Thursday, May 22, 2014

Deep orange sun peeps through the corner of the window, breeze warms up quickly and another scorching day begins. Yesterday, while discussing the political scenario with a very respected senior official, it was a pleasant surprise that he had wept while hearing our Prime Minister speak. He added that in Shri Narendra Modi India has landed with a 'heera' and now the law and order shall improve along with the quality of life. The discussion would have gone on but he had to prepare for a meeting. The election of General V.K. Singh from Ghaziabad is like meeting of absolute opposites, at one point in time Ghaziabad was identified on the world map as the crime hub. It was a surprise that the place was known internationally for the crime rate. Then, I experienced it personally and it is true the pinch of being on receiving end makes one realize the gravity of the situation. During broad day time when my father left home for bank to get crisp currency notes as wedding present for a relative, three thieves entered the house. My mother is a teacher so she was not at home. When my father returned he thought that perhaps mummy was already home so he began to unlatch the gate. At this the three young thieves who were well dressed rushed to the gate and threatened my father with a long knife, then pushing open the gate they ran away as my old father tried to follow them. These thieves had parked their car in a nearby lane and ran away. Then started the trauma of the FIR not being registered, futile rounds to the authorities for request to look into the security aspect. We were happy that parents were safe, money and possessions can be earned but the incident would have threatened their lives had they been inside the house as murders of senior citizens are common. The very thought brought fear into our hearts, we were happy that they were safe, but thinking deeply I question the very idea of governance. Is this what you get after working hard for Government all though your life? Teaching thousands of children, giving your sweat and blood to work and then be denied of even the basic essential things like law and order and right to complain against such brazen crimes? The place is bizarre to say the least, there is electricity for just few hours even when you are paying the bills. The sewage flows in open and once to my horror during rainy season some children were swimming in the big nalla that is adjacent to patparganj. It is farfetched in this vast state that is bigger than some of the Europe countries to even get the basic amenities. Then what chance do the poor citizens who are looted of their life savings have? Will things change? Will people come out of the slavery imposed where they meekly suffer power cuts, lack of water supply/ contaminated water supply? With a person from disciplined organization, will the law and order improve? I agree it is my concern for parents that makes me ask these questions but it is high time we ask for what is rightfully ours after paying the taxes and serving the country honestly.

Monday, May 19, 2014

It was an amazing experience to read Ambedkar and edit these books. How he struggled against discrimination and rose up against all odds to lead the downtrodden towards light. He has authority over varied subjects like religion, law, women's rights and all the subjects that can be imagined. Babasaheb Ambedkar has already given us the solutions to all the prevailing ills. I was amazed to discover while reading his speeches that he had already written a lot on how India should be divided into smaller states for good governance and sadly the process is still continuing with so many illogical war of words. I shall write more on what I learned, for now I just can say this that instead of reinventing the wheel our politicians and masses should read Ambedkar for clarity on all issues.

I would like to share the event that triggered my interest in the Environmental studies. We were visiting Kedarnath in the year 2004 in the Uttarakhand Himalayas and as we traveled up the narrow passage crowded with humans, mules and horses, the immense beauty of the sacred shrine gradually blossomed. A stark contrast was the scattered waste, all the way though, like an eyesore. I tried to pick up as many plastic wrappers as I could. To this, my husband said that I could better help the cause by writing about the environment as this would create awareness, lack of which is the root cause of such environmental degradation. The ideas stuck with me and as we reached the shrine the stark contrast of the snow-white peaks against the reeking pool of human excreta and Caracas that lay floating in that contaminated sludge made me weep in utter helplessness. The irony is that this constant abuse of the track can be easily contained as there is just a single track and vast manpower available due to presence of Indian Army but still the problem is allowed to fester. I observed that a huge glacier had rammed into a guesthouse near the shrine, people native to the place told that this was unusual melting and path for the glacier. What else can we expect, especially when such a massive assault on the environment is taking place? I was deeply disturbed and met the advisor to Government of India at CGO complex explaining what could be done regarding the Kedarnath trek. He laughed at my idea about creating a soak pit and using the gradient of the hill to direct the waste into the soak pit. Next, when I visited G.B Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, I reluctantly broached the subject with Dr Upendra Dhar, who surprised me with a project report, which was regarding the creation of such a soak pit and was in cold storage as the government had changed on the wrong time!. Somehow this gave me a conviction that I was not too wrong about the solution for the great damage that was brought to the pristine environment of Kedarnath. Last year when the Kedarnath tragedy happened, I dug out this old mail of mine and was thinking that this should be brought to notice of people who care. Yesterday as I watched you Mr Modi, it was wonderful to hear of a Prime Minister speaking about cleanliness as Gandhi Ji first taught about hygiene wherever he went, best practices were taught in villages, that is a true teacher and a true leader who encourages change through practice, long time ago I had read that even a toilet seat used to travel with Gandhi Ji for demostrations in villages. While visiting Kedarnath and Badri Nath, there is a simple thing one can observe and that is- initially when Bhagirathi and Mandakini merge, Ganga Ji is pure and as she descends slowly it gets contaminated. There can be two approached to clean this beautiful river- one is to start where there is maximum contamination being dumped into the river and second is to start the awareness drive right from the point of descend of the river. There are products like degradable bags with urea that turn human excreta into fertilizer, which can be distributed on the shores as constructing toilets nearby will contaminate the ground water, which is a serious problem in Uttarakhand. With mobalisation of volunteers, the drainage of ‘200,000 crores would not be necessary. A lot can be learned through how Europe cleaned their polluted rivers. Thanks for taking up this issue on the first day of your public appearance after elections. गंगा गंगा, क्यों हो इतनी उत्कल छोड़ पवित्र प्रांगण इतनी विकल पोछने को दग्ध तन मन तभी कहते तुम्हे माँ देती हमें मन, प्राण, तन छोड़ सघन प्रिय वन तीव्र लांघती गिरी कानन अति विकल गंगा का मन मनुष्य दूषित करते तन फिर भी बहती सरस सरल भरती घर आँगन

I work with the Red Cross and this was a felicitation ceremony for those who contributed towards disaster relief during the Uttarakhand flash floods tragedy. There are 4800 First Medical Responders in Uttarakhand as a result of a pilot project taken up with Government of Uttarakhand besides the Disaster Management program run by Indian Red Cross society there trains many more to respond during the disasters. This preparedness made huge impact, here is a glimpse of what all was achieved: The Uttarakhand flash floods that devastated the region following the heavy rains on 16/17 Jun 2013 in the state of Uttarakhand affected and displaced a large number of people. The unprecedented scale of disaster in the state of Uttarakhand saw the heaviest flooding and landslides in the state over the last 80 years. The Indian Government called the disaster ‘The Himalayan Tsunami’. It was the worst disaster since the Tsunami of 2004. The disaster was a result of a possible Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) and excessive rains that triggered flash floods and landslides. The total rainfall in Uttarakhand in the period from 01 to 18 June 2013 was 385.1 mm, which was the highest in the last 80 years. The normal rainfall during this period is 71.3 mm, indicating that rainfall was 440% above the normal. Continuous rains caused water levels to rise, and swollen rivers swept away entire temple towns of Kedarnath and Rambara, villages leaving travelers, pilgrims and local people stranded. Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had issued an early warning about unseasonal rain and snow in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, the impending floods, and the recommendation to move people to safer places. However, the vulnerable regions around the rivers had no early warning about the possibility of flash floods and infrastructure worth crores was washed away. Even a week after the disaster there were people stuck in inaccessible areas in the mountains as many of the roads had been washed away or blocked by the numerous landslides. The tough terrain added to the difficulties of the search and rescue operations. Despite the challenging conditions, more than a lakh people were evacuated in one of the largest evacuation operation by the Government. Many of these people were wounded and hungry. They had walked miles trying to find a way to civilization. There was an urgent need of food, shelter and medication. Many had lost their loved ones and needed counseling in this time of trauma and pain. The IRCS State Branch reported to the NHQ the crisis situation which had emerged in the state due to the flash floods triggered by heavy rainfall affecting 12 out of the 13 districts in Uttarakhand. The 4 districts that were worst affected were Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh. Notwithstanding the difficulties in accessing locations, the relief operations of IRCS were significantly scaled up and relief was provided in the districts. Notwithstanding the difficulties in accessing locations, the relief operations of IRCS was significantly scaled up and relief was provided in the districts of Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Pauri. Four National Disaster Response Team (NDRT) / National Disaster Water Response Teams (NDWTs) members had been deployed to Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh districts to carry out need assessment. In Pithoragargh, Darchula and Munsiyari Tehsils had been worst affected by the flash floods. Balwakot, Nayabasthi, Ghoti were found to be the most inaccessible villages due to damaged roads and the assessment teams were required to cover distances of 5-8 kms on foot to reach these villages for undertaking needs assessment. Further, it emerged that the local population in these areas had been living in tents. Trained Red Cross First Medical Responders (FMRs) had been working closely and assisting the local people in temporary shelters. Since the onset of the disaster, more than 200 FMRs had been providing psychosocial support, Family News Service (FNS) and tracing services to people stranded in their respective regions. In Rishikesh, IRCS Tracing Office and DM Coordinator started “MAY I HELP YOU” Centre, whereby FMR volunteers were trained in FNS to register “I AM ALIVE” messages, and tracing requests. Tracing requests were collected from the family members about the missing people for Kedarnath, Rambara, and Gourigund camps. Additionally, the teams had been working closely with the local government hospitals and police stations for collecting information on missing persons. IRCS volunteers had been able to pitch tents near Vikas Bhawan in Joshiyara in Uttarkashi district. This area was being set up as a Red Cross camp. Construction of latrines in the camp site was carried out. Additionally, electricity lighting arrangements at this camp site was done. A health camp was organized by FMRs in Maneri village, Uttarkashi district. Of the three large Water Purification Machines (NORIT) dispatched by IRCS (each having a capacity to provide about 2000 ltrs of potable water per hour), one water purification unit had been installed in Uttarkashi by 15 FMRS. Water storage tanks T11 with a storage capacity of 11,000 litres had also been installed. This facilitated distribution of purified water to the affected local population. The second NORIT Water purification unit was installed in Guptkashi on 10 Jun 13 . An additional group of 04 NDWRT personnel were deployed on 09 and 10 Jul 13, to install and operationalise the 3rd NORIT unit. In addition, two of the three manpack units (units can be carried by volunteers and can provide 80 liters of portable water per hour) were made operational in Guptakashi and Pithoragarh. Considering the massive response that was undertaken by Indian Red Cross Society, the felicitation ceremony was a fitting tribute to all those who contributed towards this human tragedy.