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In last few decades, development at Agra has been rapid with erosion of green cover as well as water bodies which have been periodically highlighted by environmentalists and even the local press of Agra.

While we were adopting and making changes in our life style we have ignored the price which we will have to pay for this ill thought development. We have seen the effect of this partial development that we were contributing towards destruction of the city, as the citizens never thought of giving back responsibly what we were taking from nature. This irresponsible attitude of consuming the resources without trying to replenish them contributed to destruction that surpassed all other benefits of our partial development. However things are now looking bright with many citizens and NGO’s of Agra coming together in planting more trees and on other environmental issues. SPHEEHA (Society for Preservation of Healthy Environment and Ecology and Heritage of Agra) has been at the forefront of taking-up environmental issues of Agra at every possible forum to conserve what we are still left with, and try to replenish whatever we can. It has also been one of the pioneers in organising regular mass tree plantations in this city since 2006.

It is easy to plant trees but looking after them is a great task. However SPHEEHA takes this in a responsible manner by performing anti-termite treatment, pruning, manuring and building tree guards to protect these trees from stray animals. It has also invested in a water-tanker to water them through out the year. A dedicated staff looks after these trees like their own extended family thus ensuring the survival rate of over 85%. It gladdens our hearts that many others now follow our example and understand the importance of green cover in this city.

SPHEEHA organised its Inaugural Monsoon Tree Plantation function near Dayalbagh gymnasium on 27th July 2016. Over the years SPHEEHA has planted over 3500+ trees in Agra and this year it is planting another 300 trees as a part of its Monsoon Tree Plantation Drive. The focus is not just on greenery but ensuring that these trees benefit the over-all well-being of the residents of the city; thus emphasis is being laid on flower bearing trees and medicinal plants. Trees being planted are Albania Amana, Amaltas, Neem, Vajaradanti, Mehendi & Rose Climbers. The produce of these medicinal plants will be used in Dayalbagh Ayurveda Pharmacy.

Vector borne diseases are important from a public health point view due to their wide distribution. The magnitude of risk depends on the dynamics and distribution of vector species, which is governed by ecological conditions. Malaria is one of the vector borne climate driven public health problems worldwide. According to World Health Organization report 2014, about 1.2 billion people are at high risk of malaria globally. In southeast Asia, India is the leading contributor of malaria and second most affected region in the world. The recurrent malaria epidemic leads to large mortality, and affects the socio-economic growth of the country. The magnitude of malaria epidemic varies with geography and seasonal variations.

According to a report published in 1990 by the World Health Organization, global climate change is likely to increase the incidence of vector borne disease. To overcome this problem, researchers have explored the association between malaria cases and climatic variables to develop linear or curvilinear relations. However, not much success have been achieved so far. Initially, in India there was a malaria forecasting system, developed by Brevet Lieut-Colonel C A Gill, Chief Medical Officer, Punjab in early 19th century, but has now become obsolete, because of changing environmental conditions. At present there is no early warning system for malaria or other vector borne disease in India to control epidemics.

India is geographically, climatically and culturally diverse, hence there are wide variations in disease burden from place to place. The existing rate of health risk may get magnified with the rate of urbanization and its impact on climate. It is important to develop an early warning system to predict disease burden under changing environmental conditions. Apart from developing an early warning system, we need to control our anthropogenic activities as our future health status depends on environmental condition governed by human activities.

(Contributed by Ms. Preeti Verma – Research Assistant, National Institute of Malaria Research)

Madhu Bhatnagar is a SPHEEHA member and one of Sanctuary’s Green Teacher Awardees and is a living example of what teachers can do to help keep our forests and wildlife alive. Every year she organises programs for Kids, under the banner of SPHEEHA Sanctuary Cub programme. 

Her work has been highlighted by many leading organisation like Santuary Asia, Kids for Tiger amongst others.The featured image is from the ‘Leave Me Alone’ campaign, organised an event at Delhi Public School, Shastripuram, Agra, to mark Global Tiger Day, held annualy on July 29 to give worldwide attention to the reservation of tigers.

Every year hundred of students from various schools participate in the event and films like ‘The Truth About Tigers’ by Shekar Dattatri are screened and then followed with discussions explaining the intrinsic link between the tiger, forests, water, climate change and us. The students become aware and are always moved by the news on the plight of the tiger.

Madhu makes students aware that we have lost 97% of all wild tigers in a bit over 100 years. Instead of 100,000, as few as 3000 live in the wild today, last year it was 3200! A number of Tiger species have already been extinct. Tigers may be one of the most admired animals, but they are also vulnerable to extinction. She also dwells on the man-animal conflict and explains how people and animals are competing for space. The conflict threatens the world’s remaining wild tigers and poses a major problem for communities living in or near tiger forests. As forests shrink and prey gets scarce, tigers are forced to hunt domestic livestock, which many local communities depend on for their livelihood. In retaliation, tigers are killed or captured. “Conflict” tigers are known to end up for sale in black markets. Local community dependence on forests for fuelwood, food and timber also heightens the risk of tiger attacks.

Every year the students attending this program leave by taking an oath to help provide the tiger with space, protection and isolation.

The city of the Taj is far ahead of Delhi, Kanpur or Nainital in terms of the level of black carbon in the atmosphere, one of the factors responsible for giving a yellow tinge to the 17th century white marble monument. A study by Dayalbagh Technical Institute with the help of satellite data has revealed that the level of black carbon is far higher than in the national capital and Kanpur. Even the levels of suspended particulate matter and particulate matter are very high in the city as compared to permissible limits.

Moreover, the survey has found that even the radiative forcing (the difference of radiation absorbed by the earth and that sent back into space) is on the higher side as compared to Delhi or Kanpur. Assistant professor Ranjeet Kumar, principal investigator in the study, said that in Agra heat absorption is more due to pollutants.

“There are two types of components present in the environment. One reduces global warming, while the other increases it. In Agra, the latter’s composition is quite high. The presence of sulphate aerosol, which has a cooling effect, is very low in Agra. It is less than two microgram per cubic metre,” Kumar said. He added that there is no fixed permissible limit for black carbon like other pollutants, as studies are still going on, but the figures suggest that the level of pollution in the city is very high.

The study is being funded by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). For this, equipment like multi-wavelength radiometer for measuring radiation and aethalometer for measuring levels of black carbon are installed and pollutant levels were recorded between 2013 and 2015. “These are the preliminary data, as the project will continue for the next three years,” Kumar added.

Notably, a joint study to look into factors behind the discolouration of the Taj Mahal by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and University of Wisconsin at Madison, USA, last year had revealed that carbonaceous particles (black carbon and brown carbon) and dust on marble surfaces are mainly behind the discolouration of the white marble surface. Percentage-wise, 59% discoloration is due to dust, 38% from brown carbon and 3% from black carbon, the Indo-US study reported.

 

(Published in The Times of India, November 20, 2015/Contributed by SPHEEHA Associate Member – Ranjeet Kumar Sinha)

Next time you are caught in a traffic jam or are overcharged by the autorickshaw drivers in Agra, all you have to do is to use the Agra Traffic Apps to know about auto fares, traffic updates and penalties to be paid. Or you could even call the Tatkal Traffic Police line to call traffic police personnel to come and ease the traffic at the place where you are stranded. What’s more, before venturing out, you can also call up the new traffic control room line called Tango, to get an update on traffic congestion and avoid the route. These and many more steps have bee taken by the Agra Traffic police to ease congestion, encroachment and penalize traffic violators.

Traffic in Agra: The Sustainable Course organized by the Society for Preservation of Healthy Environment and Ecology and Heritage of Agra (SPHEEHA) on Sunday, the chief guest, Pradip Bhatnagar, Commissioner, Agra said, in a society where people don’t respect traffic rules, law enforcing agencies have to get tough and enforce rules.

With increase in urbanization, the city of Agra is facing traffic congestion and transportation woes. With rapid increase in the number of vehicles, the traffic load in the city has already exceeded the carrying capacity of roads, leading to congestion at any given time of the day.

Ram Suresh Yadav, SP (Traffic) Agra, listed the initiatives taken by his team in removing encroachment and easing traffic in Agra. As a pilot project, he chose three problem spots – Yamuna Kinare, NH2 and MG Road – where traffic problems are the worst. Yadav said “We have closed unwanted cuts and removed encroachments in these areas. We are also holding talks with bus operators and shopkeepers to help us in this project. We are also getting the traffic signals repaired. If you travel on this road, you will find that the situation has improved considerably. “ He also said that to ease congestion in the Bhagwan Talkies area, he has roped in an NGO to decongest the Area. Yadav said all his efforts are bearing fruit because of the initiatives taken and awareness spread by SPHEEHA.

Earlier, inaugurating the seminar, M Asad Pathan, President of SPHEEHA said that the seminar is an effort by SPHEEHA to bring the administration, public and all stakeholders at at one platform to deliberate on the problems of traffic in Agra. He said the inter-mixing of slow and fast moving vehicles, lack of road width, improper design of road junctions and roadside dumping of garbage have compounded the problems.

SPHEEHA vice-president Prem Prashant made various suggestions to ease traffic congestion, which was appreciated by the commissioner of Agra. The steps Mr. Prashant suggested included, staggering of school and office timing, segregation of slow and fast-moving vehicles and encouraging companies to allow work-from-home.

There were two technical sessions followed by a Panel discussion.

This is a story of a soul that prefers the life of a turtle to that of a human:

I am Chiru, the turtle and I live in the verdant forests of Vana Pradesh. Unlike other animals of the forest, I am a little different as I come from the region of higher consciousness. In my previous birth, I was a human being. My soul went through various cycles of births to reach the human form, which is supposed to be the best and the only form that can liberate a soul. However, having suffered at the hands of fellow human beings, I have little to eulogise about the species. They suffer from ego, anger, jealousy and greed. They can physically harm each other and even commit rape and murder. They hoard, cheat, steal, waste and do many more unpleasant things.

During my 90-year stint as a human, I came across this small group of evolved souls who pleaded with people to live their lives in a worthy manner. But the rest of the human race treated them like weeds that have to be obviated. This is why, when I realised that I was nearing the end of my journey as a human being, I pleaded with God to either liberate me from the cycle of births or give me another form, never mind if it were some rungs lower than the human form. Perhaps, God took it up as a special case and allowed me to take birth as s turtle.

Being born as a turtle has its advantages. As they have a long life-span, turtles get to observe effects of long-term changes around them. I am slow, deliberate and meditative. I am not impulsive. In fact, no resident of Vana Pradesh is rash. Cheetah kills only when she and her cubs are hungry. Snake doesn’t kill wantonly. Even the much-maligned close relative of man — I mean Monkey – does not shear the branches of the tree where he lives to eat his favourite jamun.

There is no ego or jealousy at play. Crow is not envious of Peacock’s feathers. Elephant is happy with its shape and doesn’t aspire to be as slender as Giraffe. I don’t want to gallop like Horse. All the tales that you have read in folktales and fables have been spun by human beings, inadvertently reflecting their own traits. ‘For each, his own’ is the motto here. We live according to our nature. Hence, we live peacefully. In fact, we live in complete synchrony with existence. Nature is respected and no one dares do anything against nature. Here, lakes and ponds are not dirtied, trees are not felled and the air is not polluted.

We are happy that we are not burdened by philosophies. We are no longer Hindus, Muslims, Brahmins and Catholics. We are not white or black, neither beautiful nor ugly. Gold, diamond and pearls mean nothing to us. Who cares what new car Merc has launched. To hell with botox and silicone implants. These frivolities are for humans who hope to take all these to Nirvana Land. We live in tune with existence, working our way to Nirvana. Vana Pradesh is our Mother Earth and she is all we need. She takes care of us, protects us, and nurtures us and we reciprocate with the same intensity; something which humans refuse to learn. May be some day they will…

(Published in The Speaking Tree, March 21, 2013/Contributed by SPHEEHA Associate Member – Ranjeni A Singh)

There are numerous issues that plague Agra. From reducing green cover to monkey menace to chaotic traffic to strewn garbage to sanitation and many more. Its time that the City wakes to the reality and citizens, administrations and likeminded bodies help in making this city truly world class. SPHEEHA endeavours alone will not help.

Included in this video are the top 10 Heritage & must visit sites of Agra. SPHEEHA conducts “Agra beyond Taj” every year and highlights little known monuments of Agra.

We showcase here a video from Harvard Graduate School of Design who conducted a Studio workshop at Agra and studied the issue of extreme urbanisation at Agra and the need for Conservation. We at SPHEEHA have always advocated for the same. The depleting tree cover, haphazard construction in areas like Dayalbagh and elsewhere in Agra is a matter of concern. Do watch this video for more insight.