The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: Governments should stop the blame game and focus on long-term solutions for pollution

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story: Pointing fingers

Delhi’s pollution levels have been in the “severe category” since Monday, leading to declaration of a public health emergency by the government. Since Tuesday, the Delhi administration has taken several measures to bring down the level of pollutants in the air. On Wednesday, a high-level meeting chaired by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal activated the relevant measures under the Graded Response Action Plan or GRAP put in place following last year’s intervention by the courts. Trucks have been barred from entering the city, parking fees have been increased four times, construction activities have been suspended and the municipality has been asked to sprinkle water to suppress dust particles.

But the measures have come too late and are still to address some of the fundamental problems fuelling what Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called “gas chamber” conditions. The primary of these is crop burning in neighbouring states such as Punjab and Haryana, which the Delhi government feels contributes about 25% of the pollutants in the air during this time of the year. In fact, several cities across north India are facing similar levels of pollution.

Significantly, even the GRAP does not have much in it to tackle this menace. Sorting the crop burning problem requires concerted economic remedies. Farmers burn the stubble because it is more economical than using labour or machines to remove it. What was required was a clear plan to incentivise farmers who do not burn crop through economic inducements, something which has clearly not happened if one went by statements of the chief ministers.

On Thursday, Kejriwal and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh got into a verbal tussle. As Kejriwal blamed crop burning for Delhi choking in the smog, Singh accused the Aam Aadmi Party leader of lacking in understanding of issues but having an opinion on everything. “There is 20 million ton of paddy straw, where do I ask farmers to store? So Kejriwal doesn’t understand this problem,” he argued. The statement made it clear that Singh too doesn’t understand the gravity of the problem that is putting the health of millions across north India under danger. That the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress are political rivals in Punjab has not helped either. The menace required initiation of measures months before the onset of winter, something that did not transpire.

The National Green Tribunal’s comments on Thursday exposed this utter apathy on part of the governments concerned. The tribunal noted that no concrete measures have been put in place over the last one year. What has happened is trading of charges between departments with files moving from one office to another.

Even Kejriwal’s attempt to rake up the crop burning problem looks like an easy way out of the problem. The Delhi administration has failed to learn lessons from mega cities across the world that had faced similar situation in the past. For example, when pollution went up to dangerous levels in Singapore in the 2000s, the government reacted by increasing taxes on large cars and discouraging private transport. In Delhi, rather than systematically taking on the car lobby which has resisted regulations, the government resorts to stop gap measures such as the odd-even plan, under which cars with odd and even number plates will ply only on alternate days. This plan will come into force on Monday for five days. In fact, even emergency measures were not initiated on time. Records show that the GRAP was not implemented as per the mandate, with citizens getting no alerts about the deteriorating conditions.

The governments should realise that temporary measures can never be a substitute to sustained long-term measures in tackling a serious environmental problem such as pollution.

The Big Scroll

  • Bad air quality is a public problem, yet election campaigns in five states were silenton it.  

Punditry

  1.   Saudi palace politics has entered a destabilising phase, and its impact is already being felt across West Asia, Stanly Johny writes in The Hindu.  
  2. Lessons from Mexico City: Series of steps needed to signal that life can’t go on as usual when the air is so toxic, says Melba Maria Pria Olavarrieta in the Indian Express. 
  3. Evidence is emerging that dating applications are influencing levels of interracial marriage and even the stability of marriage itself.  

Giggles

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.