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One-third of Delhi depended on ROs for drinking water, 14% on bottles

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Forty eight-year-old Manohar Lal, a resident of south Delhi’s Sangam Vihar, buys three-four cans of drinking water daily for his family of six. Despite the Delhi government’s claims of water in the city from water treatment plants (WTP) being “fit to drink”, Lal says he does not want to take any chances with his family’s health.

“I have three children and even though we are not rich, the health of my family is of utmost importance. Each canister costs me Rs 35, but that will at least save me medical bills,” he said Friday.

A National Statistical Office’s (NSSO) latest report shows that Delhi tops the list of 36 states and union territories in the use of electric water purifiers, with 36.5% households in the capital relying on purifiers to treat drinking water. The report also shows that in the National Capital, bottled water was the second principal source of drinking water. This means that nearly 14% of Delhiites depend on packaged drinking water at home.

Agreeing with fears such as those voiced by Lal and the findings of the NSSO report, Sushant Giri, a resident of Vasant Kunj’s B-Block said trusting the Delhi Jal Board’s (DJB) promises of clean water provided at household taps was difficult mainly because of the state of the rivers, which are the primary source of water for the city. “Look at the state of the Yamuna and Ganga. How much can technology clean them?” he said, adding that he has a water purifier installed at his house since over 15 years now.

The recent controversy questioning the purity of Delhi’s drinking water has also cautioned many. While a Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) report had failed Delhi in almost ten out of 11 quality parameters of drinking water, the Delhi government and the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have called the findings “false and politically motivated”.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had, in May this year, directed the ministry of environment and forests to frame rules for the manufacture and sale of ROs (water purifiers using reverse osmosis) and banned the use of ROs in areas where the total dissolved solids (TDS) in water was under 500mg/litre. Moderate to high levels of TDS (above 500mg/litre) not only change the taste of the water but also pose health hazards.

The green court had said that the use of RO filters results in “unnecessarily rejecting 80% of potable water”. The Supreme Court also refused to stay this ban in an appeal heard this month.

“I don’t know who to trust. If there is a conclusive and trustworthy test of the city’s water quality and proving its purity then maybe in a few years perceptions will change, but on most days in our locality the tap water is dirty and smelly. It cannot be used for other household chores even, let alone for drinking,” said Sudha Shankaran, a resident of RK Puram.

The DJB, however, is confident water from the WTPs can be consumed right from taps. DJB vice chairperson Dinesh Mohaniya said before his government, Delhiites received muddy and unclean water for many years. There is also a psychological block that you cannot drink tap water directly, he added. “I can confidently say treated water in Delhi is drinkable but we need to really work with people till they can confidently drink from their taps. A lot depends on perception and fear of their health; things are also being made worse by political ill-will of other parties,” said Mohaniya.

Experts said in the WTP, the water is cleaned after which poly-aluminium chloride and alum is mixed to remove mud and dirt. But this is no guarantee that people are getting clean water in the end. Though independent tests have proved Delhi’s water is cleaner compared to other states, there is a fear it may be contaminated by the time it reaches households, they said.

“Agencies will have to work a lot on distribution infrastructure before they can gain people’s trust. Though water from WTPs is drinkable, there are ways it can get contaminated when it reaches taps,” said Dr Prabhakaran Reddy, senior researcher, IIT-Delhi.

He, however, also said that while people think that RO filters can solve all drinking water problems, excess purification also has its disadvantages. “Over-purification can cause some essential minerals to be killed. It is not advised in areas where you get quality-tested water,” he added.

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India turned into rape capital: Rahul Gandhi on Unnao, Telangana cases

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Amid nationwide outrage over the rape and murder of a 24-year-old in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao and other incidents of sexual atrocities across the country, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said the country has become the rape capital of the world.

Addressing a meeting of party workers in Sulthan Bathery in his constituency Wayanad, he came down heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his continued silence over the rape case in which a BJP legislator of Uttar Pradesh was allegedly involved. Gandhi said this on the last day of his three-day visit to Wayanad in north Kerala.

“India is known as the rape capital of the world. Foreign nations are asking a question of why India is unable to look after its daughters and sisters. A BJP legislator in Uttar Pradesh is involved in the rape of a woman and the Prime Minister did not say a single word about this,” he said.

“You have seen an increase in violence across the country, lawlessness, and atrocities against women. Every day we read about women being raped, molested and thrashed. There is violence against minority communities, hatred is being spread against them,” he said adding there was a reason behind people taking the law into their hands. Gandhi said the man running the country (Prime Minister Modi) believed in violence and indiscriminate power and it encouraged others to take up law into their hands.

The Congress leader’s remarks came amidst nationwide outrage over the rape and murder of a veterinary doctor in Telangana and murder of another woman in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh. Four men accused of raping the doctor were killed in an encounter on the outskirts of Hyderabad on Friday. The Unnao victim who was set on fire succumbed to her burns on Saturday.

He said the alleged breakdown of institutional structures was leading to increasing lawlessness and violence in the country. “The world used to look towards India for direction but now they look at us and say the country does not know how to treat its women,” he said.

He said the country’s biggest strength used to be its economy but now it has turned the biggest weakness and the PM has no idea how to take the country forward. “The growth rate of the country is coming down drastically every week but nobody is concerned,” Gandhi said.

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UP govt announces Rs 25 lakh compensation for Unnao rape victim’s kin

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A day after the Unnao rape victim succumbed to her injuries at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Saturday announced an ex gratia of Rs 25 lakh for her family, according to news agency PTI.

Additional Chief Secretary Awanish Awasthi told the media that other facilities too would be given to the family would be looked into at the local administrative level.

Senior UP minister Swami Prasad Maurya who had been sent to Unnao by the UP government to meet the bereaved family also made a similar announcement.

“The Chief Minister is very much with the family of the deceased in this hour of crisis. The culprits will be dealt with sternly and punished. A fast track court will be set up,” Maurya said. Besides Rs 25 lakh, the family will be given a government house, he said.

The 24-year-old rape victim was airlifted to the national capital and admitted to the Safdarjung Hospital with 90% burns in Thursday’s assault. She died late on Friday night of cardiac arrest.

Before her death in her statement, the woman said the alleged rapists Shivam Trivedi and Shubham Trivedi accompanied by Hari Shankar Trivedi, Umesh Bajpai, and Ram Kishore Trivedi, accosted her at Gaura crossing, while she was on her way to a court for a hearing in the rape case and told her to withdraw the case. When she declined, they set her ablaze.

The five men were remanded to 14-day judicial custody by a court on Friday.

Earlier on Saturday, Uttar Pradesh ministers Swami Prasad Maurya, Kamal Rani Varun and local BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj met the victim’s family in Unnao.

The victim’s father has demanded exemplary punishment against the accused. “I will find solace only when the Unnao police shoot all the five who burnt my daughter,” said her father, who is a blacksmith by profession.

The 65-year-old man said his family was being constantly threatened by the accused and their associates but the police had failed to take any action despite being informed about the threats.

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GST rate reductions distorted tax structure, says Nirmala Sitharaman at HTLS

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The Goods and Services Tax rate structure has become distorted due to a string of rate reductions after the new indirect tax was introduced two years ago, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday. Once the GST rate was decided and the biggest indirect tax reform launched in 2017, Sitharaman said the GST council went about reducing the tax rate of certain set of commodities.

“And I am not blaming anyone here. Equally all of us went about in every meeting of the GST council to reduce the taxation rate of certain set of commodities,” she said. This, she said, kept on happening.

“At the end of the day, the intentions were good. (but the tax rates) kept reducing, kept reducing. Now reduction per se is not bad,” she added.

“I am not saying that people did it thoughtlessly, but in the enthusiasm to reduce taxes, that framework which was originally agreed at stage one of GST was distorted,” Sitharaman said, explaining that lowering the tax rate impacted the input tax credit and transferred more taxes to the buyer.

Sitharaman’s assessment of the tax structure comes right ahead of the meeting of the Goods and Services Tax Council, the powerful body of state finance ministers led that she heads, later this month that is expected to discuss the first steps towards reviewing the tax rates.

Sitharaman declined to comment on the decisions that the council would take on the tax rates but underscored that a good streamlined GST regime for all assesses would be put in place.

Eventually, she said, the council will have to rationalise the tax structure and asked if it was really necessary to have a large number of slabs. “The original intent was to have three rates, merit, sin and the standard,” she said, underlining that there were “too many complications” in the tax rates.

Sitharaman listed complications in the tax returns that assesses have to file as the second area of focus, asserting that she had told got officials to simplify the forms that she acknowledged, “ended up asking for so much more information”

The minister counted the simplification of GST tax returns that were also distorted as another area that her team is working to fix.

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