RECOGNISING THE pivotal role the decentralised governance system can play in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, the Odisha government has delegated the powers of a district collector to sarpanches of the state’s 6,798 gram panchayats for their jurisdiction. The power has been delegated under Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 read with Odisha COVID-19 Regulations, 2020, said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik through a video message on April 19.
As the state prepares a scientific roadmap for the return of its more than 500,000 stranded workers post lockdown, the move will empower sarpanches to begin a registration process for those who wish to return, set up quarantine facilities at the panchayat level keeping in mind the expected arrivals and conduct communitybased surveillance and monitoring. They can now take punitive actions against those who refuse to undergo the mandatory 14-day self quarantine.
The state government has allotted `5 lakh to each gram panchayat to carry out the processes, which experts fear is insufficient for the task at hand. “The lockdown has left millions of workers in the informal sector without any means of sustenance. As large numbers of migrant workers continue their journey on foot and cycle, more are also likely to die because of hunger and road than from COVID-19,” says Umi Daniel, director, migration and education, at Switzerland-based non-profit Aide et Action International. Since most village households have poor water and sanitation facilities and limited access to healthcare, it would be disastrous if the coronavirus reaches there, he says.
WHILE THE internet is flooded with videos and photographs on how the Ganga has become cleaner during the lockdown, there is no way to ascertain this. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), responsible for collecting and updating data related to Ganga water quality on its website, does not appear to have performed the task in the past three months. This is in clear violation of the July 2018 order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that had asked regular monitoring of the river water quality and making the information available for people. Once again in May 2019, NGT asked CPCB and the Ganga states to provide the information on a monthly basis "indicating fitness of water at various places for drinking/bathing purposes".
While CPCB maintains two websites for the purpose, on April 23 when checked portal, Suitability of River Ganga Water (for drinking and bathing), data was available only till January 2020. The other website dedicated for real-time monitoring of 18 crucial parameters, including biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand and water level in the river, appeared nonoperational. While the website does not mention how frequently it gets updated, data displayed on April 22 and April 23 were identical for all 36 monitoring sites on the Ganga.
CPCB, however, maintains that there is nothing amiss. “Both real time and manual monitoring are happening and [data] are regularly updated on the websites,” Prashant Gargava, member secretary, CPCB, told DTE. When informed that the
Suitability of River Ganga Water website shows samples were last collected in January, he said, “We have carried out a round of sampling. But some states are yet to share the data [with us]. We have written to them.”
Manoj Mishra, head of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan (Yamuna Forever Campaign), alleges that CPCB's real-time monitoring website is riddled with bogus data, which misleads people. The water level at one of the sites in West Bengal reads as high as 269 metres, while the permissible level is 0-5 metres. “No river in the world has this kind of water level,” says Mishra. He rues that the website also does not clearly mention the methodology used or the sample size. "Sample size is crucial as pollution levels in a sample collected in a glass will be very different from a sample taken in a big water drum," explains Suresh Rohilla, senior director at Delhi-non-profit Centre for Science
and Environment. Besides, most stations provide data only for limited parameters: none provide crucial data related to chromium and flouride levels and electrical conductivity of the water; two do not provide any data.
But air pollution drops
The apex pollution control body, however, has been closely monitoring the country's air quality through its monitoring stations in 115 cities. Between March 16 and April 15, it says, the concentration of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide emissions have reduced significantly in the country. While the air quality index (AQI) of 78 per cent cities was “good” and “satisfactory”, compared to 44 per cent cities in the pre-lockdown phase, no city recorded “very poor” AQI. It attributes the poor air quality recorded in Delhi and nine surrounding cities on April 15 to the dust storm from the Gulf.
Ice-free summers imminent in Arctic
IN LESS than 30 years, summers in the Arctic Ocean will most likely be ice-free, and even the most ambitious carbon emissions cuts are unlikely to help, warns a new research. A team of scientists used computer models at 21 institutes from across the world to predict the grim future.They also found that slashing greenhouse gases now will only determine if Arctic summer ice vanishes permanently or recover over time.They predict that very high emissions could leave the Arctic ice-free even in the dark, cold winter months.
The Arctic is said to be ice-free when the sea-ice area drops below 1 million km2.The Arctic has been one of the worst affected by climate change—it has lost 70 per cent of its ice volume since satellite records began in 1979. The ice loss has been linked to more extreme weather events, including severe winters, heatwaves and torrential floods in Europe and the US.
The last global scientific assessment of Arctic ice in 2013 predicted a complete loss of ice during September only if carbon emissions from human activities remained high.