Is Flight Cancellation Effective Against Covid-19?

Due to the recent increase in Covid-19 cases, many international and domestic flights have been cancelled by the respective State Governments. However, not all flights are cancelled, and the decisions taken at the highest level are quite blurred, which may do more harm than good. Though restrictions in localities and cities are working quite well the flight cancellations are neither feasible to stop passengers from reaching their destination, nor can prevent the community herd of a potential third wave.

Omicron cases are rising fast in Mumbai and Delhi. Amid rising cases, some states in India have imposed flight restrictions directly from these two cities. Taking another metropolis, Kolkata as an example, the flights from Mumbai and Delhi to Kolkata have been banned on all days but Monday and Friday. This restriction, according to the Government of West Bengal, is effective in stopping any Omicron wave in Kolkata. International flights directly from the UK, a hotspot of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, have also been suspended some days back.

The first loophole in the system is how flights operating on Monday and Friday can prevent any third wave in Kolkata, while those on the other days cannot. The mandatory quarantine, or tracing of passengers through the Air Subidha app, can be imposed on the travellers. Moreover, the cancellation was announced hours before the flight schedule, causing panic among passengers, leaving them without an option to travel to their destination.

The second, and possibly the biggest loophole lies in the fact that all express trains from Mumbai and Delhi to Kolkata are running, and there are options for bus travel as well. Most importantly, the travellers in trains or buses do not require any vaccination certificate or a negative RT-PCR test before travel. The travellers by flight need to undergo an RT-PCR test upon arrival in Kolkata, and after 8 days of arrival will need to do another RT-PCR test. If both tests turn negative, the travellers still need to spend 14 days in home isolation. No such restrictions are in place for other means of transportation.

The most controversial part is the third loophole, where the travellers from UK, Mumbai, and Delhi are allowed to come to Kolkata via another city. For example, a traveller, instead of coming directly from Mumbai can travel to Ahmedabad and then take a flight to Kolkata, or in the case of Delhi, can arrive via Lucknow. The Government openly declares that UK, Mumbai and Delhi passengers can come via other cities, without undergoing any severe restrictions.

Bhubaneswar and Jharsuguda airports have not applied such controversial restrictions, and have simply made the RT-PCR test mandatory for all arrivals at the airports. Though Covid-19 can still leak out, it is quite a safe and hassle-free measure for all passengers. However, the most urgent thing required now is wearing masks in the public and frequent sanitisation, which is somehow missing from everywhere across India. The good news among all these is that vaccination of children in 15-18 years have kick-started and this hopes to bring down the severity of infection in the children.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Presence of Tiger at Buxa National Park

It is no surprise, the once fertile Bengal plain, which was home to the Royal Bengal tigers, has seen tigers decreasing up to their extinction in the recent past. Illegal hunting, presence of localities, absence of well-defined biosphere borders, and the presence of national highways and rail routes have destroyed the once rich biodiversity landscape. Nearby areas of Assam, facing war and terrorism over the years have almost wiped out Royal Bengal tigers and One-Horned Rhinoceros, both endangered species in India.

Tiger at Kaziranga National Park

Buxa Tiger Reserve has been one of the prime tiger reserves in eastern India, where a substantial number of tigers were found as late as the 1990s. However, the number of tigers in the dense, impenetrable forest reduced drastically at the turn of the century, and tigers seemed to vanish from the entire reserve forever. While some blamed illegal poaching, while others blamed the scarcity of water and migration to higher altitudes in Bhutan, all agreed upon one joint initiative to protect the wildlife living there at all costs.

Elephant Safari at Jaldapara National Park

Buxa is one of the biggest parks in India, and it is likely that a major part of it is entirely unexplored and untouched by humanity. Residents in nearby villages, as well as forest officials, had never given up hope that tigers have become extinct from Buxa Tiger Reserve. According to official sources, no tigers are left in the reserve. The Government was looking for two options, either re-locate tigers from Kaziranga National Park in Assam or leave Buxa Tiger Reserve as it is now. The second option is beneficial for tourism as the park has a few villages and a railway station inside, which can sustain hotels, tourist rush during winters and provide guided treks. The first option is more beneficial for preserving wildlife, which is a must to protect the ecosystem. As the Government was in a state of not rejecting either proposal, a tiger was sighted in Buxa Tiger Reserve. A good example of this can be the adjuscent Jaldapara National Park, where the endangered one-horned rhinocerous has been protected successfully from poaching while promoting elephant rides for tourism.

Jeep Safari at Manas National Park

Tiger was officially sighted last in 1998, 23 years ago. After that, villagers and forest rangers reported only claims of tiger sightings up to 2010. Though Buxa had an almost preserved ecosystem, tigers were missing, either dying or migrating to Bhutan. Some people, including officials, had kept their belief that Buxa is too dense to explore fully and tigers may be present in the most remote parts of the park. The recent tiger sighting has kicked off debate as to whether the tiger migrated from neighbouring Manas National Park of Assam, an area famous for wild water buffalos, or hills of Bhutan, or was present in the park itself under everyone’s eyes. Similar tiger sightings were reported in past 3 years from the neighbouring Neora National Park, a remote forest in north Bengal famous for protecting the endangered red panda. Whatever result the debate produces, everyone wishes to see the tiger in Buxa after so long.

Trekking at Neora National Park

However, the forest officials have rightly closed the park to visitors and have also extended their guards to protect villagers living there. The Government, for some years, was looking for rehabilitation of villages within the national park, and if possible, increase its size beyond the current borders. Now, as the tiger has been sighted, to ensure safety to both man and wild, the Government has hastened the process of rehabilitation. From now on, tourists have to stay outside the core area of the forest. However, a road and an important railway line that runs right through the core area of the park can not be done away with. Despite the limitations, tiger sightings at Buxa suggest that the Government has done well to protect the wildlife and has brought a smile to tourists as well as locals alike.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Air India Comes Back to Tata

Air India makes a comeback to its founders after 68 years. In 1932, J. R. D. Tata founded Tata Air Services, later renamed Tata Airlines, which is the precursor of Air India. Back then, J.R.D Tata, an Indian aviator as well as a business aspirant, started flying between Madras and Karachi via Bombay and Ahmedabad. More destinations, such as Colombo and Delhi have been added soon after, and Tata Airlines soon became a popular choice of airways.

Tata Airlines expanded beyond the borders of India to foreign countries, and it did well to connect every nook and corner of the country back in the pre-independence era. It also contributed to World War 2, giving aeroplanes for military evacuation services to the Royal Air Force. After Independence, the Government of India took a 49% stake in Tata Airlines, which now came to be known as Air India, and in 1953, PM Jawaharlal Nehru nationalised Tata Airlines by passing the Air Corporations Act.

In a way, after 68 long years after 1953, Tata is all set to acquire the renowned air carrier. Initial attempts to make Air India private started way back in 2001. However, it got delayed, and Air India started to operate on losses which became a huge burden to the Government of India. Finally, 100% privatisation of Air India was looked upon as the best solution for Air India. The complete privatisation process is expected to take place by December 2021. Tata will be the sole owner of Air India as of now.

Privatisation has been a theatre of debate in the recent past when India is moving towards capitalism and looking to privatise its stakes in Government sectors. While private sectors will call for better facilities, greater passenger amenities, and user friendly, it has also irked some employees who feel their jobs are not secure anymore. Privatisation may also weaken a transportation company like Air India, which may opt for cancellation of loss-making routes, or shut down services. The main question is whether Air India after privatisation can operate from the most remote parts of the country, and win confidence among the employees. Let us know your opinion in the comment section below.

Third Wave of Covid-19 – Inevitable or not?

India has just battled out its worst pandemic situation ever. The first two waves did significant damage all over the world, including India. We have lost so many fellow Indians. Our economy is getting weaker and weaker. Unemployment is on the rise. However, the main question is, even after two massive outbreaks of Covid-19 are we aware of the control measures of this virus yet.

After a disastrous second wave, nobody wants another wave of Covid-19 anytime in the country. However, health officials, including the Prime Minister have warned against a possible third wave in the near future. The positive news was that vaccination is going on in full swing, and it will not be long before all citizens of India are vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. However, the third wave is predicted to reach India well before that. Scientists say that even 70% vaccination can reduce the severity of a third wave to a great extent.

Increasing the duration of the gap between two doses of Covishield is also another factor of slow vaccination rates in India. Covishield was given at an interval of 12 to 16 weeks between two doses as against the previous 8-week gap. Covishield production and distribution have also slowed down considerably as the second wave is retreating from the country. A positive note here is that some single-dose vaccines like Johnson and Johnson, or Sputnik Light are found to be quite effective against Covid-19. Launching single-dose vaccines will increase the vaccination rate to a great extent.

The main question is, when will the third wave come. Scientists differ in their opinions, but most of them suggest that some time is required after the waning of the second wave after which they will get a clear idea. Some scientists say that the third wave has already arrived in the country in July. A few others think the second wave is yet to abate fully from the country and the third wave may arrive 6-8 weeks after the second wave abates. Many predictions point out that if the Government does not tighten its grip on people movement and tourism, as it was before the second wave, the third wave is likely to arrive sooner than expected, and may even take a violent turn. A number of researchers also say that the third wave may arrive by mid-August. However, most studies agree that the severity of the third wave is at our hands, how well we can shield ourselves from infected persons.

Despite all precautions, a section of scientists says that a third wave is inevitable and it may hit India sooner than expected. As nationwide lockdown eases a bit in July, a huge crowd has flocked to the hill stations and beaches. Such a massive crowd of non-local people in tourist places may turn into a Kumbha Mela like super-spreader. Tourist destinations like Lakshadweep and Kerala are seeing an increasing trend in the Covid-19 case count. Most tourist destinations have asked for a negative Covid-19 report or vaccination. Maintaining Covid-19 protocols as well as social distancing is the key to stay safe from getting infected by the deadly virus.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Cycling Makes Comeback in India

Cycling was the most common method of personal vehicle transportation throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, most developed countries in the world are promoting cycle transport to stem the pollution from motor vehicles. Bicycles have the least carbon footprint among all means of transportation as they operate using the energy of the rider. However, they are classified as slow-moving vehicles and are banned from entering congested streets in many cities across India. This limited the growth of this eco-friendly mode of transportation in the early 21st century.

In 2020, world transportation was shattered by Covid-19. Short journeys, for which people used to take auto or bus rides, are replaced by cycles. The unavailability of private cars, buses, and autos means the roads are nearly empty most of the time. So cycling on empty roads did not pose any hindrance to the traffic. In such a scenario, the Government allowed several otherwise-congested roads for cycling purposes. Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, all have seen a spurt in the number of cycles and sales of cycles. A cycle is not only very cheap, but an effective mode of transportation for short distance journeys, and can be parked almost anywhere.

However, various independent surveys show that cycling is more a fitness sport than a transport. In lockdown situations, when fitness lovers are unable to move out to gyms or yoga, cycling comes to their rescue. Cycling not only keeps our body fit but also makes us go out in the sun. Various studies show that Vitamin D is linked with our immunity against Covid-19 and the major source of Vitamin D is sunlight. Thus there is a sudden growth in the number of cycle riders in the afternoon.

Seeing a positive response from the public, the Government is now thinking of making the congested cities suitable for large-scale cycle transportation. Cycle helps in reducing pollution, and also saves a lot of fuel. The commuters have also seen the benefits of cycling, both in terms of health and in terms of money-saving. There has been a 300-600 per cent increase in cycle sales across megacities of India. The best-sellers are expensive bicycles, specially meant for racing purposes. The rich section of the society, which previously did not feel the need to cycle, is now considering cycling as a means of staying fit. The Government now requires cycling as a safe form of transport. The Government should promote the development of bicycle tracks across cities so that riders can move from one part of the city to another without disturbing the traffic. The question is, after the pandemic, will the riders feel safe to ride across congested roads. The Government should create an atmosphere of prioritising cycling as a safe and effective transportation option, which not only the poor but also the rich can utilize.

Written by – Himadri Paul