Communication gap: Bihar floods show why India, Nepal need to get their act together


Over 100 lives lost, 0.1 million displaced and 7.2 million people affected. That’s the human cost of the flood that deluged Bihar for close to two weeks this July.

Many lives could have been saved, losses averted, and people and livestock evacuated had the communities known beforehand that heavy rains were also lashing the Terai (lowland) region of the neighbouring Himalayan country, Nepal, and that the rivers flowing from across the border were in spate.

But weather-related information takes an average 48 hours to travel through the Indian and Nepalese bureaucratic circuit, say experts. And that’s way too long for a gushing river that can obliterate villages overnight.

Between July 7 and 13, heavy rainfall in Bihar caused flash floods in six districts. People started picking up their lives as the intensity of rainfall reduced by July 14.

But suddenly, the authorities of Koshi Barrage, located on the Kosi river just before it enters India, opened the floodgates. Though heavy rains in the state stopped by July 17, some 12 districts were declared flood-hit.

The delay of information sharing is alarming because every time Nepal has received heavy rains, Bihar has recorded flash floods. “In the recent past, this happened in 2008, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017,” says Narayan Gyawali of Lutheran World Relief (LWR) foundation, a non-profit that runs a community-based project in India and Nepal on early flood warning systems.

The two countries have a circuitous communication channel that means the information is either critically delayed or unclear, and of little use to most riverbank communities in down-stream Bihar. This is when the Nepal government has a dedicated Water and Energy Commission Secretariat for trans-boundary water issues, established way back in 1981.

Both the countries have also constituted a Joint Committee on Inundation and Flood Management.

Talking to Down To Earth, C K L Das, a member of the joint committee and chairperson of the Ganga Flood Control Commission, Patna, said the committee members do interact with communities that live in flood-prone areas in both the countries on a regular basis to assess their concerns and address those. But they do not issue flood warnings to communities as “there is no official requirement for us to do this”.

Just like Nepal, India too has a body, the Central Water Commission, which monitors floods in the country. But it looks only at the rivers and does not take into account the rainfall data for flood predictions.

“Though bringing together rainfall data and river monitoring to do better flood forecasting has been talked about by both the countries, there is no specific plan put in place for this to happen,” says Das.

Poor transborder information sharing has been a long standing problem for India. Last year, Arunachal Pradesh got flooded due to heavy rainfall in China. There are also fears that the ongoing rains in China might soon affect Assam, where 4.4 million people have already been affected by floods due to incessant rainfall.

“With the past political crisis during the Doklam standoff (the 2017 India China border standoff), the data sharing (between the two countries) has been limited,” says Giriraj Amarnath of the International Water Management Institute, a non-profit research organisation based in Colombo, which works on sustainable use of water and land resources.

While the government has failed to create a system to warn the people, several community-level initiatives across India and Nepal are seamlessly sharing timely information. The people of Bihar’s Birpur village in Supaul district, for example, received a flood warning on July 13.

“I got a call from Nepal about the rising water levels in the Kosi. We immediately shifted our families and livestock to safer zones,” says Chandan Roy from the village which is just a few kilometres from the Indo-Nepal border. The village was drowned a day later when Koshi barrage was opened.

“We had zero casualties because of the timely warning. We even communicated the information to nearby communities,” says Roy, who is part of LWR’s transborder citizen forum, an initiative started in 2013 where comm unities across the border regularly meet to discuss flood mitigation measures. The non-profit claims that the initiative issued timely warnings to 48 communities in India that benefitted over 25,000 people in Supaul and Madhubani districts.

“Community-based flood early warn ing system utilises local resources to enhance the community’s resilience,” says Neera Shrestha Pradhan of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, which runs a similar initiative in the Hindu Kush Himalaya.

The upstream community generates the flood information using a low-cost transmitter-receiver unit and disseminates early warning to the communities. The transmitter is placed on the river bank, and the receiver is placed in a house of the nearest village.

The homeowner monitors the unit and disseminates information to communities, local government agencies, and other stakeholders through mobile messages and WhatsApp groups. 

Transborder information sharing is imperative because the frequency of extreme rainfall events is on the rise.

“Some of the most sophisticated forecasts with climate change models suggest that as the globe warms, more rains will fall in the form of severe, intermittent storms rather than in the kind of gentle soaking showers that can sustain crops,” says a report in the journal Nature. This trend was at play in July.

Till July 7, as many as 27 of the 38 districts in Bihar recorded over 40 per cent deficit rainfall. Over the next week, seven of these rainfall-deficit districts were under flash floods. Nepal too was waiting for the onset of monsoons till July 10, when its Department of Hydro logy and Meteorology issued a sudden warning of floods in the next 20-36 hours.

Over the next 24 hours, mid and eastern parts of Nepal received the heaviest rains in the past 30 years. The long term (1981-2010) precipitation data of Nepal highlights that Terai regions are becoming more prone to high-intensity rainfall events than the highland regions, according to a research paper published in the journal Climate in January 2017.

Given the climate pressures, Amarnath says India should bring an economic focus to its transborder flood warning policies.

“India allows Bhutan to use the Brahmaputra to ship goods to Bangladesh. Such economic associations help establish effective warning systems across international borders.” Political will along with community-driven initiatives is an effective way to prepare for such floods, he adds.

City girl to represent India at Miss Tourism Worldwide


She’s a die-heart Virat Kohli fan, would love to make her Bollywood debut opposite Ranbir Kapoor and is all set to represent India at an international beauty pageant. It’s a matter of great pride for Jharkhand as Ranchi’s beauty 19- year- old Samarpana Singh is going to represent India at Miss Tourism Worldwide, which will be held in Singapore from September 17 to September 23.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be able to represent India at an international platform. I am really honoured and at the same time also very emotional to serve my country at this stage,” said an ecstatic Singh.

Singh has been crowned as the first runner up at Mr. & Miss India Charming Face, which was held on November 24, 2018 in Jaipur. “I got to know about this contest through a friend. It was a great experience participating and competing with 30 contestants from across the country. For this pageant, participants are not selected on the basis of looks, height or complexion but on their confidence and ability to win hears,” recalls Singh.

She has also won INIFD Best Model 2018, Aqua face of the year 2017 and was adjudged the second runner up as the Princess of Jharkhand in 2017.

The aspiring model started her modeling career in Ranchi in 2017 and since then there has been no looking back. “When I got the first opportunity, I had no idea about this field. But I was very keen to learn as former Miss World Aishwarya Rai has always been a great source of inspiration to me,” said Singh.

The young model gives all the credit to Jazpreet Kaur- National Director of Aster Fine Arty Education for giving her this life changing opportunity. Gearing up for the upcoming pageant, Singh is concentrating on her overall personality development including on how to walk the ramp, choreography and personal interview.

Singh is putting her best foot forward to win the title and start her acting career. Facing a lot of hardships because of her height, she feels she has reached this far with sheer perseverance and hard work.

Born in Ranchi, Singh completed her schooling from DAV Public School Gandhinagar and is currently pursuing her graduation in Bachelors of Commerce. She is a yellow belt holder in Karate and is also learning Nunchuk- a Japanese form of martial arts.

Being the only child, Singh feels she owes all her success to her mother Dr. Sheela Tiwari who has been her biggest supporter. “She has raised me single handedly while going through a lot financially and emotionally. She has been my real life inspiration and I just want to thank her for all her love and support,” she further added.

Cut to the future, five years down the line Singh sees herself as a successful actress inspiring million others like her. “For all those who want to enter the modeling industry, just believe in yourself as nothing else matters,” remarked Singh.

Walking the Path of the Buddha in a Neglected Corner of India


Buddhism was born under a giant fig tree, which, today, grows at the center of the remote and unbeautiful town of Bodh Gaya, in India’s destitute northeastern state of Bihar. The tree is about three crooked blocks from the Be Happy Café and a few minutes’ walk from a used book store where a middle-aged Krishna devotee from Iowa, named James, works, reselling old paperbacks by Hesse and Murakami.

The sacred Bodhi Tree is surrounded by a wall and guarded by police. (Islamic extremists bombed the site in 2013.) At dawn, before pilgrims begin their daily perambulations around the tree’s massive trunk, local children forage under its sprawling canopy—some branches are propped up by iron columns—to gather fallen leaves. Pressed inside clear plastic, the leaves are sold to visitors from Bhutan, Myanmar, and Manhattan, and to outposts of Buddhism around the world. The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, a reputed prince from what is now Nepal, is said to have achieved nirvana while meditating under the tree, in the fifth century B.C. The Awakened One purportedly spent seven weeks under under the Bodhi Tree after achieving liberation from the wheel of suffering that binds humankind to selfhood, aging, disease, and death. So Deepak Anand told me.

Last winter, I met Anand not in the Be Happy Café but at one of its competitors, the Tibet Om Cafe. The menu offered a staple comfort food of Western spiritual seekers in Asia: banana pancakes. Anand, who was forty-five, didn’t eat. He was tall, pin-thin, had a shaved head, and was so intense and talkative that he ordered a cup of tea but forgot to drink it. Anand is a self-taught cultural geographer. For the past twelve years, he has analyzed historical texts and used G.P.S. technology to chart what he says are the pathways walked by the Buddha as he spread his philosophy of mindfulness across northern India, about twenty-four hundred years ago. Anand hopes to promote this spiritual legacy by reviving a network of “Buddha trails” for pilgrims and tourists to walk in Bihar, the cradle of the world’s fourth-largest religion. Yet Buddhism largely vanished from the region centuries ago, eclipsed by Hinduism and Islam. Today, farmers plow up stone effigies without realizing that the sculptures are antique representations of the sage. “People long ago tore down the stupas and built their homes using the old bricks and stones,” Anand said, referring to Buddhist monuments that once dotted the Ganges River plains. “They simply didn’t know.”

To test his ideas, Anand suggested we hike from the Tree of Enlightenment, in Bodh Gaya, to the ruins of the Nalanda university—an important center of Buddhist learning, which was razed by Turkic invaders in the twelfth century. The four-day trek effectively spans Buddhism’s rise and fall in the subcontinent—many scholars believe the university’s destruction contributed to the religion’s decline. No one in recent times, Anand assured me, had retraced the Buddha’s footsteps along the fifty-mile route.

The Buddha’s only concession to hiking kit was a begging bowl. He sometimes strode through the villages of Bihar with a large crowd of followers in tow. Our own walking party numbered four: the Bangalore-based journalist Bhavita Bhatia carried a Free Tibet flag in her rucksack; Siddharth Agarwal, a river conservationist from Kolkata, lugged a leaden hardback copy of “Ganges: The Many Pasts of an Indian River”; I packed the electronics needed to transmit stories from the trail. Only Anand practiced Buddhist non-attachment. All he brought was a light sweater. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he said, when we caught up with him on the trail, after he repeatedly surged ahead. “I’m a high-energy person.”

In the Buddha’s day, northern India’s religious landscape was in a time of spiritual crisis and social upheaval. Disillusioned, rudderless, Siddhartha renounced his gilded life—a childhood with thirty-two nursemaids, a kingdom with seasonal palaces and private gardens, and his princess wife and their child—to join other ascetics meditating in forests along the Neranjara River.

Today, plastic trash spangles the river’s sandy banks. Miles of rice fields steam where giant trees once threw blue shadows. “British records reported a leopard at the train station as late as the nineteen-thirties,” Anand said, wistfully. “It’s all gone.”

A carload of sightseeing Malaysian monks stopped to ask us directions. They ended up debating Anand about the location of Ratnagiri Rock, the site sometimes identified as the place where Siddhartha finally abandoned the hermit life, broke his fast with a bowl of gruel, and invented a “middle way” to transcendence that rejects both extreme sensuality and extreme austerity. Anand informed the monks that he had geotagged the exact coördinates of Siddhartha’s epiphany. The monks smiled in polite silence. “There are so many sects in Buddhism,” Anand said. “It’s impossible to convince them all.” We walked on. We passed the mountain cave where Siddhartha was said to have mortified himself for six years, by some accounts sleeping on a bed of spikes. And, after that pilgrimage stop, Bihar became just Bihar.

Chronically listed as one of India’s poorest states, Bihar isn’t usually associated with spiritual revival. Its news cycle instead tallies droughts, floods, fatal encephalitis outbreaks, and the violent aftershocks of a failed Maoist insurgency.

Following Anand, we plodded through abandoned sand mines. We stepped over railroad tracks. Inert villages slipped by, hollowed out by urban migration. In granaries, families hand-cranked large mechanical fans to generate a breeze for threshing their harvest. The Biharis, though, are ritually kind. They offer a cup of well water, a spot of shade, a narcotic betel nut to chew on the way. A day’s walk from the global tourist bubble of Bodh Gaya, where lamas broadcast meditation tips on YouTube, the world grows so insular that young village boys, peering up at me, exclaimed, “Look at that face! Have you ever seen a face like that?”

“What our people and the government don’t realize,” Anand told us, in frustration, “is that they are living on top of a global treasure—inside a living museum.”

Anand isn’t Buddhist. He was a Hindu by birth and is an empiricist by nature. Mostly, he is a proud Bihari.

The middle-class son of a military father and a housewife mother, Anand studied engineering and hoped to become a fighter pilot. But his curiosity kept drawing him to the mounds of Nalanda. The grassy hillocks are rubble from the powerful Magadha empire, whose kings funded the world’s first Buddhist monasteries, more than two millennia ago. Anand began poring through early travellers’ accounts of his homeland’s largely forgotten past. His hero is Xuanzang, an adventurous Chinese monk who travelled to India, in the seventh century, to study the roots of Buddhism. Working as a pilgrimage interpreter and cultural consultant, Anand became an unlikely Buddhologist. An entry on his blog, announcing his purported discovery of Ratnagiri Rock, and citing a fifth-century Chinese monk named Faxian, contains paragraphs like this:

Anand has compiled hundreds of such waypoints in his Buddha-trail database. He is a keen admirer of his predecessors, the nineteenth-century British archeologists whose excavations proved that Buddhism was a South Asian idea. (Earlier scholars had maintained, based on curly-headed statues, that the Buddha was Ethiopian.) “The British were colonizers,” Anand said, “but they gave India the Buddha.”

“And they took everything they found away to London,” Agarwal, the river conservationist, said.

When we walked into a village called Lohjara, every household seemed to wave at Anand. He was hailed for pressuring the local police into investigating the theft of the village’s stone Buddha. The weathered statue, contemplating eternity in the lotus position, had been sitting in a local field for generations. In 2014, art thieves hefted the heavy sculpture into a car trunk and made off into the night. Two years later, acting on a tip, officers raided a nearby warehouse and found the Buddha packed for export. “We felt very bad those two years,” Rattan Pandey, a village elder, recalled. “We protested to the authorities to recover it immediately. We even blocked the roads.”

The restored Buddha was anchored with steel hoops beneath a village tree. The statue’s face was hacked off centuries ago, possibly by a Turkic soldier. Pandey worshipped the figure as Nakti Shiva, or Noseless Shiva, a mutilated version of the Hindu god.

We climbed the Jethian valley, plucking tart berries from jujube trees. According to the explorer-monk Xuanzan, a local man had tried to measure the Buddha’s height when he visited the place, but gauging the immense soul by any earthly means had proved impossible. In frustration, the skeptic had thrown down his bamboo yardstick—which sprouted to green life. Canebrakes still feathered Jethian’s high ravines. There were also faded village posters advertising Anand’s first effort at resuscitating the sacred landscapes of Bihar—a pilgrim’s walk organized with a charity from California.

A remote mountain road patrolled by rhesus monkeys led us to Rajgir, the former capital of the Magadha empire. The area was a bewildering Venn diagram of India’s singular spiritual history: Jain caves, Hindu temples, Muslim shrines, Ashokan stupas. Anand was well-known here, too. At Vulture’s Peak, a shrine where the Buddha taught his Heart Sutra—“Form is only emptiness, emptiness only form”—a crowd of touts, stevedores, rickshaw drivers, and cold-drink venders ringed Anand. They complained about being bullied by a pilgrimage mafia. He advised them to unionize.

On day four, we limped into Nalanda under clouds the color of polished lead. Anand showed us around. At its peak, Nalanda, in central Bihar, was the largest center of Buddhist learning in the world. It housed as many as ten thousand student monks. They argued about Buddhist doctrine and studied cosmology, astronomy, and art. Scores of villages nearby were dedicated to feeding resident scholars. Nalanda’s graduates helped carry Buddhism to Tibet and points along the Silk Road. “They used big mirrors to reflect light onto the Buddha statues inside temples,” Anand said, highlighting the monastic center’s architectural wonders.

But the manicured ruins felt comatose. Bhatia, the journalist, unfurled her colorful Tibetan pennant—the only touch of color on Nalanda’s barren squares.

How Buddhism ghosted away from its Indian source, between seven and nine centuries ago, remains one of the great mysteries in the history of religion. The Hindu nationalists now in power in New Delhi take an official stance: they insist that Muslim hordes from Central Asia—first Turkic invaders and later the Mughals—wiped out the pacifist Buddhists at sword-point. The general who razed Nalanda, Bakhtiyar Khalji, couldn’t even read the millions of Buddhist manuscripts he torched. But other scholars, Anand included, believe the reality is more complex. For centuries, Buddhism’s influence was waning in India. The monasteries created a brain drain, sapping innovation. The monks grew isolated from the people. Hinduism and Islam attracted more followers. It was as if Buddhism evanesced the same way that its master teacher did. The Buddha reputedly died, at age eighty, near what is today Kushinagar, in Uttar Pradesh. His ashes were taken from the scene of his life and scattered far across the Buddhist world.

According to some scriptures, the Buddha spent a week “walking a long way up and down in joy and ease” after attaining enlightenment. Our own little walking party sputtered to an end at the Nalanda bus stop. Bhatia left for Sikkim. Anand returned to his base, at Bodh Gaya. Only Agarwal and I slogged on—toward the Brahmaputra River. A dense ground fog hugged the fields, making navigation difficult. We stumbled along sodden canal trails. Crows appeared and vanished in the white. Anand had asked, before we parted, for endurance-walking advice. I’d forgotten to tell him that, on any long walk, he will get lost. And that being a little lost isn’t bad. It helps you stay awake. And being found is overrated.

Gogabeel is Bihar’s first community reserve


Gogabeel, an ox-bow lake in Bihar’s Katihar district, has been declared as the state’s first ‘Community Reserve’.

The water body was notified as a 57 hectare Community Reserve and a 30 hectare ‘Conservation Reserve’ on August 2, 2019 by Deepak Kumar, principal secretary, department of environment, forest and climate change, Bihar.  

Gogabeel is formed from the flow of the rivers Mahananda and Kankhar in the north and the Ganga in the south and east. It is the fifteenth Protected Area (PA) in Bihar.

Long Journey

The notification marked the end of a long journey for conservation experts who had been trying to convince both, local residents as well as the authorities to declare the important birding site as a PA.

“Gogabeel was initially notified as a ‘Closed Area’ by the state government in the year 1990 for five years,” Arvind Mishra, state coordinator of the Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN), a network of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), BirdLife International, UK and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), UK, told Down To Earth.

Mishra, also a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, has been a visitor to the area since the early 1990s.

“This status was extended in 1995, up to 2000. After the amendment of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, in 2002, the provision of ‘Closed Area’ was omitted and this site disappeared from the list of the Bihar government’s PAs, having no legal status,” he added.

In 2004, Gogabeel, including the neighbouring Baghar Beel and Baldia Chaur, were given the status of an IBA (Important Bird Area of India) by the IBCN.

In 2017, on the recommendation of Arvind Mishra, IBCN again declared Gogabeel as an IBA. Mishra also recommended the site as having the potential to be declared as a Ramsar Site of India.

All through these years, members of different local non-profits such as Goga Vikas Samiti, Janlakshya (Katihar), Mandar Nature Club and Arnav from Bhagalpur worked hard to convince local people to have the area declared as a Community Reserve.

“It was not at all easy to convince them that the rights and management of this Community Reserve would remain with the local community,” Raj Aman Singh, treasurer of Janlakshya, said.

The non-profits took various measures. For instance, Janlakshya adopted a local tribal village ‘Marwa’, organising different camps and programmes for the residents to sensitise them about ensuring the protection of Gogabeel and its biodiversity.

“The local villagers were generous enough to have agreed for developing the Community Reserve on their land,” Ram Kripal Kumar of Goga Vikas Samiti, another non-profit, said.

The whole community around Gogabeel supported every move to declare it as a reserve for birds and biodiversity. “They wish this area be developed as a prime destination for the bird watchers in the country,” TN Tarak, eminent environmentalist and Janlakshya member, said.

On November 2, 2018, the State Board for Wildlife passed the proposal for notifying Gogabeel and Baghar Beel as ‘Community Reserve’ and ‘Conservation Reserve’.

Bird Paradise

“Gogabeel is a permanent waterbody, although it shrinks to some extent in the summer but never dries completely,” said Mishra.

In summers, the waterbody measures 88 hectares, but supports a unique assemblage of bird species, both in count and diversity.

More than 90 bird species have been recorded from this site, of which, about 30 are migratory.

Among the threatened species, the Lesser Adjutant Stork is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN while the Black Necked Stork, White Ibis and White-eyed Pochard are ‘Near Threatened’.

Other species reported from this site include Black Ibis, Ashy Swallow Shrike, Jungle Babbler, Bank Myna, Red Munia, Northern Lapwing and Spotbill Duck.

Breathless Bihar | India Today Insight


Every morning, many of Patna’s school kids can be seen wearing a plastic mask as they board their school buses. By mid-morning, Bihar’s capital resembles a city in camouflage with thousands of motorcyclists riding around with colourful masks strapped to their faces.

“My eyes burn, throat itches and chest heaves. I feel breathless more often than not,” says beauty care professional Radha Paswan, 28. She leaves home at 9 am to be at her workplace by 10. “I rush to switch on the air-conditioner the moment I reach my workplace. It still takes a few minutes for me to start breathing normally,” she says.

Radha, however, is not alone in her sufferings. Bihar is increasingly getting breathless. The latest Bihar Economic Survey for 2018-19 confirms that Acute Respiratory Illness (ARI) accounts for 36.2% of total patients who visited hospitals last year.

No wonder, ARI is the most prevalent disease in Bihar. The Economic Survey, incidentally, is an exhaustive document annually released by the state finance department to map overall performance of various departments.

In terms of numbers, as many as 1.28 million ARI patients were registered in Bihar last year, which was 11% more than the number of patients suffering from fever of unknown origin, No. 2 in the pecking order of main diseases in Bihar.

The body’s respiratory system includes the nose, sinuses, mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), windpipe (trachea), and lungs. Upper respiratory infections affect the parts of the respiratory tract that are higher on the body, including the nose, sinuses, and throat, while lower respiratory infections affect the airways and lungs.

“Types of upper respiratory infection include the common cold (head cold), flu, tonsillitis, laryngitis and sinus infection. It is the lower respiratory infections, though, which can be worrisome,” says Dr Ajay Kumar, vice president of Indian Medical Association, Bihar. “It can be caused by bronchitis, pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), severe flu, or tuberculosis. Lower respiratory infection symptoms include a severe cough that may produce mucus (phlegm), shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing when exhaling. Clearly, even minor respiratory issues can be debilitating for a person’s immune system and can lead to complications, if it is allowed to persist.”

“There are multiple reasons for the respiratory issues: pollution from vehicles, garbage burning, road and construction dust, followed by brick kilns they all contribute to it,” he adds.

A comparative study of the figures point towards a very disturbing trend. The number of ARI patients in Bihar has gone up from 690,000 in 2016-17 to 1.28 million in 2017-18, an increase of 290,000 respiratory patients in just one year. “What is, however, more worrisome is the fact that ARI has been at the top of the table of Bihar’s main diseases year after year. We need to do a deeper study to understand the cause and eliminate it,” says a senior health department official.

Dr Ragini Mishra, surveillance officer at the Bihar Health Society, a state government body, explains that ARI numbers have always been high because it also includes cases of common cold. The State Health Society, however, will soon collect a database of patients suffering from pulmonary and other respiratory disorders. Once done, this will be compared to the air quality index to establish what could have caused the disease.

A deeper scrutiny of the figure of ARI patients in Bihar, however, suggests that the usual suspect, air pollution by vehicular traffic, is not the only culprit. In fact, an assessment of patients has confirmed that districts with fewer vehicles have higher number of patients suffering from respiratory illness.

For instance, the district of Vaishali, which annually registers not even 25% of the number of vehicles registered in Patna, reports four times more respiratory cases than those registered in the capital.

Incidentally, of the 1,283,860 patients of Acute Respiratory infection reported in the state last year, Vaishali alone accounted for 126,104 cases. Siwan (94,013), Jamui (90,885), Khgaria (80,212), Purnea (65,254) and Bhojpur (65,027) are the other districts where respiratory illness cases have touched alarming numbers. On the other hand, Patna, said to be the most polluted city with maximum population density in Bihar, had just 20,083 cases of respiratory illness reported last year.

Vaishali, however, does have a higher population share per Vaishali is No. 4 in most densely populated districts in the state, with 1,717 persons per as against the state’s average of 1,106.

“The cause of these alarming numbers, however, is not just the dreaded pollution caused by vehicle fumes,” says Dr Ajay Kumar, vice-president of the Indian Medical Association in Bihar.

“The toxic air that we breathe is the new tobacco. Add to this the unhygienic conditions in Bihar’s rural outback, prevalence of dust and lack of awareness and you have a recipe for disaster,” Dr Kumar adds.

Incidentally, toxic air is already a global menace killing seven million people each year, according to last year’s United Nations Environment Programme report. A majority of these deaths have been reported from the Asia-Pacific region.

Muzaffarpur-based senior pediatrician Dr Arun Shah told India Today that high population density, increasing urban slums and poor sensitivity to health awareness are the major reasons for respiratory diseases. “Remember, viral infection spreads like wildfire. Proactive prevention and timely treatment are just a few ways to win over respiratory illness,” he says.

There are grave threats. Long-term exposure to lung irritants and toxins in the air can cause Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which, according to University of Washington’s Global Burden of Disease study, 2018, was the second highest cause of deaths in India after heart disease in 2017, killing almost 1 million (958,000 to be exact) Indians that year.

COPD inflames airways in the lungs and destroys the air sacs which extract oxygen from the air and expel waste, including carbon dioxide. Patients often cough, wheeze and are short of breath.

In the developed world, a majority of COPD cases are caused by smoking tobacco, but in the developing world, including India, most COPD cases are caused by exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, particularly burning biomass, from wood to cow dung.

This could well be the case in Bihar too where a village woman cooks over a dung-fuelled chulha for several hours a day. She could be more exposed to hazardous pollutants than an office worker in Patna.

“The top priority should be to reduce household air pollution from cooking with biomass because the proximity to stove smoke, especially for women and children, makes it most harmful,” says Dr Shah.

But in Bihar’s outback, home to the poor population, people seem less inclined to change their way of life. Chewing tobacco is one of the habits which many in Bihar are unwilling to shun. Researchers have linked smokeless tobacco products also to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Tobacco users are more likely to suffer from wheezing and night-time chest tightness, chronic bronchitis and chronic nose and sinus problems. Time for Bihar to take note.

Eightfold inaugurates new artificial intelligence research and innovation hub in India


Building on robust growth,, the creator of the Talent Intelligence Platform, announced the opening of ‘Eightfold Nalanda’, its global center of excellence, research and innovation in cutting-edge AI domain. Founded by Dr. Ashutosh Garg and Varun Kacholia, IIT alumni and Machine Learning experts from Google and Facebook, has already secured more than 100 customers operating in 20 countries around the world.

With a recent Series C round of $28 million, the company has quickly become one of the most well capitalized companies in Silicon Valley, and with a growing portfolio of products, and a growing global team, the company is expanding quickly. The company’s customers in India include Tata Communications Limited and Delhivery.

“Opening Eightfold Nalanda, our center of excellence, in India is an important step in our growth,” said Dr. Ashutosh Garg, Co-Founder and CEO of “Having grown up in India, it’s important to me that we bring the benefits of our AI Platform to the workforce in India as well. The algorithms that power the Eightfold Talent Intelligence Platform are built to help everyone find the right role for them and help them realize their potential, while embracing our diversity.”

Co-Founders Dr. Garg and Kacholia are widely hailed for their record of innovation and leadership in Machine Learning, holding between them 86 patents. The co-founders have filed four new patents in the last year at

In service of this vision for the company’s place in India, names its India headquarters and center of excellence as Eightfold Nalanda. The center of excellence in India will be under the leadership of Sandesh Goel, who will be General Manager for India.

“Today we have customers in 20 countries across four continents and they are driving the innovation on our Talent Intelligence Platform across talent acquisition, career planning, skills development, and employee and candidate experience. India, in itself, is now one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world and it was time to bring many strategic functions of the company to serve this geography at scale. I am excited to welcome Sandesh Goel to our team and have him build an excellent team in India,” said Dr. Garg.

“Opening the Eightfold Nalanda global center of excellence in India is an exciting moment for all of us,” said Sandesh Goel, general manager – India at “Re-skilling is emerging as a key imperative for employers all over the world, nowhere more so than here in India. Half of the world’s Millennial population is in India, and these young workers face job displacement requiring them to learn new skills quickly. The employers of India must adapt in order to attract and retain their talent as well. These are the challenges we are now addressing at scale with our Talent Intelligence Platform.”

Google is using AI to monitor flood in India, pilot project Patna called a success


ndia accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the flood-related fatalities in the world. Nearly 107,487 people have died due to heavy rains and floods in India over a span of 64 years between 1953 and 2017. And the floods are only getting worse year after year. Is there something that can be done? While the Indian government is working on solutions that will mitigate effect of flood, Google has deployed its artificial intelligence (AI) systems and machine learning to predict floods with better accuracy, which can give people more time to prepare for it and migrate to a safer location.

Google has started Flood Forecasting Initiative in India, which aims to develop an ecosystem that predicts floods and informs people before such a natural calamity strikes so that loss to life and property can be reduced. The company piloted a program in Patna last year which was able to predict floods and the regions that it would be affected due to the natural disaster with an accuracy of over 90 per cent.

Achieving such a high accuracy is no ordinary feat, as it requires a combination of factors including a deep understanding of the topography, tons of historic data and real-time information that needs to be processed together to predict the region that would be affected by the floods. Google achieved this by combining the data from government agencies that provide on-ground information from measuring devices placed on the spot and thousands of images of the flood prone areas captured by various satellites orbiting the Earth.

The tech giant then ran hundreds of thousands of simulations on its machine learning models — such as the hydrologic model and the hydraulic model — to predict the flow of water in a particular region and create accurate flood forecasts, which in this case was near Patna.

Now, all this sounds quite simple. But in reality, the company faced a lot of challenges, both technological and regulatory while collecting data for its flood forecast model and broadcasting this information out to the public. While the company collaborated with governments and purchased and aggregated the distributed data to overcome some of the technological hurdles, to overcome the regulatory obstacles, the tech giant showed the governments results based on historic data and piloted in a small region to build the trust among other things.

“Part of what the biggest technological challenge here is to do something that is automated but is complex enough to work anywhere in the world… that is something that we are still working on,” Software Engineering Manager at Google, Sella Nevo told the India Today Tech. “On the regulatory partnership side, I think we are on the first steps of a long process to persuade governments to trust us with such an important and sensitive system.”

Once the company’s ML models made predictions about the floods, it collaborated with government agencies and local NGOs to impart this information to the people in the region where the company’s AI had predicted would be affected by the floods. Google has a separate interface for government agencies like the Central Water Works Commission in India, NGOs and international agencies like the UN and the Red Cross society, where it gives away more detailed information regarding its forecasts. In addition to this, Google also informed people using Google Maps, Google Search and Android alerts. However, these alerts contain simplified information that can be easily understood by the general public.

In low connectivity areas, however, Google used a combination of three methods to inform the residents about the possible disaster. First, the tech giant provided information to the government so that it can roll out information to the public. Second, it partnered with NGOs, in this case: SEEDS in Patna, that have dozens of workers on ground who can spread the word as quickly as possible. Lastly, the company made all its alerts publicly accessible.

“We make these alerts publicly available and allow even commercial entities to use it so thatwe are hoping that other organisations will help to fill whatever gaps are left after our efforts,” said Nevo.

Patna pilot was a success and now Google is planning to scale its operations and launch its flood monitoring initiative in many locations near the Ganges and Bhramaputra. “We have expanded around Patna and we now have fairly large area around Guwahati We now cover around six times the area we did last year,” Nevo said.

But India is not the end, Google aims to deploy this system globally and it is focusing on the countries in the South East Asia region, which will be picked based on the number of fatalities and people affected. “Our high priority countries include Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Those are the areas where we hope to launch in the future,” said Nevo.

27.1 crore poor in India now above BPL index: UN report


he 2019 global multi-dimensional poverty index report by the United Nations states that 27.1 crore of the poor in India have come above the BPL index. According to the report, Jharkhand is among other states which have improved by leaps and bounds in poverty reduction.

The UN report is based on factors such as income, health, quality of work and threat of violence.

While the report shows growth among the poverty-stricken people, some right to food activists do not seem to be impressed by it. They said that Jharkhand still has to go a long way in addressing the issues of poor, public distribution system (PDS) and food guarantee.

The government may not admit the ground realities, but deaths due to starvation have been reported time and again in Jharkhand from the beginning, activists said.

An advisor to the Supreme Court on the right to food, Balram, questioned the basis on which the poor have been identified and put in different categories. In the 2011 census report, 23.94 lakh poor were kept under PVTG (Particular Vulnerable Tribe Group) category. Everyone belonging to the PVTG was allotted red cards, indicating that they are eligible to get 35 kg of food grain every month.

Around 11.44 lakh were identified as priority household (PHH). Prior to the National Food Security Act, 2013, these people were eligible for 35 kg of food grains every month, but after amendments in the provision, every individual is entitled to only 5 kg of food grains per month.

Earlier, any household or family received 35 kg. But now, if there are only four members in a family, their ration will be curtailed by 15 kg.

Moreover, the population is another reason behind the struggles of the poor. The population in India has grown rapidly by 25 per cent since 2011, but the allotment of ration to the poor section of the society by the government under different schemes remains the same. This has led to a yawning gap between demand and supply.

According to many, digitalisation has played a spoilsport in the PDS. A big lot of beneficiaries are left out following the internet problem and poor connectivity or network.

However, Jharkhand’s Minister of Food and Civil Supplies Saryu Roy refuted the argument. He said, “After 2016, it was clearly instructed that ration dispensation is mandatory, no matter if it is online or offline. The offline process just needs approval from BSO (Block Supply Officer).

Roy also said that the ration cards of only those members were cancelled who had two cards issued in their name. To avoid the issue of double ration cards, the government had made it mandatory to link ration cards with Aadhar number.

Jharkhand minister Saryu Roy said, “We have formed a food bank in every panchayat. They have been sent a standing imprest of Rs 10,000 to distribute among those who are unable to access ration from the dealers following technical reasons. The steps were taken with an aim to minimise the chances of starvation.”

Nearly 70 lakh affected in floods in Bihar, northeast India; toll mounts to 44


he flood situation remained grim in parts of northeast and Bihar as the death toll mounted to 44 on Monday, with nearly 70 lakh people affected, even as north India witnessed widespread rainfall.

The national capital’s long wait for monsoon rains also ended on Monday as it received 28.8 mm precipitation, the maximum in July this year, and more rains are expected over the next two to three days.

In Assam, the deluge spread to 30 of the state’s 33 districts, affecting nearly 43 lakh people and claiming 15 lives, besides submerging rhino habitats the Kaziranga National Park, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and the Manas National Park.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal over phone and discussed about the prevailing condition on Monday.

Altogether, 42.87 lakh people in 4,157 villages are reeling under the impact of the floods that have overrun 1,53,211 hectares of farm land with standing crops, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) said.

The water level of the Brahmaputra rose above the danger level across the state.

The town of Bokakhat has been cut off from the rest of entire upper Assam due to the flood waters, the release said.

The death toll in the Bihar floods mounted to 24, with 25.66 lakh people reeling from the deluge in 12 districts of the state following incessant rains in neighbouring country Nepal.

Five more children drowned in two separate incidents in East Champaran district, but a senior official of the state disaster management department said they were not counted among the flood casualties.

With five rivers in spate, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar undertook his second aerial survey of the flood-hit areas during the day.

Of the 24 deaths reported till 6 pm on Monday, Sitamarhi accounted for 10 deaths, while nine were reported from Araria, four from Kishanganj and one from Sheohar, a Disaster Management Department report said.

Four deaths were reported till Sunday evening from Araria (2), Sheohar (1) and Kishanganj (1).

According to the Water Resources Department daily bulletin, five rivers– Baghmati, Kamla Balan, Lalbakeya, Adhwara and Mahananda– are flowing above danger level at various places in the state.

At least 1,000 families had to be evacuated in Lunglei district of Mizoram as raging waters of the Khawthlangtuipui river flooded 32 villages, while rain-related incidents led to the death of five people in the state, officials said.

At least 32 villages in the Tlabung area of south Mizoram’s Lunglei district were flooded by the river Khawthlangtuipui. Around 700 homes were submerged in the district and 800 families had to be shifted to safer places, the officials said.

Nearly 200 families were evacuated from central Mizoram’s Serchhip district, they said.

Several towns and villages remained inaccessible due to road blockades caused by landslides, while power supply and telecommunication services were also severely disrupted across the state, the officials said.

Incessant rains across Meghalaya for the last seven days and rising waters of two rivers flooded the plains of West Garo Hills district, affecting at least 1.14 lakh people.

A total of 57,700 people, residents of 50 villages in Demdema block and over 66,400, residents of 104 villages in Selsella block have been affected due to the floods, they said.

Rising waters of the Brahmaputra and the Jinjiram rivers, both flowing from Assam, submerged the low-lying areas of the district, an official said.

Meanwhile, the low-lying areas of the state’s capital city Shillong were also flooded.

However, the flood situation in Tripura showed signs of improvement as Khowai and Haora rivers started receding, officials said.

Personnel of the NDRF and security forces rescued a number of people in the flood-affected Khowai and West Tripura districts, they said.

Around 13,000 people in West Tripura district and 2,000 in Khowai district have taken shelter in government buildings and local clubs where temporary relief camps have been opened by the administration.

In Maharashtra, 75 villages along river banks in Palghar and Thane districts have been put on alert as the water level of two major dams in the region are close to the overflow mark, a senior civic official said.

Many parts of Himachal Pradesh have received light to moderate showers since Sunday.

Una was the hottest place in the state at 34.6 degrees Celsius, whereas the lowest temperature was recorded in Keylong at 10.2 degrees Celsius, the MeT department said.

The weatherman has issued a yellow warning for heavy rains on Tuesday.

Widespread rains lashed most of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh on Monday, bringing down the maximum temperatures in the region up to five notches below the normal.

Ambala and Patila received 127.5 mm and 89.2 mm rainfall respectively, the weather department here said.

Ludhiana received 39.4 mm rainfall, followed by Chandigarh with 29.3 mm, Karnal 15 mm, Bhiwani 3 mm, Amritsar 2.8 mm and Hisar with 0.2 mm.

Rain water inundated several low-lying areas in the twin states of Punjab and Haryana and their joint capital Chandigarh

As many as 119 teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been deployed in flood-hit areas of the country, including Assam and Bihar, and a 24X7 control room has been set up in Delhi to closely monitor the regions, an official statement said.

The teams, each comprising around 45 personnel, are equipped with boats, divers and other flood rescue-related equipment, it said.

After 8 years! India’s 1st dolphin research centre to come up in Patna


he foundation stone of India’s first dolphin research centre will be laid here on October 5, after an eight-year delay since it was first mooted, an officer confirmed.

DK Shukla, the senior officer from Bihar’s Department of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said: “It was announced by Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi in state Assembly that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would lay the foundation stone of the National Dolphin Research Centre (NDRC) on October 5 on the bank of river Ganga in the premises of Patna University.”

Shukla said the development was a good news for conservation of the endangered Gangetic river dolphins in the country.

According to Gopal Sharma, a senior scientist at the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), the population of the endangered Gangetic river dolphins was stable along nearly 1,000 km stretch of the Ganga and its two major tributaries, Gandak and Ghaghra.

More than 1,500 dolphins were spotted by three teams of experts and scientists who undertook the exercise of enumeration of the species earlier this year. The NDRC will play an important role to strengthen conservation efforts and help in research to save the endangered mammal.

Another officer of the Department SAID the NDRC remained stuck for over four years due to refusal of Patna University to part with its land for it.

Unhappy over the delay, Nitish Kumar threatened last year that the NDRC might be shifted to Bhagalpur. After this, the varsity finally gave its clearance.

A well reputed expert on the Gangetic river dolphins, RK Sinha, who is also the current Vice Chancellor of the Nalanda Open University in Patna said the NDRC will prove a boon for research and conservation of dolphin.

It was Sinha’s idea to set up the NDRC in Patna and a proposal was approved by then Planning Commission Chairman Montek Singh Ahulwalia during his visit here in mid 2011 and early 2012.

Within a year, the commission had sanctioned Rs 28.06 crore for the NDRC in 2013 followed by the state government that also released Rs 18,16 crore to the Infrastructure Development Authority in 2014. But till July 2018, the NDRC remained a non-starter.

Sinha, known as the ‘Dolphin Man’ for his research of the Gangetic dolphins, said the species habitat has been threatened and disturbed in the river.

He said the Gangetic river dolphin is India’s national aquatic animal but frequently falls prey to poachers and sometimes killed without intention after being trapped in fishs net and hit by machines.

The mammals are killed at an alarming rate with wildlife officials saying poachers kill them for their flesh, fat and oil.

Sinha, who was conferred the Padma Shri for his research on dolphin, said dolphin presence is the sign of a healthy river ecosystem. Dolphins prefer water that is at least 5ft to 8ft deep. They are usually found in turbulent waters, where there are enough fish for them to feed on.

Gangetic dolphins live in a zone where there is little or no current, which helps them save energy. If they sense danger, they can dive into deeper waters. The dolphins swim from the no-current zone to the edges to hunt for fish and return, Sinha added.

Gangetic river dolphins fall under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, and have been declared an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).