The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 19-03-2023 | 11:45 am
Some three kilometres from the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal’s Nadia district, patchy rows of date palm trees demarcate plots of agricultural land growing winter vegetables. Just as dusk is about to fall, tightening the knot on his blue chequered lungi, 40-year-old Sanjit Ghosh climbs up the tallest date palm tree in the grove — nearly 20 ft high — and makes a small incision with his knife. Then, he gently inserts a thin bamboo nozzle into the incision and hangs an earthen pitcher at the top of the trunk.The pitcher that Sanjit has left on the tree will be filled by date palm sap that has trickled into it through the night, and on the next day, just before sunrise, he will make a trip up the tree to bring it down. If he is lucky, it will be filled till the brim, he says.Sanjit is harvesting the last of the season’s nolen gur, or date palm jaggery, a coveted food in the region. This date palm is a wild species indigenous to India that grows in abundance in West Bengal and neighbouring Bangladesh, and is cultivated for its sap.But factors like climate change and a complex set of socio-economic conditions are throwing the production of the state’s traditional winter delicacy into jeopardy.Winter; blink & it’s gone Harvesting gur has been a family business for Sanjit, one that he has been engaged in for nearly three decades. In his family, he is the second generation siuli, the Bengali term for the community that extracts date palm jaggery. “We used to have three months of winter and we were able to cut trees till the third week of February. This year we saw that February had just arrived but the winter was almost gone,” he says.During the winter months in the state, the maximum temperature hovers around 20°C, while minimum temperature drops below 15°C. But this year, by the first week of February, winter had been quickly replaced by warmer weather.“My generation has seen the weather changing. We would sell sap to vendors through February but the weather was so bad this year that we hardly extracted any. We have suffered heavy financial loss,” Sanjit says.The vulnerability to climate change is more pronounced in the case of date palm because even a minor rise in temperature severely affects the quality of sap that is extracted. The siuli say that over the past few years, a date palm tree that in ideal weather conditions would give five litres of sap, gives an average of two to three litres now, severely reducing the produce that they are able to sell.Some scientists, however, say that it may be too soon to form conjectures. “I can’t say whether climate change has been a contributing factor, simply because there hasn’t been any research on this,” says Dr. Debabrata Basu, an expert on agriculture at the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya in West Bengal.Growing up in the Nadia district, Basu’s ancestral home had some 40 trees of date palm, known as khejur in Bengali, from which sap would be extracted to produce fresh, unadulterated jaggery. As a result, he has seen the business of gur extraction and production up close, and more intimately than most. “From my observation, I can say that the amount of sap that used to be collected isn’t available any more. This is happening for two reasons: one, the water table has reduced. Date palms love water, which in turn produces sap,” he explains.The second, he says, is more complex. Till a little over a decade ago, monocrops were largely grown in regions in the state with high numbers of date palms, which did not use large quantities of ground water. That has changed, adding additional stress to the water table which is naturally lower during the winters. “Farmers say that because the roots of the date palm tree don’t go very deep into the soil, they aren’t getting enough water, resulting in low yields of sap. It is likely one reason behind the low production of jaggery,” he says.The demand for jaggery has also put pressure on siuli who are cutting into the trees at shorter intervals, says Sanjit, within three to four days of the last extraction. “When my father worked, he used to cut the trees at intervals of five to six days. As a result, the quantity of sap that he would extract was larger and the taste was superior. But our generation needs the money, so we cut them as soon as possible,” Sanjit explains.Dr. J. C. Tarafdar, former principal scientist at the Institute of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, believes that while climatic factors are most certainly a reason why the production of nolen gur has reduced, it could have been overcome if there were enough siuli. “It is really the lack of skilled labour. The skills required for cutting the trees and collecting the sap are getting lost since the new generation doesn’t want to learn it,” Dr. Tarafdar says.Endangered skillsLike other traditional skills that are slowly disappearing, the art of gur extraction is also under threat. The process of harvesting this sap is highly technical and the required skills can only be learned every day on the job, the siuli say. It is also a method of food processing that has not been successfully mechanised, making it entirely reliant on a generation of siuli who do not have successors to whom they can pass on these skills.“The cutting of the bark, the process of collection and the placement of the pitchers are all skills that nobody wants to learn anymore. The insertion of the bamboo nozzle is another skill that is very important in the process. The trees are 15 to 20 feet high and these days, people don’t know how to climb them without harnesses. And the siuli who have aged are unable to climb these high trees,” says Dr. Tarafdar.As a young boy, Sanjit remembers following his father and uncle as they harvested date palm sap, starting his training from scratch, by doing odd jobs like hauling pitchers of sap after collection. Mastery over the skill of gur extraction would take him three decades to achieve.28-year-old Biswasjit Ghosh grew up in Bhajanghat village, some seven kilometres away from Majdiha, and was compelled to take up the profession of his grandfather and father, despite having graduated from college with a degree in Geography, because of a lack of job opportunities.Among the most complex tasks in the process is the cutting of notches into the delicate tissue of the date palm bark from where the sap slowly seeps into the pitchers. If done incorrectly, the tree may be damaged and there will be no sap to collect. An experienced siuli will climb up the tree, and shave a bunch of palm leaves from one part of the top of the trunk. The bark is removed and the delicate inner tissue of the tree is exposed, where a ‘V’ shaped incision is made. A precisely shaped bamboo tube is attached to this incision, from where the sap drips into the pitcher.“This is such a difficult job; it is such a difficult skill to acquire. Just because our forefathers could do it, it doesn’t mean that we can. I have been trying to learn this skill for five years but I haven’t been able to,” says Biswajit.It isn’t just the technicalities involved that make this a difficult profession. While the grace and agility with which experienced siuli climb up date palm trees make the job look simple, it is far from it.Young men in siuli families are increasingly unwilling to take on the risks that come with this job, Biswajit says. “This is a very tough job. You have to climb up a tree without a harness and there is always a concern that if you fall down, you may be seriously injured. Only someone who has done this will be able to explain how difficult it is to balance on trees using just a rope. There are a few people from my generation who are doing this, but the future generation will definitely not want to do this job.”There is also a very short window during which the collected sap can be processed to make jaggery. The pitchers that have collected the sap through the night need to be brought down from the trees before sunrise, after which the process of fermentation increases the alcohol content in the liquid, rendering it useless in the production of jaggery.A question of economicsIt is also a question of economics for young men in villages that have historically been centres of date palm jaggery production in West Bengal. There is little that the siuli get in return for their labour, a factor that has discouraged the younger generation from taking on the profession of their fathers and grandfathers.“The income they earn is very less. There is huge disparity in the price at which the siuli sells the sap and the price at which the customer purchases the adulterated gur,” says Dr. Basu.With fewer siuli extracting jaggery, the quantity of pure gur available for purchase in the markets has drastically reduced over the years. Approximately 80 per cent of the jaggery being sold as nolen gur is adulterated, say agriculture scientists. During the process of heating the sap, in most cases, sugar is added to the liquid in an attempt to increase the quantity of jaggery. But the siuli and middlemen say that they are unfairly blamed for adulteration.“Pure jaggery is sold at Rs. 400 to Rs. 500 per kilo. The siuli near our university tell us that if they don’t mix sugar they won’t be able to sell gur at affordable prices,” says Dr. Basu.Sugar costs Rs. 50 per kilo and when mixed into the sap, it reduces the market price of jaggery, making it affordable for the public. “There is a large percentage of sugar in the gur that is sold at Rs. 150 per kg. None of us get pure jaggery these days. It is very rare,” he says. Not many people are able to distinguish between pure and adulterated jaggery, in part because the process is so difficult and because they have never tasted pure nolen gur.The value and cost of fresh date palm jaggery are usually high because it is available only for eight to ten weeks every year during the winter months, agriculture scientists say. A wide range of Bengali sweets or mishti in the state are prepared specifically using nolen gur and such is the popularity of this seasonal produce, that it has been appropriated for preparing everything from nolen gur essence to ice creams in the flavour.In the name of jaggeryIn his shop outside Majdiha’s railway station, Jhantu Das has been selling blocks of jaggery and jars full of liquid nolen gur, also called jhola gur, for over a decade.“Even 10-12 years ago, the jaggery was good. But these days, sugar is added because the quantity of jaggery available has reduced. The siuli have aged and the younger boys can’t cut the trees. Many of them don’t want to. Although the quantity of jaggery has reduced, the appetite for it has not and so sugar is added to the liquid. It is not just us shopkeepers, but even customers understand that jaggery is adulterated. In Majdiha however, you will still get better quality jaggery because less sugar is added here. But in some other places, they just sell sugar in the name of jaggery,” says Das.An identifying feature of pure patali gur or the solidified blocks of date palm jaggery most commonly sold in markets, is that it is an incredibly delicate food product, and melts at room temperature, explains Tanmoy Bera, the proprietor of Sreemanta Gurer Arat, a 200-year-old establishment in central Kolkata that sells different kinds of jaggery. To increase its shelf life and make transportation of the product easier, sugar is added to give it the form of hard blocks which are then wrapped in newspaper and sold in marketplaces.In West Bengal, date palm trees are also not found in organised plantations, making their numbers drastically less in comparison with the demand for their processed sap. “Date palm is not grown for its fruit in the state and farmers aren’t interested in growing this. These trees were traditionally used for buttressing ponds because it has anti-erosion properties,” says Jayanta Kumar Aikat, Director, West Bengal’s Department of Food Processing Industries and Horticulture.These palms are usually wild, found in several parts of rural West Bengal. In villages across the state, Aikat says, in addition to securing shorelines of ponds, the trees are also used to demarcate land and agricultural fields.In the state, the tree has traditionally not been grown for its fruit. Despite the popularity of its jaggery, especially during the winter months, Aikat says, the state government has not observed any serious demand among farmers for the tree’s plantation.The absence of formal plantations is another challenge for the siuli across the state because they are forced to rely on rapidly reducing numbers of wild date palms. “Khejur trees are reducing in number in many districts across West Bengal because brick kilns are constantly looking for khejur wood. The wood of this tree burns slowly, on low flame, which is ideal for brick making. The siuli have told me that the trees are disappearing because the wood is being sold off,” says Basu. Since there has been no formal documentation of the number of trees that grow across West Bengal, it is difficult to estimate how many are lost each year.The complex socio-economic circumstances and climatic conditions indicate a challenging path ahead for the date palm trees and the siuli of West Bengal. “It is not an exaggeration to say that pure nolen gur will become an endangered product in the future,” says Dr. Basu.
For many Muslims breaking fast in mosques around the world this Ramadan, something will be missing: plastics.The communal experience of iftars – the after-sunset meal that brings people of the faith together during the holy month starting on March 22, 2023 – often necessitates the use of utensils designed for mass events, such as plastic knives and forks, along with bottles of water.But to encourage Muslims to be more mindful of the impact of Ramadan on the environment, mosques are increasingly dispensing of single-use items, with some banning the use of plastics altogether.As a historian of Islam, I see this “greening” of Ramadan as entirely in keeping with the traditions of the faith, and in particular the observance of Ramadan.The month – during which observant Muslims must abstain from even a sip of water or food from sun up to sun down – is a time for members of the faith to focus on purifying themselves as individuals against excess and materialism.But in recent years, Muslim communities around the world have used the period to rally around themes of social awareness. And this includes understanding the perils of wastefulness and embracing the link between Ramadan and environmental consciousness.The ban on plastics – a move encouraged by the Muslim Council of Britain as a way for Muslims “to be mindful of [God’s] creation and care for the environment” – is just one example.Many other mosques and centers are discouraging large or extravagant evening meals altogether. The fear is such communal events generate food waste and overconsumption and often rely on nonbiodegradable materials for cutlery, plates and serving platters.While the move toward environmental consciousness has gained traction in Muslim communities in recent years, the links between Islam and sustainability can be found in the faith’s foundational texts.Scholars have long emphasised principles outlined in the Quran that highlight conservation, reverence for living creatures and the diversity of living things as a reminder of God’s creation.The Quran repeatedly emphasises the idea of “mizan,” a kind of cosmic and natural balance, and the role of humans as stewards and khalifa, or “viceregents,” on Earth – terms that also carry an environmental interpretation.Recently, Islamic environmental activists have highlighted the numerous hadith – sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that provide guidance to followers of the faith – that emphasise that Muslims should avoid excess, respect resources and living things, and consume in moderation.Although present from the outset of the faith, Islam’s ties to environmentalism received major visibility with the works of Iranian philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and a series of lectures he delivered at the University of Chicago in 1966. The lectures and a subsequent book, “Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man,” warned that humans had broken their relationship with nature and thus placed themselves in grave ecological danger.Nasr blamed modern and Western science for being materialistic, utilitarian and inhuman, claiming it had destroyed traditional views of nature. Nasr argued that Islamic philosophy, metaphysics, scientific tradition, arts and literature emphasize the spiritual significance of nature.But he noted that numerous contemporary factors, such as mass rural-to-urban migration and poor and autocratic leadership, had prevented the Muslim world from realising and implementing the Islamic view of the natural environment.Scholars and activists expanded on Nasr’s work through the 1980s and 1990s, among them Fazlun Khalid, one of the world’s leading voices on Islam and environmentalism. In 1994, Khalid founded the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, an organisation dedicated to the maintenance of the planet as a healthy habitat for all living beings.Khalid and other Muslim environmentalists suggest that Islam’s nearly 2 billion adherents can participate in the tasks of environmental sustainability and equity not through Western models and ideologies but from within their own traditions.Partnering with the United Nations Environment Program, Khalid and other leading scholars crafted Al-Mizan, a worldwide project for Muslim leaders interested in Muslims’ religious commitments to nature.“The ethos of Islam is that it integrates belief with a code of conduct which pays heed to the essence of the natural world,” Khalid wrote in “Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity, and the Climate Crisis.” Going beyond an eco-Ramadan Environmental crises disproportionately affect the world’s poorest populations, and academics have highlighted the particular vulnerabilities of Muslim communities around the world, such as the victims of devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022.By highlighting Islamic principles, policies and community approaches, academics have shown how Islam can represent a model for environmental stewardship.This push for environmental consciousness extends beyond Ramadan. In recent years, Muslims have tried to introduce green practices into the shrine cities in Iraq during pilgrimage seasons in Ashura and Arbaeen.This has included awareness campaigns encouraging the 20 million pilgrims who visit Arbaeen annually to reduce the tons of trash they leave every year that clog up Iraq’s waterways.Quoting from Shiite scholarship and drawing on testimonials from community leaders, the Green Pilgrim movement suggests carrying cloth bags and reusable water bottles, turning down plastic cutlery, and hosting eco-friendly stalls along the walk.Muslim-owned businesses and nonprofits are joining these wider efforts. Melanie Elturk, the founder of the successful hijab brand Haute Hijab, regularly ties together faith, fashion, commerce and environmentalism by highlighting the brand’s focus on sustainability and environmental impact. The Washington, D.C., nonprofit Green Muslims pioneered the first “leftar” – a play on the word “iftar” – using leftovers and reusable containers.These efforts are but a few of the diverse ways that Muslim communities are addressing environmental impact. The greening of Ramadan fits into a broader conversation about how often communities can tackle climate change within their own frameworks.But Islamic environmentalism is more than just the dispensing of plastic forks and water bottles – it taps into a worldview ingrained in the faith from the outset, and can continue to guide adherents as they navigate environmentalism, a space where they may otherwise be marginalized.📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!
A single-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court on Monday dismissed the bail plea of BJP MLA Madal Virupakshappa, 72, in a bribery case filed earlier this month by the Karnataka Lokayukta police. The BJP MLA was arrested by the Lokayukta police a few hours after the bail plea was dismissed.The case was filed by the Lokayukta police after the MLA’s son Prashant Madal was caught red-handed on March 2 while allegedly receiving a bribe of Rs 40 lakh from a businessman for awarding a tender for the supply of raw materials to the state-run Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Ltd (KSDL), which was then headed by Virupakshappa.The Lokayukta police told the high court that the KSDL managing director had given a statement which revealed the active participation of Prashant in the tender process at KSDL at the instance of Virupakshappa despite Prashant not being connected to the KSDL and being an employee of another government department.“If the company pays crores of rupees as commission or bribe, one cannot expect good quality raw materials to be supplied and the very process followed by the tender accepting committee of accepting the lowest price and good quality of raw materials will be frustrated,” Justice K Natarajan said in his order.There was no question of Prashant approaching the complainant with a demand for a bribe if there had been no demand from Virupakshappa, the then KSDL chairman, the court said.The single-judge bench of the high court had on March 7 granted anticipatory bail to Virupakshappa on the grounds that there was no mention of the demand or acceptance of bribe by the MLA in the police complaint.On Monday, the bail plea was dismissed after the Lokayukta police produced material to show Virupakshappa’s direct involvement in the bribery and corruption at KSDL, which he headed till March 3. The Lokayukta police also told the court that Virupakshappa needs to be interrogated in police custody since he was evasive in his replies during regular questioning.The MLA’s bail plea was dismissed even as a hearing began in the Supreme Court on an appeal filed by the Lokayukta police against the anticipatory bail order.Businessman Shreyas Kashyap, who is a partner in a firm named Chemixil Corporation, allegedly told the Lokayukta police in February this year that he was asked by Virupakshappa to pay a bribe of Rs 1.2 crore to be cleared for a contract to supply 5,100 kg of Guaiacwood oil, and 29,520 kg of Abbalide, as raw materials to KSDL.Kashyap allegedly struck a deal for payment of a bribe of Rs 81 lakh for the supply contracts by Chemixil Corporation and Delicia Chemicals, with an initial payment of Rs 40 lakh to Prashant. The negotiations for the bribe payments with Prashant were reportedly recorded on a smartwatch camera by the businessman to prove that it was a genuine case of corruption.The Lokayukta police laid a trap on the basis of the businessman’s complaint and Prashant, who is a Karnataka Administrative Services official and the chief accounts officer of the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board, was allegedly caught red-handed by the police on March 2 while accepting an initial bribe amount of Rs 40 lakh.A total amount of Rs 2.02 crore of bribes from KSDL suppliers was found in the possession of Prashant when he was caught at his private office in central Bengaluru while an amount of Rs 6.10 crore was seized from the residence of Virupakshappa, a close associate of former Karnataka BJP CM B S Yediyurappa.The Lokayukta police investigation has found that KSDL awarded contracts for the supply of raw materials at over 50 per cent profit margins to firms run by friends of Prashant.The Lokayukta police have also accused officials of a firm identified as Karnataka Aromas Ltd of paying bribes to the tune of Rs 90 to be given supply contracts by KSDL. Two field employees of Karnataka Aromas Company, Albert Nicola and Gangadhar, are among the six people named in the bribery case against Virupakshappa and Prashant.
The Karnataka Police Monday arrested two people in Bengaluru who allegedly forged no objection certificates (NOC) from a finance company and a private bank to purchase cars and then sell them in Hyderabad, officials said.The police seized six Multi Utility Vehicles (MUVs) and Rs 80 lakh from the accused Pradeep Kumar of Jogupalya and Mansoor. The fraud came to light when the Hyderabad RTO officials became suspicious of the authenticity of the documents pertaining to the vehicles and contacted their counterparts in Karnataka. The fraudsters had allegedly transported the vehicles to Hyderabad, the police said.According to the police, the prime accused, Pradeep Kumar of Jogupalya, purchased four MUVs in 2018 in the name of his company, Bengaluru Transport Solution, by taking a loan from a finance company. “However, he stopped paying EMIs after three months and fled the place when the company visited his residence and office to recover the money. Additionally, he purchased two more MUVs on a loan taken from a private bank,” said an officer.The Central Crime Branch (CCB) police who arrested the accused said that Pradeep Kumar, along with Mansoor from HBR Layout, allegedly changed the number plates of all the cars and transported them to Hyderabad.“The fraudsters created fake NOCs from the banks by forging seals and signatures. An NOC is mandatory to sell cars bought through a loan. When one of the purchasers submitted the NOC, they took assistance from two more individuals to forge additional NOCs,” the police said.After receiving an alert from the RTO, the finance company filed a complaint with the Crime Branch in January.
India’s political system is veering towards a full-blown tyranny. The targeting of Opposition leaders leading to the farcical disqualification of Rahul Gandhi, the hounding of civil society and research organisations, censorship of information, the suppression of protest, are harbingers of a full-blown system of rule where all the interlocking parts add up to the one objective of tyrannical rule: To create pervasive fear.These actions are alarming, not because this or that leader has been targeted. They are alarming because the current BJP government is signaling not just that it will not tolerate the Opposition. It will not, under any circumstances, even contemplate or allow a smooth transition of power. For, what these actions reveal is a ruthless lust for power, combined with a determination to use any means to secure it. Neither the form of power the BJP seeks, nor the ends they deploy to achieve it, knows any constraints or bounds. That is the quintessential hallmark of tyranny.In a democracy, a smooth transition of power in a fair election requires several conditions. The ruthless crushing of the Opposition and the squelching of liberty erodes these conditions. The first is that professional politicians treat each other as members of the same profession, not as existential enemies to be vanquished by any means. Once a regime does that to its opponents, it fears the consequences of losing power. It can no longer rest in the comfortable belief that democracy is a game of rotating power; transitions should be routine. Can you now imagine Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Amit Shah or their minions calmly contemplating the prospect that they could ever be in the Opposition, after the hubris they have deployed against opponents and critics? The hallmark of tyrants is impunity in power and therefore an existential fear of losing it.The issue is not whether the government is popular. It may well be. Tyranny can be a stepchild of democracy, as Plato knew so well. The insatiable show and assertion of power the BJP is engaged in traps them in a logic where they will seek to create the conditions in which a fair and open contest is no longer possible. Their institutional imagination is paranoid — desperately trying to shut out even the slightest opening from which light might appear. What else but a paranoid system would target small think tanks or civil society organisations that do social service? What else but a paranoid system would appear to politically orchestrate a disqualification of an Opposition MP?And this same paranoia will make the prospect of even risking a fair electoral contest from now on a non-starter. Paranoia is the seed of all repression and we are now seeing it in full measure.Political parties that situate themselves as unique vanguards of a majoritarian national identity find it difficult to relinquish power. In normal politics there are many sides to an argument, and we can all pretend that different sides are acting in good faith even when we disagree. But when the ideological project is singularly communal and wears the garb of nationalism, every dissent is treated as treason. Ideological parties like the BJP will play by the electoral rules when they are not in a position to wield power, or when they feel electorally secure. But once this regime is entrenched, it will think it is its historical destiny to act as a kind of nationalist vanguard, no matter what the circumstances.In its own imagination, this nationalism will justify everything: From playing footloose with the law to outright violence. It has institutionalised vigilantism, violence and hate into the fabric of politics and the state. But this culture is not just difficult to dismantle. It is also part of a preparation to exercise other options in case a purely political hold on power is no longer possible. Parties that have institutionalised structures of violence are less likely to give up power unless they are massively repudiated.But the logic of tyranny goes further. Increasingly, the issue is not just the weaknesses of the Opposition parties. Even in the wake of this disqualification, Congress’s political reflexes, the willingness of its members to risk anything, and its ability to mobilise street power, is seriously in doubt. Opposition unity is still a chimera, more performative at the moment than real.But has the psychology of tyranny now been internalised by enough Indians to make resistance more difficult? India still has the potential for protest on many issues. But what is increasingly in doubt is whether India wishes to resist deepening authoritarianism.To take one example, India’s elites, broadly understood, have gone well past the quotidian fear of those in power. This kind of fear often expresses itself in a gap between public utterances and private beliefs. But what is happening is something far more insidious, where a combination of fear or outright support for government is so deeply internalised that even private demurring from blatantly authoritarian and communal actions has become rare. Ask any victim, who has been the object of the state’s wrath, whether they are at the receiving end of horrendous violence, or targets of administrative or legal harassment. Even the private shows of support will disappear as swiftly as the state intervenes. This suggests either a deep-seated cowardice or a normalisation of authoritarianism.The hallmark of a successful tyranny is to induce a sense of unreality in those who support it. This sense of unreality means no disconfirming evidence can dent their support for the regime. In this world, India has little unemployment, its institutions are fine, it has ascended to the glorious heights of world leadership, it has not ceded any territory to China, and there is no concentration of capital or regulatory capture. But the unreality centres mostly on the lynchpin of this system of tyranny, the prime minister. In his hands, repression becomes an act of purification, his hubris a mark of his ambition, his decimation of institutions a national service.Institutionally and psychologically, we are already inhabiting a tyranny, even if its violence is not in your face. A regime that is paranoid and full of impunity will overreach. But what is the threshold of overreach? The threshold seems to be shifting higher and higher. Communalism was unleashed. No reaction. The information order collapsed. No reaction. The judicial heart stopped beating. No reaction. The Opposition is being vanquished by unfair means. No reaction. Such is the logic of tyranny that the ogres of oppression roam free, while we look on indifferently as justice and freedom are tied in chains.
Mumbai’s monorail service, which had turned into an infrastructure white elephant that was rapidly losing ridership, is slowly making a turnaround, registering its highest passenger usage in the last six years. In the financial year 2022-23, a total of 36.36 lakh commuters have used the service so far, which is the highest in the last six years.While the number is no way close to the 61.66 lakh passenger count that was registered in 2015-16, the total number of commuters using the service is gradually picking up. The uptick in passenger count is attributed to the improved efficiency and increased rakes that have now been deployed on the route.The monorail was envisaged as a lightweight transport system. Planners believed that its manoeuvrability and nimbleness to navigate tight turns and narrow corridors would make it ideal for urban congested corridors of Mumbai.The plan to construct a monorail line across the city was first mooted in 2005 with the appointment of a committee of bureaucrats and experts to identify routes.The idea was to create an alternative transport system which would weave through some of the most dense and congested parts of Mumbai leading to the construction of the19-km-long monorail that runs from Chembur-Wadala to Sant Gadge Maharaj Chowk in Mumbai Central.While the first phase of the monorail commenced in 2014, the transportation service received a severe setback with the downturn in the economic fortunes of the Malaysian-based Scomi group, which constructed the monorail. A global downturn in the company’s fortunes coupled with its conflict with the MMRDA on financial matters, including cost escalations, saw a severe deterioration in monorail services which were frequently disrupted due to power outages and technical glitches.In November 2017, two coaches of the monorail were completely gutted and the service remained shut for a period of 10 months. Services subsequently resumed in September 2018. However, by that time commuters seemed to have lost patience for the service with many complaining that they usually had to wait for over 30 to 40 minutes for the next monorail service to arrive.The decision by the MMRDA to take over day-to-day operations, however, led to an improvement in service. Starting 2019 when the MMRDA took over the monorail, the service was running with three operational rakes. The number of functional rakes now stands at six which are used for daily operations while two rakes are kept on standby. “Commuters want to have stable services. If trains are available at constant frequency any commuter can plan their travel and we are able to provide the services at a time gap of 18 minutes now, which was earlier running at a 30-minute time gap with no proper punctuality. However, now the case is different and therefore the ridership has improved,” an official involved in the running of the monorail said.The issue of frequent breakdowns of the Malaysian-manufactured rakes has also been addressed with the MMRDA roping in local vendors for the supply of spare parts, which are also available at cheaper rates.Currently, a total of 118 trips are operated on the monorail at a time gap of 18 minutes.While the monorail ridership is increasing gradually, the MMRDA is betting big on the project and is planning to deploy an additional 10 rakes. It has given an order for 10 new rakes to an Indian company based in Hyderabad called Medha Servo Drives Ltd. The first prototype rake will be available between August and October this year.Once the prototype rake is approved then after every three months three rakes will be delivered. In the next nine months from the arrival of the first prototype rake all 10 rakes will be with the authority.The inclusion of the new rakes will improve the frequency from 18 minutes to five minutes and will nearly double the total number of services to 250 each day.The monorail authority has proposed foot over bridges (FOBs) connecting the upcoming nearby Metro and existing railway stations, which will increase the ridership of the monorail. At present the weekday ridership is 16,000 per day while on weekends the ridership is 10,000 daily. With a multi-modal integration plan the daily ridership will be over 1.5 lakh daily in the next three years, said the official. The authority has planned Metro line 4 (Wadala to Kasarvadavali) integration with the monorail station at Bhakti Park via an FOB which is around 215 metres long. Similarly, an FOB of 300 metres is planned at Jacob Circle monorail station to link with the upcoming Metro line 3 and the suburban railway station both commonly named as Mahalaxmi.The monorail’s VN Purav station is in close proximity to the Metro Line 2B (DN Nagar to Mandale) V N Purav station. Also the monorail’s Wadala Bridge station is in close proximity to the existing Vadala Road Western Railway station.The improvement in frequency is evident at most monorail stations with commuters stating that the services have improved significantly compared to the past. Commuters, however, complain that while frequency has improved monorail as a form of transportation service is not at par with the Metro, which is far more comfortable and efficient.“Although the frequency is good now the trains which operate make noise and have vibrations throughout the journey. This scares me a lot. Many times, I feel that the monorail will fall down. I don’t think pregnant women can travel in the monorail. The fares are cheap. I suggest they should increase the fare and get better rakes and use that money for the maintenance of rakes. I have travelled in countries like Thailand. Our monorail cannot be compared with other countries’ monorails,” Trupti Shah, travelling in the monorail from Chembur to Dadar East, said. Mukesh Pandeshwar (54), who stays close to Mahalaxmi and regularly travels for work to Chembur on the monorail, said that it is a convenient mode of public transport for him apart from being cheaper. However, he too pointed out that the trains vibrate a lot and a loud noise is heard throughout the journey.Another traveller Beena Srivastava, who stays in Antop Hill and travels to Chembur for work, said monorail ticketing should be made online. “One can buy tickets only at counters of the station. The services are good, however. Trips should be available at a time gap of five minutes each,” she said.