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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The difference betwen BJP and AAP

Unlike the BJP at the centre, whenever I read up on any measure taken by the AAP Government, I find it well planned, and well executed. Many of the good works they are doing are not well known either. Here are some you may not have heard about :

In Dec 2017, Delhi government approved of a scheme to bear all the bills incurred on the treatment of victims of road accidents, burns or acid attacks in private or government hospitals. Irrespective of domicile, the victims will get free treatment if the mishaps take place within the geographical jurisdiction of Delhi. The treatment is already free in government hospitals, but any other bills incurred during treatment will also be paid by the government. There is no upper cap on the expenses borne by the government.  


A majority (45 % or more) of urban indian households connect their toilets to pits or septic tanks which have to be cleared out periodically. But this process is not regulated – 12 people died in Delhi in 2017 cleaning out septic tanks and this is repeated across india. The tankers carrying the sludge from the septic tank / pit offload it untreated, on any vacant plot / field / drain or river. This is a major cause of the river waters and ground waters getting polluted across India. 

In Aug 2015, Delhi Jal Board (under the Delhi Government) enacted Septic Tank Waste Management Regulations. Implementation of the regulations is ongoing : The DJB said it will issue licenses to the vendors who will collect septage and dispose of it at various treatment plants and pumping stations demarcated by the board. Only individuals and agencies with leak-, odour- and spill-proof vehicle and proper vacuum and discharging equipment will be given a licence. They must also have gas detectors, gas masks, protective gear, a first-aid box and an oxygen mask and cylinder. Emptying fees will also be prescribed by the DJB. 

A 2016 Centre for Science and Environment study found that Delhi was only among three cities (out of 11 studied across India) to have taken steps to regulate operators involved in emptying septic tanks.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Quality School Education does not matter for India's leading political parties

WHEN the Bharatiya Janata Party rolled out its manifesto for the 2014 general election, revitalising India’s education sector was one of its core commitments. It promised to make India a “knowledge superpower” and announced the redrafting of the National Education Policy (NEP) with emphasis on quality, innovation, outcome and industry linkage. However, there has been no forward movement in terms of delivering on these promises. The committee entrusted with drafting the new NEP missed its fourth deadline, and overhauling the education sector, battered by a shortage of trained staff and missing infrastructure, remains a distant dream.

India’s rank in education dipped from 92 in 2015 to 104 in 2018 amongst 140 plus countries.

Experts see this deterioration in India’s performance as an inevitable consequence of reduced spending. In its first year, 2014-15, the Modi government reduced the allocation for education, from 4.77 per cent to 4.61 per cent of the Budget. This downward trend continued in the next three years, when the spending on education was further squeezed to 3.89 per cent, 3.66 per cent and 3.17 per cent, respectively (incidentally, Modi did the same in Gujarat as CM,  resulting in a state where enrolment of students, especially those from SC or ST backgrounds, dropped over the years).

Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satya Pal Singh said in a statement in the Lok Sabha on January 1, 2019, that 92,275 government schools were run with only one teacher for all the subjects. Over 10 lakh teachers’ posts in schools are lying vacant. One in every four schools in rural India did not have an electricity connection.

The proportion of Class 8 students who could not even read a Class 2 level text was 25.3 per cent in 2014. This increased to 27 per cent in 2018.

Notwithstanding all this, the Centre has continued to reduce budgetary allocation for education; it fell from 0.64 per cent of the gross domestic product in 2014-15 to 0.45 per cent in 2019-20.

The Centre’s focus has remained on promoting itself rather than on delivering tangible results. This was evident from the fact that 56 per cent of the funds allotted for the flagship Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme were spent in advertisement of the scheme.

When the AAP ascended to power in Delhi in 2015 and presented its first Budget, it allocated 10,000 crores for education, double that of the previous government’s Budget. Even in the 2018-’19 fiscal year, 26 per cent of Delhi’s Budget was allocated for education.

The changes were visible. The Delhi government was not only successful in constructing over 8,000 classrooms in government schools and kick-starting construction of 12,000 more, but also in upgrading existing classrooms with modern amenities such as projectors, besides setting up laboratories and conference halls for extracurricular activities.

Building so many new classrooms as additions to existing schools was the equivalent of 300-350 new schools, Kejriwal said recently. For perspective, the Congress government constructed only 800 classrooms in 15 years.

A total of 25 new schools were set up; 31 more are under construction. In contrast, the Congress government built 33 schools in 15 years.

Atishi, advisor on Education to Delhi Govt. for 3 years, said recently : ‘Earlier, the quality of government schools was poor and the schools were dirty and badly maintained. Every school has an estate manager who is responsible for ensuring cleanliness.

Improved infrastructure also creates a greater sense of dignity and pride – for students as well as teachers. For the first time, they felt that someone cared about their schools. And so the effort and self-belief of both students and teachers has shot up.’

Atishi went on to add : ‘Next, we improved accountability. Earlier, there was virtually none. No one ever asked whether teachers were coming to class or not, taking up lessons or not. For the first time, we improved accountability by making parents part of the governance. School management committees, which exist under the Right to Education Act, are virtually defunct in all parts of the country. Those have been improved. We have been having regular parent-teacher meetings so that there is greater local accountability.

The third factor has been the improvement in the quality of teacher training. We have invested heavily in this area. Earlier, the budget for teacher training was Rs 10 crore. We have increased it by ten times to Rs 100 crore. Our principals and teachers have been sent to some of the best organisations in the country and the world. They have been to IIM (Ahmedabad), Harvard University, Cambridge University, National Institute of Education.

So far, at least 500 to 600 principals and teachers have been sent abroad on training programmes. We have also got a cadre of 200 mentor-teachers’ who were trained at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. The objective was to leverage their newly gained expertise and upgrade the pedagogic abilities of Delhi’s 45,000 plus community of government schoolteachers. Each mentor-teacher takes on the responsibility for five schools, in terms of improving classroom practices. Every school has someone called a teacher development coordinator, who plays a key role in improving process and practice.

The AAP Government’s array of innovative programmes in government schools, more notably Chunauti 2018 that supports the last child in the class to learn, Kala Utsav to promote artistic talent, online capacity building programmes for teachers, and a happiness curriculum to stimulate good mental health and resilience, have delivered results. 

The testimony to that came last year, when the results of the Central Board of Secondary Education examination for Class 12 were declared. The pass percentage of Delhi government schools increased from 88.36 per cent in the previous year to 90.68 per cent. The overall performance of Delhi government schools was the second best in the country, after Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala). Delhi class XII Govt. school performance was 7.6 percent higher than the national CBSE average, showing the best results in 20 years. 

The Delhi government asserts that it is working towards making government schools on a par with private and public schools so that more and more students are willing to enrol in government schools and secure quality education that is also affordable. According to media reports, in 2017, Sarvodaya Co-Ed Secondary School in Delhi’s Rohini locality saw some 900 students from private schools joining it.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Tale of Two MPs

MP Ramesh Bidhuri has been re-nominated for a BJP ticket from South Delhi while MP Dr. Udit Raj was denied re-nomination from North-West Delhi. I heard several speeches by both to gauge what sorts of issues each had focused on.

While Bidhuri raised the issue of water for Delhi, irregular colonies etc. I found his speeches full of repetitive thanks to Modi and various ministers. The substantive points he raised on those issues were usually old hat. He also spent a lot of time showing the opposition down.

Udit Raj, though, is an intellectual - his breadth of interests is far wider and the points he raised were novel. They ranged from SC/ST atrocities to LIC debentures, and malpractices in the BIS. I would say he is a man to watch.

What interests me is BJP's criteria for re-nomination. This is not a party that rewards talent and the entrepreneurial spirit, which Raj shows in plenty. BJP rewards yes-men & the usual goonda-political mix that Bidhuri displays in plenty. So much for Modi's leadership !

This great website lets you track MPs and MLAs – what Qs did they ask in the Lok Sabha / State Assembly. What debates did they participate in ? 

Once some topic of the debate interests me I look up the net on what that MP had to say. For example, Bidhuri spoke on making laws to permit those with 100 sq yards plots in Delhi, to keep milch cattle ! He may think he knows his constituency but his sense of what Delhi needs, belongs to the middle ages !

Is bajra bad for birds ?

A neighbour sent me this message : 

श्री पक्षीयो का अस्पताल गुरुग्राम से यह वाट्सअप सभी को भेजने के लिए भेजा है:-

🔹अधिकांश कबूतर की दोनों आँखे खराब हो जाने के कारण ये अब देख नहीं सकते

🔹इसके अंधे होने का कारण है इसे डाला गया #बाजरा,

🔹जी हाँ, गर्मियों में पक्षियों के लिए खासकर कबूतरों के लिए बाजरा अत्यंत घातक है।

🔹बाजरा बहुत ही ज्यादा गर्म होता है जिसे खाने से कबूतरों के चेहरे पर मस्से निकलने शुरू हो जातें है, चेहरा गल जाता है और आँखें भी गल जाती है

🔹अँधा होने के साथ-साथ कबूतर की चोंच मुड़ जाती है

🔹मुंह अंदर से पक जाता है

🔹खाना पीना बन्द करने के बाद कबूतर तड़प-तड़प कर मर जाता है। कई बार हम कबूतरों को #सतनाजा भी डालते है

मतलब सात तरह का मिक्स अनाज।

🔹जिसमे बाजरा भी होता है, लेकिन ध्यान रहे कि बाजरे के चन्द दाने गर्मी में कबूतर की दर्दनाक मौत का कारण बनतें है, जिसके लिए दाना डालने वाला भी अनजाने में इस पाप का भागीदार बन जाता है।

🔹सभी दोस्त इस पोस्ट को ज्यादासे ज्यादा शेयर करें और जो भी आपके आस पास पक्षियों को दाना चोगा डालते हैं उनको इसके बारे में जरूर समझाएं

Wheat is the best for birds.
I wrote back to the neighbour : 

I trust you checked this information a bit before forwarding it ? I for one can find nothing on the net in its support. 

The Gurgaon hospital you mentioned has a page on bird disease and mentions nothing of the kind you sent :

In all the studies and advice from wildbird organizations that I looked up (all unfortunately abroad, information from none of the Indian ones showed up regarding millet / wheat), millet is mentioned as a favourite food for songbirds. Wheat is not mentioned at all. Most of the advice on the net showed up from the USA which is otherwise a big wheat producing country. 

One advice site for pet pigeons mentioned wheat and said it was not suitable for them. 

In our own garden, we saw pigeons for the first time in late Feb when a neighbour closed her balcony with netting. 2-3 pigeons showed up at our garden then and even now visit occasionally. Susan said they used to spend the day at her balcony and must have started coming to us because access to the balcony was closed off due to netting. 

We get large no. of sparrows in our gardens. Also doves, munias, bulbuls, satbhais, tailor birds, robins, water hens, partridges, and some others whose name I don’t recall. We serve bajra, and also in a separate container cleaned three times a week, leftover food. Watermelon or other left over fresh fruit is also served. 

I think the main attraction for birds in our garden are lots of thick vines – bougainvillea, madhumalti, juhi and clerodendron which offer shelter, flowers, insects. 

No pesticides are used in our garden so birds find earthworms in the soil which are critical to raise their young. Pesticide use should be discouraged in all gardens and then birds abound. If there is a problem with pests, neem leaves are very useful and I can be asked how to use them. 

Water provision, cleaning and changing the water atleast twice a week (and during summer topping to full daily if possible) is even more important than food I think. We provide many different water bowls as so many birds like to drink and bathe in them.

Please share the above with those you shared that bajra post with, if you did share it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Surprising health benefits of eating Mango

Debiji sent a great presentation on the health benefits of ingesting Mango. But I like to check these statements in published studies as many forwards sometimes have dubious claims which the sender may not have researched for himself. Here is what I found :

Mango is the national fruit of India and the Philippines, and the national tree of Bangladesh. Over one thousand mango fruit varieties are available worldwide.

It is native to India and Southeast Asia where it has been cultivated for over 4000 years. Currently, mango is also grown in Central America, Africa, Australia, and for a few years in Europe (Sicily, among other places).

Although Mango was first introduced in Sicily in the 1980s, it was only in-depth research that allowed it to be reintroduced in the 2000s. It is now enthusiastically used in Sicily to cover abandoned soils, previously dedicated to citrus groves and no longer profitable for the Sicilian rural market. 

Mango pulp has relatively high content in calories (60 Kcal/100 g fresh weight) and is an important source of potassium, fibre, and vitamins. Mango pulp is also a particularly rich source of polyphenols and carotenoids, a group of micronutrients found in plants which exert specific health benefit.

Mango skin and seed are usually discarded. However, several studies report that these mango by-products also contain high levels of health-enhancing compounds.

Mango skin has been found to be a good source of polyphenols, carotenoids, dietary fibre, and vitamin E. Many healthful compounds in fruit peel are present only in small amounts in the pulp.

A polyphenol called Mangiferin is one of the most potent antioxidants known. It has been found in mango bark, leaves and pulp, but the richest part of the plant in mangiferin is the fruit peel.

However, peel consumption can also promote an allergic reaction in some people because of either the presence of allergen urushiol in the fruit peel, or the presence of pesticides.

Mango seed kernels are equally rich in polyphenols with potent antioxidant activity. 

Finally, polyphenols are also present in mango leaves, flowers, and stem bark.

A certain number of Reactive Oxygen S3pecies (ROS) are produced in the human body and can damage cells. The ability of the body to fight off ROS goes down during stressful conditions. If ROS are not removed, their accumulation overcomes the cellular reparative abilities, causing the collapse of cellular functions and can result in the generation of pathological states related to aging, cancer, atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. 

The large variety of antioxidants, pigments, and vitamins that are present in any part of the mango plant are responsible for the antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities (destruction of ROS).

Several varieties of Mango from Bangladesh were tested, and Langra was found to have the highest phenol content as well as antioxidant properties.

Several studies showed that phytochemicals contained in mango play an anti-inflammatory role in several chronic pathological disorders associated with inflammatory responses.

Bioactive compounds of mango, particularly in its pulp and leaf extracts, have been also reported to exert anti-diabetic effects. Doses of Mango pulp to diabetic rats resulted in a significant decline in blood glucose levels.

Bioactive components contained in the different parts of mango (bark, pulp and kernels) have also shown anticancer activity in different tumour cell lines. The data collected is very encouraging and suggests a targeted action on tumour cells.

Monday, April 22, 2019

A draft post of Nov 2018 is still valid.. on the Ujwala scheme

Many studies have shown that sustainable use of bio-mass for domestic energy purposes (cooking, heating and light) is a very important part of finding energy solutions for our country's rural inhabitants, most of whom use biomass today but over earthern chulhas. Many urban poor use bio-mass as well. So such chulhas (apart from biogas generators) can play a big role in improving the health of the rural poor, vastly improving efficiency in use of the bio-mass (so much less is needed for the same cooking needs) and reduce the soot effect on monsoons and melting of glaciers.

These chulhas emit much less CO2 by increasing the efficiency of the burning of the biomass, thus helping with mitigating global warming. The BJP Govt. has distributed 4 million LPG cylinders and regulators at a cost of Rs. 1600 each but there are as many suspended connections in the country (LPG customers who do not order refill even once in 90 days), indicating that a majority of those who got these free connections are too poor to pay for refills. In contrast, only about 35000 improved chulhas have been distributed in the last 4 years !

LPG was always part of the rural energy solution, never the full solution, but the Govt. was not really focused on helping the rural poor in this context. It ignored a large study that the Govt. itself funded that had warned that the rural population by and large did not exhibit affordability for LPG refills, and that the oil companies did not have a robust distribution system in rural areas.

Right from the beginning the purpose of the scheme seemed to be free publicity for Modi at the expense of the oil companies who were forced to give the cook stoves and LPG filling also on interest free loans as the beneficiaries were too poor to pay for them.

A recent tender for billboards at petrol pumps and in front of airports (!) in just three states of india has been put out by indian oil for nearly 300 crores. Might not the expense on the publicity of modi having done good to the rural women in all states of india, then reach even a 1000 crores ?! In any case, in what way does advertising on petrol pumps and in front of airports help the rural poor access the LPG scheme ??! In contrast to the hundreds of crores spent on the personal publicity of one politician, the total cost of this programme all over the country is Rs. 8000 crores in all !

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Seeta Ashok, a native tree of India

Prasannaji sent me this picture and wrote : 'Seeta Ashok in full bloom. At a public park in Jhansi. I was there last week and came across it during my morning walk.'

He told me this is supposed to be the Ashok in Ashok Vatika in Lanka where Sita was forced to stay by Ravana. The tall, columnar Ashok we see more frequently is the false Ashok !


कहते हैं लुंबिनी में बुद्ध का जन्म भी सीता-अशोक के वृक्ष के नीचे ही हुआ था। इसलिए बौद्ध धर्म में यह एक पूज्य वृक्ष माना गया है। कहते तो यह भी हैं कि महावीर ने अपना प्रथम उपदेश सीता-अशोक के वृक्ष के नीचे ही बैठ कर दिया था। रामायण में वर्णित अशोक वाटिका को भी सीता-अशोक के कुंजों की वाटिका माना गया है। कालीदास ने अपने काव्य ‘ऋतु संहार’ और नाटकों में अशोक के वृक्ष का मनोहारी वर्णन किया है।

One of the recurring elements in Indian art, often found at gates of Buddhist and Hindu temples, is The sculpture of a yakshini with her foot on the trunk and her hands holding the branch of a flowering ashoka tree. 

Yakshinis are mythical beings of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythology. They are attendees of Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth. 

This figure is from Madhya Pradesh, 2nd century BC, and this picture was taken in 1875 by the Archeological survey of india.


As a wild tree, the ashoka is a 
vulnerable species. It is becoming rarer in its natural habitat in India.