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Post-Dussehra pollution in Delhi lowest in 5 years

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People in the national capital breathed the cleanest air in five years for a day that falls immediately after Dussehra, environment monitoring officials said on Wednesday, but warned that the situation is likely to deteriorate in less than a week.

The celebration of Dussehra includes the burning of towering effigies and fireworks, and has been followed by a spike in air pollution at a time when meteorological factors and farm fires in neighbouring states usually turn Delhi’s air unfit for breathing.

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data showed that on Wednesday, the city’s overall air quality index (AQI) was recorded at 173 compared to 326 last year (see box).

To be sure, when Dussehra falls is also linked to how polluted the air gets since the months of October and November is the period when temperature dips and farm fires peak. It has been celebrated three times in the first half of October in the last five years – among these, 2019’s AQI was the lowest.

Scientists of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the easterly winds and a prolonged monsoon had a major part to play in keeping pollutants in check. But that may change after October 12.

“The monsoon withdrawal has begun. It has started withdrawing in Punjab, western Haryana and northern Rajasthan, and in the next three to four days monsoon will withdraw from Delhi. After this, the wind direction will also change and pollution levels are likely to increase,” said Kuldeep Srivastava, head of IMD’s regional weather forecasting in Delhi.

Experts and organisers of Dussehra celebrations said a conscious decision by many to cut back on fireworks and effigy burning may have also contributed to the improved air quality.

“Looking at the rising pollution levels, we decided not to burn any crackers and still maintain the festivity of the day,” said Yogesh Pahuja, president of C-Block Lajpat Nagar-II residents welfare association, which did not burn an effigy this year and instead organised a laser show for the “Ravana dahan” ritual. “A lot of stress has been put on the use of green crackers this time, while bringing residents on board to come up with eco-friendly alternatives. All this, along with favourable weather conditions, has helped Delhi this time,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), Centre for Science and Environment.

Experts also noted another change in trend this year in the pollution pattern, which showed a bigger spike in PM10 particles (usually associated with road dust) than PM2.5, finer particles that are emitted during any sort of combustion. “Usually after Dussehra and Diwali, where firecrackers are burnt, the dominant pollutant in the air is PM 2.5 which is more harmful to health. But this time it is PM 10,” said Gufran Beig, programme director of System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (Safar).

Delhi’s air pollution is a toxic mix of vehicular exhaust gases, smoke from burning crops in the nearby states of Punjab and Haryana, road dust, and billowing sand from thousands of construction sites. The pollution is intensified by winter weather patterns and hemmed in by the towering Himalayas to the north.

After several years of the situation turning severe, authorities drew up an emergency action mechanism Graded Response Action Plan. The Environment Pollution (prevention and control) Authority – the committee responsible for implementing it– announced this year that some pre-emptive measures will be taken before the air worsens.

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‘No need for third-party intervention’: China rejects Trump’s offer to ‘mediate’ on border row with India

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China has finally reacted to US President Donald Trump’s offer to “mediate or arbitrate” on the Indo-Sino border dispute, saying that there was “no need for a third-party intervention” between Beijing and New Delhi.

Rejecting Trump’s mediation offer, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “China and India are capable of properly resolving the issues through dialogue and consultation.”

Reacting for the first time to the US President’s offer, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said said the two countries did not want the “intervention” from a third party to resolve the military standoff.

“Between China and India we have existing border-related mechanisms and communication channels,” Zhao told reporters and added “We are capable of properly resolving the issues between us through dialogue and consultation. We do not need the intervention of the third party.”

Amid heightened tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday made a surprise offer to mediate between India and China over what he calls “their now raging border dispute”.

“We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!,” President Trump tweeted.

However, in a carefully crafted reaction to Trump’s offer to arbitrate, India on Thursday said it was engaged with China to peacefully resolve the border row.

“We are engaged with the Chinese side to peacefully resolve it,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, replying to a volley of questions at an online media briefing.

“The two sides have established mechanisms both at military and diplomatic levels to resolve situations which may arise in border areas peacefully through dialogue and continue to remain engaged through these channels,” he said.

Although, the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not react then, an op-ed in the state-run Global Times said both countries did not need such help from the US president.

“The latest dispute can be solved bilaterally by China and India. The two countries should keep alert on the US, which exploits every chance to create waves that jeopardise regional peace and order,” it said.

Trump’s unexpected offer came on a day when China took an apparently conciliatory tone by saying that the situation at the border with India is “overall stable and controllable.”

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday that both China and India have proper mechanisms and communication channels to resolve the issues through dialogue and consultations.

Meanwhile, China’s official response on the matter today comes as US President Donald Trump on Thursday, while reiterating his offer to “mediate”, said that he spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Indo-Sino border dispute.

In a startling claim, Donald Trump on Thursday said he had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is “not in a good mood” over the border row between India and China.

“They like me in India. I think they like me in India more than the media likes me in this country. And, I like Modi. I like your prime minister a lot. He is a great gentleman,” Trump said speaking to reporters at the Oval Office of the White House.

“They have a big conflict …India and China. Two countries with 1.4 billion people (each). Two countries with very powerful militaries. India is not happy and probably China is not happy,” the president said when asked if he was worried about the border situation between India and China.

“I can tell you; I did speak to Prime Minister Modi. He is not in a good mood about what is going on with China,” Trump claimed.

However, Indian government officials have contradicted the claim saying that the last conversation between the two leaders was on April 4 on the matter related to Hydroxychloroquine.

“There has been no recent contact between PM Modi and US President Trump. The last conversation between them was on 4 April, 2020, on the subject of Hydroxychloroquine,” said government sources, according to media reports.

“Yesterday, the Ministry of External Affairs had also made it clear that we’re directly in touch with China through established mechanisms and diplomatic contacts,” they said.

Several areas along the LAC in Ladakh and North Sikkim have witnessed major military build-up by both the Indian and Chinese armies recently, in a clear signal of escalating tension and hardening of respective positions by the two sides even two weeks after they were engaged in two separate face-offs.

The nearly 3,500-km-long LAC is the de-facto border between the two countries.

Indian and Chinese troops have remained engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation in several areas along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, signalling that the standoff could become the biggest military face-off after the Doklam crisis in 2017.

Earlier, the United States had accused China of engaging in provocative and coercive military and paramilitary activities with neighbouring countries including India.

The offer for mediation has come as a surprise as the US-China military frictions are also on the rise with the US navy stepping its patrols in the disputed South China Sea as well as the Taiwan Straits. Washington and Beijing are also engaged in a war of words over the origin of the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Coronavirus cases cross 1.58 lakh in India; US passes 1 lakh deaths

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With over 6,566 fresh cases reported in the last  24 hours, the COVID-19 tally in India reached 1,58,333 on Thursday with as many as 4,531 fatalities, according to ministry of health.

Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Delhi remain the worst-affected states, with Maharashtra alone reporting 56,948 COVID-19 infections and 1,897 deaths. Tamil Nadu has reported 18,545 cases with 182 deaths. Gujarat has 15,195 cases with death toll at 938.

Jammu and Kashmir witnessed the biggest single-day spike in COVID-19 cases on Wednesday with 162 people testing positive for the disease, raising the tally to 1,921. Of these, 1,535 are in Kashmir and 386 in Jammu region. The number of active cases has now gone up to 1,041, 288 in Jammu and 753 in Kashmir.

The rise in cases comes amid easing of lockdown relaxations and the restarting of one-third of all domestic flights.

Meanwhile, globally the number of infections has reached  5,693,066 with 355,629 number of deaths according to Johns Hopkins data.

The United States remains the worst affected country with 1,699,176 cases of infections and death toll at 100,442. This comes as many states relax preventative measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

According to The Guardian, the pandemic has killed more Americans than the Vietnam and Korean wars combined, and the death toll is approaching that of the first world war, when more than 116,000 Americans died in combat.

US is followed by Brazil, Russia, and United Kingdom with maximum number of cases of COVID-19.

South Korea, which had successfully reduced its coronavirus cases has reported 79 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, the highest one-day increase in 53 days, the BBC reports.

This week, infections continued to creep up in and around the country’s capital Seoul. Jeong Eun-kyeong, the director of Korea Centers for Disease control and Prevention, has now said social distancing measures eased in April may need to be reimposed.

The development comes after World Health Organisation had warned countries which were easing the lockdown to stay cautious of a second wave of infections.

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IMD issues ‘red alert’ for North India as heatwave intensifies, warns people to stay indoors between 1-5pm

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As the temperature in the Northern India is soaring high with each passing day the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has warned that heatwave is likely to persist for the next few days in most parts of the northern India, Maharashtra and Telangana. While, the day temperature in the state capital is likely to touch 46 degrees Celsius by Tuesday.

The IMD has also issued a ‘red alert’ for a severe heatwave, for parts of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Rajasthan for the next two days.  While sweltering heat engulfing the capital city on Sunday with maximum temperature hovering close to 45 degrees Celsius in most parts of the city.

Meanwhile, the IMD also issued “orange” warning for eastern Uttar Pradesh.

“Heatwave will prevail in many places and severe heatwave in isolated places. Mainly clear sky with strong surface winds (20-20 kilometres per hour),” the IMD forecast said.

The maximum temperature was recorded at 44.4 degrees Celsius, which was five notches above the normal, on Sunday and the minimum temperature was recorded at 28.7 degrees Celsius, two notches above the normal.

The temperature is likely to remain around 46-48 degrees Celsius in all the northern states affected by heatwaves except for Uttar Pradesh.

Kuldeep Srivastava, the head of the regional forecasting centre of the IMD, said some respite from the stifling heat is expected in the national capital on May 28 due to a fresh Western Disturbance and easterly winds at lower levels.

“Dust storm and thunderstorm with winds gusting up to 60 kilometres per hour is likely over Delhi-NCR on May 29-30,” he said.

Srivastava added that this this is the first “Red” warning for heatwave which is issued by the IMD according to the intensity ascending from  green to  yellow to orange with the highest level of red.

“The warning has been issued to caution people not to step out between 1 pm and 5 pm, when heat is most intense,” said Srivastava.

The ‘Red alert’ comes at a time when lakhs of migrant labourers are on roads, walking back to their home states amid the Coronavirus lockdown, making it all the more difficult for them to reach their destinations when even the ‘Shramik Special’ trains and buses with inadequate numbers and mismanagement haven’t been able to take them  back safely.

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