DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Thursday, January 30, 2014

New time zone for North-East



It is good to hear that the demand for a separate time zone for the North Eastern states of India has been revived. The proposal, it seems, is with the government and is in active consideration.  It had to be so, as no less a person than Tarun Gogoi, chief minister of the state of Assam, the biggest north-eastern state, has taken up the matter. In any case, regardless of what happens to the proposal, the Chief Minister is reportedly set on introducing the “Garden Time” in Assam soon. Introduced by the British tea planters over a century and a half ago for the tea garden workers it would be an hour ahead of the Indian Standard Time (IST).

 One wonders as to why the Centre has been wary of creating another time zone for the north-easterners. It seems, those who have never lived and worked in the region can hardly ever comprehend the difficulties of the people at large and of others, like administrators or heads of offices and organizations, who have to ensure completion of assignments within the given time frame. The short duration of the “working day” in the North East imposes sometimes insurmountable constraints on those who have to oversee completion of the jobs that they happen to have at hand.

Setting up a separate time zone for the north-eastern states is an old issue. I recall while working at Shillong in the state of Meghalaya a
Rsing sun in Meghalaya
quarter century ago the matter was raised in the North-Eastern Council (NEC) meeting held in late 1980s. The NEC, created decades ago, had been instrumental in pushing the developmental initiatives emanating from the seven states of the region known as the “Seven sisters”. Most of the officials attending the meeting felt that the role of the NEC would become more effective if the most productive hours during the day were not allowed to be lost because of the straitjacket of the IST. The then Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Saeed happened to be present to whom a memorandum was presented. Since his government soon met its end, apparently that saw the end of the memorandum, too.

It is indeed a peculiar situation out there. Bangladesh, which is just south of Meghalaya, is half an hour ahead of it and the same is strangely true of Manipur and Tripura that are located east of it. The sun rises earlier in eastern-most parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur  and Tripura than in Bangladesh and yet they, curiously,  are all behind it by half an hour. Consequently, when the official day, based on IST determined by time around a thousand kilomteres away in the West somewhere near Allahabad in UP, commences the sun is way up in the sky and workers have already  spent four to five waking hours waiting for the regular working hours to commence. They thus lose those crucial morning hours when the mind and the body are fresh to contend with the day’s physical or mental challenges.

Currently, there is a kind of a double whammy. While the daily routine starts close to midday, workers generally make efforts to wind up early as darkness falls early. None in the North-East would like to stay out when it is dark, more so the women who work in large numbers in offices. Not only they may be living far, they may also have to wrestle to get a public transport (if available) to get back home. After all, it is not the safest place after dark. I had had occasion to notice that in winters women start making preparations for leaving office by 3.30 in the afternoon as, if it is cloudy, it could be pretty dark by 4.30 or 4.45 PM. On many an occasion I came back in gathering darkness from my Shillong office after 5.00 PM and watched live telecast of the dying moments of a cricket test match being played in Bombay.

The unease of north-easterners on this score seems to have been simmering all these years and off and on concerted demands for a separate time zone have been raised. They have the feeling that in such a vast country a single time zone cannot work. The country sprawls for around 3000 kilometres from west to east embracing 28 longitudes with at least a difference of almost two hours between east and west. People from many walks of life — academics, intellectuals, lawyers, teachers, youth, student and women organisations — in the northeast have been demanding creation of a separate time zone for the seven northeast States as, they feel, it was necessary to correct the anomalies forced on the people and economy of the region.

Jahnu Barua, an eminent Assamese film maker, has been very vocal in this regard and spearheaded the demand for a separate time zone. According to him, suffering enormous losses during the last six decades, the north-east is up against “unproductive tendencies, more alienation, imbalance in biological clock, degeneration of society, wastage of electricity, loss in productivity and so on…Having to follow the IST, the people of northeast are subjected to do all their day to day activities at wrong time. Waking up minimum two hours after sunrise, breakfast after minimum four hours of daylight, start of office hours only at middle of the day, lunch at three to four hours after midday, dinner after five to six hours of darkness and finally going to bed much after midnight.” He further showed that total wastage of electricity at homes and offices of the region since independence due to following of single time zone was to the tune of Rs.94,900 crore.

Earlier this month the members of Parliament from the North-Eastern states sunk their political difference over this issue. The MPs from across various shades of political opinion in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have joined together to demand a separate time zone for the region.

There are, however, detractors who think a separate time zone would spell disaster for the country. It would promote fissiparous tendencies among the regions. Given the Assam example, every state would indulge in one-upmanship and demand separate time zone. Besides, it has also been contended that it would promote incompetence and delays in decision making. The arguments seem to be fallacious, even specious. Two researchers in the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, are also against a separate time
Kohima War Cemetery, Nagaland
zone for North-East but have failed to give any convincing grounds. They surprisingly feel that a separate time zone may alienate the easterners from the rest of the country. Besides, they think that it would be difficult to implement and create complications in railways and air time tables and a slip in setting a watch on the borders could lead to catastrophic accidents. Above all, they think it would not lead to significant saving of electricity and, hence, they propose advancement of IST by half an hour which would meet many of the problems in the North-East – forgetting that even then most of the  North-East would continue to lose an hour or so of daylight. The fears seem to be all imaginary and at the same time the gains in savings and productivity have been overlooked.

The US and Russia have multiple time zones – US has five if not more and Russia as many as nine – and so did China have five before the Revolution. It was the communist government which brought the entire country within one time zone.  And yet, against the contention of supporters in India of one time zone, China, effectively, has two time zones – Beijing Time and two hours behind it is Urumqui time used locally in Sinkiang Province

A separate time zone for the North-East has been necessary for years. Hopefully, as the fresh proposal has had a powerful push from Assam before the general elections it would now be accepted.


Photos: taken by self in the late 1980s

Monday, January 27, 2014

BIRDS ABANDONING BHOPAL




European wryneck
A report appeared in the end of November last in a vernacular newspaper about migratory birds avoiding the Upper Lake. One did not take much note of it as the report came a little too early. It was thought that, may be, birds would start arriving as the season advanced. Apparently, that did not happen as another report has since appeared, this time, in the Times of India. On 22nd January last the paper reported that the yearly winged visitors were giving the city a miss. Several species which used to congregate in and around the Upper Lake in large numbers, apparently, find the conditions not conducive for their comfort. The report quoted two reasons cited by two noted bird-watchers for the absence of the birds: one human disturbance and pollution in the Lake waters. 

While pollution of the Lake waters cannot be disputed as year after year the Pollution Control Board has been releasing reports (to no avail) after the immersions of images post-festival seasons about the pollution levels indicating presence of metal and heavy metals in the water. Besides the chemical farming in the bordering farms continue unchecked just as the drains keep emptying their load of pollutants in the Lake.

Nevertheless, with a view to ascertaining the actual situation some of us of the Lake Conservation sub-group led by the Convener of the Forum went and met the Director Van Vihar. It was quite a disappointing meeting as the Director, it seems, has nothing to do with the birds. His jurisdiction is confined to the limits of the Van Vihar National Park between its two gates. The waters hosting the resident and domestic and other migratory birds are not under his control.
Brahmini shelduck

This threw up a vital question and that is who, in fact, is responsible for ensuring proper conservation of the bird habitat. Obviously, as Bhoj Wetland is where the birds congregate the authority controlling the Wetland, viz the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, ought to be responsible for nurturing the habitat for the birds.

We all know the capabilities of the Municipal Corporation. It has a small cell manned by a man or two to look after the two lakes but surely no one who is knowledgeable about birds and their habitat. No wonder, the Sair Sapata amusement complex with its ever-expanding activities was established so close to the bird habitat and, I dare say, within the catchments where construction is prohibited. Quite clearly, the government itself has acted in breach of the rules it has formulated and has also acted against the basic environmental norms. One wonders how no department and not even the Department of Housing & Environment opposed the proposal of the Tourism Corporation, presumably backed by the Department of Urban Administration.

Sarus cranes
Sustaining the habitat for the birds – domestic and migratory – is important for us in Bhopal as health of a water body is indicated by the presence of birds in and around it. As the Wetland used to annually get more than 20000 birds from far and near it was designated as a Ramsar Site and later was also declared an Important Bird Area by Bird Life International. The city’s wetland is the only one in the state out of five in the country that is a Ramsar Site and also an Important Bird Area.


Bhoj Wetland with its two lakes add so much to the prestige of Bhopal and yet the local authorities are so negligent about its proper maintenance.

Photos: from the Internet

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bhopal Lokrang



The festival of Lokrang is is commencing today. There have been a spate of ads in the newspapers and one can see billboards on the
The decorated stage
streets. For the last 29 years the Department of Culture of the Government of Madhya Pradesh has been hosting the 5-day festival that commences on the Republic Day, 26th January. It is a festival dedicated to folk art of the country and, especially of the state. Madhya Pradesh basically is a tribal state with several tribes inhabiting its various regions. Each has its own rich culture with its peculiar performing and visual arts. Every year the festival displays the folk art of a specific geo-cultural region.

The Festival is held in the centrally located Rabindra Bhawan where the open-to-sky auditorium is used for performing arts, providing lavish entertainment to all comers for free. The stage is brilliantly decorated every year on the basis of a preselected theme. This year the theme is based on the source of Narmada. A folksy bazaar is also established in the surrounding grounds of the complex displaying tribal visual art, textiles, cuisine etc.

Those who haven’t had the occasion to visit the festival may 

find the photographs of some interest 


Photos: Bandana Bagchi





Sunday, January 12, 2014

Outdoor pollution in Bhopal

http://bagchiblog.blogspot.com




A
s Sultania Road was jammed with traffic I had to take a long detour to home the other day via Shahjehanabad. The air pollution there was something to be felt to be believed. The ongoing road works have made things worse for the already congested roads. I was reminded of Darya Gunj in early 1970s when passing through it one used to feel the pollution caused by automobile emissions with burning eyes and an irritated throat. That, of course, later spread to various parts of Delhi including Dhaula Kuan, Patel Chowk and many other areas. It was exactly the same feeling that I got with an old water tanker struggling up the Idgah Hills spewing voluminous dark smoke. And ditto was the case of an old auto-rickshaw that strained its every nerve to climb that hill with a gentle climb.

As it is, automobile emission in the city is on the rise. Those who do not venture out into its older parts, perhaps, are not aware of the seriousness of the problem. To this has been added the welcome move taken by the Municipal Corporation to rebuild the roads after perhaps decades. Having not been attended to for years it is taking longer than usual time with proper provision for underground ducts and things. Those who had seen the Golghar Museum a few months ago would be surprised to see a spanking new cement-concrete surface in front of it now. However, because of the road works at various crucial places of the old city traffic is being funneled through narrow passages forcing drivers to shift into low gear causing more noxious emissions.

A few months back a report of International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialised agency of World Health Organisation (WHO), indicated that it had classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans. This is the first time that the experts have done so and claimed that there is sufficient evidence to prove it; the exposure to outdoor pollution causes lung cancer and they have found positive association of it with increased risk of bladder cancer. Particulate matter, a major constituent of outdoor air pollution, was evaluated separately and was found to be carcinogenic. The predominant sources of the pollution are transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions and residential heating and cooking.

In Bhopal, surely, the outdoor air pollution is caused mostly by transportation. With practically no check on pollution control heavily smoking heavy and light vehicles as also three and two wheelers are running around in the town with impunity. Apart from being undulated the older parts of the city are also congested on account of trade and commerce and therefore face most of the brunt of the outdoor air pollution. The civic authorities, however, are seemingly blind to the problems of a major chunk of the city’s population, including school-going children who are exposed to it every day.
Bhopal Citizen Forum had taken up the matter with the government to introduce pollution control campaign and to certify vehicles running on the road after undergoing the emission tests. The government, if I am not mistaken, was even reminded but unfortunately to no avail. I think it is now time to take the matter up with the minister concerned.


At the same time, environmental groups also need to press the government to establish systems for checking emission levels of vehicles and keep those off the roads that do not conform to national parameters. This is needed to safeguard our health and wellbeing as also of our progeny

Photo: From the Internet