The Telegraph – The environment was not a priority for any party

A candidate who made the environment his campaign mission lost miserably, but he believes he succeeded in no small way

Manasi Shah

Kolkata – West Bengal – India, 09 June 2019. At first glance there is no telling that the man in blue is the green candidate, Independent, for Calcutta South. Niraj Agarwal, who contested this Lok Sabha seat against heavyweights such as the Trinamul’s Mala Roy and the BJP’s Chandra Bose, looks the corporate type that stays a mile away from issues political.

“I got into this because I wanted my children to grow up in a cleaner environment. You have to relate to something in order to champion it,” says the 37-year-old cyber security expert.

Agarwal, who polled a mere 1,658 votes, did not contest these elections thinking he would pull off a big win, but he did know what he was doing.

He says, “The idea was to use the momentum around elections to shake up people into thinking that the environment should be an election issue, at whatever level.”

From what Agarwal says about his campaign, he practised what he preached. He, along with his friends, wore masks with the message “Vote For Environment” and ran a zero carbon footprint campaign, basically, no paper. He says, “Parties take out pamphlets and newspaper inserts.

These are definitely effective ways of reaching out to a votebank but these methods would go against the very cause I am fighting for. So I did everything digitally including carrying the electoral rolls on my tablet.”

Agarwal’s election symbol was a pair of binoculars. “Someone suggested an hourglass to show time is running out; someone else a torch to show light, or a spanner to mean we will fix things,” he says.

Finally, he settled for what he thought best represented foresight. His campaign tagline read: A party candidate works for the party and an Independent candidate works for you.

Once the general elections were announced, Agarwal studied the party manifestos and was disappointed. He says, “In the BJP manifesto, there was a fleeting mention of air pollution and the National Clean Air Programme. But it was just another policy document rustled up in time for the elections. I also studied the feedback of environmentalists.

Even they felt it was all hogwash. The regional parties did not mention environment at all. That’s when I thought, why should we wait for another five years and another party and another individual to realise that there is an environment problem?

The leaders are not waking up, at least the electorate should wake up and understand that whoever they elect must be aware of these issues.”

Agarwal has two decades of volunteering experience. He has rallied for issues as varied as the uplift of underprivileged children, feeding the hungry, rehabilitating destitute children found in and around railway stations.

Sometime in early 2018, he started an online project called India Against Pollution. It was about raising awareness of the battered environment to a degree that citizens demanded more action from elected governments. “The greater the awareness, the more will be the pressure on the government,” he says.

The poll issues Agarwal fought on were an extension of these things. His 15-point manifesto covered pollution, of all kinds; rising costs, poor quality of education; affordable healthcare; vanishing greenery; public space encroachments and so on and so forth.

His campaign website was called VIKALP, an acronym for Vote Independent Ko At Lok Sabha Polls. He explains, “Vikalp also means alternative. We wanted to give people an alternative way of looking at politics. Personal attacks and mud-slinging that happens in Indian politics is not required. We need more issue-based elections.”

Agarwal says, prior to this he had little clue about the entire election process, from nomination to research. But even when things were getting difficult, Agarwal says he knew he would make a statement just by contesting these elections. He says, “And that statement would be that a well-read and well-qualified citizen can also be a part of politics and act as a change-maker.”

Some people got his point, but it became apparent to Agarwal that even they would not cast their votes in his favour. He says, “People would ask me if I was getting money for this, if I was a proxy candidate, if I was there to cut into the BJP’s votes.

Some of my friends told me they understood the importance of my green campaign but they would not vote for me because they were going to vote for Narendra Modi. This election was completely polarised at many levels.” Before result day, he called other candidates and requested each of them to make environment the priority, whoever got the people’s mandate.

Agarwal lost his deposit but it does not seem to have cast a shadow on his enthusiasm. He says, “There is a huge awareness gap that has to be filled.

We need to take action, not only at our own level but also demand it from our leaders so they are compelled to do something. We are planning to petition all 543 MPs and ask for their (green) roadmap.” He pauses and continues, “Just like parties are fighting against each other to put money in our bank accounts, we want parties to compete with each other on who will plant more trees.”

The Tribune – Pakistan nod to nagar kirtan from Delhi to Lahore for Gurpurb

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 19 June 2019. Amid heightened tension, the Pakistan government has allowed the Sikh pilgrims to organise a ‘nagar kirtan’ from Delhi to Gurdwara Nankana Sahib in Lahore to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

This was revealed by Delhi SAD president and former Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee chief Paramjit Singh Sarna. “The permission was granted earlier, but the official letter from the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee was received recently with the signature of its chief Tara Singh.

Scheduled in October, the nagar kirtan will leavefrom Delhi with Guru Granth Sahib enshrined in a golden palanquin accompanied by 1,500 devotees.

The procession will start from Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in Delhi on October 28 and reach Ludhiana. The next day, the procession will leave for Gurdwara Ber Sahib in Sultanpur Lodhi. After that, it will reach Amritsar and leave for Lahore through the Attari-Wagah joint checkpost on October 31.

Gent Muinkpark – Gentbrugse Meersen

09 June 2019

Who is that person in between the funny birds ?

She is from the Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara
Gent – Belgium

Gentbrugse Meersen
09 June 2019

Flowery field

After the thunderstorm

Balancing act

These trees will decompose and give their nutrients back to the earth

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

DNA India – NCB launches major crackdown against illegal drug operations in Punjab; posts new team in Amritsar

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has deployed a special team of sleuths in the state to undertake “coordinated” action against the illegal narcotics trade.

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 18 June 2019. Security agencies are set to launch a multi-tier crackdown against traffickers and cross-border drug syndicates in Punjab, with the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) deploying a special team of sleuths in the state to undertake “coordinated” action against the illegal narcotics trade.

The NCB, a federal agency to check drug abuse in the country, has for the first time posted a team of about 9-10 personnel that will be headed by a Deputy Director General (DDG)-rank officer, followed by a zonal director, two deputy directors, superintendents and intelligence officers, who will camp in Amritsar and operate from there for the next three months at least.

Amritsar, at present, has a very small office of the agency as it is a sub-zone under the Chandigarh zone of the NCB and a junior rank officer heads the office there. With the new arrangement, the position of the office has been enhanced, a senior officer privy to the development told PTI.

The team has been posted as a ‘special temporary measure’ after an order was issued recently by NCB Director General (DG) Abhay (who goes by his first name) at its headquarters here in the wake of the importance of the region to curb the drugs menace in the state and surrounding areas.

The city that houses the historic Golden Temple is vital for the operation as it is well-connected by road and air, and a good amount of government machinery is present there, he said.

The NCB DG recently toured the border town of Amritsar and other areas in Punjab and held coordination meetings with the two most important security agencies deployed to combat the narcotics menace in the state, the Punjab Police and the Border Security Force (BSF).

It has been planned, the officer said, that the NCB will undertake fresh efforts and coordinate crackdown, along with the Punjab STF and the BSF, against drug traffickers and syndicates that operate along the India-Pakistan international border.

“The special NCB team has been tasked to specifically target the trafficking in opioids like opium, heroin, poppy husk and cannabis, apart from checking diversion and abuse of pharmaceutical drugs, specially Tramadol,” the officer said.

Tramadol, a painkiller pharma drug, was declared a “psychotropic substance” by the central government in 2018 and it is also known as “ISIS drug’ as evidence gathered across the globe suggests that it is used by fighters of the banned terror group.

While the instances of cross-border drug parcel apprehensions have gone down in the recent past in Punjab, the drug abuse scenario is still worrisome. The new action plan is against this nexus and to break the backbone of the traffickers and narcotics mafia operating in the state, the officer said.

He said the NCB DG, over the last few days, held high-level meetings with Punjab DGP Dinkar Gupta, the chief of the anti-narcotics special task force (STF) of state police, five Deputy Inspector Generals of the BSF based in Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur, Abohar and the one tasked with intelligence at its headquarter in Jalandhar and three commandants of border guarding units.

The BSF guards the 554-km India-Pakistan international border in Punjab.

The NCB DG has also asked his special team to seize and forfeit assets of large drug trafficking operatives (DTOs) and refer cases of wider drugs smuggling and money laundering ramifications to its sister agency at the central level, the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The ED has recently created an STF for narcotics cases, the official said, and cases where complicity of government officials and others is detected with the drug mafia will be referred to the CBI for criminal probe.

The results will be visible soon and the NCB will also use the rarely invoked forfeiture of assets power under the Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (PIT-NDPS), the officer said.

It will be a multi-level and multi-agency action, he added.

As per latest figures, Punjab accounted for the maximum seizure of opium in the country in 2017 at over 505 kg, while it was second in the category of seizure of heroin at 406 kg after Gujarat’s 1,017 kg during the same year.

Lakhs of units of pharma-based injections and tablets, abused as drugs, were also seized in the state during the same period, along with over 41,000 kg of poppy husk, which is processed to make opiates and alkaloids.

Dawn – They are victims of war and terrorism: Mahira Khan speaks up on World Refugee Day

The actor works in partnership with UNHCR to raise awareness about refugees in Pakistan.

On World Refugee Day, Mahira Khan has joined hands with UNHCR yet again to create awareness about Pakistan’s Afghan refugees.

Uploading a series of tweets and videos, Mahira stressed how Afghan refugees are people just like us, only they’re victims of displacement and terrorism.

She also uploaded a video adding that we as a nation have created a home for these refugees in our homeland.

“Refugees are victims of war and terrorism, they have suffered hardship, loss and displacement,” she said.

The video also features short interviews of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan as well as short clips of actor Yasir Hussain and UNHCR representative in Pakistan, Ruvendrini Menikdiwela.