Delhi fights hazardous pollution after Diwali party

The national capital’s air quality dropped to the season’s worst on the morning after the Hindu festival of Diwali, but the situation was still better than the last three years, according to government agencies. (AP)
Updated 28 October 2019

Delhi fights hazardous pollution after Diwali party

  • A thick smog engulfed landmarks such as the capital’s Red Fort and India Gate
  • Firecrackers and rockets lit up the night sky and left clouds of smoke, adding to emissions from cars and trucks and stubble fires by farmers around Delhi

NEW DELHI: After India’s biggest firework party of the year, Delhi awoke to a pollution hangover Monday with the capital forced to breathe hazardous levels of toxic particles.
A thick smog engulfed landmarks such as the capital’s Red Fort and India Gate while drivers had visibility cut by the haze that built up after the Diwali holiday weekend.
With the pollution threat growing over the past decade, the Supreme Court banned most fireworks for the Hindu festival of lights. However, few revellers followed the order.
Firecrackers and rockets lit up the night sky and left clouds of smoke, adding to emissions from cars and trucks and stubble fires by farmers around Delhi that have made it the world’s most polluted capital.
Tens of thousands of people set off firecrackers into the early hours of Monday, pushing the government air quality index beyond the top recordable level of 999.
While the pollution was less serious than previous years, the amount of the most harmful PM 2.5 pollutants was still more than 20 times international safe levels at several locations in the city of 20 million people during commuting hours.

The government monitoring system said air quality was “very poor” on Monday morning.
The 2.5 particulate matter (PM2.5) measures less than 2.5 microns and can penetrate the lungs through the blood system, causing serious respiratory and heart diseases.
Experts say the toxic cocktail that hits Delhi and other Indian cities each winter causes the premature deaths of more than one million people each year.
Weather officials said moderate winds will help clean the city’s air but that increased fires on farms in Haryana and Punjab states was a particular threat.
Thousands of farmers in Haryana burn their rice and wheat stubble in between planting new crops sending clouds of smoke toward Delhi.
Experts say this contributes a fifth of the PM2.5 pollution that hits each year, while the millions of vehicles on the roads and unregulated construction and factory emissions are the major cause.
The government has taken a slew of anti-pollution measures in recent years, including shutting down thermal power plants and banning construction during the pollution season.
In November, a bid to reduce road traffic will be introduced with odd and even registration plates allowed on Delhi roads on alternate days.

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 24 January 2020

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

“Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

“So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”