath as a “militant Hindu monk,” UP is aggressively courting companies, boasting the lowest crime rates, and upholding religious peace as an ideal state need.

Uttar Pradesh has clearly gone a long way from Mulayam Singh’s notorious “ladke hai galti ho jaati hai”(To err is male) sexist argument against the death penalty for rape, to Yogi Adityanath’s “criminals will be shot” shout!

Academics, ideologues, and activists on the left have cleverly labeled and reduced secularism to expressing ugly and slanderous sentiments on Hindus and their cultures, hence demonstrating their “secular credentials” and “solidarity” with India’s minority groups. Yogi administration is questioning the established concept of secularism, which is based only on minority appeasement. Neither Vikas Dubey nor Mukhtar Ansari is safe in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh.

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Opinion

11 Ways to Make the Most of Your Post Office

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Intro: The United States Postal Service is a necessary institution, but it can also be frustrating. Whether you’re mailing something essential or just picking up your mail, there are ways to make the most of your time at the post office. Here are eleven tips to help you get in and out as quickly as possible.

  1. Make a list of the items you need to mail and plan: 

If you tend to regularly make trips to the post office, it pays to have a list of things you need to mail. There is a designated spot for waiting for customers to place their names on a list for priority service when the counter clerk is not busy at most post offices. If you plan by making your list, you can save yourself time (and frustration) by not having to wait in line. It will help you save time by having a game plan when you enter the post office.

  1. Download the USPS app or check the website ahead of time: 

The app and website can help you find the nearest post office, track a package, and even calculate shipping costs. It can be helpful if you’re unsure what type of postage you need or want to compare rates. If you’re mailing something essential and want specific information about packages or mail delivery, download the free USPS app or visit the website online to locate the bayonne post office before heading to your local post office. It will ensure that you have all the information you need and can avoid waiting in line for assistance.

  1. Weigh your packages at home: 
How to Save Money with Lightweight Packaging Strategies

To save time (and avoid potential mistakes), weigh your packages at home before heading to the post office. Several websites offer free shipping calculators, such as USPS’s Shipping Calculator. All you have to do is enter your package weight and dimensions, choose a preferred shipping option (e.g., Priority Mail or Parcel Select Ground), and the website will calculate a cost estimate for you.

  1. Bring all relevant documentation: 

Whenever you’re shipping something important, it’s a good idea to bring as much information with you as possible. It includes your package, appropriate packaging materials (e.g., boxes, tape, and bubble wrap), and any relevant documents or paperwork (such as the items being shipped). Bring all the necessary paperwork when you go to a post office, such as customs forms and return labels. It can save you time in line if there are any questions about your packages or when returning them. Additionally, make sure to have a pen handy so that you can fill out any required paperwork on the spot.

  1. Know your shipping options: 

There are several different ways to ship items using the US Postal Service. First-class, priority mail and express mail are all options you can use depending on how quickly your package needs to arrive and your budget. Since rates fluctuate based on the weight of packages, it’s a good idea to figure out which option will be the most cost-effective before you head to the post office. The USPS offers a variety of shipping options, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. If you’re not sure which choice is right for you, the Postal Service’s website has a handy Shipping Calculator to help you estimate costs.

  1. Get a PO box: 
How to Get a PO Box Online or In Person | MYMOVE

If you’re worried about your mail being stolen from your home, consider getting a post office box. These small boxes are located at specific post office locations and give people who aren’t home during the day to pick up their mail as an alternative option. Depending on your needs, you can rent a PO Box for as little as one month or indefinitely. You can rent one for as little as $5 per month, and it will give you a place to receive your mail safely. Just be aware that you’ll need to pick up your mail from the post office, so it’s not always the most convenient option.

  1. Set up a vacation hold: 

If you’re heading out of town and don’t want to miss any important mail while you’re gone, consider setting up a vacation hold. The USPS will hold your mail at your local post office until you return, and it’ll be right where you left it when you get back. If you find yourself going to the post office frequently, getting a PO box may be worth it. It will give you your own space at the post office to store your mail, and you won’t have to worry about collecting it from your mailbox every day.

  1. Purchase postage online: 

If you need to send something but don’t have time to go to the post office, consider purchasing postage online. Many shipping companies, such as USPS and FedEx, offer this option. You can print out a shipping label at home whenever convenient for you and drop off your package without having to wait in line. Consider purchasing postage online if you don’t want to visit the post office or wait in line at a store. You can do this through USPS’s website, where you can print out postage directly onto envelopes or labels. It is an excellent option if you want to ship items quickly and conveniently without making an extra trip to the post office.

  1. Schedule a pickup: 
Single Click Pickup Schedule Icon - Dont Need Anger Management PNG Image |  Transparent PNG Free Download on SeekPNG

If you’re sending out a lot of mail, you can save time by scheduling a pickup. The USPS will come to your home or office to collect your mail, so you don’t have to trip to the post office. This service is free for most customers, and it’s a great way to prevent the hassle of going to a crowded post office during busy hours. You can save time and money by shipping packages from home using the USPS website or app. Enter your package information and pay for postage online, then schedule a pickup or drop-off at your convenience. It is an excellent option if you frequently ship large or heavy items.

  1. Sign up for tracking notifications: 

The USPS will send you an email or text message when your mail or package arrives at its destination. This way, you can track your shipments and be alerted as soon as they arrive without checking the status yourself. If you frequently ship packages, sign up for USPS’s free tracking notifications. You’ll receive a text or email whenever a postal carrier scans your package, so you’ll always know where your mail is and when it’s expected to arrive.

  1. Use USPS Priority Mail: 
Mail & Shipping Services | USPS

Priority Mail is one of the most affordable ways to ship large or heavy packages within the United States. With Priority Mail, you can expect your package to arrive in 1-3 days and receive tracking updates at every step along the way. If you often ship packages in a hurry, Priority Mail is the best option. USPS’s express delivery service offers fast and reliable shipping at reasonable prices, so you can rest assured that your items will arrive on time.

Conclusion: These eleven tips can help you make the most of your time at the post office and get in and out as quickly as possible. With a bit of planning and forethought, you can minimize your frustrations and make the most of your visit to the post office.

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THERE MUST BE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE DELHI FIRE INCIDENT

Pankaj Vohra

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The fire that broke out in an illegal factory in the Mundka Village close to the Delhi-Haryana border and claimed at least 27 lives has once again underlined the need for greater accountability. What has to be probed and ascertained is that how was this factory running in the native village of former Chief Minister, the late Sahib Singh Verma, and how did callous officials permit its functioning, knowing fully well that it did not have the required clearances. As always, the blame game has started between the Delhi government controlled by the Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP run, Municipal Corporation. The point here is that whoever is responsible must be identified and punished. Normally speaking the buildings that are constructed need to have the approval of the civic bodies. Whether this particular structure had those pre-requisite permissions must be found out.

The Delhi government has ordered a Magisterial probe while the BJP is demanding an inquiry by a sitting High Court Judge. The issue is that whoever conducts the inquiry would obviously reach the same findings. In the past, there have been incidents from which the authorities have refused to learn. It is only after something horrific happens that the bureaucracy wakes up and cracks the whip. There are a large number of buildings including many in the New Delhi Municipal Council area which do not have the clearances of the Fire Department but are fully functional. Why is this kind of oversight being permitted.

The Delhi Fire service along with the civic agencies and the relevant departments of the Delhi government must have a coordinated approach to the matter. One cannot be risking innocent lives just because the officials have been found napping. In the early 1980s, a major fire had broken out in the multi-storeyed Gopala Towers at Rajendra Place. The Fire department found itself inadequate since it did not have the equipment to tackle high-rise fires. A helicopter was pressed into service to sprinkle water but its rotors fanned the fire, making the rescue operations even more difficult. Subsequently, the government-sanctioned money to the Fire department for the purchase of the Snorkels and Turn Table ladder vehicles for such an eventuality. The Delhi Fire Service is comparatively better equipped than its counterparts in Gurgaon and NOIDA which both have multiple multi-storeyed structures. One cannot but shudder with fear to imagine a scenario if this kind of unfortunate happening was to take place. The Centre and the State must understand that the Emergency services should always be given top priority and kept in the best state of readiness. There is no purpose served if the authorities wake up after many lives have been lost. The Police Control Room vans are always available for emergency assistance but the Fire services and the Ambulances also need to be upgraded to meet any kind of untoward situation. The Mundka fire is a wake-up call which should ensure that the various agencies of the government instead of shifting the blame on each other, come together to have a foolproof solution in the future. The temperatures are soaring and the NCR is a burning furnace. Therefore, more fire incidents may take place. But there has to be preparedness to deal with the situation. A crackdown on structures lacking the permissions must be done without any delay and lives should not be jeopardized because of apathy of the officials.

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