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Demolish concrete illegal structures on Yamuna flood plains in Agra: NGT

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YAMUNA RIVER

By NewsGram Staff Writer

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) today issued a notice for the demolition of concrete illegal structures on the Yamuna flood plains in the Agra region.

The notice, which is returnable till May 26, was a result of public suit filed by D.K. Joshi, an environmentalist and a member of the Supreme Court monitoring committee on environmental issues in the Taj Trapezium Zone.

The notice was issued to the divisional commissioner of Agra, the vice chairman of the Agra Development Authority (ADA), the Municipal Commissioner of Agra and the head of the UP Jal Nigam, inquiring that why builders were permitted to raise multi-storied structures on the Yamuna flood plains in blatant violation of high court orders restricting construction activity within 500 metres of the river.

Joshi said, “ADA had identified 59 buildings on the flood plains in 2013 but no action was taken to demolish them.”

Joshi has asked for immediate orders to clear the flood plains to ensure the safety of life and to save the river.

Joshi in his 200-page suit, complete with photographs, annexure and court orders has also raised the issue of garbage being dumped on the river bed and the river banks. Civic laws restrict the dumping of hazardous substances in the river.

“The flood plains had been usurped by squatters in Mau, Jaganpur, Khaspur, Dayal Bagh, Sikandrapur, Poiya Ghat, Ghatwasan and Naraich and that no Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) had been conducted yet,” he added.

NGT has also been asked to give clear-cut orders for demolishing all illegal structures on the flood plains and issue guidelines for future construction activity along the riverfront.

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Haryana Minister calls Taj Mahal a ‘beautiful kabristan’

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Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal. Wikimedia

Chandigarh, October 20: Joining the league of those making controversial statements on the Taj Mahal, senior Haryana Minister Anil Vij on Friday termed the marble monument as a “beautiful cemetery”.

“Taj Mahal ek khoobsurat kabristan hai,” Vij tweeted on Friday.

Vij, who is the cabinet Minister for Health and Sports in the BJP government in Haryana, is known for making controversial tweets and statements.

BJP leader Sangeet Som triggered a controversy last week by saying that the Taj Mahal was a blot on Indian culture. The Taj, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the seven wonders of the world, is visited by lakhs of people from across the world.

In a damage control exercise, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Tuesday said the famed monument in Agra was a part of Indian heritage and he is to visit it on October 26.

The 17th-century marble monument was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Both were buried at the Taj Mahal.

Adityanath, whose BJP government in Uttar Pradesh has been accused of ignoring Taj Mahal in the tourism booklet of the state, said that the monument was constructed “by the blood and sweat of Indian laborers”.(IANS)

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In films ‘Victoria & Abdul’ and ‘American Made,’ Life is Stranger than Fiction

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Actors Ali Fazal and Judi Dench
Actors Ali Fazal and Judi Dench pose during a red carpet for the movie "Victoria and Abdul" at the 74th Venice Film Festival 2017 in Venice. voa

Stephen Frears’ heartwarming drama Victoria & Abdul is about the deep friendship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim between 1887 and 1901, and Doug Liman’s American Made about Barry Seal, a 1970s audacious American pilot, who, during the Nicaraguan Crisis worked for the CIA, the DEA and the Colombian cartel.

As different as these two films are, they are both based on true stories, proving yet again that often life is stranger than fiction. Both films feature intelligent plots and superb acting.

Victoria & Abdul

Stephen Frears’ film Victoria and Abdul, opens in 1887, with the festivities for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, celebrating her 50-year reign.

Abdul Karim, a young Muslim clerk from Agra, India, is sent to the banquet all the way from India to present the queen with a gift from India, a ceremonial coin. To the dismay of Queen Victoria’s courtiers, the Indian servant strikes a deep friendship with the octogenarian Queen Victoria, defying class and racial boundaries.

According to the movie, Abdul Karim impressed the British sovereign with his depth of spirit and good looks. Soon the unlikely friends became inseparable, discussing philosophy, literature, even Indian cuisine. In a span of 14 years, Abdul Karm became the queen’s confidant and munshi, her teacher, in Urdu.

But the queen’s courtesans and her family, sidelined by Abdul, questioned her sanity and considered her removal.

Historian and author Shrabani Basu based her book of the same title on the queen’s journals in Urdu and on Karim’s private diary. Basu discovered Abdul Karim’s personal diary in possession of Karim’s surviving nephew Abdul Rashid in 2010, over a century after the queen’s death.

This was the only document on the relationship between royal and servant that survived the wrath of Queen Victoria’s children. Immediately after her death in 1901, the royals evicted Queen Victoria’s munshi, burned everything he had received from the queen and swiftly shipped him and his family to India. In 1909 Abdul Karim died in Agra leaving his diary as his only testimonial of his deep friendship with the empress.

Director Frears offers captivating cinematography while Dame Judi Dench portrays a free-spirited Queen Victoria and Indian actor Ali Fazal embodies a charming and loyal Adbul Karim.

Though the film does not depict a romantic relationship between the two, it does hint to it. Dench describes the queen’s reaction to Karim:

“She had a ready eye for somebody good-looking, which he is very, so it was easy to imagine a kind of tired, poor person suddenly looking up and seeing this wonderful good-looking young man. How lovely somebody at last beautiful to look at,” Dench said.

But, author Basu says, “At the heart of this book is a story of friendship, a friendship of two different people from two different specters of this world, one is the Empress of India, one is a clerk from Agra jail, and somewhere they have a bond they find this link and a common space.”

Actor Tom Cruise
Actor Tom Cruise poses while promoting a film in Mexico City. voa

American Made

American Made, by Bourne Identity filmmaker Doug Liman, offers a satirical look at the political crisis in Nicaragua.

It shows the involvement of the United States in the revolution during the late 1970s and 1980s through the perspective of pilot Barry Seal, who, for the right price, delivers guns to Nicaragua on behalf of the CIA, and cocaine into the U.S. on behalf of the Colombian cartel. Somewhere in between, Seal also works for the DEA.

Tom Cruise offers an engaging interpretation as Barry Seal, piloting the plane and doing all the stunts throughout the film. Cruise explains what drew him to the character:

“He just couldn’t help himself,” Cruise said. “He just had to live this life. He literally when you are talking about someone living on the edge, he didn’t even realize he was on the edge. He was just living life and not really thinking of necessary ramifications and what’s going to happen.”

As in most of his action film projects, Cruise pushes his boundaries.

“I don’t make a movie just to make a movie,” he said. “It’s not what interests me. What interests me is the passion of cinema, the passion of storytelling. That’s when it gets very exciting, not just a job. I love this too much.”  (VOA)

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Holy Dip in Garbage Floating Ganges River: A big Cause of Concern for Hindus

The pristine waters of the Ganges river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it

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A pile of garbage lies on the riverbank along the Ganges riverfront known as "Har ki Pauri," the most sacred spot in the Hindu holy town of Haridwar where devotees throng. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

On a gray monsoon morning, Darshana Kapoor picks her way gingerly through the slush on the riverbank after taking a dip in the Ganges River in Haridwar town, one of the most revered spots for Hindus.

But the ritual bath that Hindus believe absolves a lifetime of sins was not an uplifting experience for her. “My faith brought me here, but when I see the garbage floating in the river, I felt so bad. I had to scrub myself,” she said.

Haridwar, India

She was not exaggerating. The Central Pollution Control Board has said that the water of the Ganges at Haridwar is not fit for bathing.

The murky condition of the mighty Ganges is a letdown for thousands of devotees who flock daily to the pilgrim town, some for a ritual dip, some to immerse the ashes of their loved ones or to take part in a colorful prayer ceremony held every evening to celebrate the Ganges, which devotees call “Maa” or mother.

Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

These devotees were hoping to see results from a flagship $3 billion initiative launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revive the river, particularly in Hinduism’s holiest towns such as Haridwar and Varanasi.

The pristine waters of the river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it as it courses through booming pilgrim and industrial towns along the vast, populous plains of North India. It is a huge concern because the river is a water source for some 400 million people.

After his victory in 2014, Modi had acknowledged the failure of an expensive three-decade long effort to rejuvenate the Ganges, and vowed to succeed where his predecessors did not.

But three years after the Hindu nationalist leader’s pledge, the once-mighty river is still dying, say environmental activists.

India’s top environmental court, the National Green Tribunal, slammed the government in July, saying “the status of river Ganga has not improved in terms of quality and it continues to be a serious environmental issue.”

The court prohibited dumping waste within 500 meters of the river and said that no development should be allowed within 100 meters of the river as it flows along a 500-kilometer stretch from Haridwar to the town of Unnao.

Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

That is crucial to revive not just the river, but also the banks or “ghats” in pilgrim towns where visitors throng.

However, in a country with abysmally poor enforcement, environmentalists point out court orders do not always translate into action on the ground.

“The basic problem in this country and this case also is compliance,” says M.C. Mehta, an environmentalist who has been leading a campaign to get rid of the pollution. “No monitoring mechanism is there, so it is very difficult to say how much directions have been complied with.”

The main challenge is the slow pace of setting up treatment plants – about three-quarters of the sewage generated in the towns and cities in the northern plains flows untreated into the Ganges.

Sewage treatment plants in Haridwar, for example, can only cope with half the sewage. New ones have been planned, but none have been built yet.

In fact, some fear the river is becoming dirtier as India’s growing population and economic boom has meant an ever growing influx into towns like Haridwar.

Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Ganesh Singh owns a shop at the famed “Har ki Pauri,” the most revered spot along the riverbank where people gather to attend the evening prayer, where the poor line up for free meals offered by devotees and where pavement sellers hawk flowers.

He said there have been efforts to educate the people about not dumping waste into the river. “Many polythene bags, bottles, garbage used to be thrown into the river earlier. It is better now,” he said, gazing at the river, happy that it helps draw in more tourists who bring more business.

However just a few meters down from his shop, piles of rubbish dumped along the riverbank are getting slowly washed into the water with the rain.

That is why Mehta remains skeptical and worries the political will for the gigantic task is missing. “I am not talking about this leadership – it is for the last 32 years the same thing is going on,” he said. “It should not be just lip service that we are the sons and daughters of mother Ganga, without doing something.”

In a signal that he is aware the Ganges cleanup is flagging, Modi this month handed charge of the campaign to a senior cabinet minister, Nitin Gadkari, who has a reputation for getting the job done.

Devotees and environmentalists are hoping that will happen. (VOA)