Recycling flowers: One man’s mission to clean up the Ganges - The Daily Guardian
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Recycling flowers: One man’s mission to clean up the Ganges



Sitting at plain wooden tables, women in face masks roll a brown paste into thin cylinders—helping to recycle some of the millions of tonnes of flowers that Hindu worshippers throw into the Ganges.

They are part of a 100-strong team working for entrepreneur Ankit Agarwal’s (flower), removing floral waste from one of the most polluted stretches of India’s holy river in the northern city of Kanpur.

Indians typically offer flowers at temples as a mark of devotion and, Agarwal says, some eight million tonnes of those offerings end up in the country’s rivers each year – along with sewage and industrial and domestic waste.

“All the pesticides and insecticides that were used to grow these flowers mix with the river water, making it highly toxic,” he told Reuters TV.

Agarwal’s team, most of whom are women, pluck out the discarded flowers near the river bank and gather them from temples to repurpose them into paper and incense – as well as water colours that can be used for the Hindu festival of Holi.

Many Indians prefer to dump the flowers they offer to deities into water bodies as putting them into bins is considered unholy, Agarwal said.

To discourage them from also discarding into water the packets of incense sticks his company makes, his company stamps them without images of Hindu gods and infuses the paper with basil seeds, a plant considered holy in Hinduism.

“The concept was, once we use these products, please sow the packaging and a Tulsi (basil) plant would grow out of it and the packaging really helped us establish our brand,” he said. has received investment from the social arm of the Tata business group, and most of the women he has employed used to work as manual scavengers or were jobless.

Now they have an occupation that commands respect – cleaning the sacred Ganges.

“People see me as an independent woman who can do a job and also run her household. So, this has brought a change in my life,” said one, Sujata Devi.


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Joyeeta Basu



A very sad case of lynching took place in West Bengal’s North Dinajpur district, where a Station House Officer from Bihar’s Kishanganj, Ashwini Kumar, was beaten to death by a village mob, which was instigated to attack him by a few criminals who had stolen a bike in Bihar and fled to their village in Bengal. If this was not enough, the incident came at a time when the fourth phase of polling in the state was marred by unbelievable violence. At Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district, a young voter died after being attacked allegedly by the cadre of the state’s ruling party; and then the Central forces shot dead four young men after allegedly coming under attack by a local mob. Even otherwise, the poll process has been marred by violence, making one wonder what ails the state of Bengal. This sort of violence is not observed in any other state, in fact not even in Jammu and Kashmir, where too elections have to be spread over several days so that voters can vote peacefully. But Jammu and Kashmir is the most “disturbed” region in the country—a “conflict zone”. To place Bengal in the same category as Kashmir, raises the obvious question: where has Bengal gone wrong? Even Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, once considered the two most violent states in the country, have smooth election processes now, but not Bengal.

Bengal’s elite takes great pride in the state’s culture and its icons. In fact one of the main attacks on the Prime Minister and his party coming from this section—echoing the ruling Trinamool Congress—is that they being “outsiders”, are unable to fathom Bengal’s syncretic culture. There is no denying Bengal’s rich cultural heritage. But the problem starts when the only culture that is apparent to the rest of the country at present is the culture of violence—something that cannot be justified by saying “but political violence is in the DNA of Bengal”. Worse, in this election season, it’s also about politics over violence. The two parties trying to make the maximum political capital out of the Central-force incident at Sitalkuchi, the CPM and the Trinamool Congress, are also totally responsible for the present state of affairs. In 35 years of CPM rule, Bengal witnessed complete anarchy. The Left single-handedly drove out industry from the state, and stopped the rise of any viable political opposition, by unleashing violence through its unions and cadre. Over a period of time, Left rule become synonymous with murder, massacre and mayhem. So, when Mamata Banerjee’s government came to power in 2011, it was hoped that since she herself had withstood Left violence, she would be mindful of this aspect. However, to “eliminate” the Left, which was too entrenched in the ground, her party needed the help of elements—ironically, many of them originally CPM—who could fight a tough turf war. From there onwards, the situation deteriorahas ted to the extent that ground level criminality is one of the biggest issues of the 2021 elections. It was this criminality that made 30% of the panchayat seats go uncontested in 2018. In fact, 2018 was the turning point for Mamata Banerjee’s second term in office. Coming within two years of a landslide Assembly victory in 2016, there was no reason for the TMC to fear any adverse outcome in the panchayat elections. Even then voters were not allowed to vote and terror was unleashed. 2018 showed how free and fair elections were next to impossible in the state unless conducted under strict supervision. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Central forces did an exemplary job. In 2021 too they are doing an equally good job. They have been able to instil a certain degree of confidence among the people, and in fact have created conditions that are helping some voters in some areas exercise their franchise for the first time in five or ten years. Voters in general are all praise for the forces. Hence, it is rather unfortunate that supposedly responsible politicians are trying to spread disaffection about them by hurling the most outrageous charges at them. The forces are above politics. So is the Election Commission. There is no point crying foul over them when, as Sitalkuchi showed, even eight phases of election may not have been enough for Bengal. It is not the EC’s fault that the fear of intimidation and vote manipulation is very real in Bengal. Hence, politicians of all hues need to behave more responsibly, talk more responsibly and create conditions so that voters can vote in peace. Parties need to rein in their goons. After 45 years—35 years of the Left and 10 of TMC—Bengal is broken. A state has lost almost half a century of its existence to anarchy. The canker of violence is eating away at the innards of Bengal. This cannot be allowed to continue.

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Did PK score a self-goal in an attempt to save Mamata?

Political strategist Prashant Kishor’s admission about the BJP’s rise in West Bengal during an informal interaction on Clubhouse has baffled political observers. Was it a ploy to attract the Muslim vote in Bengal, a way to build an image for his next assignment or a mere gaffe?



The great political strategist for Mamata Banerjee has scored a self-goal because of the propensity of the truth to come out in different ways. There is nothing off record in any briefing today, whether you are talking to pliant, critical or neutral media. The boss—in this case Mamata Banerjee—would have come to know of what was said anyway. But the crucial question is: Why did Prashant Kishor do this?

Kishor has not doubted the authenticity of the leaked chat although some people have demanded the release of the entire chat. He has asked why the BJP is trusting the leaked Clubhouse interaction, in which he spoke to some mediapersons, and not their own leaders who have asserted that the party would win a minimum of 200 Assembly seats.

When such comments come from a person who has gained expertise as a political strategist and has been working overtime to ensure a victory for Mamata, any political party would take this as an endorsement of their calculations. When your critics turn into admirers, you are bound to take it as an endorsement. But the intention behind this interaction may go farther than what meets the eye.

What could be the reason for this media briefing? Either the strategist wanted to lull the BJP into a sense of overconfidence or was trying to build his image for the next political assignment, which is the Punjab Assembly election. There is also the possibility that by raking up the issue of the BJP winning, the strategist wanted to create a fear of the BJP among Muslim voters and achieve complete polarisation by making the community favour the Trinamool Congress.

If Kishor knows the functioning of the BJP, which he knows quite well considering that he was a part of the party’s campaign during the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, he should be certain that the party has perfected its election machinery and such talks are unlikely to impact its momentum negatively. On the contrary, it is likely to enthuse the BJP cadre and help fence-sitters make up their minds. Fear of the TMC might have forced them not to go against Banerjee but the impression of a surging BJP may now embolden them to come out and try to vote her out. 

The second reason seems more likely. He stuck his neck out in December 2020 when he said the BJP would struggle to cross double-digit figures and, if it did, he would quit Twitter, the platform where he had made this prediction. Then, in an interview with a television channel in March this year, he said he would quit his job as a political strategist if the BJP won 100 seats in the state. Now, his admission of a BJP surge in West Bengal during the Clubhouse interaction belies his claims. Is he then building his case for not quitting, should the BJP win in the state by defeating the Trinamool Congress?

His image as a political strategist rests on the impression that he can make parties win elections by using social media as a tool to shore up an image and strengthen political constituencies. It is a different matter that his claims have not been fully established. The BJP has surged ahead despite rival political parties trying to use his services to stop the saffron juggernaut.

This brings us to the third possibility. It is quite possible that Mamata Banerjee’s political managers have concluded that the only way to win the elections is through the complete consolidation of Muslim votes for the TMC. The vote is getting split due to the desperate Congress and Left joining hands with the Indian Secular Front formed by Abbas Siddiqui. In a sharply polarised election between the BJP and the TMC, both the Left and the Congress are looking for political relevance. The Muslims must therefore be told not to waste their votes. The projection of a strong BJP may persuade them to change their minds. Promises fail but fear works, that is the principle being applied here.

Whatever his intention, the issues that cropped up during the interaction should be discussed publicly. A crucial statement made by Kishor is about the “emergence of the Prime Minister as a demigod for some 15 percent population of the country”. If this is true, it would translate into the support of 21 crore Hindu voters who consider him a “demigod”. This is enough to propel him to power with a massive majority in 2024 when the Lok Sabha elections take place.

Kishor also said that about 50 percent Hindus would vote for Modi, which includes 75 percent Matua voters. Even if we take this as an indicator and extrapolate it to the national level, this would translate into the support of 26 crore voters, considering that 62 crore people voted last time (in 2019) and out of that about 84 percent must have been Hindus. The BJP had secured 17.1 crore votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 22.9 crore in 2019. The likely scenario is a complete sweep for Modi and the BJP in 2024.

One of the other critical issues raised but not discussed fully is the policy of minority appeasement in West Bengal by various parties. Muslims have emerged as a vote bank and hence every party has treated them with velvet gloves in terms of giving them concessions. This has produced a counter-narrative in the state. The policy of uniting Muslims and dividing Hindus is no longer working. Banerjee tried to secularise herself through temple-hopping, talking about her Brahmin gotra and doling out some concessions to Hindu priests. But people know that these were theatrics, just like her campaigning in a wheelchair.

Nobody in the media pliant to Banerjee has been talking of anti-incumbency. Actually, the performance, or a lack of it, has not been discussed in the media that has become too obsessed with communal polarisation. The controversial statement of a nondescript leader from the BJP is blown out of proportion but the carefully woven narrative by the Prime Minister and other senior leaders around faster development is completely ignored. Banerjee’s communal and vituperative statements in which she appeals to the minority Muslim community to vote for her party has added fuel to the fire and various other statements of this kind have recharged the atmosphere.

Thus, besides a huge section of the majority that concludes they have been ignored and given an unfair deal, a progressive section genuinely believes that the state badly needs development, for which the BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi is their best bet. They want a secure and strong country, and faster development. And it is here that Mamata Banerjee has completely failed. 

Thus, Prashant Kishor knows that a government with so many odds arranged against it cannot win. Attempting a consolidation of the Muslims is merely a ploy that may not work. It can fuel the counter-narrative, but in his heart of hearts, he knows that Banerjee is on sticky wickets. He has already absolved himself by speaking the truth in an informal media interaction. That would be there to back him up.

Punjab is more promising because Captain Amarinder Singh appears to be on a strong wicket. The Akalis and the BJP have split and the BJP would need to work very hard to work its way up. In politics or in the roadmap to becoming a political strategist you have to save your skin for another day and prepare for the next fight.   

The writer is convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.

If Kishor knows the functioning of the BJP, which he knows quite well considering that he was a part of the party’s campaign during the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, he should be certain that the party has perfected its election machinery and such talks are unlikely to impact its momentum negatively. On the contrary, it is likely to enthuse the BJP cadre and help fence-sitters make up their minds. Fear of the TMC might have forced them not to go against Banerjee but the impression of a surging BJP may now embolden them to come out and try to vote her out. 

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14 major hospitals in Delhi declared Covid care centres




The national capital recorded 11,491 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the Delhi State Health bulletin showed on Monday evening. This is the steepest ever daily rise in new Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic last year.

As many as 72 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, and as many as 92,397 tests were conducted. Test positivity ratio shot up to 12.44 per cent, raising concern that the pandemic may have gone beyond control in the ongoing wave.

Given the massive spike in Covid cases in the capital, 14 top private hospitals in Delhi have been fully turned into Covid-only facilities, as per orders issued by the Delhi government on Monday. A total of 3,202 general beds and 1,135 beds will now be fully dedicated for Covid-19 patients in the 14 hospitals.

Those hospitals which have been declared as fully Covid hospital include Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Sir Ganga Ram, Holy Family, Maharaja Agarsen Hospital (Punjabi Bagh), Max Hospital (Shalimar Bagh), Fortis Hospital (Shalimar Bagh), Venkateshwar Hospital, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, Jaipur Golden Hospital, Mata Chanan Devi Hospital, Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute, Manipal Hospital and Saroj Super Specialty Hospital.

“Fourteen private hospitals declared fully Covid. In other hospitals, beds increased from 50% to 60%. Total 2,060 beds increased in private hospitals,” tweeted Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain.

The orders were issued hours after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal held a meeting with top officials to review the Covid-19 situation in Delhi. During the meeting, it was decided that the number of beds will be augmented in both the private and government sector.

Apart from this, 60% of the total ward capacity in 101 private hospitals has to be reserved for Covid-19 treatment. This means 5,689 general beds in 101 private hospitals will be earmarked for the treatment of Covid-19 patients.

“In order to augment the bed capacity for Covid-19 patients in view of the unprecedented surge of Covid-19 cases in the last few days, 14 private hospitals are declared as full Covid hospitals and are directed that henceforth these hospitals shall not admit any non-Covid medical/surgical patients till further notice. Further, 101 private hospitals are directed to reserve 60% of their total ward bed capacity for Covid-related treatment,” stated the order issued by the state health department on Monday.

This is the third such order in the last two weeks. On March 31, the Delhi government had added 230 ICU beds and 842 general beds in 33 private hospitals after witnessing a rise in the daily number of Covid-19 cases. On April 5, the Delhi government had ordered 54 private hospitals and 11 Delhi government hospitals to increase the number of beds in general ward and ICU for the patients infected with Covid-19.

Welcoming the order, BJP and Congress said that Kejriwal should provide facilities in government hospitals and not benefit the private hospitals. They said the Kejriwal government should also ensure that ICU wards and oxygen beds are available in these hospitals.

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Maharashtra’s healthcare infra on the verge of collapse

State is facing a severe crunch of hospital beds, Remdesivir injections, testing kits and healthcare workers too.

Urvashi Khona



From hospital beds to oxygen to Remdesivir injections to testing kits to healthcare workers, Maharashtra, the state worst hit by the Covid-19 second wave, is facing severe shortage, even as retailers, restaurants and theatres are reeling under the impact of harsh restrictions imposed last week by the authorities.

While decision on a lockdown is yet to be taken by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to break the chain of infections, the health infrastructure is facing a severe load. In the backdrop of a high number of Covid-19 cases, the state is facing a severe crunch of beds, Remdesivir injections, testing kits and healthcare workers too. Shocking pictures from different parts of the state are emerging. In Osmanabad district, patients were seen sitting on chairs and getting oxygen as the district has run out of beds. Osmanabad was one of the districts flagged on Sunday for issues with its medical oxygen supply, along with Pune, Palghar, and Bhandara, by teams of experts sent by the Central government to audit some of the worst-hit states.

There are several such cases from different parts of state that have emerged where critical and serious patients’ relatives are running from pillar to post to get beds and Remdesivir injections. Working professional Siddharth Soni from Borivali lost his mother due to Covid. Soni was found positive with his mother who was a dialysis patient, and younger sister in first week of April. Siddharth had to face more than seven rejections for admission of his 50-year-old mother to find a hospital with Covid admission for dialysis patients, until he got admission at Jogeshwari’s Hindu Hruday Samrat Balasaheb Thackrey Trauma hospital where she was treated for two days and later was recommended to some other hospital. After this, she was shifted to the Shree Ganesh hospital in Borivali, but within two days, she was declared dead due to multiple organ failure. Siddharth, who’s completing his quarantine period, said with regret: “My mother would have been saved if private and government hospitals were more careful, attentive and sensitive! I say this because from searching beds, to making sure that treatment is given, to paying hefty bills during such a traumatic phase, I had to go through a lot.”

In another case from Pune, frontline worker Dr Dnyanraj Bhujbal, 41, had to run around at least four hospitals to get his 80-year-old father Dr B.D. Bhujbal admitted. Dr B.D. Bhujbal had contracted Covid-19 and needed urgent admission as his health had deteriorated. Four hospitals rejected Dr Dnyanraj, until Ratna Memorial hospital admitted his father, treated him and has now discharged him. Dr Dnyanraj said, “I can’t imagine that despite being a frontline worker and having contacts in the field, I had to undergo such a horrible experience; imagine what the common man is having to face.”

Similar stories of ordeals are being shared by hundreds on social media and WhatsApp groups, desperately seeking beds, oxygen beds and Remdesivir injections. One such person is 47-year-old Shilpa Kewat (name changed) who is still running from hospital to hospital in search of oxygen, ventilator bed and Remdesivir injections for her 58-year-old brother-in-law. Shilpa said, “We are not getting hospitals and Remdesivir; even after several alerts by the government, we are not getting and the ones that we are getting are costing double; how will we deal with this?”

Rohan Dighe (name changed) had to spend some more than Rs 10,000 for Remdesivir injections for his mother who had a bit of pneumonia. “At first, for a box of 6 injections, we had to pay Rs 3,800; after two days, we had to pay Rs 4,000 per injection from outside distributors to Rs 5,000 per injection from private hospitals where his mother was treated.”

The situation is grim in the state with respect to testing, too, due to the lack of manpower and testing units and kits. The testing capacity in several districts in the state is overwhelmed, resulting in a delay in reporting test results or delay in performing tests.

From Friday, Sanat K., a senior citizen, wanted to get tested at home in Ghatkopar, but he was told that nothing was possible till Tuesday, as at some places either kits are finished or the laboratory is overloaded.

The load on the healthcare mechanism is so severe that there is lack of healthcare workers too and thus, a handful of nurses and doctors are doing their best to help as many people as possible, but that’s just not enough with the number of Covid-19 cases just exploding.

Last week, the state government shut down restaurants, bars, gyms, theatres and non-essential stores in a blow to businesses that had barely recovered from the nationwide lockdown last year.

After closing for more than eight months, theatres in Maharashtra reopened in November despite sporadic Bollywood releases and capacity restrictions. But with the new surge in cases and the spectre of more curbs, theatre owners say they may never recover from the losses and be forced to shut down.

“It’s the final nail in the coffin,” Reuters quoted Sharad Doshi, vice-president of the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India, as saying. “We have no choice but to perish.”

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Russia’s Sputnik V will be India’s third vaccine against Covid-19, if approved by DCGI; country records highest coronavirus spike with 1.68 lakh fresh cases.



Russia’s Sputnik V has been recommended by an expert committee and is likely to be India’s third vaccine against Covid-19, if approved by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). Sputnik V has an efficacy of 91.6% and will be manufactured in India by Dr Reddy’s.

In its last meeting, held on 1 April, the experts’ committee had asked the pharma company for data on how the shot activates the body’s immune response against the coronavirus. The panel had also asked for “unblinded data” of all serious adverse events (“unblinded” means when subjects know whether the shot administered to them was the vaccine or a placebo). A comparative analysis of Phase III data in India and in Russian studies has also been sought.

Russian Ambassador to India Nikolay R. Kudashev said, “We note the reports that a committee of experts recommended Sputnik V for use in India. This step would definitely contribute to the efforts of the Indian government to counter the Covid-19 pandemic. We hope the approval by the DCGI will be completed soon.”

However, the Russian Direct Investment Fund said, “RDIF confirms it is awaiting imminently the recommendation by the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) of India to approve the use of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus in India.”

The vaccine, if approved, will be the third vaccine in India after the Serum Institute’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.

Speaking about the advantages of Sputnik V, former ICMR director Dr N.K. Ganguly said, “This vaccine is based on human adenoviral vectors that cause the common cold. It uses two types of different vectors for the two shots and can be stored at temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees C. Sputnik V is affordable, has more efficacy, the trial of the vaccine has been done. When India is going through a mutant variant wave, this vaccine will be more effective.”

The most recent wave of the infection has been causing massive daily spikes and adding to the country›s death toll. In the last 24 hours, India recorded 1,68,912 new Covid-19 cases, its highest daily count, and 904 deaths, taking the total number of cases to 1,35,27,717 and deaths to 1,70,179.

There are now 12,01,009 active cases in the country, while 1,21,56,529 people have recovered from the infection. As many as 10,45,28,565 people have also been administered the Covid-19 vaccine.

Delhi reported 11,491 new Covid-19 cases, marking its highest single-day jump, and 72 deaths in the last 24 hours, which is the highest number of fatalities in the past four months. The cumulative caseload of the national capital has risen to 7,36,688. Asserting that the Covid-19 situation in Delhi is «very serious», chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the government is closely monitoring the situation but is not in favour of a complete lockdown.

Maharashtra reported 51,751 new coronavirus cases, 52,312 recoveries and 258 deaths in the last 24 hours. Meanwhile, Mumbai recorded 6,905 new cases, the lowest single-day count so far in April, which took the financial capital›s Covid-19 caseload to 5,27,119. Meanwhile, 43 more patients succumbed to the infection as the death toll jumped to 12,060.

Madhya Pradesh reported 6,489 fresh coronavirus cases, the biggest spike in a single day, while 37 patients died of the infection. The state›s case tally has reached 3,44,634, while the death count is at 4,221. Madhya Pradesh is now left with 38,651 active cases. A total of 3,117 people were discharged from hospitals in Madhya Pradesh in the last 24 hours, taking the overall count of recoveries to 3,01,762.

Rajasthan recorded 5,771 fresh Covid-19 cases that took the state›s total to 3,69,564, while 25 more fatalities pushed the death toll to 2,951. Jaipur reported the highest number of fresh cases at 961, followed by 709 in Udaipur, 683 in Kota and 628 in Jodhpur.

Uttar Pradesh reported 13,685 new Covid-19 cases while 72 fatalities took the death toll to 9,224. The total number of cases in the state stands at 7,05,619 and the active caseload is 81,576.

Andhra Pradesh reported 3,263 fresh cases of coronavirus, 1,091 recoveries and 11 deaths in the last 24 hours. Consequently, the total positive cases went up to 9,28,664, recoveries to 8,98,238 and deaths to 7,311. The state now has 23,115 active Covid-19 cases.

Karnataka reported 9,579 fresh Covid-19 cases and 52 related fatalities, taking the total caseload to 10.74 lakh and the toll to 12,941. Bengaluru Urban alone accounted for 6,387 of the fresh cases. The day also saw 2,767 patients getting discharged after recovery. Cumulatively, 10,74,869 Covid-19 positive cases have been confirmed in the state, which include 12,941 deaths and 9,85,924 discharges.

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NEW DELHI: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday attacked the Centre, saying that it could neither control the Covid-19 pandemic nor address the problems of farmers and labourers.

“No control on the corona, not enough vaccines, no employment…Neither the farmers and the labourers are addressed, nor Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) safe. No middle class is satisfied…It was okay to eat mangoes, but you could have left the common man,” read Rahul’s tweet translated from Hindi.

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