You Think the Air in Beijing Is Bad? Try New Delhi

Delhi’s air pollutionBeijing’s air pollution has reached such toxic levels recently that the Chinese government is finally acknowledging the problem and acting on it. But in New Delhi on Thursday, air pollution levels far exceeded those in Beijing, only without any government acknowledgement or action. It is not first time pollution in India’s capital has outpaced that in China. The level of tiny particulates known as PM 2.5, which lodge deep in lungs and can enter bloodstream, was over 400 micrograms per cubic meter in various neighborhoods in and around New Delhi Thursday, according to a real-time air quality monitor. That compared to Beijing’s most-recent air quality reading of 172 micrograms cubic meter. (“Air Quality online” link to the left of the Delhi website gives you real-time monitoring of Delhi’s pollution levels.) At the University of Delhi’s northern campus at 12:30 p.m., reading for PM 2.5 was 402 micrograms per cubic meter; in eastern suburb of Noida it was 411; at the Indira Gandhi International airport it was 421. Beijing’s government on Wednesday introduced emergency measures, ordering cars off the roads and factories to shut down, warning citizens to avoid activity outside. Measures came after two straight days that the readings were higher than 300, a level the United States Environmental Protection Agency considers “hazardous.” The forecast for Delhi’s air pollution Friday is “critical,” according to Ministry of Earth Sciences. So far, though, Delhi’s government has made no announcements about the city’s air pollution, nor introduced any emergency measures, a spokesman for chief minister’s office said. Sheila Dikshit, chief minister, said in an interview in December the city could not keep up with factors that cause air pollution. Beijing’s air quality is so bad living there is like living in smoking lounge, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. Levels of air pollution Bloomberg cited as Beijing’s average were half of Delhi early Thursday afternoon. (NYTimes – 31/01/2013)


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38 Responses to You Think the Air in Beijing Is Bad? Try New Delhi

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: According to the NYT ” But in New Delhi on Thursday, air pollution levels far exceeded those in Beijing, only without any government acknowledgement or action. It is not the first time pollution in India’s capital has outpaced that in China.” The bottom line? China delivers while India does not. Pollution illustrates quite well how India and China’s political systems deal with problems facing their respective societies. In the case of China, the political system always delivers. It reacts quickly and efficiently to any challenge facing society. The country has a modern and highly integrated political and social structure. Sooner than later, the pollution question will be addressed and solved. India is the opposite of China. The political system rarely delivers. It moves at turtle pace and is highly incompetent to deliver results if, eventually, things get done. India has still an outdated British type colonial political system, without social cohesion and central government. The world’s largest democracy could not even provide a decent infrastructure system when the country hosted the Asian Games last time.

  2. Every time I visit India, I visit Nasscom, the high-tech association, to meet with the newest crop of Indian innovators. They account for only a tiny fraction of India’s 1.2 billion people, most of whom remain painfully poor, but I focus on these Indian innovators because so many of them today are focused on making India unpoor. India is now spawning large numbers of innovators concentrating on solving poor-world problems, and cloud-based technology tools and open-source platforms are enabling Indian innovators to do this with little capital. As a result, they are much more willing to try, fail and try again (the secret sauce of Silicon Valley). And, as a result, we’re starting to see a merger here between E.T., I.T. and ID. It doesn’t get any better than that. There is nothing that India needs more than an energy technology (E.T.) revolution that would deliver cheap, reliable power to millions suffering from energy poverty. If every village had some reliable power, plus access to high-speed Internet (I.T.), hundreds of millions of Indians would be able to live locally but act globally — that is, they would be able to remain in their villages, yet have access to the education and markets that could enable them to escape poverty and not have to join the hordes in the megaslums of the megacities like Mumbai or Kolkata (…..) When E.T. meets I.T. meets ID, you have a virtuous cycle that potentially can compete with the cycle of energy poverty, broken schools and corruption. While success at scale for these start-ups is by no means assured, they are a taste of what is possible when so many more people on the planet can become inventors, makers and problem-solvers. Anyone who thinks the age of innovation is over isn’t paying attention.

  3. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Tom Friedman’s punchline: “Every time I visit India, I visit Nasscom, the high-tech association, to meet with the newest crop of Indian innovators. They account for only a tiny fraction of India’s 1.2 billion people, most of whom remain PAINFULLY POOR. but I focus on these Indian innovators because so many of them today are focused on making India UNPOOR.” Good to know how IT can help the largest number of poor people in the world. However, the fundamental question is why India’s colonial era political system is unable to eliminate poverty in the Sub Continent. As far as poverty is concerned, the political performance of the so called largest world democracy is pathetic in comparison with neighboring China.

  4. SensibleTaxpayer: It’s kind of sad that Tom Friedman has gone from a respectable – indeed, a superb – journalist (read his coverage of the Lebanese Civil War) to a running joke. I wonder where he got lost along the way.

  5. garyr: i agree….mr. friedman continues to be caught up in slogans and initials that have no real meaning and he continues on his path of trying to prove that increased technology advances will make the world a better place….unfortunately the facts work against this assumption and mr. friedman refuses to budge…..very sad.

  6. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Perhaps when Tom begun to believe to be a thinker and not a journalist anymore? or, to be more precisely, when he started to make good money with his flat world books.

  7. New York Times op-ed columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman recently wrapped up a week-long trip to India, where he met with business executives, government ministers and other officials, entrepreneurs and development groups. Even as India’s economy has slowed considerably, Mr. Friedman remains a big believer in what he calls the “miracle of India.’’ Earlier we asked India Ink readers for their questions for Mr. Friedman about India’s changing role in the world economy. Here are his answers to a select few: (…..)

  8. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Tom Friedman and his flat world vision must be a huge success among college age Indian or Chinese kids. Impossible to share Tom’s optimistic vision about the future if you are a 25 yrs old American or European seeking a decent paid job. As far as his enthusiastic views of India, it must be the spiritual side of it. Something similar to The Beatles going to India in the 60s to get inspiration for their musical development.

  9. It was a widely awaited verdict: Tens of thousands of parents seeking admission for their children to nursery schools in New Delhi were hoping for some remedy against a system that rewards inherited privilege and access to political power. But the High Court of Delhi upheld the status quo on Tuesday. Two years ago the India blog for The Wall Street Journal ran a piece entitled “Delhi’s Nursery Schools Still Tougher to Crack Than Harvard?” The catchy headline was only partly true: New Delhi’s top private nursery schools are perhaps as competitive as an Ivy League college, but that’s not saying much about the means required to get in. I should know: I spent the last month filling in application forms to 10 private schools for my three-year-old son, and he wasn’t admitted to any. The Indian public school system is too dysfunctional to be a serious choice for most middle-class parents. As a result, the total number of applicants to the top 20 private nursery schools in New Delhi is well over 50,000 for about 1,500 slots. (This is my rough estimate.) Most parents have little or no choice over which school their children will attend. Rather, the question is which school, if any, will admit their children. A few years ago, worried about the growing pressure to which children no more than four years of age were being subjected, the city government forbade entrance exams and interviews for nursery schools, as well as the screening of parents’ educational background. Before then, New Delhi schools openly sought out candidates whose parents were affluent, spoke English fluently and mattered in the city’s power hierarchy. A privileged class kept replicating itself. In theory, the new norms suggested a more egalitarian process: They prescribed a point system, and a lottery would be drawn among candidates who were tied. In practice, this favored the old elite. A school could attribute points to a child who lived nearby, whose siblings were pupils or whose parents were alumni. The residency requirement benefited the rich because the best schools are in affluent parts of the city, and the legacy criteria only served those already entrenched in the system. Some schools also went out of their way to bypass the law by creating subjective criteria for assigning points to applicants. One top school I sent an application to has a special category for the “Promotion of Indian heritage/Exceptional achievement/Significant inspirational work for the nation/Any other, please specify.” I have asked them to clarify what this means (…..)

  10. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: This piece gives an important clue why India’s prosperity remains solidly in the hands of the 1% ruling elite while China is lifting millions of its citizens from poverty. The fundamental reason is how the political system operates in both countries. India’s political system has not changed a bit since independence from Great Britain. It continues to be dominated by a small number of well connected families without any real commitment to the plight of 800 million plus starving Indians. As the author of this piece shows, the nascent middle class is also suffering the same discrimination in better education opportunities. India’s democracy resumes in millions of poor citizens voting for the same candidates chosen by the ruling elite. Even the rhetorical slogan of poverty elimination has been abandoned by the dominant political parties. In the context of gross discrimination suffered by 800 plus million of poor Indians, the author’s 3 years old son not getting entrance to a top private nursery school in New Delhi should be news in local Indian newspapers but, definitely, not in the NYT.

  11. Anna Hazare dresses like Mahatma Gandhi (white homespun cloth, round spectacles) and uses Gandhian tactics (nonviolent protest, hunger strikes) to fight the corruption he believes is damaging India. In 2011 and 2012, he mobilized hundreds of thousands of Indians, many of them members of the new middle class, to support his “fasts unto death.” Following a 12-day hunger strike in August 2011, he forced a panicked Indian government to agree to a series of demands for anti-corruption legislation. Hazare’s campaign was successful in part because his language echoes that of India’s founding fathers and in part because he had the support of the staggeringly large and diverse Indian media. In the past two years alone, journalists from more than 100 television channels and countless newspapers in multiple languages helped tell the story of a telecom minister who was arrested and jailed for improperly selling licenses, costing the state as much as $40 billion, as well as that of an army general who said he had been offered a bribe of $2.7 million to buy substandard trucks. News stories have also featured reports of officials taking apartments meant for veterans’ families, the distribution of illegal mining licenses, the purchasing of parliamentary votes and the crooked construction contracts written for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This is nothing new: By one calculation, corruption has cost the Indian state more than $460 billion since independence in 1947. The amounts of money involved seem to have grown exponentially, but then so has India’s economy, too (…..)

  12. After descending 70 feet on a wobbly bamboo staircase into a dank pit, the teenage miners ducked into a black hole about two feet high and crawled 100 yards through mud before starting their day digging coal. They wore T-shirts, pajama-like pants and short rubber boots — not a hard hat or steel-toed boot in sight. They tied rags on their heads to hold small flashlights and stuffed their ears with cloth. And they spent the whole day staring death in the face. Just two months before full implementation of a landmark 2010 law mandating that all Indian children between the ages of 6 and 14 be in school, some 28 million are working instead, according to Unicef. Child workers can be found everywhere — in shops, in kitchens, on farms, in factories and on construction sites. In the coming days Parliament may consider yet another law to ban child labor, but even activists say more laws, while welcome, may do little to solve one of India’s most intractable problems. “We have very good laws in this country,” said Vandhana Kandhari, a child protection specialist at Unicef. “It’s our implementation that’s the problem.”

    Poverty, corruption, decrepit schools and absentee teachers are among the causes, and there is no better illustration of the problem than the Dickensian “rathole” mines here in the state of Meghalaya.

    Meghalaya lies in India’s isolated northeast, a stump of land squashed between China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Its people are largely tribal and Christian, and they have languages, food and facial features that seem as much Chinese as Indian. Suresh Thapa, 17, said that he has worked in the mines near his family’s shack “since he was a kid,” and that he expects his four younger brothers to follow suit. He and his family live in a tiny tarp-and-stick shack near the mines. They have no running water, toilet or indoor heating. On a recent day, Suresh was sitting outside his home sharpening his and his father’s pickaxes — something he must do twice a day. His mother, Mina Thapa, sat nearby nursing an infant and said Suresh chose mining himself. “He works of his own free will,” she said. “He doesn’t listen to me anyway, even when I tell him something,” she added with a bittersweet laugh. Ms. Thapa said that three of her younger sons go to a nearby government school and that they would go into the mines when they wanted to. “If they don’t do this work, what other jobs are they going to get?” she asked. India’s Mines Act of 1952 prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from working in coal mines, but Ms. Thapa said enforcing that law would hurt her family. “It’s necessary for us that they work. No one is going to give us money. We have to work and feed ourselves.” The presence of children in Meghalaya’s mines is no secret. Suresh’s boss, Kumar Subba, said children work in mines throughout the region (…..)

  13. Prof.Jai Prakash Sharma: With a plethora of children’s rights, constitutional-legal protections, international protocols about these rights, such rights are practiced more in breach than observance, both at the official level and in society. A strange case of political and social hypocrisy, and a big stigma on national texture.

  14. Professor Uziel Nogueira says:

    Sorry to disagree with you, Prof Sharma. There is no such thing as “a strange case of political and social hypocrisy” to explain exploitation of child work and poverty in India. It is a logic consequence of a political system totally disconnected from the plight of millions of miserable citizens. Your reasoning is typical of many academicians and intellectuals defending the status quo in highly skewed income distribution countries. In my country Brazil there are many intellectuals with the same reasoning as yours.

  15. Prof.Jai Prakash Sharma: Uziel Nogueira, It’s because of a serious disconnect between the state and society, as you rightly point out, as also skewed income distribution, that the tender aged children are forced to earn livelihood and supplement family income.

    The hypocrisy lies in denial of this reality, and feeling contented with mere lip service to child protection laws and rights.

  16. Jeffrey E. Cosnow: Prof.

    Jai Praksash Sharma, everything you say is true. What is going on in India is a model for what the world can expect to see universally in the next century. The Anglican priest, Thomas Malthus predicted it it in 1803, and now it is being seen. Without actually intending to do so, the American gynecologist, Jeffrey Peipert, has shown a way out. For a review of his work Google his name with the New York Times, the New England Journal or other reliable news sources.

  17. David: I’m not clear – aren’t you and professor Sharma actually on the same wave length? If India actually enforced the age and safety restrictions, what would Suresh’s family do for food? India would need a massive societal overhaul to correct the problems that put Suresh in the mine shaft in the first place. I note Suresh’s mom was feeding a baby 17 years after she gave birth to Suresh. This is just one little problem that Einstein probably couldn’t resolve. And a tin helmet and steel-toed boots wouldn’t do that much to protect Suresh from Black Lung or cave-ins. Like farmers not long ago in the U.S., kids were vital resources for labor during planting and harvesting seasons. This was largely resolved by industrialization and automation of farming tasks, though I have to assume migrant labor in this country probably has some residual issues related to the welfare of children. In any case, as long as corruption of the political system, if not the moral underpinnings of Indian society, aren’t addressed, what can be done?

  18. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: My point is that without major changes in the political system, the problem of poverty in India cannot be addressed. Take the case of Brazil. The breakthrough in fighting poverty occurred when an opposition party – Worker’s Party – came to power for the first time.

  19. David: What approach did the Workers’ Party to fighting poverty?

  20. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Social programs, including giving money to poor families to send kids to school, improving education opportunities for poor kids. For example, mixed race and black students coming from public schools have quotas to be admitted into free public universities, etc. Brazil today has a population of 200 million people. Around 50 million became middle class since the workers party came into power 10 yrs ago.

  21. Arnold S. Mintz: Yet another example of this phony and evil so-called democracy that is modern India; a country that claims to be one thing to the world but within, is an evil empire toward women and children, and only pays lip service to morality and doing right by its citizenry. It’s time the world called this nation out on the hypocrisy being perpetrated on mankind because what it does and what it says, are very far apart and the truth of the matter is that the worst behavior is what is being practiced by this government toward women and children, the perennial victims all the time!

  22. Professor Uziel Nogueira says:

    India was never a democracy in the sense of distributing wealth and creating opportunities for millions of its miserable citizens. Only in India — the world’s largest democracy — a multimillionaire can build a mansion of 1 billion dollars while millions of Indian citizens live in a state of near starvation. Who knows? perhaps one day by hook or by crook the 99% will decide for regime change in New Delhi.

  23. hadarmen: Who is benefiting from that evil empire’s cheap manufactured products? any idea. Yes India is a evil and immoral, sure go ahead.

  24. JP: Arnold, “Yet another example of this phony and evil so-called democracy that is modern India”. Perhaps you can illuminate us on which countries with similar per-capita incomes meet your social standards?

  25. JP: Uziel Nogueira,…Oh. Come on. We have ONE billion-dollar mansion (more like a personal hotel for his international business partners). And Indians have not reacted to it with disgust, but as a sign of things to come. “Who knows? perhaps one day by hook or by crook the 99% will decide for regime change in New Delhi”. If you are looking for a revolution in India or China… you will be looking for a long time. The current generation may not be well off by your standards, but it is a lot better off than the previous one. As long as that progress continues, revolutions don’t happen. And replace it with what? The problems cut across the entire political class. It will take generational changes.

  26. jay pattelle: So, why isn’t America (or Canada, or Australia) opening its doors to these poor, tired and huddled masses? Anyone who is sneering at India care to respond?

  27. jay pattelle: Come on, anyone? Lots of land, grows the economy, no overpopulation, we can teach them Engish, they’ll work hard like immigrants do, their kids will have a future. We did in the 1800s and early 1900s, and we’re stronger for it. Anyone? I didn’t think so. Go look at the mirror, you who are hypocrites, before you cast another stone.

  28. Melissa S.: That is not a bed that America or Canada or Australia made. Why should they be sleeping in it? There are some universal human rights for which people (such as Dickens and others) were already speaking out some 150 years ago. These human rights are being violated flagrantly in India in 2013. That is what people are upset about. They are not sneering. The Indian elite (whose opinions your responses mirror) however feels defensive and sees it as sneering.

  29. Rae: It seems from your comments (which seem to betray your own feelings of superiority to anyone who might respond here) that your issue really should be with The New York Times for deciding to publish an article on the subject.

  30. jay pattelle: Well, other can argue that your comments mirror the views of racist elites of Western society. You know very well that the British impoverished their colonies, and made these beds. You know it all too well. Many in the Indian elite are desperately trying to solve their nation’s problems. There is a minority who are too busy enriching themselves, but they will be smoked out of their holes eventually.

  31. jay pattelle: Rae, this article is fine. Frankly, I don’t give a hoot anymore. People will believe what they want to believe and say what they want to say.

  32. Rae: Very true (about people believing what they want etc). I do see that a certain number of the comments are as you described. Ignorance and xenophobia are everywhere abundant, sadly. A conversation I had awhile ago with someone who just couldn’t or wouldn’t believe that any children in America went to bed hungry (so to speak) still rankles.

  33. Mitra: Melissa,….Really? Welcome here Melissa! Ha Ha Ha! Dickens was talking about universal human rights 150 years back. That’s amazing! It really is! And in India no one talks about universal principles of human rights even today! That’s crazy! If we look at Western history, we can see the commitment to “universal principles of human rights” throughout the last 150 years! There was no child labour in UK when Dickens wrote about universal human rights! If the West engaged in massive brutalization of the natives for hundreds of years, that did not violate any human rights laws, because in any case they had better guns! That’s what matters, right? And in any case, the natives don’t have any conception of human rights, so how does it matter?! Sorry, but this comment about Dickens talking about human rights is hilarious! We had lot of debates in the past, but I liked this comment by you the best. It is very reflective of the mindset of some people and it shows that this mindset has nothing to do with a lack of education.

  34. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: India’s endemic poverty is not a problem for the world to resolve. It must be addressed by the local political elite. Now, unless political power is taken away from the ruling plutocracy, things will remain the same. India is the North Korea of the Sub Continent. Armed with nuclear weapons and millions of miserable citizens roaming the streets of their mega cities.

  35. Chris: Uziel, “India’s endemic poverty is not a problem for the world to resolve. It must be addressed by the local political elite. Now, unless political power is taken away from the ruling plutocracy, things will remain the same.” If that’s the case then why don’t you shut up and let them do their work. “India is the North Korea of the Sub Continent. Armed with nuclear weapons and millions of miserable citizens roaming the streets of their mega cities.” Haha, what flawed knowledge of political and social affairs of world in general.

  36. jay pattelle: Uziel Nogueira, the last people Indians need to listen to for advice is Brazil – with its wiped out native populations, racism against darker citizens, and grinding inequality. Your own culture is no shining example of egalitarianism, so go look in the mirror before you throw stones at others.

  37. Women in China experience less sexual harassment in public places than women in India, two Asian nations with similar sized populations and fast economic growth which I compare, in terms of rape, in today’s Female Factor Letter. A host of cultural and sociological factors probably account for that. And though the relationship between sexual harassment and rape may also be complex, researchers say rape is as big a problem in China as anywhere else. According to The Hindu newspaper, Indian authorities first published data on rape in 1973, when life in China was still distorted by the Cultural Revolution which ended around when Mao Zedong died in 1976. There are widespread, often anecdotal, reports of forced sex during that largely lawless decade, often carried out by power holders upon the powerless. Women wanting to escape political exile in the countryside, get an education or just survive may have parlayed sexual relations in which they were largely unwilling participants into advantage – a gray area when the power relationship is so unequal. It’s a factor that continues to figure today in discussions with feminists or researchers of rape in Chinese society. Take the case of Li Tianyi, also known as Li Guanfeng, 17, whose father is a prominent army general and singer, detained last week in Beijing for allegedly taking part in a gang rape in the city. According to Beijing News, the police this week denied widespread online reports that the victim, who has not been named, dropped charges against Mr. Li and four accomplices in exchange for financial compensation including an apartment, job and legal residence in Beijing. (Every Chinese has a “hukou,” or residence permit, which determines his or her legal residence and influences their life opportunities, and this woman was reportedly from out of town.) “Criminal cases are brought by the prosecutors and cannot be withdrawn by the victim as they please,” the newspaper said, citing “official” sources. The case, which has attracted widespread attention in China, is still in the investigative stages “so one can’t even talk about the victim revoking the accusation,” the Beijing police were quoted as saying.

  38. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Women in China experience less sexual harassment in public places than women in India says the NYT piece. Is there any area of inquiry in which India is superior to China? dancing and singing should not be taken into account.


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