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The importance of Agarbatti and Dragon’s nefarious designs

An estimated 5 lakh people, mostly women, are associated with the agarbatti industry in India and lakhs of people are engaged with bamboo cultivation in the country. Malicious campaigns, mostly run by China, against the burning of agarbatti will only end up killing the livelihood of these people.

V K Saxena

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The universe, according to Indian mythology, has originated from “panch tatva” (five elements), i.e. Akash, Agni, Vayu, Jal and Prithvi. Agni (fire), the perennial source of energy, is considered the most crucial element. Since time immemorial, our traditions, rituals and cultural beliefs have identified agarbatti (incense sticks), a universally accepted heritage product that transcends beyond the religions as a symbol of fire (Agni) in our diurnal course and religious practices. It finds an equal place across all religions and is lit in temples, churches, mosques, monasteries, gurdwaras and dargahs, and alike across the world. Its key component, bamboo, too has become integral to human existence with this.

Bamboo has been a symbol of sustainability and life in many ways. Bamboo shoots have been used in cooking on auspicious occasions. Lord Krishna’s flute is made of it and so he is called “Venugopal”. It can be described as ‘Vansh’ tree because it grows in families and hence is synonymous to ‘growth’. It has been associated with human life from birth to death in various traditions and burning of agarbatti is also symbolic of sacrifice of self and ego to the divine. In fact, bamboo has had an important position in our lives since ages. Bridges, houses, furniture, artifacts, musical instruments have been built of it and used as a construction material too. The sacred ‘mandap’ in Hindu marriages is essentially made of it. To top it all, the longevity and resilience of it can be gauged by the fact that it was the only plant which survived the nuclear radiation in the Hiroshima nuclear attack.

Switching over from the age-old rituals and cultural beliefs to the present-day realism, we find that agarbatti and bamboo continue to be the tool of human sustain- ability as employment generators particularly in India where the economy largely depends on village industries. Modern science too identifies agarbatti as a “natural healer” and no wonder, it is globally used as a cure in aromatherapy. This is backed by several reports suggesting that it is an air sanitiser, a stress buster and a natural sedative to cure sleep disorder and anxiety.

However, a vicious campaign has surfaced in the country citing “severe health repercussions” from burning of agarbatti which says it contains compounds like diethyl phthalate which causes diseases. The propaganda being spread is that its smoke is more harmful than smoking cigarettes and it is a bigger polluter of indoor air than any other pollutant. The claims are based on some random research by some little-known institute in a foreign country. What essentially makes this research look bogus and devoid of merit is the lack of scientific rationale to substantiate the claims.

What also negates these fictitious stories of agarbatti being cancerous and pollutant is the fact that agarbatti made in India is natural and contains no hazardous substance. Its raw components include bamboo sticks (31%), charcoal (31%), sawdust (31%) and joss powder (7%), and all of these components are natural and cause no harmful emission when burnt. Even if we assume that some harmful element is fraudulently mixed by some manufacturers, it is unfair to paint the entire industry in a bad light by calling agarbatti injurious to health.

There is much scientific literature about the characteristics of diethyl phthalate, which is widely used in the perfume and cosmetic industries. The World Health Organization’s Concise International Chemical Assessment Document 52 (CICAD 52) states that no histopathological abnormality occurs in liver, kidney or other body organs with the exposure to diethyl phthalate. The WHO also does not record any carcinogenic effects of this chemical in laboratory tests. The chemical is more used as a plasticizer in medical equipment and tubings than anywhere else. And if at all some grave caution is to be observed, it is in its use in the medical industry, rather than in any cottage industry.

Further, even if a minimal quantity of diethyl phthalate is used in agarbatti by some manufacturers
during perfuming, the inhalation quantities are negligible. It is a matter of common sense and a fact known in every household that agarbattis are always burnt in ventilated places. Hence, it is just laughable to equate it with smoking a cigarette.

Let’s understand this with another example. The adulteration of milk or milk products like ghee is not new. The health hazards of adulterated milk products are also widely known. But this has not prompted prohibition on milk production or closure of the milk processing industry anywhere in India or the world. If at all milk adulteration is noticed, strict action is taken against the adulterator to ensure public health instead of shutting down the industry and killing lakhs of employments.

The agarbatti industry in the UK, which contributes decently to its economy, came under a similar attack in 2015. This prompted a comprehensive investigation by the National Health Service
(NHS) of the UK into the claims that its smoke was more injurious than cigarette smoke. The claim was based on research conduct- ed by South China University of Technology.

The investigation by NHS unearthed a nefarious Chinese design to present agarbatti as a pub- lic health hazard. It found that not only the said research was funded by China Tobacco Guangdong Industrial Company but also one of the researchers was strongly associated with the tobacco company. In the laboratory experiment, they used 4 incense sticks and 1 cigarette and tested results on Chinese hamsters. By any scientific reckoning, the use of just 4 incense sticks and 1 cigarette is not scientific rigor of sampling and the conclusions drawn are far from convincing. Further, the intent of this research itself was to absolve the tobacco company of any health related accusation and shift the blame on globally accepted agarbatti. The investigation by NHS categorically stated that it wasn’t smoked and so is not drawn directly into the lungs in the way the tobacco smoke is inhaled.

To understand the severity of the ongoing campaign and the impact it will have on India’s self-sustainability measures, it is crucial to take a look at the huge potential of the agarbatti industry. The agarbatti requirement in India is approx 5.44 lakh MT per annum. While India produces only 2.66 lakh MT agarbatti per annum, there is a huge deficit of 2.77 lakh MT annually and hence, a huge opportunity to fill this gap by increasing local production and creating more employment. An estimated 5 lakh people, mostly women, are engaged with the agarbatti industry in India and lakhs of people are engaged with bamboo cultivation in many parts of the country. Such malicious campaigns against the burning of agarbatti will only end up killing the livelihood of these people.

Almost 65% of agarbatti manufacturers in India are small manufacturers who procure their raw material locally and support the country’s economy. The remain- ing 35% big manufacturers imported raw agarbatti as well as its raw materials like bamboo sticks and joss powder from China and Vietnam before the Modi government “restricted” the import of raw agarbatti on 31 July 2019 and increased the import duty on bamboo sticks from 10% to 25% on 9 June this year. The idea was to curb the heavy imports from China and Vietnam. India’s import dependency of raw agarbatti reached 80% in 2019. Similarly, import dependency of round bamboo sticks, used in making agarbatti, reached to 62% in which 78% share was of China and 21% of Vietnam, which literally paralysed traditional, age-old local agarbatti industry in India, since 2011 when its import duty was reduced to 10% from 30%.

This import restriction followed by hike in import duty was an important step of the government to protect the domestic agarbatti industry and make India “aatmanirbhar” in agarbatti production. This action resulted in an enormous loss of export from China and Vietnam to India. While it sustained the local cottage industry and resulted in revival of thou- sands of closed agarbatti units during the last one year; this act of “self-reliance” ruffled feathers and reactivated the viciously sponsored propaganda machinery in India through clandestine channels and through irresponsible opinion makers in the pub- lic domain.

An attack on agarbatti is simply an attack on our cultural heritage and socio-economic fabric. India has had several instances of such economic and socio-cultural wars sponsored on its soil by the foreign masters. We all are aware how “environmental and health concerns” were made a tool by foreign-funded NGOs to stonewall many projects of national importance. Sardar Sarovar project, uranium mining, atomic power projects, tobacco and tea industry, ship breaking yard are just a few of the many projects that were stalled for a long time so that India remained deficient in all these sectors.
This sustained campaign is so malicious that it undermines the cultural and heritage values of a product that has stayed amongst us from the Vedic times and has been one of the symbols of our faith and social history. More than all, the campaign under- mines the potential of sustainable development, particularly since lakhs of marginal workers are engaged in the agarbatti industry and the implications of a vicious campaign of vested interest could harm the social fabric.

The writer is chairman, Khadi & Village Industries Commission.

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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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