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Thursday, 16 February 2017

A just-released ‘State of Global Air 2017’ report by Health Effects Institute of Boston in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington has revealed that India and China account for more than half of the world’s premature deaths due to air pollution. The report says in 2015 globally, there was 60 per cent rise in ozone attributable deaths, with a striking 67 per cent of this increase occurring in India.

It finds that since 1990, the absolute number of ozone-related deaths has risen at an alarming rate in India — by about 150 per cent — while in China, some European nations and Russia, the number has remained stable. Measured per head of population, India substantially outpaces China, with 14.7 ozone-related deaths for every 100,000 people, compared with China’s 5.9.

The report found that increasing exposure and a growing and aging population have meant that while 11,08,100 deaths were attributed to PM2.5 exposure in China in 2015, in India, it was 10,90,400. Around 92 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas with ‘unhealthy’ air, according to the report which has painted a picture that is terribly alarming. The report says that increases in exposure, combined with those in population growth and aging, resulted in net increases in attributable mortality in China, India, Bangladesh, and Japan.

In addition, the absolute number of deaths in India attributed to fine particulate matter in the air were approaching China’s toll in 2015 and probably exceed that figure by now, according to Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute. An increase in vehicle traffic, emissions from coal-fired power plants and other industrial facilities, and fires fuelled by wood and dung contribute to the problem. When calculated per 100,000 of population, the number in both countries has decreased, although India’s remains far above China’s.

According to a WHO report late last year, 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. The country’s capital Delhi was 11th in the world list. This is as shocking as could be but governments at the Centre and in States are typically unconcerned.

While relatively smaller issues occupy centrestage in elections to State assemblies and Parliament, pollution is far from being an issue on which concern is voiced. In the circumstances, there is all-round apathy and complacency. There is also a tendency for the Centre and the States to pass the blame to each other so joint efforts to combat the menace are minimal.

(Follow us on Twitter @NTChennai, FB page News Today)


Sasi sent off

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

On Valetentine's Day, Tamilnadu understood the power of hatred. The verdict delivered by the two-Bench team of Supreme Court, which puts paid to personal political ambitions of V K Sasikala, was greeted with unrestrained glee by the people of the State by clapping and whistling. No politician in recent memory has got so much hatred and contempt from the public as Sasikala has. For this, she has to blame her family's greed in trying to usurp power so brazenly since the demise of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Also, the unseemly secrecy over Jayalalithaa's hospitalisation and her subsequent death, which still has some cloud of suspicion hanging over --- Sasi and her team has a lot to answer for in that matter too --- has made people's animus towards the Mannargudi team more apparent. So, it was no surprise that the Supreme Court's verdict, that also held Jayalalithaa guilty, was greeted with unbridled happiness across the State. 

In a sense, Sasi's eventual fall is a morality tale. A cautionary one. Rarely do political fortunes change so swiftly and dramatically. Her rise and fall is set to become part of Tamilnadu’s political folklore. Once so close to unearned power, she heads for prison and political oblivion. The court verdict is too strongly evidence-based to be reversed by a larger Bench. Sasikala has lost everything she had worked so hard to achieve. This is because the foundation was slippery. Her secretive and suspicious conduct, her family’s shady past, her swift political moves to grab power and combative attitude towards O Panneerselvam combined to turn public perception against her. The way she corralled 'loyal' MLAs and issued threats to Panneerselvam and even the Governor revealed a side of her personality that the larger populace had not seen before. 

The apex court judgement, delivered at a time when the State is witnessing a bitter power struggle in the aftermath of Jayalalithaa's demise, set aside the Karnataka High Court order acquitting all the four accused and 'restored in toto' the trial court's decision in the 19-year-old disproportionate assets case. Sasikala will now have to serve a jail term of around three-and-a-half years out of four years awarded by the trial court as she has already undergone almost six months in prison.

The main judgement was authored by Justice Ghose, but Justice Roy, who chose to supplement the concurrent findings, said the case demonstrated a deep-rooted conspiracy to amass vast assets through shell entities and deceive the process of law. 'A growing impression in contemporary existence seems to acknowledge the all-pervading pestilent presence of corruption almost in every walk of life, as if to rest reconciled to the octopoid stranglehold of this malaise with helpless awe. The common day experiences indeed do introduce one with unfailing regularity, the variegated cancerous concoctions of corruption with fearless impunity gnawing into the frame and fabric of nation's essentia,' Justice Roy said.

As far as opinion on corruption in high places, this is unequivocal. Sasi and her team, whatever the shenanigans they may still come up with, must understand that the inglorious chapter they were trying to author has been ended. Sasi must now see the writing on the wall and give up and restore whatever that remains of her dignity. But that looks like not happening, as is evidenced by the fact that she is still to give herself up to the police (at the moment of writing this). 

Sasi and team are also still digging their heels and fighting it out politically, creating even more confusion that the State can do without at this hour. For the State has been in paralysis for one reason or the other for the last over six months. So, it falls on the shoulders of acting Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao to take a nuanced decision that upholds the spirit of Constitution, even if he cannot go by any existing precedents.

In his only report sent on Sunday to the Central government, ever since O Panneerselvam resigned as chief minister on February 5, the Governor conveyed that he had taken legal opinions from Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, former Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran and constitutional expert Sorabjee. Two of the three experts suggested that composite floor test like the one conducted in Uttar Pradesh in 1998 could be done. (In 1998, the Supreme Court ordered a floor test in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly to determine who between the two claimants -- Jagdambika Pal and Kalyan Singh -- commanded the majority support for chief ministership). 

But actually, there is no need for the Governor to analyse who should be asked to prove his majority in the House, Panneerselvam or Edapadi Palaniswami, cussedly hand-picked by Sasikala at the last-minute to hold the office of chief minister on her behalf. Governor must leave this to the Assembly. Let the elected representatives of the people of Tamilnadu directly indicate in whom they repose confidence to lead the State.

Overall, the Supreme Court judgement is another wake up call to all those who aspire to a public career but instead turn it into a tool for their self-aggrandisement, amass wealth, making a mockery of public service. It is a reset button reaffirming the fundamentals of public life — that service ought to be the only motto. We ought to thank the apex court again for doing its bit to instil the fear of god or justice in our mostly selfish breed of politicians and leaders. But it could have done so in a language that was more easily available to the common man.

If you had read Justice Roy's judgement, the prose was dense and the articulation convoluted, making the whole point of such an important verdict somewhat lost on the public. It is time the court also understood the importance of wording their decisions with easy comprehensibility in mind. But that is an issue for another day.

(Follow us on Twitter @NTChennai, FB page News Today)



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