05 Nov 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) On perilous use of Manja: String of deaths
- The perilous use of manja, a synthetic kite string coated with powdered glass, remains pervasive, endangering human lives and making a mockery of the multiple bans on its manufacture and sale.
- Three-year-old Abhinayu of Chennai, who died on Sunday after a dangling manja slit his neck while he was seated on a motorcycle his father rode, is the latest victim.
- Only in August, a man in Delhi bled to death after being entangled by a manja. Actually, the earliest recorded instance of a death caused by a kite string in Chennai was in October 1975 in the wake of which 197 people were arrested.
- Kite flying is not just a pastime but also an organised festival in States such as Gujarat and Rajasthan. During this year’s Makar Sankranti, three persons were killed in Gujarat and over a 100 injured in different States.
- Birds, including the White Rumped Vulture, get frequently entangled in manja strings as well. An estimate cited by the Animal Welfare Board of India said that at least 2,000 birds are injured at the annual kite flying event in Ahmedabad of which 500 eventually die.
- What has turned the once-harmless activity of kite flying into a bloody societal menace is the substitution of the traditional cotton thread with the nylon or single plastic fiber string made of monofilament fishing line coated with powdered glass.
- Dubbed Chinese manja (though locally manufactured), the transparent and light-coloured string is not easily visible. While the cotton thread too is coated with finely powdered glass, its sharpness is blunted when mixed with boiled rice, flour, egg white and tree gum.
- The factory-scale manufacture of Chinese manja and its pricing at just one-third of the rate of a cotton spool, coupled with the thrill of cutting off another kite, has led to its widespread use.
- The nylon string is also non-biodegradable, making it an environmental hazard. When dangling from high-tension overhead electricity cables, it has also led to electrical accidents.
- Taking these into account, in July 2017, the National Green Tribunal banned synthetic manja across India. It directed the authorities to book violators not only under the provisions of the IPC - Indian Penal Code but also invoke the EPA - Environment (Protection) Act, PCA - Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and WPA - Wildlife (Protection) Act as the case would warrant.
- The cases of people being convicted for manufacturing, selling or using manja are rare. Unless the authorities get their act together, the list of casualties could only get bigger with another Makar Sankranti around in two months’ time.
- Multiple State governments have banned the manja. But what is lacking is enforcement. The police seize spools of manja and arrest a few persons each time a human life is lost. There is no sustained endeavour to end the menace.
2) On Delhi's air pollution: Clearing the air
- Delhi is once again in the grip of its annual, winter pollution crisis. The city’s tryst with air pollution crises isn’t new. The rising prominence of particulate matter (PM) from various sources has long been a public health scourge.
- What differentiates the prevalent PM crisis from earlier ones is the public’s ability to monitor pollution levels for themselves. The measurement of pollution, which used to be the domain of weather agencies or pollution control boards, can now be done with consumer appliances.
- However, increased public awareness and social media angst haven’t translated into meaningful public action.
- The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in Delhi, which provides for a ratcheting slew of measures - from stopping construction work to halting private vehicles - isn’t effective when air quality reaches its nadir. It recommends action only after pollutants soar.
- A Task Force - which comprises top officials of Delhi and the Centre - advises the EPCA - Environmental Pollution Control Authority, which is in charge of enforcing the GRAP. Rarely does it recommend tough pre-emptive action and when it does, there’s no real pressure on municipal bodies and police to ensure that polluters are punished.
- There is a sense of resignation among both the Centre and the Delhi government about tackling the pollution crisis. Meteorology and Delhi’s geography render the city vulnerable to a certain amount of winter pollution, particularly when wind speeds drop to less than 10 kmph.
- However, preventing local sources of pollution from worsening air quality will require both the State and the Centre to implement unpopular decisions.
- This would include an outright ban on two wheelers, three wheelers and cars when air quality starts to deteriorate, a halt on construction, shutting down power plants in the vicinity of Delhi and a substantial spike in parking rates. And, of course, getting the farmers of Punjab and Haryana to not burn stubble at all.
- Even if this confluence of miracles were to occur, it wouldn’t guarantee blue skies on a windless day and, therefore, political brownie points. This makes it convenient for governments to engage in theatre such as having Ministers bicycle to work and blaming farmers for burning rice chaff.
- The Delhi government and the Centre routinely cite pollution figures averaged for the entire year to claim success of some piecemeal measure or the other but hide the lows of October and November.
- Tackling Delhi’s winter air requires tough steps that need to be in place at least a couple of months before the plummet.
- At the very least it requires a truly empowered, independent agency that can implement measures while negotiating the tricky relationship between the Centre and Delhi. Else, beyond the momentary outrage, the fight against pollution will remain on a prayer, and the wind.