Cyclists Number Growing in the Country after Pandemic

The latest research has shown that West Bengal holds the highest percentage of households having a bicycle among all Indian states and Union Territories. 78.9% of households in the state have a bicycle. With the abundant availability of local transports, like e-rickshaws, good network of local trains, trams, and electric buses, West Bengal is showing the way for a green as well as effective mode of transportation.

The national average percentage of households having a bicycle is quite less at only 50.4%. The presence of hilly terrain is a hindrance to cycling. Hence, some states like Nagaland (5.5%) and Sikkim (5.9%) have fallen behind, being the states with lowest and second lowest percentage of households having a bicycle. However, others like Gujarat and Delhi have recorded poor percentages of only 29.9% and 27.2% respectively.

Presence of bicycles is still a hindrance in Kolkata, where many busy streets have a cycle ban on them. However, the Newtown and Salt Lake areas in Kolkata fared well with bicycle tracks and regular riders where young riders are mostly found. The rural Bengal is however, the greatest contributor, where a recent Sabuj Saathi scheme was floated by the State Government. According to the scheme, bicycles are given to students of class 9 to 12 for easier commuting to school. According to a senior Government official, this is responsible for West Bengal achieving the top spot in percentage of households having a bicycle.

With the increase in fuel prices, bicycles have the potential to replace existing motor bikes and cars in some places at least. Also, as the resources are getting depleted, we right now need alternative sources of energy which will sustain our needs as well as not get depleted anytime soon. Bicycling is currently the best solution among the youth for a healthy lifestyle as well, and is fast becoming a way to stay fit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Currently, more than half of Indian households have a bicycle. The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered the use of bicycles as the public transport was little available. The Covid-19 pandemic also made sure to be self-dependent on transportation, health maintenance and other factors. The number is expected to grow bigger in the coming days, as we modernize the bicycle, use it for general purposes everywhere, and become more conscious about our health and environment. However, it also depends on how the new generation spreads awareness about cycling.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Cleaning the Ghats of Kolkata – Part 2

This is part 2 of the series. To read about part 1, click here.

In the part 1 of the series, we have seen how we have polluted the ghats of Kolkata, which had for many decades been the lifeline of the city, through its water transport, providing drinking water, and having historical and religious sites. However, we ourselves are responsible for not maintaining the ghats, leading them to be shabby and dilapidated, making them a place for garbage dump, and a breeding area of mosquitoes. However, as we are looking at the western world, how they are maintaining cities, some of which have been raged to the ground, awareness is spreading among the masses in and around Kolkata.

We have looked at how several committees within the city are looking forward to making Kolkata a cleaner and greener city. While the authorities have done a wonderful job in the Newtown and to some extent salt lake area, such could not be made possible without the awareness of the public around the crowded old town, which lies at the bank of the river. While a rich section of the society is aware about cleaning the ghats of Kolkata, most common people, especially those living near the river are not. It is up to the committees, to spread the news of keeping the environment clean.

Some committees like Y-East and Bouddi have initiated a cleanliness drive along the ghats of Kolkata. They have engaged over 100 local people to clean up some of the well-known ghats of Kolkata. For more information about that matter, visit https://www.y-east.org/diary/bouddi-and-y-east-begin-hooghly-river-clean-up-project-in-kolkata/ Y-East and Techno Main Salt Lake college has also organized a Plogging competition around the city, helping with the cause. Schools like Delhi Public School in Kolkata also campaigned to spread awareness to keep the Hooghly river clean. There are some Facebook groups and communities where like minded people come together to save the Hooghly river flowing past Kolkata. We all need to come together and make Kolkata a clean and green city to live.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Chhat Puja’s Environmental Connection

Chhat Puja, the festival honouring worshipping the Sun, and Chhati Maiya, is one of the biggest festivals of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Nepal and Chhattisgarh. Chhat Puja involves offering flowers, whole fruits, incense, and ghee to Lord Surya. The offerings are usually, and traditionally left untouched in water bodies until they rot and decompose. Many environmentalists have claimed that such rituals do more good for maintaining the ecosystem in rivers, lakes and ponds than harm. However, some environmentalists do contradict this view as well.

Other than the states where Chhat puja is widely celebrated, Chhat puja is discouraged by local authorities, citing environmental issues. Kolkata, which has sizable Bihari and UP communities, see conflicts related to rituals involving water bodies. Some alleged that the rituals hamper water quality in the short term for bathing, washing, drinking and other purposes. But the biggest obstruction is made by several environmentalist groups, which sprang up with or without authorization, who are not opposed to idol immersion but raise serious concern over Chhat rituals.

Chhat Puja at Hooghly River in Kolkata

Let us for the time being focus on Kolkata, where Chhat is widely celebrated by a sizeable minority. For a long time, only the river Hooghly was used for Chhat rituals, while local ponds, lakes and other places were avoided. But as the Bihari and UP communities grew with time, there was the need of using ponds and lakes for Chhat puja in places far away from the river. That only caused minor local conflicts, most of which got resolved as soon as they started. However, as the State Government intervened, and provided the worshippers with additional ghats along the river, as well as designated ponds and lakes, the celebrations not only became peaceful but also spread among the locals, creating a sense of unity. This is when some environmentalists crept in and cited environmental issues to stop the festival and hence the unity in diversity.

Let us now look into why many environmentalists claim Chhat Puja is eco-friendly. Chhat puja is performed mostly on the banks of rivers and other water bodies, involving peace, tranquillity, and nature. Chhat puja rituals do not require temple or enclosed space, overcrowding, harmful colours, paints and water-soluble materials. Flowers, fruits, ghee decompose in water, providing nutrition for aquatic life. All the products used in this puja are biodegradable, thus making this puja so eco-friendly.

Rabindra Sarovar, Kolkata, where Chhat Puja is banned since 2018

However, several small factors concern environmentalists. Firstly, though the festival is supposed to be peaceful and quiet, many non-ritual elements have been added to it in recent times. Beating drums and bursting loud crackers are increasingly becoming popular among worshippers. Some protected areas surrounding water bodies, like Rabindra Sarovar Lake and Subhash Lake in Kolkata are home to a large number of migratory birds that arrive from Siberia during the onset of winter. Loud noise hampers their movement and even local birds have started avoiding their habitat in Rabindra Sarovar and Subhash Sarovar. Also, since the Bihari community has grown considerably in recent years, too many flowers, fruits, and ghee will block the sunlight and destroy the rich aquatic plants in these two places. The stagnant nature of such large lakes means that the products thrown into the lakes are likely to persist for a very long time. All these forced the National Green Tribunal to ban the Chhat puja celebration in these two lakes in Kolkata. To compensate for the above two places, worshippers have been allocated more ghats for performing the puja. Still, some miscreants try to create shortcuts and enter the lakes for rituals even though there are many other nearby places.

All these caused a section of the Bengali society to turn against Chhat puja. There are some genuine issues, which most worshippers can bring a change to celebrate the festival together. Voices must be raised against those who are not following law and order in environmental protection. Also, we need to raise our awareness against false allegations and petitions given by some environmentalists, without any justification for their cause. Social media is their best platform for spreading hatred. The number of hate posts, claiming rampant environmental pollution should be cross-checked and verified with reason before any action is taken. Otherwise, the peace and bond that this festival brings will remain a distant reality.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Cherry Blossom Festival in India

Cherry blossoms are infamous in Japan, where it is celebrated as a festival called sakura. Many other countries around the world have planted Japanese cherry trees for a cherry blossom festival that attracts huge revenue from tourists. Also, some countries in the world, such as Korea and China, have their native cherry trees, which bloom at the advent of spring. But all over the world, especially in the Americas and Europe, cherry blossoms are associated with Japan, and festivals are organized in parks around blooming Japanese cherry trees.

It is less known that in India, we have our own version of cherry blossom every year in many of our states. India’s own cherry tree, Prunus cerasoides, is native to Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Meghalaya, and have subsequently spread to other north-eastern states. Unlike Japanese cherry trees, Prunus cerasoides blooms in autumn. Autumn appears earlier high up in the Himalayas, so by mid-October, you can see the hills of Narkanda, Shimla, Kalpa, Dharamsala covered in a whitish-pink hue. By early to mid-November, cherry blossoms spread to other parts of the country, notably in Shillong in Meghalaya. Like Japanese sakura, the bloom occurs for a short period of only one or two weeks.

Like its Japanese cousin, Prunus cerasoides is considered sacred in Hinduism, and the flowers are used in worshipping Vishnu and Shiva. It is called in Hindi as padmakashtha. However, very little was known about it beyond its native range until 2016. Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), a national institute under the Department of Biotechnology, in collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), took the first initiative to set up a cherry blossom festival in Shillong. Dinabandhu Sahoo, the director of IBSD, was particularly inspired by wild cherry blossoms in the countryside around Shillong and was keen to establish a festival of international standard like most other countries around the globe. India’s cherry blossom festival does not coincide with the ones in Japan, or other countries around the world as the blossoms arrive late autumn, making it a unique cherry blossom viewing around the globe. Notably, Japan is very interested in India’s cherry blossom festival and is looking forward to promoting it among Indians and abroad.

Like 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a drop in tourism in the north-eastern states of India. As such, no cherry blossom festival was held, but the flowers, in their usual might, bloomed in the second week of November. This year also no cherry blossom festival will be celebrated, though the flowers will bloom in time. However, when the pandemic eases out, it will surely be a hit among Indian and foreign tourists, who love to see the landscape turn green to pink. Ward’s lake in Shillong is the most popular site of the cherry blossom festival, though there is also Umiam Lake. We only need good promotion, a festive mood, tourism infrastructure, and most importantly, awareness to make our own cherry blossom festival a success.

So, have you seen cherry blossoms in India? Do let us know in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Viewer Discretion Required: The Reality of ‘New’ media

Importance of Viewer Discretion to cope up with prevailing media bias

You switch on the news channel and see a person shouting at the highest of his lungs trying his best to make you think that the establishment is ‘always’ right. You flip the channel and are welcomed by a man who barely resembles Imran Khan, mimicking the Pakistani PM. Yet one more channel flip and comes a person on your TV screen, taking sarcastic digs at the screaming anchor while propagating his agenda.

News media in today’s context holds a particularly complex place. While there is no denying that in a democratic country, journalism and news act as power balancers and checkers. The commercialisation of news that has come up to be the truth as a consequence of competition and TRP races, has caused sensationalisation of stories. So something like PM visiting his mother is given more coverage than a crucial subject. Not just this but the increasing competition has also led to journalism counting on political parties for funds, thus biased news presentation.

Social Media: The New News Source
Social Media: The New News Source

For a short time, social media sites were considered the perfect successor. Since social media didn’t believe TRP’s, it had been assumed that bias wouldn’t seep in there. But social media comes with its perils. In some other context, the ‘personalised content’ trait of Social Media would be appreciated but within the context of stories, personalised content causes you to sleep in a bubble. You’ll be shown the content, you engage the foremost with. So if you follow leftist accounts, your opinion will progress from what’s shown as facts on those accounts. Which entirely kills the motive of stories within the first place. News should only present events as they’re happening. What to form of it should dwell in the hands of the audience, which, unfortunately, isn’t the case, right now. Social Media has also caused a faster spread of lies. Independent journalism, that became a fad with youngsters like Dhruv Rathee and Pratik Sinha could have brought change but even then the importance of viewer discretion can’t be neglected.

Need of the hour is that the ‘spectator’ becomes the ‘questioner’.

Ravish Kumar, Journalist, NDTV

The circumstances that we live in mandates every citizen to actively pursue true news. To become what they call, “active citizens”. To understand everything about everything and keep an open mind with well-formed opinions. As a citizen of a democratic country like India, it’s our responsibility to not just receive news but actively engage with it. We can not stop watching the news altogether since it’s only when we hear differing opinions that we get to introspect and see if we truly believe in what we are saying. The trick is to seek out a balance between the consumption of news and it’s analysis.