Warning that filthy air could make the coronavirus pandemic more dangerous, the authorities in New Delhi launched anti-pollution campaign on Monday in an attempt to curb air pollution levels ahead of winter, reports AP.
The campaign has been launched when the capital is regularly covered in toxic haze.
The capital’s top elected leader, Arvind Kejriwal, said the government will start an anti-dust campaign, reduce smoke caused by agricultural burning and introduce a mobile application that will allow citizens to lodge photo-linked complaints against polluters.
“Polluted air can be life-threatening in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both affect the lungs,” Kejriwal said.
Health experts say high air pollution levels over a prolonged period have compromised the disease resistance of people living in New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities, making them more susceptible to the coronavirus.
Earlier studies have also suggested that high levels of air pollution can make viral infections more dangerous.
It is estimated that more than a million Indians die every year because of air pollution-related diseases.
New Delhi has had 285,103 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 5,510 deaths.
Among the many Indian cities gasping for breath, New Delhi tops the list every year. Winters have become a time of health woes, when the city is covered with a toxic haze that obscures the sky and blocks sunlight. Pollution levels soar as farmers in neighboring agricultural regions set fire to clear their land after harvests and prepare for the next crop season.
Vehicle and industrial emissions, pollutants from firecrackers linked to festivals, and construction dust also sharply increase in winter, exacerbating the public health crisis.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the New Delhi-based group Centre for Science and Environment and an air pollution expert, said the causes of the capital's poor air quality are well known, as are the actions needed to combat it.
But she said the steps needed to improve air quality aren't being carried out at the right scale.
“It isn’t rocket science,” Roychowdhury said.
The national capital has often experimented with limiting the number of cars on the road, using large anti-smog guns and halting construction activity. But the steps have had little effect because neighboring state governments have failed to cooperate.
In November 2019, New Delhi was blanketed in a dark yellow haze for several days and air pollution hit record high levels, forcing schools to close and flights to be diverted.
India's COVID-19 death toll has surpassed the 100,000-mark on Saturday, reaching 100,842, according to the latest data released by the federal health ministry.
India became the third country to report over 100,0000 COVID-19 deaths globally, after the United States and Brazil.
As many as 1,069 people died in the past 24 hours, showed the ministry's data.
The southwestern state of Maharashtra recorded a maximum of 37,450 deaths, followed by 9,652 in the southern state Tamil Nadu and 9,124 in the southern state of Karnataka.
With 79,476 new cases reported since Friday morning, the total COVID-19 tally in the country has reached 6,473,544.
There are 944,996 active cases in the country, while 5,427,706 people have been cured and discharged from hospitals.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a total of 77,850,403 COVID-19 tests had been conducted till Friday, out of which 1,132,675 tests were conducted on Friday alone.
Self-exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family were sent to hospital for contracting coronavirus, his aides said Friday.
Thaksin, who is residing in the United Arab Emirates, is receiving the treatment at a hospital in the city of Dubai, according to the aides. Members of his family who live in the same mansion in Dubai were also reportedly infected, including his elder sister Yaowapha Shinawatra, a chauffeur, and a secretary, reports Khaosod English.
Former PM Yingluck Shinawatra, a younger sister of Thaksin, is said to be the sole resident who was unaffected.
It is not immediately clear when and how the 71-year-old billionaire, who headed the Thai government from 2001 until he was toppled in a 2006 coup, caught the coronavirus.
Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 just before a court convicted him of corruption during his tenure. The tycoon-turned-politician insisted the verdict was politically motivated.
Despite his exile, Thaksin continued to dominate Thai politics through parties allied to his political dynasty. His sister, Yingluck, governed Thailand through the pro-Thaksin party until a court ousted her in 2014, followed by a military coup.
He’s the second high-profile politician to test positive for the coronavirus on Friday. Hours earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump also said he and his wife were infected with the virus.
Among the 32 living accused were former deputy premier LK Advani, and a host of senior BJP leaders. Wednesday's Indian court judgement acquitted them all, saying the destruction of the mosque in 1992 had been the work of unidentified "anti-socials" and had not been planned, reports BBC.
This was despite numerous credible eyewitness accounts that the demolition, which took just a few hours, had been rehearsed and carried out with impunity and the connivance of a section of the local police in front of thousands of spectators.
Last year, India's Supreme Court conceded it had been a "calculated act" and an "egregious violation of the rule of law".
So how do we explain the acquittals?
Generally the verdict is being seen as another indictment of India's sluggish and chaotic criminal justice system. Many fear it has been damaged beyond repair by decades of brazen political interference, underfunding and weak capacity.
But more specifically the verdict has thrown into sharp relief the increasing marginalisation of India's 200 million Muslims.
Under Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist BJP government, the community has been pushed into a corner and feels more humiliated than at any time in the history of pluralist, secular India, hailed as the world's largest democracy since independence in 1947.
Mobs have lynched Muslims for eating beef or transporting cows, which are sacred to majority Hindus. Mr Modi's government has amended laws to fast track non-Muslim refugees from neighbouring countries. It has split the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and stripped it of its constitutional autonomy.
This year, Muslims were singled out and blamed for spreading the novel coronavirus after members of an Islamic group attended a religious gathering in Delhi. Larger Hindu religious gatherings during the pandemic received no such political, public or media opprobrium or scape-goating.
That's not all. Muslim students and activists have been picked up and thrown into prison for allegedly instigating riots over a controversial citizenship law in Delhi last winter, while many Hindu instigators went scot-free. The Babri verdict, many Muslims say, is just a continuation of this humiliation.
The sense of alienation is real. Mr Modi's party makes no bones about its Hindu majoritarian ideology. Popular news networks openly demonise Muslims. Many of India's once-powerful regional parties, which once stood by the community, appear to have abandoned them. The main opposition Congress is accused by critics of using Muslims cynically to harvest votes without providing much in return. The community itself has few leaders to speak up for it.
"Muslims are simply losing faith in the system. They feel cornered and feel the political parties, institutions and the media are failing them. There is a lot of despondency in the community," says Asim Ali, a research associate at the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.
Demonstrators in Delhi, India, protesting against the citizenship law.
In truth, India has a long history of marginalising Muslims. They "carry a double burden of being labelled as 'anti-national' and as being 'appeased' at the same time", according to one report. But the irony is that, while many Indians have bought the Hindu nationalist bogey that Muslims are being unfairly rewarded, the community has not in fact benefitted from major socio-economic gains, say historians.
Muslims are disproportionately squeezed into ghettos in India's teeming cities. Their share in India's elite federal police officers force was below 3% in 2016, while Muslims make up more than 14% of the population. Only 8% of India's urban Muslims had jobs which paid a regular salary, less than double the national average, one report found.
Enrolment of children at primary school levels was high, but so were dropouts at high school, largely because of economic deprivation. Muslim representation in India's parliament have been declining consistently - below 5% in the elected lower house now, down from 9% in 1980. When the BJP swept to power in 2014, it was the first time a winning party did so without a single Muslim MP.
Mr Modi and his colleagues have consistently said their party doesn't discriminate against any religion. The prime minister has said he enjoys the support of many Islamic nations and his expansive welfare benefits reach every poor Indian, irrespective of religion or caste. For years, the BJP has described the liberal opposition parties as "pseudo secular".
Some believe there is truth in this allegation. As an example they point to the Communists who ruled West Bengal state in eastern India for more than three decades and were avowedly secular, ensuring the protection and security of Muslims, who form nearly a quarter of the state's population.
Yet, studies revealed that Muslims in Gujarat, a state marked by religious tension and sectarian politics, fared economically better and in human development indices than their counterparts in Bengal. "The market place is non religious in India. So in states like Gujarat where business thrives both Hindus and Muslims do well," says Mirza Asmer Beg, a professor of international relations, at Aligarh Muslim University.
But analysts say religious electoral competition practised by the BJP has led to the "otherisation" of Muslims. "How do you polarise? By making the other a threat to your identity," says political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot. He believes India is moving towards an "ethnic democracy", born out of ethnic nationalisation which implies a "strong sense of belonging and of superiority".
It's not all dark yet. There is the rise of a young and articulate middle class unencumbered by the ghosts of partition. The widespread protests against the citizenship law saw a large number of these articulate Muslim men and women taking to India's streets and breaking stereotypes of a cloistered and voiceless minority. Community coaching classes have sprung up, training young Muslims to prepare for India's prestigious and competitive civil service exams. "Many of the young Muslims do wear their identity on their sleeves in a positive way and are not afraid to voice their views," says Mr Ali.
But, in the end, the acquittals will only deepen anxieties and a sense of injustice among India's Muslims. "In many ways, it is an abandoned community. There's a feeling of powerlessness. Muslims have been exploited by both their own and Hindu leaders and all parties for years," says Zaheer Ali, a political scientist. "Poverty has made things worse."