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October 2014

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Over-exploitation of groundwater makes Delhi and neighbouring areas critical

Only 0.01 bcm water is available for future use in Delhi, while it is negative in Gurgaon and in almost all districts of Haryana

Groundwater resources in Delhi and neighbouring areas like Gurgaon, much of Haryana, and in Ghaziabad have now become “over-exploited” because of continuous unregulated extraction for domestic, industrial and irrigation purposes. The net groundwater availability for future use in Gurgaon and in almost all districts of Haryana runs into negative while in Uttar Pradesh the scene is not comforting. However, in Delhi, the dependency on groundwater has lessened due to increased surface water supply by the Delhi Jal Board and regulations on drilling of new bore wells. A study titled ‘Dynamic Ground Water Resources of India’ by Central Ground Water Board and the State Ground Water Departments, has stated that in the 27 districts of Delhi surveyed, 0.31 billion cubic metre (bcm) of total annual replenishable groundwater is available.

Annual groundwater draft i.e. the water being extracted, includes 0.14 bcm for irrigation and 0.25 bcm for industrial and domestic supply. Only 0.01 bcm water is available for future use in Delhi. The stage of groundwater development, which is a calculation of water extracted and water replenished, stands at 137 per cent for Delhi which brings it in the category of “over-exploited”. The statistics turn grimmer in Haryana. In Gurgaon, 26,720 hectares metre (ham) is the total annual replenishable groundwater resource available while the water extracted is 54,418 ham.

This brings the net groundwater available for future irrigation use to minus 30,370 ham. The stage of groundwater development is 226 per cent which is extremely over-exploited since not much of water goes back to recharge the water table. Faridabad fares better in terms of groundwater and falls under ‘semi-critical’ category. Haryana as a State has minus 3,31,647 ham. In Uttar Pradesh that falls under semi-critical category, Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar are also marked as ‘over-exploited’ zones.

Environment activist Vikrant Tongad, who has been pursuing various petitions concerning groundwater exploitation before the National Green Tribunal, said in various areas in and around Delhi, builders have been extracting water for construction purposes despite strict view of the Tribunal. “In areas like Noida and Greater Noida, builders have been extracting groundwater without any plan for recharging the same,” said Mr. Tongad.

The Noida and the Greater Noida authority in an affidavit filed before the NGT in connection with a petition being pursued by Mr. Tongad had submitted that their officials visited certain sites in their jurisdiction and found that builders have been using water collected due to rain and seepage of groundwater. To this, Mr. Tongad said there has been no rain in the region from which so much water could have been collected and used by builders. The NGT has asked the State authorities and builders concerned to file affidavits.

-The Hindu, October 7, 2014

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Tunnel linking Ring Road and Mathura Road may hit ASI hurdle

A proposal of the Public Works Department (PWD) to build a tunnel linking Ring Road with Mathura Road may hit a roadblock with the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and UNESCO. PWD officials said the tunnel would be around 1.25-km long, beginning at the exit of Nizamuddin Bridge and opening at Subz Burz on Mathura Road, right at the entrance of Humayun’s tomb.

The area is dotted with Sultanate and Mughal era monuments, including Humayun’s tomb, Nizamuddin’s dargah, Sunder Nursery, Subz Burz and Arab ki Serai, which together form the buffer zone of Humayun’s tomb. ASI director (exploration & excavation) Jamal Hassan said the PWD has not yet approached it for permission. “The ASI is the nodal agency and, as per our guidelines, no construction is permitted within 100 metres of a protected monument. If the tunnel is more than 100 metres away, then there might not be much of a problem. But, if construction is carried out too close, the vibrations and other damaging impact will be visible on the structures 10 years down the line,” Hassan told Newsline. Moreover, the proposed tunnel is also expected to pass through the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone (LBZ), which is scheduled to be reviewed by ICOMOS (International Council for Monuments and Sites) next week.

“This tunnel can impact the nomination of LBZ as a World Heritage Site,” Hassan said. UNESCO chief and programme specialist for culture Moe Chibba agrees. “Though one cannot vouch for it, the proposed tunnel can impact the consideration of ICOMOS for declaring LBZ as a World Heritage Site,” Chibba said. Ratish Nanda, project director, Agha Khan Trust for Culture, feels professionally prepared studies must be made mandatory for approval of such projects. Under Nanda’s leadership, the restoration work at Humayun’s tomb was carried out — the first-ever privately funded restoration of a World Heritage Site in the country. “Professionally prepared studies for approval of projects in excess of, say Rs 5 crore, need to be made mandatory. These should include environmental impact assessment, heritage impact assessment, community impact assessment, transport master planning and a public hearing process, among others. Such studies will amply demonstrate the required process in city development,” Nanda said.

“Monuments such as Humayun’s tomb, Purana Qila, Lodhi Gardens, Golf Club, Safdarjung tomb etc., are sacrosanct. After all, how many compromises are seen as glorious or even sensible in the years ahead? Delhi’s traffic problems cannot be solved with more roads – tunnelled or elevated. Policy solutions are required,” he said. PWD chief engineer (flyovers) Sarvagya Srivastava said the exact location of the tunnel and its distance from various monuments can be commented upon only by the feasibility consultant. Assuring that all guidelines would be followed, he said the PWD was only “trying to find solutions”

-The Indian Express, October 7, 2014

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Panel invites consultations on review of green laws

The high level committee (HLC) constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) will engage with institutions and individuals in New Delhi on October 7 and 8 in the course of its review of five environment-related laws. The joint secretary of the Ministry of Environment Biswajit Sinha has sent letters for an interaction. No public notice has been issued so far.

On August 29, the Environment Ministry had constituted the HLC to review the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act,1981, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act,1972 with four terms of reference aimed at recommending “specific amendments to bring them in line with current objectives to meet requirements,” among other things.

Many groups have already objected to the constitution of the committee headed by former Cabinet Secretary T.S.R. Subramanian. Environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who is among those invited to give his comments on October 7, toldThe Hindu that the terms of reference of the HLC does not really include a consultative process. While the committee has to submit its report in two months, the five laws it has to review would take much more time, he said. For instance, Mr. Datta said the Environment Protection Act alone had over 25 to 30 related notifications, each of which would take a long time to review.

While the HLC has been tasked with reviewing five laws, in a letter inviting a reputed institution for a meeting on October 8, the Environment Ministry has mentioned that the Indian Forests Act, 1927 is also under review, causing further confusion. Environmental groups say that the whole attempt by the MoEF is to dismantle regulation of any kind.

-The Hindu, October 7, 2014

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Pride of Mughal citadel to turn over a new roof with Gujarat wood

The majestic Diwan-i-Khas inside world heritage site Red Fort is going to sport a new look. After reports of damage to the monument's wooden ceiling, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has initiated a massive conservation exercise involving replacement of the multiple layers, where the wood was sagging and decomposed, with fresh wood being brought in from Gujarat.

The history of Diwan-i-Khas, or the hall of royal audience, has allusions to both the Mughals and later colonial rule. "During the Mughal rule, the ceiling had decorated silver plating which was removed by Nadir Shah in 1739 along with the famed peacock throne. This was then replaced by copper by the later Mughals sometime in the 19th century. When the British occupied the fort, the copper was removed and replaced with wooden planks which have stayed till now. Much of the wood had begun to sag recently," said a senior official from ASI.

The multi-layered ceiling is about 1.25m thick. The lowest layer on the ceiling that can be seen from inside comprises wooden planks, above which are wooden beams, which are layered by mud. There's another layer of wooden beams and planks which is covered by Lahori brick masonry, topped by lime concrete. "We observed the wooden rafters sagging at several points. They had decomposed and could no longer bear load," said a senior official. About three layers of the ceiling were opened—till the mud layer—from the terrace to replace to aging wood with fresh sal wood. Finding wood identical to the one used by the British took over six months.

"After months of looking, we came across sal wood from Gandhidham in Gujarat. It was tested in the forest research institute in Dehradun where we learnt it was the same used by the British. Now the challenge was to find sal wood of the right length. The maximum length of the wooden beams in the ceiling was about 27 feet, which is a rarity. The thickness was not as big an issue," explained an official. The wood arrived in the city a few weeks ago. The lime concrete work is being removed to replace the wood. Approximately Rs 40 lakh has been spent just on this wood. "We are not touching the interiors or the artwork at all. This is a delicate task and involves lifting the heavy wooden beams to the terrace. It could take up to four months," added the official. An iron girder installed by the British in the centre of the roof of Diwan-i-Khas is also not being touched.

Diwan-i-khas is one of the more prominent buildings inside the Red Fort along with the Naubad Khan and Diwan-e-am. It was used by the emperor for giving private audience to the courtiers and visitors. There existed on the west of the Diwan-i-Khas two enclosures, one for the nobles and the other for those not of a high rank. These enclosures were removed after the Mutiny.

-The Times of India, October 8, 2014

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5,000-year Harappan stepwell found in Kutch, bigger than Mohenjo Daro's

A 5,000-year-old stepwell has been found in one of the largest Harappan cities, Dholavira, in Kutch, which is three times bigger than the Great Bath at Mohenjo Daro. Located in the eastern reservoir of Dholavira by experts from the Archaeological Survey of India working with IIT-Gandhinagar, the site represents the largest, grandest, and the best furnished ancient reservoir discovered so far in the country. It's rectangular and 73.4m long, 29.3m wide, and 10m deep. Another site, the ornate Rani ki Vav in Patan, called the queen of stepwells, is already on Unesco list.

"This is almost three times bigger than the Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro that's 12m in length, 7m in width, and 2.4m in depth," said V N Prabhakar, visiting faculty at IIT and superintending archaeologist, ASI. "We will conduct spot analysis in December as various surveys have indicated other reservoirs and stepwells may be buried in Dholavira," Prabhakar told TOI. "We also suspect a huge lake and an ancient shoreline are buried in the archaeological site that's one of the five largest Harappan sites and the most prominent archaeological site in India belonging to the Indus Valley civilization," he added.

Experts will investigate the advanced hydraulic engineering used by Harappans for building the stepwell through 3D laser scanner, remote sensing technology and ground-penetrating radar system. "We will study how water flowed into the well and what was the idea behind water conservation," said Prabhakar. The IIT Gandhinagar team and ASI officials will also excavate various tanks, stoneware, finely furnished brick blocks, sanitation chambers and semi-precious stones hidden at the site.

Precious stones like carnelian were in great demand during the Harappan era. Gujarat was the hub of bead and craft manufacturing industries. "Agate carnelian beads were also coveted," Prabhakar said. Siddharth Rai and V Vinod of IIT-Gn are working on characterization of internal structures of various forms of pottery unearthed from the site to identify the diet followed by Harappans. "Through pottery typology, we'll find out whether different communities lived in Dholavira," Rai said. The team will also analyze precious copper and bronze artefacts.

-The Times of India, October 8, 2014

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Rashtrapati Bhavan to get new museum in two years

President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday laid the foundation stone of a new Museum that will come up in the Rashtrapati Bhavan precincts, and showcase past and current presidencies. This museum will be in addition to the existing ones that are already open to public within the President’s Estate. The new museum, expected to be ready by October 2016 is being housed inside a heritage structure which previously was the ‘garages’ of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Spread over 10,000 sq. metres, it will compliment the architecture of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Mr. Mukherjee said “history comes alive through emotional involvement of visitors with the objects, personalities and events of importance.” He hoped that the museum would become an important landmark and destination for historians and researchers.

It would preserve historic objects, paintings, photographs and documents related to the socio-economic-political events originating from Rashtrapati Bhavan. It would use techniques involving augmented reality, holographic projection and animatronics multi-screen panoramic projection.

-The Hindu, October 8, 2014

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Tracing Africa’s association with India, back to the 1300s

Long before habshi became a derogatory term, Yaqut Dabuli Habshi, an Ethiopian, was one of Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II’s prominent architects and designed a palace and a mihraab in Bijapur around 1635. Even before that, in the 1300s, people of African origin were living in India, many of them as generals, admirals and ministers in Muslim and Hindu kingdoms.

Wajid Ali Shah, the last king of Awadh, had a queen of African descent called Yasmin and Malik Amber (1548-1626) – Ethiopian by birth – was the ruler of a state in the Deccan. Now, an exhibition of photographs and text from the Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Studies, New York, is tracing this exciting and little-known history of Africans in India. Titled “Africans in India: A Rediscovery”, the exhibition will be held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in Delhi from October 8 to November 4.

The images and text are arranged in panels around Mati Ghar, a gallery of IGNCA. One of the earliest panels of the 54 on display is titled “Traders”. Beneath images of a 4th century Ethiopian coin found in India, and a zebra —the animal was brought to India in 1621 — the text says that “the first Africans who reached India were not captives but merchants”.

The next panel, “Elite Slavery” has a reproduction of a painting of Sultan Mohammad Adil Shah of Bijapur with African courtiers around 1640. “This exhibition is focusing on the elite — people who arrived mostly from East Africa, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and so on, in the early centuries. There were people who came after that — from Mozambique with the Portuguese slave trade and also from Kenya — and they were different populations with different stories,” says New York-based curator Sylviane A Diouf.

Panels titled “African Queens” shows the royal trajectory of African women. Other photographs include a Raja Deen Dayal monochrome of African guards in Hyderabad in 1904. The Nizam’s African bodyguards graced his imperial durbar in a shot from 1877. “Indian rulers allowed African men who had come as slaves to join the army and rise up the ranks. This was unlike the Americas where black men were not allowed in the army,” says Diouf.

Co-curator Kenneth X Robbins says, “What we found was that not all Africans came as slaves and even when they came as slaves, they were able to achieve important positions. They were more accepted in the past and allowed to function as a community and as individuals, especially in the Deccan.”

Thus, the panel titled “Rulers and Notables” shows the Habshi Kot or Abyssinian Fort near Bidar in Karnataka, where African nobles are buried. The curators say the “Abyssianian Party”

-The Indian express, October 8, 2014

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Stop polluting Ganga or shut shop: Uma Bharti

All polluting industries along the river Ganga will have to set up sensor-based real-time online effluent monitoring system by March 31 next year. The government on Wednesday said it was serious about the deadline with water resources minister Uma Bharti issuing a veiled threat to industries—-mend your ways or face the consequences. The government also said that its long-term goal was to implement "zero liquid discharge" where all the water used by industries could be recycled and re-used.

Sending a tough message to polluting units, Bharti said that if she had to choose between the Ganga and industry, she would choose the river unless polluting industries adhere to all environment norms and the deadline. Using the analogy of a delivery procedure where a mother's life may be at stake, the minister said she would ideally like both the mother (Ganga) and child (industry) to survive. But, if she has to choose between the two, she would choose "Ma" (mother Ganga), she said.

"If the child (industry) would suck mother's (Ganga) blood, she would prefer the mother to survive", said Bharti. While claiming she was running out of patience, the minister refrained from using harsh words at a time when industries are voluntarily turning up to hold consultations for finding a solution. Bharti underlined the fact that whatever the government was doing to rejuvenate the Ganga, would serve as a template for all rivers across the country.

Her remarks came after several rounds of consultation with representatives of polluting industries. Environment minister Prakash Javadekar and many experts — including Vinod Tare, coordinator of IIT Consortium that is preparing the Ganga River Basin Management Plan and R K Pachauri, director general of TERI and chairman of the UN's IPCC — attended the consultations and pitched for quick action to save the river.

-- The Times of India, October 9, 2014

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PWD's tunnel projects jeopardize Delhi's world heritage city pitch

Two of Delhi government's ambitious infrastructure projects could come at the cost of the city's heritage tag. At a time when an international experts' team from International Council on Monuments and Sites is in the city for a site inspection and evaluation of Delhi's pitch for a world heritage city inscription, Unesco has expressed worries over two tunnel road projects proposed by the public works department.

PWD recently revived a controversial road project to connect Ring Road to Mathura Road. It has received in-principle approval from Delhi government. Another tunnel road is proposed from Safdarjung Road to Aurangzeb Road that will pass through Lutyens' Bungalow Zone.

About the first tunnel road, experts say that world heritage site Humayun's Tomb would become inaccessible to visitors with a huge number of cars coming out at the already-clogged Subz Burj roundabout. "Additionally, the Lutyens' Bungalow Zone, which is now being reviewed for world heritage status, will see a huge influx of vehicles. World heritage guidelines call for reduction of traffic," said a source.

Speaking to TOI, Moe Chiba, programme specialist for culture from Unesco's Delhi office, said, "Any major development work around world heritage sites or prospective world heritage sites has to be carefully monitored. If it's likely to affect the value or authenticity of the site, it has to be brought to the attention of ICOMOS. The Unesco Convention does not oppose development, but it cares about how it is implemented. We have not seen the actual proposal for the tunnel road in Delhi but it has to be brought to the attention of ICOMOS. Traffic around world heritage sites is a very tricky thing and has to be managed carefully. If car traffic is set to increase through any proposed project within the immediate world heritage zone, then it will be a matter of concern as increased traffic often affects the conservation of the sites. We will also need to assess any visual impact of such work to the sites."

Conservationists warn that the proposed tunnel road project from Ring Road to Mathura Road could land Humayun's Tomb in Unesco's 'world heritage in danger' list. Some years ago, the world heritage site of Hampi was on the danger list for eight years because the new bridge being built nearby would have brought in extra traffic. The bridge was demolished a few years ago. Similarly, Sri Lanka's Galle Fort, a world heritage site, landed in trouble with the Unesco World Heritage Committee which expressed concerns over the development of the Galle Cricket Stadium opposite the site. "We closely evaluate any development work around world heritage sites. If the work triggers any concerns, it can affect the status of the site," a source in Unesco said.

Sources said that the issue of the tunnel roads also came up in the meetings between ICOMOS and Delhi government officials on Wednesday. The ICOMOS team is in Delhi for evaluating the city's world heritage nomination. The two areas listed in the dossier are Shahjahanabad in Old Delhi and Lutyens' Bungalow Zone, the part of the new imperial capital designed by Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker after the 1911 Delhi Durbar. More site visits to Walled City and New Delhi areas are expected over the next few days.

-The Times of India, October 9, 2014

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Experts concerned over damage of artefacts in Valley

Artists, conservationists, historians and cultural activists sent out a passionate appeal to experts within India and the international community on Wednesday for urgent help with the scientific rescue and restoration of damaged manuscripts, paintings, shawls and carpets, miniature paintings and other artefacts at the Shri Pratap Singh (SPS) Museum in Srinagar that had been damaged by the floods.

dna was the first to report the extensivedamage of the Gilgit manuscript, a 6th century birchwood manuscript, known to be among the oldest in the world, which contains several Buddhist sutras.

Addressing the press conference held in the capital, Saleem Beg, former head of the Jammu & Kashmir chapter of the Indian National Trust for Heritage and Culture (Intach) and now member of the National Monuments Authority, showed visuals of priceless, 200-year old shawls hung out to dry on the pavements of the museum, with dogs walking over them. Museum officials had pulled them out of the mud and washed them in tap water — against every principle of modern, scientific conservation. "These ancient shawls, and textiles some of going back to the 2nd century, form the largest number of artefacts lost," Beg said. Among them was a shawl that had been presented to Queen Victoria on her coronation in 1837.

Highlighting the state of disrepair at the museum, Beg said that the SPS museum did not have a catalogue of the around 18,000 artefacts it possessed. "There are no names, only numbers, so it is very difficult to identify exactly what objects have been damaged or destroyed," he said.

While SPS Museum is administered by the state government, Beg alleged that the central government too had not been prompt in reacting to the damage. "Only yesterday, a three-member conservation team from the National Museum has gone to Srinagar. They will do an initial fumigation and submit an assessment report," he revealed.

SPS Museum, however, is not the only cultural institution to have been wrecked in the floods. Several important works of modern art, a collection that goes back to the 1960s when the artist GR Santosh held the first art camps in India in Kashmir, have also been lost, revealed Veer Munshi, artist. Paintings and sculptures by artists such as MF Husain and Bal Chhabda had been housed at the Institute of Music and Fine Arts, which was ravaged in the floods.

-The Daily News & Analysis, October 9, 2014

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Hudhud cyclone to hit Delhi's air quality

The Hudhud cyclone that's likely to hit the Coromandel coast on Sunday will have a serious effect on Delhi's air quality. The models prepared by System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology show levels of carbon monoxide, ozone and particulate matter rising steeply Friday evening onwards. Meteorologists at SAFAR say Delhites should brace up for very poor air quality, especially if there is no rainfall in Delhi.

Scientists at Delhi Pollution Control Committee air quality lab also confirmed that levels of certain pollutants are set to rise. According to SAFAR's model, CO levels will rise from the current 1.2 parts per million to about 3 PPM over the weekend. The threshold for CO is 1.7 PPM, according to SAFAR. Ground level ozone is associated with serious health problems such as breathing difficulty and reduced lung function. Ozone levels are likely to increase from the present level of 40 parts per billion (PPB) to 63 PPB. The threshold for ground-level ozone is 50 PPB.

The particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10) concentration is likely to increase by 60% to 70%. PM2.5 (fine respirable particles) levels may reach about 180-200 micrograms per cubic metre when the standard is only 60 micrograms per cubic metre. PM10 (coarse particles) levels are likely to be about 260 to 270 micrograms per cubic metre.

"The air from the coastal region will sweep out the air rich in pollutants and dump it on the Indo-Gangetic plains which will affect Delhi, too. The effect from this will also dissipate quickly. But for two days air quality will be very poor. If it rains then PM levels may get better but CO and ozone levels will be high," said Gufran Beig, chief project scientist, SAFAR. The Indian Meteorological Department forecasts a clear sky on Saturday but for Sunday there are chances of thunderstorm and gusty winds.

The worst air quality is likely to be faced by other parts of Indo-Gangetic plains like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. DPCC is also gearing up for an awareness drive up to keep air pollution in check during Diwali.

-The Times of India, October 10, 2014

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Conservators from Delhi to help restore Valley artefacts

Conservators from New Delhi will jointly work with the officials of Sri Pratap Singh (SPS) Museum in Srinagar for restoring artefacts that were severely damaged during the recent flood in the Valley. The decision was taken after a three-member central team visited the museum and assessed the damage. Over 70,000 artefacts have been damaged in the flood.

Mohammed Shafi Zahid, director (archives) of archaeology and museum department, told The Indian Express, “The visit has been very positive. The central team will jointly work with museum’s conservation efforts. They will soon finalise a plan to completely restore the artefacts by consulting experts across the country.” He also added that the central officials were “completely satisfied” in relation to local restoration efforts.

The team of experts, headed by R P Savita, director (conservation) of National Museum, visited SPS Museum after J&K Governor N N Vohra had sought help from the Centre in restoring the centuries old items.

Zahid said the experts from National Museum have concluded that “majority” of artefacts would be salvaged. “Except for papier-mâché items, which has been damaged permanently and has lost its texture, the experts have concluded that most of the artefacts can be salvaged,” he said, adding that all the items have been kept in fumigation chamber to prevent fungal growth. The J&K government has also taken up the matter regarding restoration work with NRLC, Lucknow and Pioneer Conservation Laboratory of India.

Earlier this week, a group of conservationists in Delhi had highlighted the need to address the cultural loss due to flood. The J&K chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage in its preliminary assessment has concluded that Gilgit manuscript, precious textile works and paper-based objects were “greatly damaged”. Also, several areas of the door’s adorned with papier-mâché have also been “completely obliterated” by flood water.

“There should be an inter-agency to look after the restoration process. At the same time, the conservation fraternity should come forward with the expertise and also train the locals about the restoration,” said Saleem Beg, INTACH, Kasmir said.

-The Indian Express, October 11, 2014

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Security doesn’t come with gates, it comes from relationships: BV Doshi

From a generation confronted with the task of constructing a new nation, Balakrishna Vithaldas Doshi’s ability to combine functionality and aesthetics with traditional techniques and modern technology made him one of the pillars of modern Indian architecture.

A leading figure in the discussion on sustainable design, he enviably called Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn his friends. With the latter, he worked closely on the design of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Born in Pune into a family that was into furniture business for two generations, he has received many honours, including the Padma Shri in 1976. At 87, he is revisiting his practice. Curated by his granddaughter Khushnu Panthaki Hoof, a retrospective at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, showcases 60 years of his architecture, from blueprints to models and canvases painted by Doshi to celebrate architecture through art. You have constantly challenged yourself by experimenting with design. How does it feel to view all that under one roof? There has been diverse work in the last 60 years, there are hardly any repetitions.

They start from houses for the economically weaker section to small houses, city planning, public areas and institutions; the question was how to show this to people. Architecture and habitat primarily encompass open spaces. Without streets you cannot get into a house, without squares you can’t cross a road, you gradually enter a verandah, courtyard, then a building, residence or campus. That is how our temples and old cities have been built. The right way is to relate buildings to human beings.

Despite contemporary needs, this is a basic requirement. Tools change but the inherent quality of life does not. Community becomes very important. Unfortunately, due to neglect, we are not considering human beings and their behaviour as priority. What are your earliest memories of architecture? It would be the street of my grandparents’ home in Ravivar Peth in Pune. There are wooden buildings with balconies, tile roofs and kilns outside — the memories have continued to impact my project. The mohallah was like a joint family, with lots of relatives. You have also been inspired by ancient Indian architecture, from Fatehpur Sikri while designing IIM-Bangalore, to Ajanta and Ellora for the Amdavad-ni-Gufa.

I refer to ancient cities, from Harappa and Mohenjo-daro to existing ancient cities. I borrowed courtyard connectivity from Fatehpur, also certain elements from the Madurai temple, like the pagodas and corridors, so the courtyards are interspersed with gardens. Even though the corridors are covered, there are internal gardens. The external stone walls are covered with creepers. I believe when you designed your office, Sangath, in 1980, it was the first time you were working on arches and conclaves. It came at the peak of my career, I wanted to break all rules. This is an office but doesn’t look like one. It is not a building, it doesn’t have a regular form, but has terraces and kilns. It looks like an ancient village with vaults that borrow light from nature. The materials used are recycled.

It is a completely ecological building; double vaults on the side and insulation on the roof saved me the air-conditioning cost by almost two-third. When you established Vastu-Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design in 1955, not many were focussing on nature. Now it is common. What do you think of the trend? People misunderstand the meaning of Vastu. It implies balancing of energies, not necessarily following orientation and placement dogmatically. Happiness depends on the relationship between family members.

People talk of environmental design as a system, not human beings as the main cause of building. The focus must be biological needs and social connectivity. Security does not come with gates, it comes from relationships. While designing the gallery, Amdavad-ni-Gufa, you worked with tribals for the construction. Why? It was a challenge for me and MF Husain to create what we didn’t know. I decided to find a magical building I had never thought of. I made a myth — if you have myth, there is magic, you get enchanted and ask why is this so. I experimented with several models, and finally decided that it had to be like soap bubbles, the volume has to be there like a basket of fruits. If you walk inside, you get a sense of the gufa. We built a ferrocement lightweight structure, which can only be built by the tribals because it is a thin layer covering a chickenwire mesh, then clad it with China mosaic.

It gave the impression of walking on the sea shore. Rounded buried shapes were available inside, the junction was supported by columns, which come in the form of forests that take varied shapes. A regular mason couldn’t have built this, so we worked with tribals. How did Le Corbusier make a lasting impact on your work? My life has been full of accidents. My friend suggested that I join JJ School (he enrolled in 1947) because I was good at drawing. In the fourth year, I met someone who was giving his RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) exam and going to London, he asked me to go with him. Within a year, I met Le Corbusier at CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture) and he asked me to join him. Eventually, he considered me family, and some people consider me his best disciple.

-The Indian Express, October 12, 2014

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Uttarakhand to develop Tehri reservoir for adventure tourism

In an initiative to develop the 42 sq-km Tehri dam reservoir as a destination for adventure tourism, the State government conducted a two-day workshop that concluded on Friday.

This was an important step to boost tourism-based activities in the State and increase employment opportunities for the locals of Tehri, State Tourism Minister Dinesh Dhanai said.

The initiative of developing Tehri tourism destination was a response to the demands of the locals, and other agencies that viewed the reservoir as a possible destination for adventure tourism, including water sports. Speaking at the workshop on Friday, Chief Minister Harish Rawat said the reservoir would be named ‘Sri Dev Suman Sagar’, after a freedom fighter from Tehri.

All the tourism activities that would be developed around the Tehri dam reservoir, would be named after the villages that got submerged in the reservoir, Mr Rawat said.

Mr Dhanai said the development of the area as a tourism destination would provide employment opportunities to the locals and would stop migration from Tehri. The two day workshop, where various adventure sports activities were performed, was attended by travel agencies and tour operators from across the country.

-The Hindu, October 12, 2014

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DDA security units to fight squatters

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has raised its own security force that will be engaged in protecting its land and other duties. The force will have three wings-Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs), Permanent Land Protection Force (PLPF) and Yamuna Protection Force (YPF) with the commissioner (land management) acting as the land protection officer of Delhi.

The move comes in the wake of large-scale encroachments on DDA's land worth thousands of crores. The last time DDA estimated the quantum of encroachments was about 2,000 acres. "Till now we did not have a structure to deal with encroachments on our land. We had identified some pockets that were prone to encroachment. But in the absence of a dedicated staff, we failed to retrieve those plots from the land-grabbers' clutches. The problem arises when DDA tries to demolish a property illegally built on its plot-the owner of the property then files a case, which is a very long-drawn process. Now, we don't want our remaining parcels of land to get embroiled in court cases. We want to stop such encroachments," said a senior DDA official.

Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs) will basically be mobile units, which will monitor DDA's land parcels. Five QRTs will be constituted for each zone with 40 security personnel each. The units will further be divided into five smaller teams with eight security guards in each of them. Each small team will be monitored by an assistant engineer. All assistant engineers will report to zonal chief engineers, who will now be referred to as zonal land protection officers (ZLPOs). "These teams will work on the 'beat' principle of policing. Each guard and assistant engineer will have a dedicated area to monitor and we will keep transferring officers to prevent any collusion between land grabbing mafias and our engineers," the official added. The Permanent Land Protection Force (PLPF) will be a dedicated wing of 160 security guards. These personnel will be permanently stationed to guard vital, sensitive, encroachment-prone pieces of land.

DDA will also have a force to prevent encroachment on the Yamuna riverbanks. Yamuna Protection Force (YPF) will have three teams. "The teams will be raised to protect Zone 'O' of Yamuna riverbed. South zo-ne being more prone to land-grabbing cases will be headed by one assistant engineer who will command 50 security personnel. The other zones will have one AE each heading security staff of 25 guards each," said the official.

-The Times of India, October 12, 2014

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Cyclone Hudhud: Evacuation pays off, casualties minimal

Armed forces and the National Disaster Response Force have dispatched teams for rescue and relief operations

The armed forces and the National Disaster Response Force have dispatched teams for rescue and relief operations in the cyclone-hit areas in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

Codenamed Operation Lehar, the rescue efforts of the armed forces will be led by the Navy. Sources in the Navy said even before the cyclone hit, warships INS Ranjit, INS Shivalik and INS Airawat and fleet tanker INS Shakti were readied with relief material for 5,000 personnel, to rescue people marooned at sea or in the several islands along the coast. Four other ships could also sail at short notice for relief operations, and two Dornier maritime recce aircraft and six helicopters were also ready for deployment, the sources said.

A P8-I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft is on standby for carrying out damage assessment once the cyclone passes and wind speeds reduce, a naval spokesperson said. A total of 30 diving teams with Gemini craft loaded with relief material and 20 rescue teams fanned out to rescue people in flooded areas of Srikakulam, Anakapalle and areas surrounding Vishakhapatnam.

The Andhra sub area of the Army dispatched four teams, each equipped with relief material including some 300 lifejackets, to Vishakhapatnam and Tikli and Echerla areas in Srikakulam. A Disaster Management Cell has been set up at Army Air Defence College at Gopalpur at sea and 16 teams have been deployed to clear obstructions and open roads for transport of relief material and quick evacuation of casualties. The Army has also kept 25 teams and two engineer task forces on standby at Ranchi, Allahabad and Secunderabad.

The Air Force, on its part, kept an Il-76, a C-17 Globemaster and five An-32 transport aircraft ready at Chandigarh, Delhi, Jorhat and Agra for the relief work. Three Chetaks were on standby at Hakimpet, a Mi-8 helicopter was ready at Yelahanka and 10 Mi-17 medium-lift choppers remained on alert at Nagpur, Hyderabad, Kalaikunda, Suratgarh, Bagdogra and Barrackpore.

The Coast Guard scrambled up from Chennai, Vizag, Paradip, Haldia and Kolkata 17 ships, two air cushion vessels and 13 aircraft in Eastern and North-Eastern regions to augment the rescue efforts. In addition, it kept three rescue teams on standby at Vishakhapatnam, Kakinada and Gopalpur.

The contour and magnitude of the relief operations would be based on the damage assessment done by the State authorities in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, said a defence communiqué.In Delhi, the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) held a meeting on Sunday evening to review the ground situation after the landfall of cyclone Hudhud.

Chaired by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, the meeting discussed relief and rehabilitation operations. Over three lakh people have reportedly been affected by the storm and rains.NDRF teams have evacuated nearly 13,000 people in both States.

-The Hindu, October 13, 2014

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Down Memory Lane: Blast from the past

It is hard to think of Diwali without electric lights today, but during the time of the Mughals, illuminating the festival was a tricky affair

The Rang Mahal in the Red Fort has been renovated and now the sagging ceiling of the Dewan-e-Khas is being set right by the ASI, not an easy task as the slightest miscalculation or deviation in laying the Sal wood planks can mar the symmetrical setting of the once gold-plated covering under the roof of the Hall of Private Audience, where the Takht-e-Taus or Peacock Throne occupied pride of place.

Such care was not needed in the Rang Mahal which was the venue of Diwali and Basant celebrations during the time of Mohammad Shah (1720-1748). Holi however was celebrated on the lawns in front of it while the Diwali diyas lent lustre to the Mahal.And that brings us to the point of the Mughal connection with Diwali, which actually began in the reign of Akbar at the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, where the palaces of Jodha Bai and Raja Birbal were also situated.

Jahangir and Shah Jahan had milder Diwali celebrations and Aurangzeb was content with receiving gifts from his Rajput generals like Raja Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur and Jai Singh I of Jaipur. His grandson, Jahander Shah ruled for just about a year and celebrated his Diwali at Lahore with concubine Lal Kunwar. All the oil in the city is said to have been bought by the dandy emperor to light up the night but, exaggeration apart, there were enough telis there to cater to the needs of the hoi polloi and some of them were more than mere oil sellers, for the saying in Lahore as also in Delhi, was “Parhhein Farsi bechein tel”. It meant that despite their straitened circumstances brought about by the vicissitudes of fortune, they were not far removed from the intellectuals who wrote and studied Persian (the high water-mark of contemporary culture).

Diwali was considered, even by the orthodox Muslims, a festival of natural joy of God’s creation, though some of them had reservations about eating “kheel” which, incidentally, was mostly sold by Muslim Bharbhujas or gram roasters. Besides the colourful (Rangeela) Mohammad Shah, his predecessor Farukh Siyar had ordered Diwali illuminations at the Delhi Gate he had built on the Agra-Delhi road. The Sayyids of Barah, who had put him on the throne and some other puppets, including Mohammad Shah too, belonged to 12 villages in what is now Uttar Pradesh and where Diwali was celebrated with great enthusiasm, by the Hindu and Muslim peasants. So they were not surprised at the emperor’s unusual spectacle.

A special feature of the Mughal celebrations at Shabh-e-Barat and Diwali was the bursting of crackers close to the walls of the Red Fort under the supervision of the Mir Atish. According to historian R. Nath, in an age when there were no matches the permanent source of fire was Surajkrant. “At noon of the day when the sun entered the 19th degree of Aries, and the heat was the maximum, the (royal) servants exposed the sun’s rays to a round piece of shining stone (Surajkrant). A piece of cotton was then held near it, which caught fire from the heat of the stone. This celestial fire was preserved in a vessel called Agingir (fire-pot) and committed to the care of an officer”. The fire was used in the palace and renewed every year.

Camphor candles called Kufuri-Shama were placed on 12 candlesticks of gold and silver to light up the palace as a daily ritual, Dr. Nath asserts. This was obviously done on a grander scale at Diwali when the Akash Diya (the Light of the Sky) was lit with greater pomp, placed atop a pole 40 yards high, supported by 16 ropes, and fed on several maunds of binaula (cotton-seed oil) to light up the durbar. Just imagine the huge lamp lighting up a Diwali night and casting its glow right up to Chandni Chowk where rich seths had their own lighting arrangements, with mustard oil diyas on every building. A giant-sized statue of Tesu Raja and his wife Jhainji, symbolized by illuminated pots, was also taken out for immersion in the Yamuna.

However, the Diwali of Oct 17, 1762, turned out to be a bleak one (bleaker than the one of Oct 24, 1995) because of a solar eclipse. That was the time of an invasion by Ahmed Shah Abdali, who was engaged in battle by the Sikhs near Amritsar. However, the combatants dispersed when the sun suddenly turned black. Thinking that it was a heavenly sign of displeasure, the Sikhs took refuge in a forest while Ahmad Shah and his troops galloped off to Lahore in panic. Not only Punjab, Delhi too had an uneasy Diwali 230 years ago, but the 1995 eclipse did not cause that sort of alarm. It’s a far cry from the Jashan-e-Chiragan of the Mughals to our present times when oil diyas have largely been replaced by electric lights of many hues and Delhi is lit up like never before, though the crackers spread noise and air pollution.

-The Hindu, October 13, 2014

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Cyclones bane for A.P. coastline

On an average, the coastline is hit by at least one high-intensity cyclone every three years.

The 970-kilometre coastline is no doubt an asset for the 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh but it has also proved to be a liability, considering the cyclones the region encounters each year.

As per the information from the Department of Disaster Management, the Hudhud cyclone is the 75th one since 1871. A conservative estimate of cyclonic devastation points at a loss of over Rs. 65,000 crore besides 16,325 human deaths since 1977, the year which had seen the worst of the cyclones in Diviseema in Krishna district. The Diviseema catastrophe claimed over 10,000 human lives and around 2.5 lakh cattle.

On an average, the coastline is hit by at least one high-intensity cyclone every three years. As per the estimates of the Department of Disaster Management, over 30 lakh people living in five kilometers alongside the coastline in AP are vulnerable to cyclones and over 44 per cent of the region is impacted.

The chief reason behind it is that Andhra Pradesh falls in the 12,000-km coastline within South Asia, which is vulnerable to cyclones. Over 95 per cent of the major cyclonic disasters experienced in the world have taken place in the region. And the incidence of cyclones is more in the Bay of Bengal when compared to the Arabian Sea.

While the recurring disasters of different sorts have had a severe impact on the State’s economy and policies, the dilly dallying of government machinery played havoc with payment of compensation due to farmers. The glaring example of this can be attributed to the latest cyclone Phailin and the related compensation which is unpaid. The government officials could, with great difficulty, reach the cyclone-hit districts several months after its occurrence. And the farmers are still waiting for the damages incurred in the Phailin cyclone that hit crops in 2013.

-The Hindu, October 13, 2014

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Glimpse into complexities of Mughal royal lives

Complexities of the Mughal royal lives portrayed by the daughters of Emperor Shah Jahan provided a debut story for the new history-centric show series launched by the National Museum here.

A conversation between Jahanara and Roshnara, daughters of Shah Jahan and the sisters of Aurangzeb, was enacted by artistes from Delhi-based troupe Darwesh in the performance titled “Shah Jahan’s Daughters: A compelling story from Mughal History” at the Museum’s Central Courtyard here this week.

The conversation brought out various complexities of the royal court, the position of women, the relationship between Shah Jahan and his younger son Aurangzeb, besides the role of his elder son Dara Shikoh in court.

“The series intends to bring together unique performances telling stories from the past,” National Museum Director General Venu V said. “It also reveals through discussions between the two daughters how one favoured Aurangzeb and the other did not,” says Joyoti Roy an outreach consultant with the Museum.

-The Hindu, October 13, 2014

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Uttarakhand floods result of climate change: Report

The 2013 Uttarakhand floods were most probably a consequence of “human-induced” climate change, a new report by the American Meteorological Society has suggested.

The extraordinary rainfall in Uttarakhand in June last year has found a place in a list of 16 extreme weather events that the report says were most likely a direct result of climate change.

his is probably the first time that any individual weather event in India has been attributed to climate change. Scientists are generally wary of blaming climate change for any single event, mainly because of the difficulty in establishing the causality, although there is a near unanimity that climate change is responsible for an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

The report ‘Explaining Extreme Events of 2013: From a Climate Perspective’, published in the September issue of Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, does not directly say that climate change caused the floods but comes very close to that.

Based on statistical analysis, the paper on the Indian case says that the high rainfall in June 2013 (the entire month, not just four days of excessive rainfall in the middle of the month) was “at least a century-scale event”, meaning such precipitation can be expected only once in a century at the most.

It then says that the analysis provides evidence that climate change can be held responsible for increased likelihood of such extreme events. “…our analyses of the observed and simulated June precipitation provide evidence that anthropogenic (human-induced) forcing of the climate system has increased the likelihood of such an event,” the report says. The Uttarakhand floods had caused a large-scale devastation in the region, killing thousands of people. Several earlier studies have captured the increasing trend of extreme rainfall cases in India and sought to link it with climate change.

But it is extremely difficult to establish whether any individual event is a result of seasonal weather variations or an effect of climate change. The report acknowledges the limitations that science has in attributing individual events to climate change but says if wherever it is possible, such attributions need to be made. “It is clear that extreme events capture the public’s attention… And, with or without the availability of a robust scientific analysis, the public often associates extreme events such as these with climate change. Scientific event attribution can help inform the public’s understanding of our changing environment… Observed events, such as those analysed in this report, demonstrate the vulnerabilities of societies to extremes of weather and climate. Enhancing scientific knowledge through attributions helps build environmental intelligence.”

-The Indian Express, October 13, 2014

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Vizag struggles to cope with Hudhud havoc

Power supply hit, food runs out

Cyclone Hudhud that battered the city on Sunday disrupted life. Power supply was hit as poles were uprooted and transformers ripped out and strewn on the road. Numerous trees that got uprooted snapped the power lines. Without power there was neither water supply nor phone connectivity. Mobile networks were down in most parts of the city. There was no milk supply on Sunday or Monday morning in many parts of the city.

People who had not anticipated the severity of the cyclone made a beeline for street corner shops for milk and provisions. Long storage ultra heat treated milk was sold at a premium. Bread and other ready-to-eat foods quickly disappeared off the shelves. “I bought everything but overlooked stocking up milk on Saturday evening and had to make do with black tea for the whole of Sunday,” consultant ophthalmologist U.S.N. Murthy said on Monday as he bought UHT milk. His cousin was fortunate as the milkman came to deliver milk at his doorstep later in the day.

“We had to get our neighbours to help clear the broken trees that blocked their homes as there were no civic staff or ministerial workers visible to clear the roads,” said company secretary of Visakha Industrial Water Supply Company Ltd Y. Subba Rao. Glass shards from the facades of modern buildings and window panes lay scattered on the roads.

-The Hindu, October 14, 2014

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A 27-km walk through lush South Delhi forests may soon become a reality

The Delhi Urban Art Commission proposes to connect urban greens, develop alternative pedestrian routes

There was a time in history when forest cover formed connective tissues between multiple cities that now constitute Delhi. Today these green covers are barely used by the general public and have become a safe haven for anti-social elements, even as Delhi has much larger green cover than any other metropolitan city in the country.

With an eye on re-establishing the role of these green spaces as connective links between the urban spaces, the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) has proposed creation of an environment-friendly pedestrian and cycling network through inner city forests and connect urban greens.

In a proposal before the Ministry of Urban Development, the DUAC has conducted regional and site analysis of South Delhi’s dominant green cover, primarily including forests at Jahanpanah, Panchsheel and Tughlaqabad, and evaluated their integration with surrounding urban areas. It has proposed creation of an environmentally-friendly pedestrian and cycling network through nearly 27 km of inner city forests and to connect urban greens.

The intent of the study is to create spaces that define entrance to the forest, provide visual connection between the forest area and the street, provide spaces for impromptu activities that bring life to the area, providing proper space for people in the vicinity for transport interchanges and safe and efficient pedestrian movement. “The idea is to create alternate pedestrian routes. The proposal is to bring more functionality and usage to the forests in the city which are, at present, lying unused and are in bad shape or becoming a haven for criminal elements or drug addicts,” said DUAC member Sonali Bhagwati.

“This is to provide alternate usage to these green areas,” the Commission added. The study has identified three nodes near these green cover in South Delhi — the Masjid Moth node, Don Bosco node and the Siri Fort node — along the three forests.

“The endeavour is to formalise a contiguous green parkway trail system for wider pedestrian and bicycle usage, which is not only limited for recreational use but also for developing new routes to decongest existing traffic system,” the study said. At present, the 175 hectare of notified area, which makes up the Jahanpanah forest in the heart of South Delhi, extends from Masjid Moth DDA flats in the north to Dakshinpuri in the south. It also spans from Greater Kailash II in the east to the end of Bus Rapid Transit corridor in the west. The forest has nine entries at present and is under severe threat of encroachment from surrounding colonies.

Existing linkages in the region are Satpula drain running through Panchsheel forest and extending to Greater Kailash and Defence Colony. A Bus Rapid Transit road runs from Khanpur to Ambedkar Nagar terminal. The Outer Ring Road connects Nehru place and Okhla to the airport via Vasant Vihar. Then there is the Mehrauli-Badarpur road linking Badarpur to Gurgain via Tughlaqabad. There are also two proposed metro stations on Outer Ring Road along the metro’s violet line. On development of greenways through the Jahanpanah forest, among the areas that will get connected are Chirag Delhi, Alaknanda, Tughlaqabad Fort, Adilabad Fort, Chittaranjan Park and Siri Fort. The Masjid Moth node will connect Panchsheel and Jahanpanah forests.

At present, an unplanned marble market has resulted in land grabbing at Masjid Moth. Also, development of an unauthorised bamboo market discourages visitors to Jahanpanah forest. And, an unkempt MCD park nearby has become a haven for anti-social elements. The study proposes development of forest entry area, kiosks and food courts and tracks for cycling and pedestrian walkway and an arcade connecting Metro to Jahanpanah forest.

It also proposes a pedestrian bridge over the Satpula drain which bisects Panchsheel forest. Tree walks The DUAC has also proposed developing tree walks within the forests on the lines of tree walks along the city line in Alexandra Road & Telok Bkangah Hill Park in Singapore and the Kew Garden the United Kingdom.

Besides the pathway edging in forests, tree walks through the forests will have pavilions in between for seating. Outdoor seating of natural material will add to the concept. The study also analysed Don Bosco School node near Jahanpanah forest. The entrance to the forest, at present being used by vendors, will also be developed.

-The Hindu, October 14, 2014

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PLUMBING DEPTHS OF GROUNDWATER

Sustained action against illegal borewells by authorities has brought good news as the water table in the city’s heritage corridors has started going up. The water table in South Delhi’s Shamsi pond and three other stepwells — Gandak, Rajaon and Qutab — have registered an increase. These water bodies are now being revived though once declared moribund. The illegal borewells functioning in this particular area have been closed down.

A study has found that the borewells were playing havoc with the heritage areas of the city as the water table was going down alarmingly. Not just the heritage belt, water table across the city has been hit hard by illegal boring with the active connivance of Delhi Police and the civic agencies. While replying to a notice of the Delhi High Court, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has said that that there were as many as 4.63 lakh illegal borewells in the city and the same were sucking the underground water.

The DJB reportedly sealed as many as 40 borewells in South Delhi alone. It has also identified 50 more illegal borewells for sealing purposes. Delhi Government’s Revenue Department has also sought details regarding borewells in all the 11 districts.In its report, the Central Ground Water Authority has said that Delhi’s ground water table was the lowest of all the metros in the world. In 1977, the ground water table of South Delhi was reportedly 20 feet deep. “Now it is 267 feet deep. The height of Qutab Minar is 238 feet,” a senior official said.

The borewells are generally 60 feet to 400 feet deep. And the stepwells are about 100 feet deep. The city has about 650 dead water bodies. There are an equal number of water bodies in a bad state. The administration had told the Delhi High Court a year ago that it was not feasible to revive dead water bodies.

A report by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) reveals that of the 527 water bodies monitored between 2008 and 2012, 304 were found to be dry. While 111 water bodies met the required norms, there were 103 others which did not meet the requisite norms at all. “Of the 182 water bodies monitored in 2008-09, 104 were found dry. The number of dry water bodies went up to 131 in 2009-2010,” a senior official told this newspaper.

It was first the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which completed the major renovation work at the Shamsi Talab (water body) in Mehrauli. Over the years, unscrupulous residents had been dumping garbage into the pond. Dumping had led to ugly growth of vegetation. The ASI has cleared 30,000 square metres of vegetation.

Built by Sultan Shams-ud-din Iltutmish in 1230 AD, the pond was originally lined with red sandstone. “Despite less rains, the pond is on the revival mode,” a senior official said. Ditto is the case with Rajaon Ki Baoli in Mehrauli Park. Created through an impressive feat of engineering wherein the dreaded loo (hot winds) was converted to cool air through intricate cooling systems, the magnificent stepwell is believed to have been built by Daulat Khan during the reign of Sikandar Lodi in 1516.Like Rajaon Ki Baoli, the other stepwells — 800-year-old Bandar and Qutab — are also reviving on their own. The main reason for their revival is the sealing of the illegal borewells in the area.

The Baoli’s or stepwells are simple yet indigenous systems of building wells below the ground level, with a series of steps for people to walk down or fetch water. A stepwell consists of two parts - a vertical shaft from which water is drawn and the surrounding inclined subterranean passageways, chambers and steps which provide access to the well.

-The Pioneer, October 14, 2014

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Rejuvenation of river Yamuna gathers steam

Netherlands to provide assistance for developing a ‘socially conscious’ river-front

With an aim to rid the Yamuna of pollutants and to end the discharge of effluents into it, the Delhi Government has embarked on an ambitious project to rejuvenate the river that runs through the Capital city.

The "Rejuvenation of River Yamuna" project is being implemented by the Delhi Government with assistance from the Centre and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). The government has also sought assistance from the Netherlands in areas of its expertise like in river engineering and modelling, water resources management and pollution control to clean the Yamuna.

Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung chaired a meeting of the governing body of the Unified Centre for Rejuvenation of River Yamuna on Monday and said the plan to rejuvenate the river is being coordinated by the Delhi Jal Board through its interceptor sewage project. The riverfront development has been entrusted to DDA which will set up biodiversity parks and recreational spaces.“While DJB's interceptor sewage project shall be able to check 70 per cent of the sewage flow into the river, the sewage from other drains also needs to be intercepted to check pollutants from entering the Yamuna,” he said.

Asking all departments and agencies concerned to work on the project, Mr. Jung instructed Environment Secretary Sanjeev Kumar to take steps through the Delhi Pollution Control Committee to ensure that pollutants, especially from industries, are not allowed to flow into the Yamuna.Mr. Jung underlined the need to increase the quantum of water in Yamuna and officials informed that dredging of lakes such as Bhalswa and Sanjay Lake could help create capacity to store water during the monsoons. Mr. Jung directed the officials to start work on it immediately.

The 'Unified Centre for Rejuvenation of River Yamuna' aims to ensure conservation, protection and rejuvenation of the river and to promote and secure the requisite development activities along it and its floodplains within Delhi.

Officials said experts from the Netherlands will help in developing a marketing plan to promote inland waterway transport, cleaning the river and suggest measures for creating mega reservoirs. They will also provide technical assistance in ensuring zero discharge and treating sewage besides developing an environment-friendly and "socially conscious" river-front.

The first phase of the project involves data collection and compilation, its analysis, identification of gaps and conducting requisite investigations and surveys, if required. “It also involves carrying out river engineering studies and water flow assessment management and suggesting measures for creation of water storage, navigation etc. A timeline of six months has been fixed for the first phase,” said a statement.

-The Hindu, October 14, 2014

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Coastal cities need to be climate-proof, says study

“It is imperative to assess sea level rise, storm surge and cyclones”

A devastated Vishakapatnam has brought home the need for coastal cities to be climate resilient in terms of extreme events with respect to preparation and infrastructure. Recent studies indicate that there is a long way to go in achieving this. Both the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and the Environment Ministry had said there would be a high likelihood of increase in the intensity of cyclonic events on the east coast of India.

A working paper on Planning Climate Resilient Coastal Cities — Learning from Panaji and Visakhapatnam by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), released last week, says that it is highly pertinent to start climate proofing infrastructure and services, given the climate sensitive nature of the existing infrastructure systems in the cities. The study says it is imperative to assess sea level rise combined with other factors like storm surge and cyclones and changes in precipitation.

According to the IPCC, coastal areas face multiple risks related to climate change and variability. India has 130 towns and cities within 84 coastal districts and according to the Planning Commission, the rise in sea level is in the range of 1.06 to 1.75 mm per year in the past century.

The year-long study by TERI is supported by USAID’s Climate Change Resilient Development project. Its aim is to develop and test approaches that can increase resilience of infrastructure assets. Divya Sharma from TERI, who presented the study, said the East Coast was more vulnerable to sea level rise and the larger focus is to examine its impact, the increasing intensity of rainfall and extreme events and how they will affect cities and infrastructure.

Among the recommendations of the study include steps to reduce the impact of flooding, changing building design to reduce flood damage, maintaining safe heights for electric sub-stations and leak proof storage, retrofitting and adaptation of airport and sea port systems, and redesigning drainage networks and buildings.

Both the cities in the study were keen on climate proofing their infrastructure and in setting up data based management systems which will be taken up for further action. The study developed an inventory of critical infrastructure as a starting point apart from identifying hotspots in the city, demonstration of tools and methods for planning and a generalised methodology for vulnerability assessment of coastal cities to climate variability and sea level rise. The knowledge of climate, particularly in the context of sea level rise (SLR) and other factors impacting SLR levels like rainfall and storm surges formed a component of the study.

-The Hindu, October 15, 2014

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UK to put £1.5 mn in Indian museums, arts & culture scene

The United Kingdom government on Tuesday announced a £1.5 million fund for artists, cultural organisations and Indian museums to help promote cultural exchanges between the two countries.

The UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid Javid, who is currently visiting Kolkata, said the funds will strengthen the India-UK relationship and give a huge push to the Indian museum movement.

“UK is a world leader in museum management. We like to share our experience with many countries around the world. India-UK relationship is hugely important and cultural exchange is a big part of it. There’s already cooperation going on, but I want to see more. The fund has been set up to see what more we can do,” said Javid following a roundtable discussion, jointly organised by the British Council and National Library here.

The funds, set to give the museum movement a facelift, will come under the project ‘Re-Imagine India’, launched by the Arts Council of England. There is also a commitment from the British Council for another £5 million for the ‘Re-Imagine Arts’ programme from 2013-17.While there are 2,500 museums in UK, India has only over 800.

“We are lagging behind. Indian museums can’t be compared with those in UK and the US. Museum movement is one area which hasn’t been given much importance, before and after Independence,” Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director of CSVMS (Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai), said.

-The Indian Express, October 15, 2014

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Locals claim Ridge trees cut in plantation drive

Morning walkers in Civil Lines area, north Delhi, have taken objection to a unique plantation method by scientists that involves pruning of invasive species to make sunlight available for native species in Kamla Nehru Ridge.

They have alleged that noted ecologist professor C R Babu is cutting down trees, bushes and other plants in the ridge as part of the new plantation programme. S K S Yadav, a morning walker who is also a senior Delhi government official, has sought the intervention of National Green Tribunal, in his personal capacity, to stop the tree cutting.

Yadav claims that while walking on October 9, he noticed about 200 students led by the DU professor were engaged in "cutting and removing" trees, bushes, herbs and plants from the area between Khyber Pass to St Stephen's College on North Campus.

DU's Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) is ready to tackle any queries on the plantation. "Let them file a petition. We will have replies for everything. People don't understand the conservation measures. Invasive species have taken over the space of native ridge species. We are planting about 50,000 saplings to bring back birds and animals to their habitat. The only way is to prune branches to allow sunlight," Babu said.

As part of the plantation programme, DDA has handed over a large part of Northern Ridge to CEMDE scientists. They will prune canopies of Prosopis juliflora or vilayati keekar, a highly invasive species that has usurped the ridge. These gaps in the cover will let sunlight reach the forest floor, where the team is planting 15 native Aravali species. Babu clarified that not a single tree has been cut; only a few branches have been pruned.

CEMDE had developed the 'cut-root-stock' method for lantana, another invasive species, that is now used in many protected areas like Rajaji National Park. "The Delhi ridge has already lost many species. Even Convention of Biological Diversity mandates that invasive species be removed from forests for rich biodiversity. What professor Babu has planned is scientific and can help get back the dry, deciduous nature of Delhi forests," said Faiyaz Khudsar, scientist in charge of Yamuna Biodiversity Park.

-The Times of India, October 16, 2014

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'No heritage bylaws without precise plans'

Heritage bylaws for centrally protected monuments will take much longer than anticipated. National Monuments Authority (NMA) has said bylaws for all protected sites will be made only on site plans and digital maps by the Survey of India. Officials added that bylaws already made and notified will have to be redone to correspond with the Survey of India plans. However, there is no word on how long Survey of India will take to send the plans-officials said talks have been on for more than a year now.

NMA officials said they have held several meetings with Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on the issue. "The prohibited and regulated areas are all based on the protected monument zones. The exact protected area ratio can be assessed only from the latest site plans and satellite images, for which Survey of India has been brought in," said a senior NMA official.

Certain bylaws like those for Sher Shah Gate or Khairul Manzil would also have to be redone to an extent once the site plans are submitted, officials added. "The basic issue is that you need definite plans. Bylaws will have little meaning if we do not have the exact monument protected area from where we assess what falls in regulated/prohibited areas and what lies beyond," said a source."We have told ASI to send us whatever plans they receive so we can start the process,'' said an NMA official.

"Monuments have been prioritized, and buildings which are under threat or have special significance come first," said an NMA official, adding that the bylaws would play a role in city planning as well. "The bylaws will define what can or can't be allowed around protected monuments. Guidelines will be based on this.

The maps for monuments have to be accurate and every property falling in the controlled area has to be surveyed and identified properly," said an official. Heritage bylaws are mandatory for all ASI monuments under the amended ASI Act of 2010. However, almost five years after the act was passed, the framing and notification of bylaws continues at a snail's pace. Khudsar, scientist in charge of Yamuna Biodiversity Park.

-The Times of India, October 16, 2014

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For a tree on every field boundary

Agroforestry promotes productive cropping environments, prevents deforestation, protects watersheds and enables agricultural land to withstand extreme weather events

Growing trees on farms is a triple-win strategy for combating simultaneously the challenges of increasing food production, mitigating greenhouse gases and adapting to climate change. It is an instrument of Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA), catapulted to centre-stage by President Obama’s launch of the Global Alliance for CSA at the World Climate Summit on September 23 at New York.

It was fitting, therefore, that “Trees for Life” was the theme of the World Agroforestry Congress held earlier this year in New Delhi. On this occasion the previous United Progressive Alliance government, supported by the National Advisory Council, unveiled the National Agroforestry Policy coinciding aptly with the International Year of Family Farming.Benefits of tree-based farming While planting trees on farms is as old as settled cultivation, “agroforestry” is a recently coined term derived from agriculture and forestry.

It describes practices developed and employed by farmers over many centuries to cultivate trees on farmland together with crop and animal husbandry. While agroforestry comprises agriculture and forestry in seemingly separate land uses, its essence is of an integrated tree-based farming system. The science and technology, the institutions, and policy sphere of agroforestry is uniquely its own and characterised by a landscape approach.When strategically applied on a large scale, with appropriate mix of tree species, agroforestry promotes productive and resilient cropping environments, prevents deforestation, protects watersheds and enables agricultural land to withstand extreme weather events, and climate change.

Tree-based systems contribute robustly to livelihoods by providing both tree products and tree services. The bounties they offer include tree products such as fruit, fodder, fuel, fibre, fertilizer and timber which add to food and nutritional security, and income generation and insurance against crop failure. These products are tangible, have money value and are tradable in the markets. Trees also generate wealth through the services they provide in the form of soil and water conservation, nutrient recycling, carbon storage and biodiversity preservation.

These services are intangible, not easy to quantify, and do not lend themselves to monetary valuation. At present there is no payment for eco-services provided by tree-based farming systems. Agroforestry has significant potential to provide employment to rural and urban populations through production, industrial application and value addition ventures. Current estimates show that about 64 per cent of the country’s timber requirement is met from the trees grown on farms. Agroforestry has the potential for augmenting energy capacity through biomass, biodiesel, biochar and biogas production. It is also recognised that agroforestry is perhaps the only alternative to meeting the target of increasing forest green cover.

Despite all this, agroforestry has not become the movement it should have. For a long time the subject fell between the cracks of “agriculture” and “forestry” with no ownership by either sector. The value and position of agroforestry in the national system remains ambiguous and undervalued.

It has been disadvantaged by adverse policies and legal bottlenecks. Its adoption by tenant-farmers is constrained due to insecurity of tenure. The subject lies fragmented in several Ministries with hardly any mechanism for convergence and coordination. Inadequate investment in the sector is also a cause for neglect. Unlike the credit and insurance products available for the crop sector, the provisions for growing trees-on-farms are minimal. Weak marketing infrastructure, absence of price discovery mechanisms and lack of post-harvest processing technologies further compound the situation.

Wood Based Industries (WBI) have played an important role in the promotion of agroforestry and economy in Punjab, Haryana, western U.P and in Uttarakhand. However, over the years, the regulations governing the WBI have become stringent. The procedure for setting up new units is cumbersome.The way forward The National Agroforestry Policy has pointed the way forward to foster innovation in tree-based farming systems, among various stakeholders.

For lawmakers this would mean amending unfavourable legislation and simplifying regulations related to forestry and agriculture. Policymakers are to incorporate agroforestry in all policies relating to land use and natural resource management, and encourage government investments in agroforestry-related infrastructure, research and education and in the establishment of sustainable enterprises. Development administrators are to develop an institutional framework to ensure coordination between various elements of agroforestry scattered in existing missions and programmes.

Farmers are to demand improved agroforestry science and technology from the public research and extension systems, loan and insurance products from financial institutions, and adopt suitable varieties and agronomic practices. Scientists and researchers are to develop location-specific tree-based technologies that complement the crop and livestock systems for sustainable livelihoods, factor in gender concerns, and incorporate the feedback from local communities.

Extension agents, NGOs and farmer organisations are to demonstrate new technologies, build capacities of farmers and help in linking producers to markets and value chains. The private sector is to invest in agroforestry both as a commercial enterprise as well as through the route of Corporate Social Responsibility. Finally, the media is to communicate the benefits of agroforestry to user communities.

Farmers have encapsulated the essence of agroforestry in a pithy slogan “har medh par pedh”(trees on every field boundary). It is time for others to turn over a new leaf. The challenge now lies in the detail of crafting a road map for the implementation of the National Agroforestry Policy by the new government. (Rita Sharma is a former Secretary in the Ministry of Rural Development and the National Advisory Council and Board Trustee of the World Agroforestry Centre.)

-The Hindu, October 16, 2014

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Cyclone Hudhud Costs Vizag its Green Cover

The City of Destiny has been stripped off its green cover in the aftermath of landfall of cyclone Hudhud. As against the green cover of about 40 per cent in the city spread over more than 600 sqkm, preliminary estimations revealed that at least 70 per cent of the trees in Visakhapatnam city including those on its scenic Eastern Ghats have been lost to the very severe cyclonic storm.

With winds speeding up to 200 kmph blowing across the coast for more than 10 hours, several large trees that grew for decades have been completely uprooted or got their branches broken as they could not stand the gales. Mangled branches could be seen everywhere blocking the roads, doorways, and every possible street in the city.

"I knew the city has lot of greenery but I never imagined that it was in such large extent. Notwithstanding the temporary damage done by the cyclone, the loss of trees can be considered as the long-term loss that we may not feel immediately," felt V Laksmi Prasanna, a software engineer from Chennai and working in Visakhapatnam.

The trees not only destroyed completely but damaged majority of the infrastructure including buildings, vehicles, electricity and telecommunication wires when trees fell on the latter.The Eastern Ghats stood naked as the rocks were exposed to all after their green trees of upto 25 feet height were felled by the gales. "For a tree of 25 feet to grow, it would take anywhere between 7-20 years depending on their species. We have lost many medicinal and rare plants located on the Eastern Ghats.

It would take at least 7-8 years to witness healthy growth of trees in the region," said JV Ratnam, an environmentalist.With the city losing its greenery, Visakhapatnam is facing a threat of industrial pollution. The Pollution Control Board officials pointed out that the city is placed among the top 10 most polluted cities in the country. "As we lost most of the trees due to cyclone Hudhud, the pollution levels in the city will increase phenomenally," said a scientist at PCB.

-The Indian express, October 16, 2014

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Tughlaqabad lake heavily polluted

The environment ministry on Wednesday informed the Delhi high court that a waterbody being used by animals in the Tughlaqabad Fort forest is contaminated.

It apprised a bench of Justices B D Ahmed and Siddharth Mridul that tests conducted by Central Pollution Control Board revealed that the lake is being contaminated by effluents from a nearby unauthorized colony built on Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) land and industrial activities in the vicinity.

The ministry added that the samples contained biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) above acceptable limits. It was also found that the water conductivity and total dissolved solids (TDS) in it are also "well above general discharge standards", the ministry added.

The affidavit explains how BOD and COD are measures to test water quality. A third measure to gauge water purity is TDS which reflects the combined content of all inorganic and organic substances in water.A concerned HC then asked Delhi Jal Board to file an affidavit indicating what it plans to do to decontaminate the waterbody so that animals drinking from it don't die.

The South Delhi Municipal Corporation informed the court that the lake was formed due to accumulation of discharge from a nearby unauthorized colony and said it is about two kilometres long, 300m wide and 10ft deep. The corporation suggested that a water treatment plant be set up in the area by DJB so that the water can be used for horticulture purposes.

Earlier, HC had pulled up MoEF for failing to collect samples from the waterbody and submit a report on contamination.HC's orders came on a PIL filed by advocate Manoj Kumar seeking clean water for animals and birds in the city. Kumar alleged that the animals and birds in the capital are being deprived of clean water to drink.

The petition stated that water treatment plants should be set up to save birds, animals, trees and the environment. It cited the example of forested area in Tughlaqabad saying water from the artificial lake was killing monkeys, peacocks, deer and birds.

-The Times of India, October 16, 2014

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14 monuments missing, NMA informs Centre

The National Monuments Authority (NMA) has submitted a report to the culture ministry, saying that there are 14 missing or untraceable monuments in Delhi. However, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) claims that the actual number of such monuments was less than the stated figure. Sources said the ministry was likely to seek a response from the ASI on the issue before finalizing the figure.

A senior NMA official said: "We are going ahead with 14 untraceable monuments and sent our report to the ministry. Now, its up to them whether they take any clarifications on this figure from ASI." NMA officials said that while they were aware of ASI's objection, the latter had not officially communicated it to them. ASI earlier said that there were only 10 missing or untraceable monuments in Delhi and the figure by NMA included some monuments that were listed twice under different names. Once the issue is resolved and published in the gazette by the ministry of culture, it will become the official number.

The list of missing monuments was prepared by the NMA when it started the process of categorizing all centrally protected monuments in Delhi. Untraceable monuments in the capital include Moti Gate, Phool Chadar, Barakhamba Cemetery, Alipur Cemetery, Joga Bai Mound in Jamia Nagar, Shamsi Talab in Mehrauli (near Qutub Minar), Nicholson's statue, two sites of Siege Battery with inscriptions, Inchla Wali Gumti at Kotla Mubarakpur, a tomb with three domes in Nizamuddin, Neeli Chhatri in Nizamuddin etc. This list is tabled in Parliament every year to highlight the ill-effects of urbanization and rapid development on historical structures.

The list is part of the overall report on eight categories of monuments in Delhi. The categorized monuments are expected to help in planning urban projects as clearances will be required for areas where these monuments stand.

-The Times of India, October 17, 2014

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UP sugar mill polluting Ganga fined Rs 5 crore

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has cracked the whip on industries that have been polluting river Ganga. It has imposed a Rs 5 crore fine on Simbhaoli sugar mill and distillery unit and a fine of Rs 25 lakh on Gopalji dairy in Ghaziabad. It was hearing an appeal that alleged that the industries were discharging toxic effluents in Phuldehra drain which falls into Ganga through the Syana canal.

The application had also alleged that toxic wastes from industries were affecting Gangetic dolphins, turtles and other riparian species. An expert member of the tribunal visited the site in March and pointed various shortfalls in the functioning of these units and concluded that they were a source of serious pollution.

"There is ample documentary evidence in the form of affidavits, inspection reports and analysis reports to show that Simbhaoli Mills is not only been a source of continuous pollution particularly surface and ground water but also failed to take precautions of its own accord. Thus, it has endorsed itself to incurring a liability for relief and compensation for causing damage and for restitution of environment in the concerned areas," the order said. "There can hardly be any dispute that it is a polluting unit. It is also beyond controversy that this unit has operated without consent of the Boards from 1974 till the year 1991, thereafter, it committed default in compliance of the conditions of the consent right up to the year 2000. Even thereafter, it did not strictly comply with the conditions and directions issued by the respective Boards. This unit is a direct source of polluting River Ganga," the bench observed.

The Tribunal has fixed a compensation of Rs 5 crores on Simbhaoli Mills to be deposited with Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) and this amount shall be use for removal of sludge and all pollutants and preventing ground water pollution. The bench had earlier directed UPPCB as well as Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to inspect around 1000 industries to check if they polluting the Ganga. The polluter pay principle that was imposed on two industries on Thursday may be imposed on all other industries in future.

-The Times of India, October 17, 2014

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Meet to Chalk out Plan for Varanasi Revamp Held

With an aim to improve infrastructure in Varanasi, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi represents in the Lok Sabha, Union Urban Development Ministry on Friday took stock of the essential facilities in the heritage city. A meeting of the officials concerned from the heritage city was held here to chalk out an action plan for the development of Varanasi, according to a senior UD Ministry official.

The mayor of Varanasi, two MLAs from the city and senior officials of urban local bodies like Varanasi Municipal Corporation, Varanasi Development Authority, Jal Nigam and Town Planning officials attended the meeting which was convened by UD Secretary Shankar Aggarwal.

The objective of the meeting was to take stock of the infrastructure scenario in the city and obtain the views and suggestions of all concerned regarding its development.

At the meeting, the issues of urban mobility in Varanasi and the infrastructural availability in respect of water supply, drainage and sewerage systems were discussed in detail along with the projects which are in progress, the official said. Aggarwal urged all the agencies concerned to inform the ministry about their overall plans for execution of projects along with the timeframe for the completion of the same.

He also sought the view of the officials on the development of small, new satellite townships close to Varanasi. The participants at the meeting felt the plan would be feasible if proper connectivity was provided with Varanasi.The Varanasi Municipal Corporation may be picked up for execution of the Varanasi Development Plan under the Heritage City Development Scheme. It was also felt that Divisional Commissioner of Varanasi should be the nodal officer for facilitating better coordination between all the agencies concerned and the Uttar Pradesh Government.

The Government has decided to develop Varanasi into a 'smart city' by using the experience of Kyoto, the 'smart city' of Japan, for which a pact has been signed between the two countries in August during Modi's visit. As per MoU, the two countries will cooperate to develop Varanasi in heritage conservation, city modernisation and cooperation in the fields of art, culture and academics.

-The Pioneer, October 18, 2014

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Serene U’khand Competes With Polluted Delhi!

Delhi, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh are the most “critically” polluted States in India, topping the charts with the highest annual averages of major pollutants. In all, 125 of the 240 cities surveyed by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) exceeded the pollution standards with Dombivli, Ambernath, Badlapur, Ulhasnagar (Maharashtra) and Kolkata in critical category with respect to both Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM10).

State capital cities like Delhi, Patna, Ranchi, Bhopal, Jaipur, Lucknow, Dehradun and Kolkata besides industrial cities like Bhilai, Faridabad, Jamshedpur, Jharia, Sindri, Indore, Ludhiana, Moradabad, Rourkela, Kota, Kanpur are also placed in critical category with respect to PM10. These are the findings of the latest survey on National Ambient Air Quality and Status (2012) conducted by CPCB.

As per the report, annual average concentration of ambient air quality in residential, industrial, rural and other areas revealed that 125 cities exceeded the standard of 60 µg/m3 (annual) with respect to PM 10.

Analysis of annual average concentration of ambient air reveled Uttarakhand had maximum concentration of SO2 (26 µg/m3), Delhi showed highest NO2 (59 µg/m3) and PM10 (237 µg/m3) concentration. The concentration of Ammonia (NH3) in five metro cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Nagpur — is mostly within National Ambient Air Quality Status (NAAQS). However, in Hyderabad, concentration of NH3 is mostly above NAAQS. The concentrations of Ozone (O3) and Carbon monoxide (CO) at Delhi are mostly within NAAQS.

In case of PM2.5 and with respect to Delhi the concentration observed is mostly above the NAAQS. These observations indicate that vehicular pollution is major cause of exceeding of CO and PM2.5 in Delhi. Meanwhile, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Friday announced inclusion of five new parameters to measure air pollution as part of the National Air Quality Index (AQI).

The objective of an AQI is to quickly disseminate air quality information almost in real-time that entails the system to account for pollutants. The initiatives undertaken by the ministry was in the wake of rising pollution in the cities, where by a new tool aims to create awareness among people about the quality of air they breathe as well as its likely health impact. The new measurement criteria include eight parameters, in place of the earlier that was limited to three indicators. Accordingly, the proposed AQI will consider eight pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3 and Pb) for which short term (up to 24-hourly averaging period) National Ambient Air Quality Standards are prescribed.

An initiative of CPCB, AQI has been jointly developed by an expert group comprising medical professionals, air quality experts, academia, NGOs, and state pollution control boards. IIT Kanpur, which conducted the technical study, and the expert group have recommended the AQI scheme.

Javadekar outlined the AQI, having categories with elegant colour scheme beginning from green and ending in dark red, as ‘One Number- One Colour-One Description’ for the common man to judge the air quality within his vicinity. AQI proposes six AQI categories, namely good, satisfactory, moderately polluted, poor, very poor and severe and is likely to be operational initially in the country’s million plus cities by mid-December.

Noting that the formulation of the index was a continuation of the initiatives under Swachchh Bharat Mission envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Javadekar said the government would make clean air also a people’s campaign.The Minister stressed that it would not be business as usual anymore and the government was committed to improving air quality as part of a cleanliness drive Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched earlier this month.

-The Pioneer, October 18, 2014

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Over one-fifth of India's frogs under threat

Known as bio-indicators, studying frogs help scientists know if a habitat is in good condition or if it is under threat

More than 20 per cent of frogs and toads — 78 of the 340 species — found in India are under threat, according recent findings of the Zoological Survey of India.

In a publication titled ‘Threatened Amphibians of India’, which catalogues these species, the ZSI pointed out that of the species under threat, 17 are ‘critically endangered; 32 are ‘endangered’, 22 are ‘vulnerable’, and the remaining seven are ‘near threatened species’.

According to ZSI scientist Kaushik Deuti, frogs and toads are very sensitive to habitat and climate change and are referred as “bio indicators.” “Their presence or absence denotes whether a habitat is in good condition or is undergoing change and is under threat,” he said. One of the main reasons behind the diminishing numbers of the amphibians, ZSI director K. Venkataraman said, was climate change, widespread deforestation and destruction of the frogs’ natural habitat. Frogs are also captured to be sold off in the global market.

According to the ZSI, of the 17 critically-endangered species — whose total population is less than 250 — one particular species of frog, known as Resplendent Bush Frog (Raorchestes resplendens), can only be found in a 3 sq km area atop the Anamudi Peak in Kerala’s Idukki district. Similarly, extensive deforestation has put the Khasi Hill Rock Toad (Bufoides meghalayanus) on the endangered list.

-The Hindu, October 19, 2014

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Community-managed toilets at Nizamuddin basti show the way

Owned by the SDMC, it was upgraded in 2013 and is run by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture

With bright yellow exterior walls and colourful murals inside, a community toilet complex in the densely-packed Nizamuddin basti shows the way for public conveniences in the Capital.

The airy complex has 12 stalls each for women and men, with an additional two stalls that have lower fixtures and doors for children. The spotless facility also has 10 bathing cubicles and courtyards for washing clothes.

Announcements constantly playing on the public address system remind users to keep the facility clean. Around 1,000 people use the facilities everyday, with the number going up to 3,000 when pilgrims descend on the nearby Nizamuddin dargah. Its costs Rs.2 to use the toilets, Rs.5 for washing clothes and Rs.10 to use the entire complex. The facility is owned by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, but was upgraded in 2013 and is run by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the Trust, the Archaeological Survey of India and the Central Public Works Department in 2007 to revive and conserve the heritage-rich Nizamuddin area. At the time the project was started, 19 per cent of the families in Nizamuddin basti were found living without “home toilets”.“You won’t find a better public toilet in Delhi,” said Nizamuddin Councillor Farhad Suri, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the SDMC.

The complex is the larger of two that are managed by the Trust with the help of an 11-member community group. With Muharram and Urs round the corner, the group is getting ready to manage the crowds that will descend on the basti and the toilets.On Saturday afternoon, the group had its monthly meeting and decided that one member will be on duty at all hours to manage the collection at the entry. Member Sajrul also works as manager at the toilet complex from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., apart from working as domestic cook.

“We had to convince people to pay. There were fights in the beginning, when we started last October. But, now it’s mostly smooth. Problems only crop up occasionally,” she added.

Sajrul added that she doesn’t allow smokers inside the facility. “I tell people to throw their cigarettes outside or I fine them,” said Sajrul, cutting an authoritative figure despite her polite demeanour. An official of the Trust said the facility had been made at a cost of Rs.40 lakh and cost about Rs.50,000 to maintain it everyday. The SDMC does not pitch in with funds, so 60 per cent of the expenditure is met by the income generated and the rest is borne by the Trust.

-The Hindu, October 19, 2014

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ASI ticket counters to show site films

Next time you're standing in the ticket counter line at a world heritage site, a TV screen could be playing a short film on the monument you're visiting. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has moved a proposal to set up these screens near ticket counters to introduce visitors to the monument they have come to visit.

The proposal says the TV screen should be set up first at world heritage sites and then at other monuments, which gets large footfalls subsequently. "When visitors come in large groups, normally one person goes to purchase tickets and the others wait. The TV screens will introduce visitors to the monument and give them a preview of what to expect inside. Many times visitors are absolutely clueless about the monument they are visiting and what it stands for,'' said sources in ASI.

The TV screens will also encourage visitors to see those parts of a monument which sometimes visitors tend to skip, like Salimgarh monument while visiting Red Fort. "The short film will also help visitors decide what they want and have to see. They will get a good idea of the main attractions inside the monument,'' added officials. A decision is yet to be taken if the short films will be made in-house by ASI or outsourced to a professional agency.

-The Times of India, October 19, 2014

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Qutub Minar museum runs into fund roadblock

Qutub Minar's interpretation centre project has run into a roadblock. The project at the world heritage site, which has been in talks for the past two to three years, has been temporarily shelved because of lack of funds.

The interpretation centre was supposed to come up in a British era building opposite the 13th century monument. The building functioned as a guesthouse for Lord Curzon and had been under the Delhi government for years, till Archaeological Survey of India requested for its transfer. The process took much longer than anticipated, and it was handed over to ASI in 2010, just after the Commonwealth Games.

"The interpretation centre is a requirement according to world heritage guidelines. Renovations have been completed to make the building ready for tourists," said an official.The interiors of the museum were done by Intach Delhi Chapter, but sources report that the project has been put on hold for now. "The funding from the tourism ministry has not come through. A consultant has been brought in and the project is being re-looked at," said a source.

Officials from the nodal agency Delhi Tourism said the ministry had decided not to go ahead with the site museum project. "The ministry is making changes and new consultants may come out with a modified plan soon," said a source. Other museum projects like Purana Qila interpretation centre and MCD of Delhi Town Hall have also been shelved, added officials.

Currently, no world heritage site in Delhi has a site museum or an interpretation centre. A museum is planned at Humayun's Tomb by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and it will come up in the next few years. Red Fort has two museums inside the complex but no site museum.

-The Times of India, October 19, 2014

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Down Memory Lane: Stories in stone

Delhi lives in its statues, some from the age of the Mughals, most from the reign of the British

The statue of Memnon, the Ethiopian king who fought in the Trojan war some 3000 years ago, in ancient Thebes gave out a musical note at sunrise. He was believed to be the son of the goddess of dawn hence the correlation with that early hour. There may be musical fountains in Delhi but not statues.

The unmusical ones however are any number, especially of statesmen, politicians and administrators. Though Ghalib’s statue was installed at Jamia Millia Islamia, the one of Akbar could not be put up at Agra in 1956 (the 400th year of his coronation) because of religious sentiments. Some of the old statues have disappeared.

For instance, the statue of Queen Victoria that stood in front of the Town Hall (a present from the Skinner family in 1887) was replaced by one of Swami Shraddhanand. The statue is now at the Delhi College of Art in Tilak Marg. There used to be a bust of the queen in Victoria Zenana Hospital (now Kasturba Gandhi Hospital) in the entrance room but one hasn’t seen it for some time.

Among the missing statues is one of Brig-Gen John Nicholson (1821-1857), idolised as “Nikil Sen” by the Indian soldiers under his command, who could not pronounce his name. He was shot during the assault on Lahori Gate in the Great Revolt and a plaque marking the spot where he fell can be found in a narrow lane in Khari Baoli. According to author Christopher Hibberts, at Nicholson’s funeral (after whom the cemetery is named) the men of the Multani Horse threw themselves on the ground and wept, refusing to take part in any further action. R. C. Wilberforce, who gave this eye-witness account, went on to say that they plucked the grass around the grave and marched back to their frontier homes. Nicholson’s statue stood in front of the Kashmere Gate till the 1950s when it was sent on request to the general’s home town Belfast, where it still stands.

The statue of Lord Reading (pronounced Redding) has disappeared and the road named after him is now known as Mandir Marg. He was Viceroy from 1921 to 1926. Lord Willingdon’s statue was on the road leading to Willingdon Crescent, now Mother Teresa Crescent, where the Dandi March statue is situated. Lord Chelmsford statue is believed to have been erected somewhere else than on the road leading to New Delhi station. Some however think it is at the spot where the statue of Dr Mujhe now stands. The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1919 and the Chelmsford Club are reminders of the Viceroy.

George V’s statue that stood at India Gate and where a statue of Gandhiji was proposed to be erected is now at the Coronation Park in Kingsway Camp where the durbars of 1877, 1903 and 1911 (when Delhi became the Capital again) were held. Lord Hardinge’s statue is also there. He was Viceroy from 1910 to 1916 and was associated with the building of New Delhi. Besides the Coronation Pillar and an obelisk, Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson’s statue survives but otherwise the park (now renovated) has only empty pedestals on which crows, kites and smaller birds occupy the high perch, which they only vacate when the Nirankari Samagam is held nearby or urs pilgrims camp on their way to Ajmer.

The busts of Napoleon which were a prized collection of Sir Thomas Metcalfe are said to have been taken away to the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. Metcalfe was a great admirer of the “Little” French emperor, despite the fact that he was the British Resident at the Mughal court from1835. He was allegedly poisoned before the so-called Mutiny. Lord Northbrook (1872-76), who hosted the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) during the 1875 visit, erected a fountain in Chandni Chowk. Some say he wanted to have his statue up there but the move was opposed not only by the British hierarchy but also the Muslims and Sikhs.

The Muslims said the spot marked the place where the bodies of two sons and a grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar lay rotting after they were shot at the Khooni Darwaza by Lt. Hodson. The Sikhs said it would be an insult to their Guru Teg Bahadur, beheaded by Aurangzeb at the Kotwali nearby. So the Viceroy contented himself by building a memorial fountain. Curiously enough, Lord Mountbatten’s statue was not erected although he was the last Viceroy and the first Governor-General of Free India.

Quite a few of the Raj statues went missing after being dumped at the Mathura Road fair ground, now known as Pragati Maidan, and at least one of expensive marble was thought to have been broken into pieces and sold just as the Taj marble was planned to be sold after the mausoleum’s proposed demolition during the time of Lord William Bentinck (1828-1835). Prof. Sydney Rebeiro has a rare map of Delhi (somewhere in his papers) showing the placement of the old statues, which a researcher was intensely trying to locate in his quest for Delhi’s Raj heritage.

-The Hindu, October 20, 2014

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Neighbours causing conservation zone to shrink: Planning board

The National Capital Region Planning Board submitted an affidavit to the National Green Tribunal stating that the participating states of the national capital region — Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi and UP — “have caused shrinkage to the NCZ” and urged the tribunal to take “appropriate action”.

The planning board said it had informed the state governments of the destruction of natural conservation zones (NCZ) in NCR. But “none of the participating states have given cogent reasons for shrinkage in NCZ so far” and that the participating states “have caused shrinkage” to the NCZ.The planning board informed the NGT that the shrinkage was detected after the analysis of satellite imaging by the National Remote Sensing Centre.

The planning board , in its affidavit, said it had immediately responded by communicating the report of the shrinkage to the state governments, seeking their “reasons”. But despite repeated communication, the planning board said “no reasons for variations of NCZ were received by any of the NCR participating state governments”.Four letters were sent to each of the four governments between April 7 and May 12. Notice was issued to the four principal secretaries by the planning board on June 23.

While urging the NGT to take “appropriate action”, the planning board said “non-implementation of the policies of the regional plan, related to natural conservation zones” by the four state governments had led to the “violation of policies outlined in the Regional Plan 2021 with regard to NCZ”.

The tribunal was hearing a petition filed by senior advocate Raj Panjwani who was appearing for Legal Aid Committee. The petition stated that the decrease in NCZ had seriously impacted “ecological contribution from designated zones”.

-The Indian Express, October 21, 2014

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DIRTY AIR HAS CITY GASPING FOR RELIEF

Level of suspended solids in the air seven times higher than prescribed standards

There’s still a day to go for Diwali, but air quality in the national Capital has already reached alarming levels. The quality has worsened so much that the level of suspended solids in the air is over seven times higher than the prescribed standards. Areas like Anand Vihar, Civil Lines and Mandir Marg are worst hit not just by increasing PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels, but also by high concentrations of ozone, benzene and sulphur dioxide in the air.

Touted as a ‘world-class city’ while at the same time being the most polluted in the world, Delhi is ailing due to severe air pollution. Particulate matter (PM) 10 (coarse particles) levels are up by more than 700 micrograms per cubic metres (mg/m3). The worst-affected area under this is Anand Vihar which recorded 738 mg/m3 while the standard level of PM 10 is only 100 mg/m3. This is followed by the posh Civil Lines area which has 514.89 mg/m3 PM 10 levels. Third highest was found in Mandir Marg, which recorded 336 mg/m3. It is pertinent to note that PM 10 levels have been 10 to 13 times higher than the standard level in 2012 and 2013.

This is not all. Anand Vihar also recorded high concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which stood at 305.50 mg/m3 as against the normal level of 80 mg/m3. Explaining the reason for the alarming pollution levels in Anand Vihar, experts said that heavy traffic in the area which witnesses scores of vehicles from Ghaziabad may be adding to the daily emissions. “Anand Vihar is always the top location when it comes to high air pollution levels mostly because it witnesses inter-state traffic. But, other areas like Civil Lines and Mandir Marg also are not far behind in terms of air pollutants,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, head of clean air programme at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Meanwhile, reports on the levels of various pollutants on Diwali since 2010 paint a sorry and dangerous picture of the Capital city. Levels of some pollutants, including sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), benzene and even ozone seem to be on the rise. Anand Vihar again tops in this with 305 mg/m3 NO2 as against the normal 80 mg/m3. Mandir Marg and Civil Lines had 150.4 mg/m3 and 142.14 mg/m3 respectively.

The levels of PM 2.5 (smaller than 2.5 micrometres), which have serious health implications as these tend to get lodged in the lung and can even enter the bloodstream, have been seven to eight times higher than the standard level for several years.

-The Pioneer, October 21, 2014

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Seeking brides, family restores old haveli

There's virtually nothing that parents with marriageable children won't do to get the best match possible. But how often do they get themselves a mansion for that extra edge in the hugely competitive marriage market? Meet the Baglas of Kashmere Gate, owners and residents of a 19th-century haveli that's being refurbished to attract both prospective brides and heritage lovers — all at a cost of Rs 50 lakh.

Situated in the crowded Chhota Bazaar opposite the old St Stephen's College building, the Seth Ram Lal Khemka Haveli must have been quite a statement of power and wealth when it came up in the 1850s. Despite being so close to Kashmere Gate, the scene of heavy fighting during the Siege of Delhi in 1857, the haveli withstood the plundering of rebel sepoys as well as subsequent English retribution. It changed hands several times before the present owners got it in 1905.In the next 100 years, the 9,000 square feet haveli saw many alterations that resulted in its acquiring a distinct colonial look while retaining its original Mughal character. But time had a telling impact on it.

"The haveli was in such a dilapidated state that the family thought they had nothing to show while seeking alliances for their three sons — they are a traditional Marwari joint family and want the tradition to continue. That's when they came to us. We told them that instead of looking for real estate elsewhere in the National Capital Region, they could refurbish the whole place for the same amount of money or less. That way they would have prime real estate in the heart of the capital and also a palace to live in and show off. After some initial hesitation, they decided to take our advice," said Aishwarya Tipnis, an architect trained in Scotland who's been restoring the haveli since 2012.

But it wasn't an easy task, as Tipnis and the family soon found out. The haveli was listed as a Grade-II heritage building by Delhi government in 2010, so it made it binding that the original contours cannot be altered. The same year, the Archaeological Survey of India made it a rule that prior permission was mandatory for any work within 300 metres of a protected monument. The haveli was 292 metres from Kashmere Gate.

"There were no maps of the building. So we studied and mapped the entire place and took permission from both ASI and Heritage Conservation Committee of Delhi government. All clearances took about a year to come and we began our work in November 2013 only," Tipnis said.

The idea was to provide all modern amenities like air conditioners, modular kitchens and western-style toilets without altering the heritage look and feel of the building. But it wasn't easy to find construction workers trained in heritage conservation. "We visited different heritage sites where conservation work has been on and learnt from the teams there to conserve heritage. We then trained our own team of labourers," Tipnis said. Training was only the first part of the challenge; there were many other wrongs in the haveli that had to be made right. "We scraped off the different layers of cement plaster. There was water seepage on the walls, cracks and swelling on the floor. When we excavated the ground floor, we found both modular bricks used during the Raj as well as lakhori and nanakshahi bricks used in Mughal times. We put back the original lime mortar used in all buildings of the time. That made a difference immediately: we've had no water seepage ever since," Tipnis added.

The next big challenge was to find somebody who could make Victorian tiles. "We took samples from Rai Chunnamal Haveli (in Chandni Chowk) and went about finding a vendor. After an almost frustrating search, we found a vendor in Greater Noida who was willing to experiment with something out of the ordinary. After some trial and error, we had the perfect tiles for the building. We also used steel from our own plant, wherever required," said Devki Nandan Bagla, the owner.

But despite all this, the total expenditure incurred actually belies the magnitude of the work. "It has cost us Rs 50 lakh to restore the ground and mezzanine floors as well as the facade. For those who can spend, this isn't a lot of money. Yet if the Baglas had followed what many others in the Walled City have done — selling off their ancestral property and buying flats or kothis elsewhere—they would have missed out on the opportunity to set an example for others to emulate. There are still hundreds of havelis here that are pretty much alive — there are people living in them. With some investment, the owners can actually do great service to themselves as well as their inherited legacy. Converting such buildings into museums isn't always the best approach," Tipnis said. The work will take four more months to complete. But the Baglas have found one prospective bride already.

-The Times of India, October 21, 2014

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Water quality of Ganga has improved: Study

The water quality of the Ganga has improved after a mass cleanliness and awareness drive was conducted by Shantikunj, a Haridwar-based spiritual organisation. While the temperature level has dipped from 19 degrees Celsius to 18.1 degrees, the turbidity level plunged from a whopping 130 Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU) to 90 NTU, according to a study conducted by researchers of Haridwar-based Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya and Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya.

At the same time, while transparency level of the river water increased by almost 1.5 times from 18 to 30cm, the chloride level too decreased significantly from 26 to 16 mg/l; the total dissolved solids came down to 102 from as high as 210 mg/l. The cleanliness and mass awareness programme was conducted by Shantikunj on October 2 as part of its nationwide 'Nirmal Ganga Abhiyan', which is presently in its second phase, a spokesperson said.

The study covered one of the most popular and crowded ghats of the largest river basin in the world and included physio-chemical parameters like temperature, pH, turbidity, transparency, dissolved oxygen levels, bio-chemical oxygen demand and chlorides. The five-phase campaign has a nationwide reach and is primarily based on public involvement. The cleanliness drive not only focussed on cleaning the river water but also making visitors and localities aware of the hazards of making the river water dirty.

"Temperature affects the metabolic rate in the aquatic environment. It was great to see a reasonable change in the same... Similarly, the better the transparency, the more is the penetration of sunlight in water which is good for aquatic plants. The transparency was maximum on October 14, which was the last day of the campaign. We are happy with the results and look forward to the same with more enthusiasm," said Sushill Bhadula, professor of Environmental Science at Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya.

The study was carried out by Bhadula, along with B D Joshi from the Department of Zoology and Environmental Science at Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya.

-The Business Standard, October 21, 2014

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Tughlaqabad’s poison lake

In the forest on both sides of Tughlaqabad Fort’s southern outer wall, a lake has slowly materialised over the past two years. Leafless tree-trunks jut out at odd angles from the poisonous water. Sludge and plastic bags gather at its banks.

A team from the Ministry of Environment and Forest said the water was “contaminated”. This is an understatement. Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) — commonly used to measure the toxicity of a water body — was found to be over four-times the prescribed 30 mg/litre at 138 mg/litre. Chemical oxygen demand (COD) — indicative of the presence of organic compounds — was found to be 619 milligram mg/l. The prescribed COD limit is 250 mg/l.

The ministry team came to examine the water’s toxicity after an order from the High Court, following the PIL filed by lawyer and resident Sushil Kumar. “The lake began forming slowly two years ago.

It is covered in algae. Today, its impact is apparent. The monkey population has reduced. Herds of Nilgai came here earlier, but they have stopped coming. People have fallen sick,” he said. Kumar said the lake has at least three distinct sources — a natural drain that previously carried rainwater into larger canals, a sewer that carried out waste from Tughlaqabad village and a larger drain that, residents say, carries chemical effluents from illegal industries existing within the village. This was confirmed by the environment ministry, which told the court that the concentration of pollutants could be a result of “discharge from unsewered areas or industrial activities in the vicinity”.

The water body begins at the southern tip of Tughlaqabad village, adjacent to a slum occupied mostly by migrants, flows under the abandoned fort’s outer wall and into the low-lying DDA forest land on the other side of the wall. The water has submerged a number of trees in the area, killing them. “Earlier, this was a small stream, mostly rain-fed. But its natural drainage path has been blocked due to plastic waste and debris from illegal construction,” Kumar said.

The slum, near the lake’s origin point in the village has a number of houses which are under construction. Sonu, who migrated to Delhi from Madhya Pradesh four-years ago said, “The water here is so polluted that we get water — for drinking and washing — from outside. Not even insects can survive here. Some times children fall in and develop rashes.”

While the ministry in its affidavit claimed that the “lake” is 2km long, residents pointed to smaller inter-connected pools of accumulated waste water spread across the DDA forest land. “The officials were notified about the water, once is began accumulating. But we heard nothing else,” a DDA official, in charge of the forest’s maintenance, said.

-The Indian Express, October 22, 2014

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TAKING CLOSER LOOK AT AIR POLLUTION

The National Air Quality Index, coupled with supportive measures, can prove to be a refreshing step by the Narendra Modi-led NDA Government in combating air pollution. It now needs to be taken with seriousness

The National Air Quality Index launched on October 17 by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change may at the outset seem to many as a passive attempt to meet the growing challenge of air pollution in India. But the positive implications and import of this development can ensure a much higher degree of control on the spiralling levels of pollution.

The new index, launched as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, will provide one consolidated number after tracking eight pollutants and will use colour-coding to describe associated health impacts. This initiative has all the possibilities of being a success, as it puts the common man in the focus and endeavors to build awareness in the community on the growing menace of air pollution explained in simple terms.

The World Health Organisation has identified air pollution as a serious environmental health risk that killed about seven million people in 2012. Earlier this year, in May, the WHO released the findings of a study of 1,600 cities, amongst which New Delhi had the most polluted air with an annual average of 153 micrograms of small particulates, known as PM2.5, per cubic metre. In addition, 13 more highly polluted Indian cities found mention in the report.

Thanks largely to the insipid efforts of previous Governments, the air quality kept sliding as the authorities looked on. The new index strives to set the pace for the time to come in order to arrest the deteriorating air quality, with individual awareness as an effective measure to combat the problem. Previously, the air quality status used to be conveyed through voluminous data, making it difficult for people to understand particle names such as PM2.5 or PM10 but the new index provides the common citizen one colour, one number and one description so that he can understand what the level of air pollution is, in a simple manner.

In the strategy to effectively deal with pollution, the AQI plays a central role but it needs to be supported by additional measures in order to make it a successful initiative. The AQI is common- man-centric, hence the authorities must ensure it is designed and implemented in a manner that it is helpful for the community to understand the potential health risks associated with different air quality levels.This will be helpful particularly to seniors, parents of young children, and people suffering from heart or lung conditions, so that they are they able to use the AQI to assess the immediate risk air pollution poses and take the recommended steps to lessen that risk.

The data generated by the AQI will increase the awareness level among people, hence the Government must be prepared for enhanced levels of answerability to the community regarding the measures taken by it to combat rising pollution levels. With the AQI as a bedrock, the Government can improve its accountability to the community and responsibility towards the environment. However, to ensure the accountability, a new regime of punitive measures may need implementation.

An example in this regard is China, which is struggling to maintain air quality standards by curtailing automotive and industrial emissions. The country has a tried and tested air quality index, but that by itself is not helping matters. China is now flexing its muscles in the cases of repeat offenders, by delivering exemplary penalties. Recently, a new standard of enforcement was set when the environmental conservation authorities announced their biggest fine yet with a 300,000 yuan ($48,092) penalty for boiler maker Babcock & Wilcox Beijing.

The company is a joint venture between Charlotte, North Carolina’s Babcock & Wilcox, which has been making boilers since the 1860s, and Beijing Boiler Works. The company was fined for repeatedly painting utility boilers in the open air without any protective measures for reducing the resultant air pollution. Community awareness combined with renewed enforcement is becoming a trend across the world. In April this year in Oregon, United States, Intel was levied a fine of $143,000 — one of the largest air-quality penalties — for violating environmental laws by failing to disclose fluoride emissions at its Washington County computer-chip factories.

The MoEF will do well to take a leaf out of these developments and toughen its posture towards industrial entities that treat confirmation to environmental norms as mere formality and irritating paperwork. The AQI, coupled with supportive measures, can prove to be a refreshing step by the NDA Government in combating air pollution.

-The Pioneer, October 23, 2014

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Single-window clearance for buildings soon?

Delhi is likely get a single-window clearance system for approvals from different civic agencies for buildings as the existing building bye-laws are being simplified. The Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on Tuesday organised a workshop where experts, architects, consultants, and citizen bodies gave suggestions to simplify building bye-laws.

The objective of the workshop was to invite suggestions to make the bye-laws simpler and user-friendly by paving the way for electronic processing of sanctions. The urban development ministry had formed a committee to rework the bye-laws and the draft bye-laws have now been put in public domain on the websites of the DUAC, DDA and MoUD.

At the workshop on Tuesday, DUAC member Sonali Bhagwati, who is chairperson of the building bye-laws committee, said, “One of the first things I did while studying architecture, was reading the bye-laws and interpreting them. No matter how many times you read the bye-laws, you never get them right and changes are to be made over and over again with every authority you approach with your building plan. There comes the concept of middlemen, who would interpret it, know someone in the authorities concerned, and get the work done. So, we thought, why not make the bye-laws simple. We would like suggestions that lead us to simple 10-15 page bye-laws.”

Emphasising on a single-window system, Ms Bhagwati said there are anomalies between various agencies. For example, even if you get the bye-laws right, you have to meet the requirement of the fire department which would be out of sync with those of, say of the airport authorities. DDA vice-chairman Balvinder Kumar also advanced the idea. DUAC member Durga Shanker Mishra, who is additional secretary in the urban development ministry, said the stakeholders have a “historic opportunity” to suggest changes to simplify the bye-laws.

He expressed his disquiet over the manner in which Delhi is spreading. “There are hardly a few high-rises in the city. We are just spreading. Delhi is a seismic zone, but why can’t we have high-rises? We must plan,” he insisted. Urban development ministry secretary Shankar Aggarwal was of the view that it was time to take care of urban areas.

“Over the last 50 years, focus has been on rural region because a large number of people live there. But now it is time to take care of our urban areas. That is how we can accommodate more people coming to urban areas and make economic progress,” he said. On the single-window system, he said all agencies should work in tandem. “We cannot take citizens of this country for a ride,” he said.

-The Asian Age, October 23, 2014

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Now, E-Museums

In a first-of-its-kind initiative, government museums will digitise their collections under a common website. On Tuesday, Minister of State (Independent Charge) Culture and Tourism, Shripad Naik, launched the national portal http://www.museumsofindia.gov.in at Shastri Bhavan.

Among the 10 museums chosen are National Museum (Delhi); Victoria Memorial Hall (Kolkata); Archaeological Museum (Goa) and Allahabad Museum. More than 11,000 exhibits including coins, sculptures, paintings, currency notes, porcelain objects and terracotta works will be made available for online viewing.

Some of these museums have their individual web links too, but a compiled national database will give fillip to their individual footfall as well. Says an official from Hyderabad’s Salar Jung Museum, “This has been happening all over the world but is a first for India. We are hoping it inspires foreigners as well as domestic tourists visiting Hyderabad to step into our gallery.”

In the next couple of years, entire collections of all museums falling under the purview of the Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will be digitised. In 2014-15, the plan will be implemented in seven more museums including Ratnagiri Museum, Halebidu Museum, Lothal Museum, and Fort St George Museum (Chennai).

-The Indian Express, October 23, 2014

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Fewer bird species back in Okhla

Only seven species of migratory birds have arrived in Okhla Bird Sanctuary. Last year, 15 species were spotted at this time. However, this has been a general trend for most bird areas in north India, claim some birders. But Okhla, in particular, may be affected by disturbance around the park and noise from vehicles that use the road inside the park.

Species spotted till now include northern shoveler, common pochard, tufted duck, Eurasian wigeon, common teal, gadwall and common coot. "In the last week of September, there were small flocks of three wader species-pied avocet, black-tailed godwit which is an endangered species and ruff. But due to habitat disturbance two species didn't stay. Only pied avocet is still here. Last year we had 15 species in September. We are also concerned about the massive reduction in numbers," said T K Roy, adviser to the Okhla sanctuary who also documents bird species.

A small flock of 40 northern shovelers have arrived. They breed in northern Europe and north Asia and migrate in winter to southern Europe, Africa, North America and south Asia. Common pochard is a diving duck found in northern Europe and north Asia that migrates to warmer climes in winter.

About 20 common pochards and tufted ducks-which are also diving ducks-have come to Okhla. There are also common coots that are found in northern Europe, north Asia, Australia and Africa and migrate in winter through continental Europe, across Sahara and to east and south Asia.

The situation at Dadri wetland in Noida and at various wetlands in Gurgaon seems a lot better. According to Nikhil Devasar, birder and organizer of Big Bird Day, a good number of ducks and waders have come to Dadri. "Many have stopped visiting Okhla sanctuary because the habitat has been destroyed. The number and variety of birds coming here has fallen. It's very sad," he said. Shovelers and pintails, among ducks, and ruffs, godwits and stints, among waders, can be seen in some wetlands of Noida and Gurgaon.

Roy said that migratory species haven't arrived yet in Najafgarh drain area, another popular birding site in the city. "Aside from urban development all around it, the road made by the irrigation department inside Okhla sanctuary, which is being used by vehicles constantly, is adding to the disturbance and pollution here," he said.

- The Times of India, October 23, 2014

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Committee unaware of lakes under its jurisdiction

The District Lake Protection Committee appears to have become a moribund institution given its record in restoring or protecting the lakes and tanks in the City.

On September 19, 2013, when the High Court cracked the whip, the State government formed the Bangalore Metropolitan Region Lake Protection Committee (BMRLPC) headed by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) Commissioner.

On the other hand, the district committee comprised the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Lake Development Authority (LDA) and the Deputy Conservator of Forest, Bangalore Urban District. The apex committee, headed by the principal secretary of the Revenue department, will have the CEO of LDA and member secretary of the State Legal Services Authority as members to oversee the maintenance of lakes by these committees.

However, even with all this in place, it seems like BMRLPC is not aware of the lakes under its jurisdiction. The committee has neither set its priorities nor prepared any action plan with other agencies to evict encroachments. This lackadaisical attitude of BMRLPC came to fore when its chairperson, who happens to be the BDA Commissioner, sat on many complaints, raising doubts over the sincerity in dealing with cases of lake encroachment.

For instance, three months ago, a complaint was lodged with BMRLPC about the encroachment of Chikka Kallasandra Lake at Padmanabha Nagar in Bangalore South. The lake, which is under the custody of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, has been illegally encroached upon by land sharks. Sadly, though the Revenue department prepared a survey sketch of the lake, it could not demarcate the boundary.

About a month after the complaint was lodged, there was no follow-up or action. Then, an RTI?application was filed seeking information about the status of the complaint and the BDA Commissioner’s office responded stating that the application has been forwarded to the Assistant Executive Engineer, Bangalore South Sub-Division, BDA to initiate action. The BDA engineers categorically rejected the application stating that the lakes do not fall under their jurisdiction.

Activists of the Peoples Campaign for Right to Water had similar experiences. Its state convenor, M Eshwarappa, had lodged a series of complaints with the BMRLPC chairperson regarding Sarakki Lake, Kacharakanahalli Lake, Jakkur Lake, but to no avail.

Eshwarappa said: “The committee is just an eyewash. It has been created only on paper, their visibility in terms of action is nil. It raises doubt over the government's seriousness to discourage lake encroachment.”

- The Deccan Herald, October 24, 2014

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Vintage loco to chug to Sariska

A vintage engine will begin pulling a tourist train again from next month to the tiger reserve of Sariska in Rajasthan. The 49-year-old steam engine, named Akbar, has been the most sought after heritage loco by filmmakers. The vintage engine will haul a two-coach tourist train from October 11.

It’s one of the last surviving vintage steam locomotives and was manufactured at Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW), a factory of the Indian Railways. “This Pacific-class of broad gauge loco is capable of speeds up to 110 kmph and was used to haul prestigious express trains in the past.

After being out of service for many years, Akbar loco was restored, overhauled and reclaimed in full working condition at the Amritsar workshop of the Northern Railways in October 2012,” said a senior official. The Amritsar workshop has acquired the unique distinction of being the only workshop of the Indian Railways which rehabilitates “steam” locos and carries out periodic overhaul of these locos.

“The engine has been in the news with its use in famous films like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Gadar etc.,” the official said. The Akbar tourist steam train will start from Delhi Cantonment station of the national capital and travel to Alwar in Rajasthan.

- The Asian Age, October 25, 2014

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High Court settles issue of Zonal Development Plan for Chandni Chowk

The Delhi High Court has rejected the contention of a traders’ body of Chandni Chowk that the plying of cycle rickshaws on the main arterial road in the area or the creation of lanes for non-motorised vehicles (NMVs) was not envisaged by the Zonal Development Plan (ZDP)-2021 approved by the Ministry of Urban Development in 2010.

The Court held in a recent judgment that the Delhi Development Authority did not intend to prohibit the movement of cycle rickshaws on the main arterial road. The land use plan enclosed with the ZDP-2021 does not also contain any prohibition on plying of cycle rickshaws or creation of NMV lanes for that purpose. With these observations, a Division Bench comprising Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat settled the issue of applicability of ZDP to Chandni Chowk, while taking on record the DDA's assurance that although a mid-term review of the ZDP and the Master Plan for Delhi-2021 (MPD) was underway, the position regarding the ZDP's approval remained unchanged.

The MPD stipulates that fully segregated cycle tracks should be provided on all arterial roads with the provision for safe parking in park and ride lots. In urban extension, cycle tracks should be provided at the sub-arterial and local level roads and streets, according to the MPD.

The Court noted that the draft ZDP, prepared by the DDA in September 2007, had recognised bicycles and cycle rickshaws as an important mode of travel, particularly for short and medium trip lengths. “To the extent that it meets individual or public transport requirements, it is a non-energy consuming and non-polluting mode of transport...Rickshaws also provide employment to a very large number of unskilled workers residing in the city,” stated the ZDP.

The ZDP recommended that fully segregated cycle tracks be provided on all arterial roads and proposed the use of cycles and rickshaws as a non-motorised mode of transport as suggested by the MPD, along with the provision of space for pedestrians. The Court rejected the argument of the Chandni Chowk Vyapar Mandal that the DDA had taken a “conscious decision” to maintain the same pattern with regard to plying of different modes of transportation within the Walled City which was prevailing under the earlier ZDP-2001, as the ZDP-2021 had reproduced the previous transportation proposals.

The Vyapar Mandal has been contending that the question regarding the plying of cycle rickshaws on the Chandni Chowk arterial road should be decided in the light of the approved ZDP prepared by the DDA. The Vyapar Mandal questioned the plan approved by the United Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning & Engineering) Centre (UTTIPEC), which has also prepared the street development guidelines for the area.

The Court had on May 24 last year issued directions for convening a joint meeting of the Special Task Force, UTTIPEC, Public Works Department and the Delhi Traffic Police to deliberate on the issue of NMVs in the light of the ZDP. By another order on February 3 this year, the Court had directed the DDA to clarify the issue of feasibility of creating NMV lanes in Chandni Chowk.

The Bench disposed of the writ petitions moved by the Manushi Sangathan and the Initiative for Transportation and Development Programmes while settling the issues concerning the applicable ZDP for Chandni Chowk and providing for NMV lanes in the area. The ZDP has recommended fully segregated cycle tracks on all arterial roads and proposed the use of cycles and rickshaws as non-motorised mode of transport

- The Hindu, October 25, 2014

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Clean Yamuna, a possibility soon

Interceptor sewer project to be inaugurated on Monday

A big step towards cleaning the Yamuna in the Capital is being taken this week, with the Delhi Jal Board getting ready to launch the first package of the ambitious interceptor sewer project on Monday.

Trial runs on the first package of the 59-km-long interceptor started in September. “The trials have been a success, but it is a hugely challenging project as we are laying a 59 km trunk sewer in a populated city,” said DJB CEO Vijay Kumar on Saturday. The first package, which will be inaugurated by Union Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu, takes sewage from the Palam drain in Dwarka to the Pappankalan Sewage Treatment Plant.

“Right now, we have added about six to10 MGD to our sewage treatment by the first package. Overall, 210 MGD of sewage will be diverted for treatment when the project is complete in June next year,” said Mr. Kumar.

The six packages of the interceptor are along the city’s major drains – Najafgarh, Supplementary and Shahdara – and will collect sewage from around 180 subsidiary drains. While the project is tricky, Mr. Kumar said everything is going as per plan. Come next summer, pollution in the Yamuna is expected to fall with the biological oxygen demand (BOD) decreasing by 60 to 70 per cent. Water quality (in BOD) in the Yamuna will fall from 41 mg/l to 12 mg/l.

- The Hindu, October 26, 2014

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Gujarat braces for Friday morning storm

After very severe cyclonic storm Hudhud battered coastal Andhra Pradesh some weeks ago, another severe cyclonic storm is set for make landfall in India, this time in coastal Gujarat. Cyclone Nilofar, which has developed over the Arabian Sea, will hit the western state on morning of October 31 (Friday) at a wind speed of 100-110 kmph gusting to 125 kmph, said an Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) bulletin on Monday morning.

The IMD said Nilofer would intensify into a very severe cyclonic storm during next 24 hours and would move initially northwards and then recurve northeastwards and cross north Gujarat and adjoining Pakistan coast around Naliya by 5.30 am on October 31.

Rain Warning Under the influence of this system, there will be rainfall at most places with isolated heavy to very heavy rainfall along coastal districts of Saurashtra and Kutch from October 30. The rain's intensity will increase gradually with heavy to very heavy at a few places from the night of October 30. Squally wind speed reaching up to 45-55 kmph gusting to 65 kmph would start along and off the Gujarat coast from October 30 and would reach 100-110 kmph gusting to 125 kmph at the time of landfall, said IMD.

Rough sea Sea condition along and off Gujarat coast will be rough to very rough from Thursday morning and would become very high to phenomenal by afternoon.Fishermen out at sea along and off Gujarat coast should return to the coast, said the IMD. There should be total suspension of fishing operations and coastal hutment dwellers have been asked to move safer places. People in affected areas have been asked to remain indoors.

Damage IMD said the cyclone will cause extensive damage to thatched roofs and huts. There will be minor damage to power and communication lines due to uprooting of large avenue trees. There will also be flooding of escape routes. Nilofar in Persian means a lotus or water lily. The storm developing over the Arabian Sea has been named Cyclone Nilofar by Pakistan.

- The India Today, October 27, 2014

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Antiques Stolen As Vadodara Museum Rests For Festivals

Two antique revolvers and one gold-plated sheath of historic sword have been stolen from the heritage Sayaji Baug Museum in Vadodara. The Museum was closed between October 21 and October 25, and was opened on Sunday.

Sources in the police department said that the theft might have occurred during the festive days but the incident came into light on Sunday morning as the curator of the museum saw broken window panes near Nepali Gallery of the museum. The curator also found two antique revolvers and a gold-plated sheath of a historic sword missing from the showcase of the gallery.

Vijay Patel, curator of the museum, immediately called the police and lodged a complaint of theft of antique relics from the palatial building of Sayaji Baug Museum — locally known as Kamati Baug Museum. The police have started investigating the case. According to Patel, an IAS official had gifted the revolvers to the museum authorities only recently in August 2014, and the gold-plated antique sword cover was put on display of the Museum gallery since 1986. The cover was beautifully carved with designs depicting elephants on it.

The police said that they are inquiring various people as the museum was closed for the visitors in wake of Diwali festivals but security guards were on duty. The value of the stolen items cannot be ascertained because of their antique value, said that curator.

-The Pioneer, October 27, 2014

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Ghosts of Halloween past

Halloween with the Gardners was a genuinely scary affair, unlike the present day commercial show it has become

The Gardners are descendants of Lord Alan Gardner who made a name for himself in “Gardhi ka Wakhat” of the 18th Century. It is after him that the Army’s Gardner’s Horse (now a mechanised unit) is named. He was known as Latsahib in Kasganj, where he built a big residential complex, complete with a Bibi Ghar for the women of the harem, among whom was his wife, the Princess of Cambay.

After inter-marriages with princely houses, including the latter Mughals, particularly at the time of Shah Alam, one of whose granddaughters Mulka Zumani Begum was married to James Gardner, half the clan became Muslim. But the remaining part was assimilated into the Anglo-Indian community, though Urdu poetry still attracted them, with both men and women excelling in “Shairi”, like Suleiman Shikoh “Fana” and his sister Ellen (Raqia Sultan Begum).

Among the earliest traditions the Gardners probably introduced in the country was that of Halloween, observed on October 31. Dead ancestors are believed to make their annual visit on this day. The first Halloween this scribe remembers was the one held by Eric Gardner in Ludlow Castle Road in the 1960s. Eric was a self-effacing sort of man, slim and soft-spoken, who had studied at St Peter’s College, Agra, where among his best friends was Nawabzada Fazal-ur-Rahman, who later settled down in Rawalpindi. Both he and Eric had acted in a Halloween drama at St. Peter’s in the 1930s. The Delhi Halloween concert was a smaller affair in which a few families participated. Most of them were teachers of St. Xavier’s School that had come up in the building of the old Cecil Hotel.

Well, Eric, George Marthins, the Fernandes’, Whelpdales, Halges, Saldhanas, Maxie’s family, complete with the vivacious aya Saira Bano and the Dawsons, got together to hold a show after the Jesuit principal of the primary school in Bombay House reluctantly gave permission for it. That was because the Church frowns on such an observance in which ghosts, hobgoblins and the spirits of air, earth and water are also said to make an appearance, along with ancestors, sometimes accosting belated travellers. Eric dressed up as a wizard, with witches as assistants. Irene, Gale, Ena, Joe and Betty acted as vampire victims (probably because the film Dracula was then being shown at the Odeon).

There were some ticklish moments when the girls screamed at being made to drink blood (actually water coloured dark red). But the frightening part really began when the wizard started calling out the assembled “ghosts” with a flaming torch in hand. Then a door suddenly burst open and from it emerged men arrayed as zombies (the living-dead).

People squirmed in their seats when someone said in an audible whisper that they had actually come from the Nicholson cemetery nearby. Since all the actors were beyond recognition, children, especially schoolgirls, really believed that there was an invasion from the Netherworld. Some fainted and had to be revived with smelling salts and splashes of water on their faces.

It was then that the older folk put their foot down and said it was time to end the macabre drama. Soon the lights were switched on and many in the audience started recognising the erstwhile ghosts. Mrs. Dawson pushed away her husband, a former Ceylon Navy officer, with great force for giving her the jitters in his hooded black suit and Betty scolded her fiancé Eddy for having made her hair stand on end by coming quietly behind her chair and pulling her sleeve.

Eric, who had stunned everyone with his performance, handed over the painted pumpkin ghost-head he had pretended to pull out from a makeshift grave with an apologetic grin. But his wife did not seem to be in the mood to forgive him for his ghoulish deed. His daughters, including the grandly named Ava Gardner, however, recovered their senses and clung to him with the cry, “Oh Daddy you made our flesh creep”

That drama is revived in the mind’s eye whenever Halloween comes around but now it is the foreign embassies and hotels that cash in on this day of spooky stunts. What is more, families, along with children, come with hideous masks to heighten the ambience. Halloween has become a commercial show and not the stuff of earlier decades when it made the spine tingle even if a twig shook suddenly in the night or a cat purred on the window ledge.

Incidentally, many of the Gardners have migrated abroad though some stay put in Kasganj Chhaoni around the Bibi Ghar of their legendary ancestor, while one branch holds fort in Dehradun, where Halloween is not such a craze as in Delhi.

-The Hindu, October 27, 2014

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TIES CAST IN METAL

Uma Shankar Shah and Seema Shah’s printmaking describes the cultural exchange between India and Nepal through subjects like mythology. The artists’ next series will present interesting facts on the rail link between the two countries. By Divya Kaushik

This is no ordinary picture of Lord Ganesha. He sits on the lotus flower in the same posture as Goddess Lakshmi. His head is turned towards the right, giving an impression that he is fondly watching his pet mouse. Limited colours, like shades of red and grey, are used in the background. This is a printmaking work by Uma Shankar Shah. Like this, most of his works from his recent series that will be displayed at Shridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam, are based on mythology. Titled Sacred Spaces, most of the works depict scenes from Ramayana and some are based on Buddhist scriptures and beliefs.

The artist’s work documents the birth of Sita, the garland ceremony and the mighty bow, her trip to Ayodhya, her subsequent exile into the forest with Lord Rama, her abduction, the search launched for her and the ensuing battle in which the demon Ravana is defeated. Since Shankar hails from Janakpur in Nepal, his narrative and imagery are deeply rooted in Mithila tradition and folklore. Shankar reinterprets the classical Mithila silhouette — with doe-like eyes — to depict his characters. Though the hallmark of Shankar’s prints have been dark and nocturnal, this series marks a departure as the artist uses a red palette with earthy tones to recreate the colours of ancient frescoes where red earth and mud served as natural pigments. In some prints, the earth tones are evocative of the dust that is generated in the battle in which these epic characters clashed. Shankar portrays Ravan as the traditional firework puppet that is set alight in Dussehra to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Arrows dart across the canvas, the great beasts of war — elephants, horses and chariots — are featured amongst the dead and the wounded. The artist uses ancient shlokas from Maithali, Awadhi, Bhojpuri and Sanskrit to reverentially evoke the mood of this great epic.

“Through my Ramayana series and by depicting the scenes from the battlefield on my canvas I wanted to give a message that characters like Ram, who stands as a metaphor for goodness, and Ravan, who is a metaphor of evil, are present within us. The responsibility to kill the evil within and bring out the goodness lies on each one of us. This exhibition will also include some works from the Shanti Yagna series. I did the series as a response to the bloodshed in Nepal. The country was facing turbulent times and to spread the message of peace I did the series that used the imagery of the prayer wheel to make an appeal for peace. The iconic Tibetan prayer wheel is reworked with Mithila folk characters to portray a tragic reality — the land where the Buddha was born is in a state of unrest,” explains Shankar, who has been in the art of printmaking for the past 20 years. He completed his masters in printmaking from Varanasi. He and his wife, Seema Shah, moved to Nepal in 1995 and since then their printmaking works and paintings reflect the culture and traditions of both India and Nepal.

Prior to this series, it was cityscapes that formed the subject of the artist’s works. The exhibition will also include 15 prints by Seema that showcase deities from the Hindu and Buddhist pantheon. Seema is adept at creating a landscape in which, a pantheon of heavenly beings, are surreptitiously caught in a mysterious twilight zone. In this series, Seema takes heed of the fact that Nepal has been regarded as a great tantric shakti sthal or power centre, where the cult of the Goddess has led to the worship of her many manifestations — from Virgin Goddess to the wrathful Kali. Hence, we find the portrayal of the Kumari and the Nava Durgas (nine manifestations of the self same Goddess). The 10 avatars of Vishnu are also depicted in tune with the belief that Vishnu’s reincarnations are taken to eradicate evil. The stories of Krishna Leela, the sublime power of the Pancha and Dipankar Buddha are also portrayed in her prints.

“Our art practice was quite different before we met each other. While I used to paint cityscapes and landscapes inspired by the Pagodas of Nepal, Seema was into painting the daily scenes of Indian life. When she came to Kathmandu, she was inspired by the religious pulse of this city where Hindu and Buddhist cultures co-exist,” says Shankar.

Printmaking is an extensive technique and is a laborious process. Shankar informs that one frame takes him almost two months to complete. “It is a highly technical process that involves a lot of science. One needs a sheet of metal on which initially a drawing is made. Later the sheet is treated with chemicals. It takes many trials to bring a different effect on the frame. The cost of completing one piece is pretty high. The size of frames that I usually do requires four metal sheet and only that costs around Rs16,000. Add to that other expenses and the final cost that I have to bear for each piece is around Rs35,000. This is one reason why not many artists try printmaking,” says Shankar.

The artist has started work on his next series as well. It will present how trains served as an important link for cultural exchange between India and Nepal. Shankar says, “The rail link was built by the Britishers for trade purposes. Initially the train used to carry woods from the jungles of Nepal to India, which was industrially developed then as compared to Nepal. Apart from wood, raw material for major industrial produce came from Nepal. It was I think in the year 1912. Later, when people also started travelling between the two places, an extra bogey was added to ferry passengers. This was how the rail link started and contributed to the cultural exchange between India and Nepal. I came across these old engines near Jainagar in Bihar. Almost four kilometers away from Jainagar there is a place which is like a dumping ground of old engines. They are in ruined state right now. I visited the place several times to draw images of various parts of the engine. Interestingly, each is names on the gods of Nepal. Like Pashupati, Sita, Chandra, Mahavir and Krishna. Each had a story behind it. For example, the train between Raxaul and Amlekhganj in Nepal was usually boarded by the devotees to Pashupatinath shrine in Nepal and therefore the engine was called Pashupati.” The exhibition which will present train as a metaphor of cultural harmony will follow Sacred Spaces.

-The Pioneer, October 28, 2014

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Terrestrial migratory birds arrive at Okhla Bird Sanctuary

part from water birds, the four-square-kilometre Okhla Bird Sanctuary on the south-eastern fringes of the Capital has this year recorded the arrival of several migratory terrestrial birds. The sanctuary is a rich bird habitat that attracts several winter migratory birds and has recorded the arrival of over 330 species till date.

Uncontrolled local factors Ecologist and environmentalist T. K. Roy said the bird population was on the decline because of several uncontrolled local factors, including the Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department’s interference, open thoroughfare for the public and vehicular movement in the sanctuary towards western side (Delhi side) and large scale cattle grazing and over-lopping of the tree canopy by the power grid towards eastern (Noida) side.

“Due to global climate changes, the arrival of winter migratory birds has been late this year. We are also seeing fewer species in lesser numbers all over the country. Only 10 species of winter migratory water birds, i.e., three species of waders (Black-tailed godwit, ruff and pied avocet) arrived in the last week of September and seven species of ducks (northern shoveller, Eurasian wigeon, common pochard, tufted duck, gadwall, common teal, common coot) arrived in the third week of October in comparison with the previous years. But sighting of these birds is difficult in the centre of the sanctuary due to the disturbance all around,’’ added Mr. Roy.

A few more Indian migratory species like a small flock of black-headed ibis and red-naped ibis have also arrived. “The long stay of all these terrestrial species in the sanctuary is uncertain due to degradation of the habitat,” he added.

-The Hindu, October 28, 2014

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Gangotri glacier is ‘rapidly disintegrating’

The Gangotri glacier is rapidly disintegrating, states the latest observation of a team from the Almora-based G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development.

The team of the institute, which has been monitoring the Himalayan glaciers, particularly the Gangotri, since 1999, visited the glacier between June and October, this year.

Kireet Kumar, Scientist in the Glacial Study Centre of the institute, said, “Our team has been observing disintegration in the snout of the Gangotri glacier for around three year now. This time the team observed that the disintegration on the right side of the snout is taking place at a rapid rate.”

Dr. Kumar said rapid melting of the Raktvarn, Chaturangi, and Thelu — tributary glaciers of the Gangotri, which are placed at a higher altitude than the Gangotri and are towards its right — as the reason behind the heavy disintegration.

Gangotri: Shrinking and retreating

A 2008 research report published in Current Science titled ‘Estimation of retreat rate of Gangotri glacier using rapid static and kinematic GPS survey,’ stated: ‘The Gangotri glacier is retreating like other glaciers in the Himalayas and its volume and size are shrinking as well.’

The glacier has retreated more than 1,500 metres (m) in the last 70 years. Post 1971, the rate of retreat of the glacier has declined. Dr Kumar said the latest data projects that post 2000 the average rate of retreat of the glacier per year has been about 12 to 13 m.

Dr. Kumar said global warming was not the only factor, but, it was an important factor that was resulting in glacial retreat. The Gangotri, one of the largest Himalayan glaciers, is in Uttarkashi district. Originating at about 7,100 m above sea level, the glacier is 30.2 kilometre (km) long and has a width that varies between 0.5 and 2.5 km. The Bhagirathi river, which is one of the main tributaries of the Ganga, originates from the glacier.

-The Hindu, October 28, 2014

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