Sunday, May 9, 2010

Baton’s trip to the endangered Kiribati brings Green Games message home

As the Queen’s Baton 2010 Delhi arrived in Kiribati, which is set to become the first nation to disappear from the world map because of climate change, the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi reiterated its commitment to being the first Green Games in history and to create greater awareness about environmental issues.

While the world is confronting global warming and its consequences, Kiribati is fighting a losing battle for its survival. Indiscriminate destruction of forests, unplanned development and uncontrolled carbon emission has caused Kiribati to face the threat of becoming the first nation to be swamped by sea within this century.

Global warming will cause the sea to rise up to 19 inches in the Asia-Pacific region by 2070. The irony is that Asia-Pacific, a home to some of the world’s most impoverished and least equipped countries, which are making none or negligible contribution to the global warming will face its consequences more than other countries.

It has led to Kiribati urging the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, two developed countries in the region, to accept Kiribati citizens as permanent refugee since the island nation is expected to be totally submerged by the rising sea.

When the Kiribati citizens are facing a man-made calamity, the Queen's Baton 2010 Delhi reached there to reiterate its attempt to spread greater awareness about environmental issues. The baton has not only carried messages about the Commonwealth Games, Delhi and India but also one about it being the first ever Green Games.

Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi has taken upon itself the mission to host Green Games by using effective carbon emission mitigation, reduction and offset techniques. Its Green Games vision covers all the environmental aspects including Land, Energy, Water, Air, Carbon, Waste, Procurement and the most important task of Green Sensitisation.

The Queen’s Baton 2010 Delhi, which has travelled 115,831km across Commonwealth nations and territories in Europe, Africa, Americas and parts of Oceania before reaching Kiribati, has visited some of world’s most bio-diverse regions, and geographical wonders in world. And everywhere, eco-consciousness was the prime theme.

The relay also offers Kiribati a platform to attract the world’s attention to global warming and its impending threats. Kiribati’s President Mr. Anote Tong said in 2008 that the island nation had reached “the point of no return. To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that,” he said.

This is a paradox since the sun is setting on a country that sees the sun rise on the world before anyone else. Then again, Kiribati may be the first to face the threat of disappearing from the world map, parts of South Asia are facing similar danger. The Commonwealth Games tries to break the shackles the world has imposed on itself and bring the Commonwealth together.

India warned to speed up Games work

The Commonwealth Games Federation on Thursday warned India again on the slow progress for Delhi 2010,saying "there remains much to be done" with just five months to go to the sporting extravaganza.

CGF treasurer Austin Sealy of Barbados, whose team inspected the preparations over the last four days, said he was concerned about the delay in building major venues, including the main Nehru stadium.

"While there remains much to be done, the main concern for the CGF is the delay in the delivery of major sports venues by the venue owners and, in particular, the Nehru stadium, the Talkatora swimming complex, as well as the Games Village," Sealy said in a statement.

The Nehru stadium is due to host the opening and closing ceremonies, besides the track and field events, at the October 3-14 Games in the Indian capital.

"These delays have a knock-on effect and hamper the organising committee's planning and implementation for final overlay, staff training, rehearsal, and simulation," Sealy said.

"It is imperative that everything be done to accelerate works and that the agencies responsible for venue delivery cooperate fully with the organising committee to ensure the final planning for handover and operations."

The 12-day sporting extravaganza is being billed as the most expensive Commonwealth Games in history with an infrastructure and organising budget of two billion dollars.

The previous edition in Melbourne, Australia in 2006 cost 1.1 billion dollars.

Austin, however, complimented the organising committee, headed by Indian Olympic chief Suresh Kalmadi, for the "rapid progress" in some other areas such as operational and ticketing issues.

He said security remained a key factor in the Games and the CGF was in constant touch with the organising committee, Delhi police and the Indian government to monitor the arrangements.

"All parties, including the CGF, are committed to the conduct of safe and friendly Games which will be enjoyed by all," Sealy said.

The Commonwealth Games, the biggest multi-sport event to be staged in India since the Asian Games in 1982, will feature 71 nations and territories mainly from the former British empire.

Coordination, extra vigil to check diseases during CWG: MCD

All agencies and stakeholders will have to be extra vigilant to prevent vector and water-borne diseases in the national capital, especially in view of the coming Commonwealth Games, the MCD has said.

With the Games just a few months away, a meeting of MCD, Delhi government, DJB, DMRC, Delhi Police, DDA, Northern Railway, DTC, Flood and Irrigation Department and DSIIDC was held yesterday to discuss measures to prevent such diseases.

At the Inter-sectoral Coordination Meeting, which was preponed by two months in view of the mega sporting event in October, Municipal Commissioner K S Mehra said the next few months will be all the more important because it involves the prestige of the country before the international community.

"There is potential for spread of such vector and water-borne diseases in view of the large scale construction activities and presence of migrant labour. We will have to be extra alert," he said.

For the past few years, Delhi has seen a large number of cases of dengue after the rainy season. Officials say the month of October generally witnesses an increase in dengue cases, a fact which is causing some concern as the mega sporting event is scheduled from October 3 to 14.

Mehra stressed on the need to focus on unauthorised colonies from where the maximum number of cases is reported. He asked Irrigation and Flood Control Department and DSIIDC to ensure free flow of water in these colonies to prevent stagnation of water and breeding of mosquitoes.

He said it is important to have regular desilting of drains and taking anti-larval measures along the bank of Yamuna river.

Municipal Health Officer N K Yadav urged all the civic agencies to nominate a Nodal Officer from their organisation to coordinate with MCD in preventing mosquito breeding and keeping a check on diseases like dengue, malaria and chikangunya.

Info under RTI within 30 days difficult to come by

Even four years after the Right to Information Act was enacted, getting information within 30 days as mandated under the law is not an easy task.

PTI filed 20 applications in a span of five months between November 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010 with different Union ministries and organisations.

Surprisingly, no department provided complete information within 30 day limit mandated under the Act. In three cases, applications were rejected within a month along with exemption clauses given under the transparency law.

Nine applications did not receive any reply in a month and the concerned Central Public Information Officers replied much after the mandatory period was over.

In the remaining eight cases, the CPIOs either transferred the application or sent incomplete responses. In four of these information was provided after the intervention of higher authorities.

The most brazen response was of sports ministry CPIO who rejected two applications dated November 23 seeking details of travel expenses and expenditure incurred on snacks served during the meetings for preparations of Commonwealth Games.

The information was only provided after instructions of higher authorities. The application regarding travel expenses was replied on March 12 while that on snacks was replied after five months on April 7.

An RTI application dated March 24 directed to organising committee of Commonwealth Games is yet to be answered by the committee.

One of the CPIOs of Rural Development Ministry claimed that application on Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act dated March 9 was received by him only after 21 days which he replied on April 23.

A person, under the RTI Act, can apply before a designated Central Public Information Officer of a government department, who is generally a director level officer in central ministries, with a fee of Rs 10.

The CPIO is mandated to provide requisite information, if it does not come under the exemption clauses of the act, as expeditiously as possible and within 30 days of receiving it. In case information is incomplete or not provide, first appeal can be filed in the department with higher official who are designated at First Appellate Authority.

The list of such officials generally remains on the web site of the central ministries.

The Central Information Commission has already made it clear that "information has to be provided within 30 days and that there is no provision of excluding holidays and weekends from the mandatory period."

If an official does not provide information to an applicant within 30 days, he or she may be fined at the rate of Rs 250 per day from the time the information became due to the time it was provided subject to maximum of Rs 25,000.

Leading RTI activist and Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejariwal agreed that people were not able to get the information within 30 days as mandated under the law.

"The reason is that Information Commissioners are not penalising erring CPIOs. RTI Act was the first law in the country which had provisions of the slapping penalty on a government official, if he or she did not perform their duties," he said.

Kejariwal said immediately after the act was implemented officials were scared of being penalised but now they are taking it for granted as they know penalties are rare.

"The CPIOs are misinterpreting the Act itself. The Act says information should be 'as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within thirty days' but they start sending information only on 30th day which is the maximum limit," said Commodore (retd) Lokesh Batra, another RTI activist.

Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi agrees that information flow is often tardy but cites practical difficulties in imposing penalties.

"We have found that in many cases, CPIOs transfer the application within department as soon as it lands with them to shrug off responsibility. It becomes a chain and holding an official responsible for the delay becomes difficult to pin-point and this is just one of the reasons," he said.

The Act says that if the CPIO is not in the possession of the information sought by the RTI applicant, he can transfer the file to another official. Only one transfer is allowed under the Act which should be done in five days of receiving the application.

The repeated transfers from one official to another negates the very purpose of the RTI Act, he says.

Gandhi who is in-charge of hearing cases related to Delhi government has written to Chief Secretary of the Delhi government to ensure that provisions of the act regarding transfer of applications should be strictly adhered to.

UN praise for India’s pollution monitoring system for Commonwealth Games

A pollution monitoring system developed by Indian scientists has come in for praise from the United Nations as an important step to ensure clean air during the Commonwealth Games.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), a specialised agency of the UN, said the System of Air Pollution Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) will serve as an example within India, South Asia and globally.

Aimed at managing air quality, it has been developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune.

“The WMO recognises SAFAR as a very important activity in the region and will make all efforts to get international visibility for the project,” L. Jalkanen, head of the WMO’s Atmospheric Environment Research Division, wrote in a letter to SAFAR project director Gurfan Beig in March.

The UN recognition holds significance as some athletes have hinted at skipping the Games, as they fear that Delhi’s air is unsafe to breathe.

Scientists at IITM are elated and confident that the system will help in ensuring clean air during the Games, dubbed as the first ever Green Games.

“SAFAR will make India one of the few countries to take a big leap in environmental research,” Beig told IANS.

“The system will tell us the quality of air at a given moment and also what it will be 24 hours later, thus alerting people and helping them avoid immediate exposure to unhealthy air.”

SAFAR will provide information on air quality on an hourly basis and forecast pollution levels 24 hours in advance through wireless colour digital display panels located at 11 key points in the city during the Games.

“On any day, if the pollution level is high, the Delhi government might order closing of shops or reducing traffic flow,” Indian Meteorological Department director Ajit Tyagi told IANS.

Only a few developed countries have the technical knowhow to use such a system. It was used during the Olympic Games in Beijing and also at the last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

The Indian capital is among the most polluted cities in the world. Its major problem is an ever-growing number of cars, three- and two- wheelers, which occupy a staggering 75 percent of the road space, although only 20 percent of the commuting public use them.

Delhi has over five million vehicles and another one million come to the metropolis from towns in the national capital region in adjoining states.

China had a tough time battling air pollution during the Olympic Games last year and there are doubts whether Delhi can be as effective as Beijing in enforcing traffic curbs, raising emission standards and stopping Games’ construction work well in time to improve air quality.

SAFAR will provide air quality levels in a four-kilometre stretch around the Games village and other major venues. Instruments like ozone and carbon monoxide analysers and real time analysers for various other pollutants would be used for collecting the data.

The system will provide details about oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, black carbon and benzene present in Delhi air.

“Exposure to the pollutants will affect human health, increased respiratory symptoms, heart and lung diseases, allergies being some of them,” said Beig.

SAFAR’s inputs will greatly help in identifying the major sources of air pollutants and recommending measures to help improve the air quality.

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