Down to Earth - - Di­gest/Query - RA­JIT SEN­GUPTA

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.

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