Some Solutions to Combat Delhi Smog

Since the past decade, Delhi has been witnessing one of the world’s worst smog ever in October and November. Diwali and farmers are blamed every year for causing such a hazardous situation for the national capital. However, Delhi shies away from changing itself to solve the problem once and for all. It is easy to put the blame game on others, and do nothing. The Delhi Government has taken some steps to minimize air pollution, but it is usually too little too late.

More than the Delhi Government, the current infrastructure and apathy of the citizens towards the environment of Delhi are more responsible for the Great Smog. Many of Delhi’s power plants are located in the suburbs, which are completely closed during the smog period. Construction work that generates too much fly ash is also halted all across Delhi. Usually, the order from the Government comes after Delhi gets completely engulfed in smog. On the other hand, little changes in lifestyle and infrastructure could have worked better for Delhi, which exists in a place in other parts of the country. Some of them are listed below.

1)Use Delhi Metro :
Delhi metro is one of the quickest, cleanest, and easiest modes of transportation in Delhi. The carbon footprints of Delhi Metro is significantly lower than that of all other transportation. Delhi metro has expanded to connect every nook and corner of the national capital. Delhi metro over the years is increasingly becoming more and more eco-friendly by installing solar panels, providing buses and e-rickshaw, and even taxis for last-mile connectivity. Despite all the good efforts, Delhi metro is yet to attract every commuter across the city owing to its expensive ticketing costs. Kolkata metro may be an example of a cheap metro which attracted commuters from all classes due to its cheap rates.

2)Expand Delhi Suburban Railway :
Similar to the Delhi Metro, Delhi has a good network of railway lines towards the suburban cities of Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Sonipat, and Meerut. However, most of the tracks are used for long-distance trains and freight trains. Delhi has a ring railway which remains completely disused today. Suburban services are unattractive to the citizens, having little or no interchange with major bus or metro stops. Delhi does not have a monorail, tram, or any other form of transit other than the metro. Thus reliant on the usage of roads is heavy, causing huge traffic jams. Local trains of Mumbai are a good example of how suburban railways are used by a large chunk of the city population.

3)Lack of Greenery :
Delhi never used to lack greenery despite being the capital of various dynasties and empires. The Mughals and even the British were fond of gardens and open spaces which serves not only as a place for recreation but also as a source of fresh air and oxygen. Delhi today has grown beyond its borders and has eaten down even the small pockets of greenery that remained. Today only the southern parts of Delhi have some open space, where big, old trees are being felled for fields, locally called maidans, for sports and yoga. Nearby cities like Chandigarh, Jaipur and Agra have significantly less pollution due to large areas of natural vegetation within the city boundaries.

4)Unreliable Bus Service :
Bus service across the city is not that reliable either, prompting most people to use either private cars or bikes for transportation. Private cars and bikes are the biggest sources of air pollution in the city. Chennai has an excellent network of bus service catering 80% of the local transportation. Buses in Delhi are usually off-route, unfriendly, infrequent, and irregular, apart from being expensive, causing most of the population to stay away from using them.

5)Promotion of Green Fireworks :
No steps have been taken by the Government to stop the sale of banned fireworks, which cause too much pollution. Green fireworks, on the other hand, release significantly lower amounts of pollutants, thus can curb the sudden spike in pollution levels just after Diwali. As green fireworks are a bit on the pricier side, most sellers do not sell them to attract more customers. The Government, instead of promoting green fireworks and banning the illegal, is confused about what rules to apply. Banning illegal fireworks and promoting green fireworks comes way too late when most crackers are sold, and the crackers are unclassified whether illegal or not. Assam and the north-eastern states are doing well in this regard strictly allowing only green fireworks to be sold.

We all need to join hands and save our environment. Can you suggest some measures to do so? Tell us in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Partial Lockdown vs Complete Lockdown Conditions

As the second wave of Covid-19 wrecks havoc in many states, there is again the need for a lockdown phase 2. This time first partial lockdown was imposed, which was expected to slow down the spread of the virus. But the reality was just the opposite. Hence complete lockdown was imposed in most states. The importance of lockdown during Covid-19 times was felt as the second wave has started to decrease from a peak value. So why was complete lockdown not imposed as soon as the number of cases rose? Let us now compare between partial and complete lockdown and understand which solution is more practical. Note that lockdown itself is not enough to save you. Instead, everyone has to strictly follow all Covid-19 guidelines and maintain good health and hygiene.

In lockdown phase 1, when the whole country underwent a strict and complete lockdown, much middle class lost their means of livelihood, the people suffered a lot, and the migrant workers and students got stuck in unknown places. Thus the Government does not want to impose such stringent measures around the country that may impact most citizens. This time around, the states were asked to impose partial or complete lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. So many states imposed a partial lockdown when the number of cases started rising. However, it didn’t work out at all due to the negligence of the citizens. Let us now see why partial lockdown failed in most regions.

Partial lockdown hardly reached anybody’s ears. It has become a norm that as long as the police do not arrest anybody, it is safe to disobey Government rules and regulations in lockdown. The Governments are to be blamed as well. The Kumbha Mela at Haridwar turned out to be the biggest super spreader of Covid-19 in the world. People from all over the country gathered at Haridwar to take a bath in the Holy Ganga during Kumbha Mela. Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand happened to be the primary source of the Mumbai strain of the Sars-Cov-2 virus after Mumbai. Also to be blamed are the election rallies in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Assam that accounted for a significant outbreak of the virus in these states. The markets are to be blamed as well. There was a sudden urge of everybody to go out shopping, and in February and March, people behaved as if there was never any pandemic situation here. The Chaitra sale in Kolkata looked as if pre-pandemic times had returned. Schools reopened only to be shut down immediately due to teachers and students getting affected.

Amidst all these, Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow were the worst affected cities that faced a severe oxygen crisis. The travellers were by far responsible for spreading the virus to some metropolitan cities and rural countryside. Today, a chunk of the country’s population are migrant workers, and a significant number of middle-class families are tourism-lovers. The Bengal strain, an escape immunity variant of Sars-Cov-2, had actually spread in January 2021, when the tourism-lovers visited tourist places and workers migrated to other states for work when lockdown restrictions were lifted.

However, complete lockdown instead of partial lockdown worked in favour of curbing the spread of coronavirus. It is evident from the figures that peak was achieved in many states in mid-May, and the number of cases has declined since. Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu have battled the coronavirus and are now looking forward to easing lockdown restrictions. However, this time the Government is not taking it lightly, as the severity of the second wave forced the Government and the citizens to be aware of an even more destructive third wave shortly. Also, vaccination drive has hoped to limit the damage caused by Sars-Cov-19 in the body.

With Bengal, Odisha, Assam and some other states yet to reach their peak caseload, it is expected that despite easing situations in other parts, these states still have to maintain their lockdown restrictions to minimize further damage by Covid-19. One of the best practical moves is creating awareness and enforcing a few conditions for a few more weeks so that there is not much congestion of people in a particular area. Limitation of market hours, refrain from rallies, festivals, and gatherings, restriction of people’s movement through public transport are good options. The Home-delivery system should be increased and implemented in as many fields as possible. Virtual conferences, online classes, and work from home should be a part of the new normal until the virus is eliminated from the country. If China can do it, New Zealand can do it, Australia and some other countries can do it, then we Indians can do it as well.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Oxygen Express Amid Rising Covid-19 Cases

The second wave of Covid-19 has hit India very hard. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is seen in a large percentage of affected persons. SARS patients need oxygen supply for survival before their immune system becomes resistant to the disease. As a record number of SARS patients are admitted to hospitals, hospitals are facing a shortage of oxygen.

As the situation turned bad to worse, several states of India are reporting a shortage of oxygen supply. City hospitals in the states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh have critically low oxygen levels and are in dire need of medical oxygen. Supply from neighbouring states is also being blocked due to rising Covid-19 cases in them. Thus the only way out remains that medical oxygen is brought from oxygen manufacturing industries located in heavily industrialized areas far away from the Covid-19 hotspots.

In such a dire situation, the Centre has decided to run oxygen express which are goods trains carrying oxygen from one place to another. Flat wagons used in goods trains are used as roll-on-roll-off, where oxygen tanker trucks are rapidly loaded and discharged. Due to electrified sections, there is a height limitation for which only short height tankers, T-1618 of height 3.32 metres, are used for this purpose. The capacity of each tanker is 15,000 litres of liquid medical oxygen.

Oxygen in cryogenic state is a hazardous chemical for transport, and hence railways have to check the pressure in each tankers regularly. There are limitations in the speed of the train, acceleration and braking, and also limitation of routes as these trains cannot operate in ghat sections. Yet, railways have taken it as a challenge, mapped the entire route, trained the officials in new requirements, and made new ramps overnight.

The first Oxygen Express goods train started from Kalamboli near Mumbai to fetch liquid medical oxygen (LMO) from Vizag in Andhra Pradesh. A longer route via Vasai was planned to avoid the ghat sections that fall in Central Railways routes. The first oxygen express took 50 hours to do the job. The journey started with 7 tankers from Vizag, while 3 were unloaded at Nagpur, the rest reached Nashik Road railway station on Saturday morning, 24th April.

The second Corona express brought oxygen from Bokaro in Jharkhand to Lucknow. The train made a halt at Varanasi, where one truck was offloaded, and the remaining two trucks were dispatched through a green corridor between Varanasi and Lucknow. The goods train has reached Lucknow on 24th April, and the trucks were immediately sent to hospitals to stem the severe oxygen crisis in the city.

More states have demanded oxygen transportation via oxygen trains. Delhi, which has seen one of the worst pandemic situations ever, is about to get more than 70 tonnes of oxygen from Raigarh in Chhattisgarh. The first oxygen train to Delhi has reported having arrived at Delhi as of 27th April. Subsequently, more trains are planned to Delhi from Angul, Rourkela in Odisha and Durgapur in West Bengal. A second oxygen express has also reached Maharashtra from Hapa, Gujarat. Andhra Pradesh has also asked for a train from Angul to Vijaywada.

Corona Express has come to rescue India, where Covid-19 patients were dying for want of oxygen. More oxygen trains in the coming days hope to relieve the oxygen crisis in the country by a big margin. In such difficult times, it is required for all to co-operate, follow Covid-19 protocols, stay at home unless urgent, and thus save the lives of thousands of fellow Indians all across the country.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Why Are Prices of Diesel and Petrol not Decreasing, when Crude -Oil prices are falling drastically?

On June 8th, India prepared to lift the lockdown imposed on its citizens due to the Coronavirus.

Around this time, Oil companies controlled by Union Government started hiking both petrol and diesel prices. From June 7th, fuel prices were hiked consecutively for 22 days.

In Delhi, the price of petrol was increased by 13%, and the price of diesel was increased by 16%, – during this period alone.

Fuel prices were hiked to such extent that in some states diesel was costlier than petrol since each state in India has different fuel prices (state-specific taxes).

The peculiar thing about this price hike was that even though Crude Oil prices fell drastically from $71 per barrel at the beginning of Financial year 2019-’20, to $39.89 as of June 2020, a price drop of more than 42%.

Falling Crude Oil prices, theoretically speaking, should be beneficial for the public as it should mean a decrease in fuel prices. But in practice, consumers rarely get these benefits.

According to The Scroll, “The Indian crude basket is an index consisting of different crude grades according to which – in theory – retail price of petrol and diesel is supposed to be benchmarked. In practice, however, this benchmarking only works if crude prices are going up.”

A perfect example would be recent fuel price hikes in our nation.

But what was the reason behind this immediate hike?

In April the price of Indian basket of Crude Oil went below $20 per barrel. But since then the price of oil has risen. It averaged around $30 per barrel in May, and on June 28th it stood at $40.83.

So, the price of Crude oil has almost doubled, as lockdown is eased and International demand for Crude has picked pace.

But this is not the sole reason for the hike. The other reason would be taxes.

The excise duty on Petrol and Diesel was hiked by the Union government by a record Rs.10 per litre and Rs.13 per litre respectively, in the month of May.

Meanwhile, 13 states announced an increase in their fuel taxes.

Governments use this pattern of excessive taxation to provide themselves a steady profit.

This absurd system of taxation makes survival difficult for the public. For example, In Delhi, Central excise and State VAT (Value Added Tax) makes up for two-thirds of what a person pays at the petrol pump.

Basically, the entire fall in oil price has been captured by the Union Government without passing the benefits to the consumers. As a result, India has one of the highest tax rates on fuel, as compared to other countries.

But why is the government so keen on taxation of fuel?

This is because of the sharp fall in the revenues collected from GST (Goods and Services Tax) which has been a blow to both the states and the Union Government. Revenues collected from GST are 41% lower in the first quarter of 2020-’21, as compared to the same period of the previous year.

In 2017-’18, the gross tax revenue collected by the government rose from 9.98% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to 11.22%. The main reason for this increase was a hike in taxes on petrol and diesel, by the government (primarily excise duty).

The money earned through taxes imposed on fuel stood at ₹46,386 crores in the financial year 2013-’14.

In 2017-’18, this leaped to ₹2,23,922 crore.

Even though the COVID19 forced the government to increase the excise duties on petrol and diesel to some extent, the gross-tax revenue had still fallen to 9.88% of the GDP, in the financial year 2019-’20, owing to the ill-implemented GST and the aftermath of demonetization. Hence, even if India wasn’t hit by COVID19, the government would still have had increased the excise duty on diesel and petrol, though not so drastically.

Earlier in January, Former Finance Secretary, Subhas Chandra Garg, pointed out that India might miss tax collection target for financial year 2019-’20 by nearly Rs. 2.5 lakh crore.

Drawing attention to the “grim” situation of underlying tax revenue situation, he further said, that it is the right time to initiate much-needed reforms in the taxation structure.

                            – Aanandita Singh

The Healthcare Conundrum and Article 21

Right to Life mentioned in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution has been considered to be one of the essential rights available to the citizens. According to the article, “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.” A vital indicator of the socio-economic development of a nation is the health of its citizens. India has recognized the importance of the right to health care and protection since early times. Being a founder member of the United Nations, the nation ratified several international conventions promising to uphold security in the sphere of health and right of individuals regarding the same. Although the Indian Constitution does not unambiguously recognize the fundamental right to health, Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees a fundamental right to life & personal liberty. This article explains life with human dignity and not mere survival or animal existence. The provision guarantees everyone rights to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Moreover, the right to health is considered integral to the right to life and the government has a constitutional obligation to provide health facilities. The violation of a patient’s right to life may result from the failure of a government’s hospital to provide timely medical treatment. Similarly, the state’s obligation to maintain health services has been upheld by the Court. Public interest petitions have been filed under Article 21 in response to various violations of the right to health. An appeal was filed regarding the rights of HIV/AIDS patients.

hands with latex gloves holding a globe with a face mask
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

The above-mentioned article prohibits the deprivation of people regarding the protection of life and personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law. It corresponds to the Magna Carta of 1215, the Fifth Amendment to the American Constitution, Article 40(4) of the Constitution of Eire, 1937, and Article XXXI of the Constitution of Japan, 1946. This article applies to all-natural people. It is available to each person, citizen or alien. Thus, even a foreigner can claim this right. Article 21, however, does not entitle a foreigner to reside and settle in India, as mentioned in Article 19 (1) (e).

The preamble of the Constitution of India strives to provide for a welfare state with Socialistic patterns of society. Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life and personal liberty aimed at improving the condition of health care of the people. The principle of socialism is also embodied in various provisions of part III & part IV of the Constitution. Part IV of the Indian Constitution which is the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) imposed a duty on states related to the health sector. The provisions in the DPSP directed the state to take measures to improve the condition of health care of the people. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution should be read with Articles 38, 42, 43, and 47 to understand the nature of the obligation of the state regarding observation of the effective realization of this right. Article 38 imposes liability on the state to secure a social order for the promotion of the welfare of the people. Article 39(e) explains how the health of workers is to be protected. On the other hand, Article 41 imposed a duty on the state to provide public assistance to those who are sick and disable. Article 42 it’s a primary responsibility of the state to protect the health of infant & mother by maternity benefit. Article 47 spells out the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its citizens as a primary responsibility. Supreme Court, in its landmark judgment in “Pramand Katara V Union Of India & others” ruled that extension of health services with due expertise to protect right to life was a professional obligation of every government and private hospital. No law or State action can intervene to avoid or delay the discharge of the paramount obligation cast upon members of the medical profession. The obligation being total, absolute, and paramount, laws of procedure whether in statutes or otherwise which would interfere with the discharge of this obligation cannot be sustained, and must, therefore give way.

Irrespective of the Constitution guaranteeing such a right to the people of India, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal recently announced on Sunday that hospitals in Delhi city would only be catering to the residents of Delhi till the rising COVID-19 cases are contained. This move gave rise to a ruckus amongst the mass followed by mounting accusations regarding several instances concerning the poor treatment at Delhi Hospitals in the social media platforms. It was informed that to identify residents, voter IDs, bank passbooks, ration cards, driving licenses, and phone and electricity bills in addition to Aadhaar cards issued before June 7 will be used. In addition to this, the Delhi government also decided to open the borders of the city from June 8. However, while making such an announcement, Mr Kejriwal added that several Central government hospitals in the city would continue to treat all patients, irrespective of their residence.

The decision of the Kejriwal government was countered by a sharp response from the Congress government. Delhi Congress leader, Ajay Maken, believed pieces of evidence showed that 33 out of the 38 government hospitals seemed to be not treating COVID-19 patients. Ajay Maken also made it clear that he was against Delhi’s move regarding unlock that would throw open the gates of several malls, restaurants, and places of worship from Monday. Claiming the prevailing pandemic to be a huge and unprecedented challenge, Mr Kejriwal while addressing an online press conference, urged that the maintenance of a balance of hospital beds was necessary. “For now, we have decided that the 10,000 beds under the Delhi government will be kept for residents. The beds under the Central government can be used by all,” said Mr Arvind Kejriwal.

“The decision was taken after nearly 90% of people of the 7.5 lakh people who sent their suggestions said that till the COVID situation exists, the Delhi hospitals should be reserved for the people of Delhi,” the Chief Minister said. The decision of the city and its people regarding reservation of hospital beds has been cited as the source for such a move by the government. A five-member expert committee studied the situation in light of the increasing number of cases and concluded Delhi by the end of June would face a requirement of nearly 15,000 beds for COVID-19 patients. “They have suggested reserving the Delhi hospitals for the people of Delhi because if we open the hospitals for all then the COVID beds we have will be filled within three days,” said Mr Kejriwal.

It is believed that 60-70% of patients in Delhi hospitals are usually from other States and the government has never denied treatment to anyone. However, the current scenario has compelled the government to arrange more beds for the people of the city. Dr Randeep Guleria, direct of the All India Institute of Medical Science, responding to the new order by the government made it clear that living with COVID-19 is now the new normal for all of us. “Every individual should take the responsibility to protect oneself and family from COVID-19 and arrest the spread of the virus,” Dr Guleria said. Nevertheless, the Arvind Kejriwal-led government’s decision to “reserve” government-run and private hospitals for the treatment of solely Delhi residents was struck down by Delhi Lieutenant Governor (LG) Anil Baijal reported several media houses on 9th June.

Order of the Lieutenant-General, Anil Baijal, was based on several verdicts of the Supreme Court asserting that the right to health was an integral part of the right to life and is guaranteed by the Constitution. Baijal reiterated that all government and private hospitals and nursing homes are to extend COVID-19 treatment facilities without discrimination against residents or non-residents. In response to the order, Mr Arvind Kejriwal stated that such a decision meant trouble for Delhi as the number of people infected was increasing day in and day out. Controlling the virus now seemed to be a bigger challenge than it was before as providing treatment to Corona infected patients coming from all over the country would put a crimp in the treatment of infected patients who are residents of the city.

LG responded to the decree issued by the Chief Minister of Delhi with criticism along with the claim that such a move was ‘unconstitutional’. A statement issued by the LG’s office clarified the official position on the matter which was articulated in a meeting held by the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) headed by the LG himself. “In the meeting today, it was clarified by Hon’ble Lt. Governor that he had reversed the order of Delhi Government as it violated the constitutional rights of Equality and Right to Life which include Right to Health. A similar directive earlier issued by GNCTD to discriminate in providing healthcare facilities to patients based on their residence was struck down by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi,” read the statement.

In light of these informative pieces, it can be very well said that the decision of the government to roll out such a measure to cope up with the pandemic is erroneous, to say the least. It cannot deny any citizen or an alien treatment on any ground whatsoever. A capital city of a nation is one from where the government of a particular country functions and also, is in the limelight on all occasions. As a result, such an order had the potential to draw negative media coverage and global criticism. This authoritative directive by the Delhi government, furthermore, encouraged to some extent the deprivation of people in the field of health which is, in turn, a conceptual contrast to the right guaranteed by the Constitution of India in Article 21. Moreover, the statement issued by the office of the LG regarding a large increase in the sphere of activity concerning the medical infrastructure of the city made clear that the utilization of several banquet halls, marriage places, etc., was decided.

By: Sagarika Mukhopadhyay

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