MEXICO CITY — I notice some are still touching surfaces, grabbing a pole to hold onto on the bus or the handrails on escalators. With reckless abandon. For me, no sniffle nor sneeze nor little cough escapes my notice. On a city bus, you'd think they would make every effort to "swallow" that cough. I see or think I see insouciance on people's faces as they walk past, converse or buy a sandwich. French author Alain Robbe-Grillet wrote a novel about unrelenting, and itself suspect, suspicion, La Jalousie (Jealousy).
In every other way it's a dismal scenario. One is uneasy all day. I'm in the flat 21 hours a day I think. Everyone must be wondering: will softer distancing measures Mexican authorities have opted for so far work, or is Italian-style mayhem heading this way? Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been mocked for not urging general panic, but there are reasons for this. As a health official told Radio UNAM, the state university radio, a lockdown would have been nonsense when there were barely any cases. Curfew fatigue would already have set in (it has in our block).
Millions of people in Mexico absolutely must work, "to eat", metaphorically and literally the very same day. You cannot sell street food or sandwiches online. Millions of other Mexicans are already staying home and taking their distance, to some degree, though 3 out of 10 Mexicans are reportedly continuing as before. Many here know the system cannot really help should the worst occur. Nobody here can forget the 2009 swine flu epidemic, which began in Veracruz.
A woman rides her bike wearing protective gear amidst the quarantine in Mexico City — Photo: Carlos Tischler/Pacific Press/ZUMA
La Prensa reports government has it should be said been quietly acting against another local epidemic: measles. But the La Jornada daily also reports a rise in armed robberies and looting, though it is difficult to know where such acts are increasing or if the media are choosing this particular time to highlight them. I myself notice more drunken and slovenly people wondering around the half-deserted streets — or maybe I'm just highlighting them too?
I am intolerant of anything suggesting a celebration.
But I've been doing all I can do limit my time outdoors, on the recommendation of top medical authorities. But that led to an equally frightening prospect: my neighbors. Noise too is contagious, and unlike a virus, it penetrates walls and windows. Some nights ago my neighbor had a girlfriend over, which later led to music. I was hoping it would mean I'd hear nothing more from that flat but he likes to regale his guests with loud television or soft-rock karaoke from the 1990s. I try to understand my rage toward him: is it his refusal to respect confinement, the very sound of his voice, or Phil Collins? As Jean-Paul Sartre reflects through a character in his play No Exit — on three people stuck together forever in a hotel room: hell is other people.
Noise has always been an issue in apartment blocks. Of course, understanding what noises disturb is not a science. I am indifferent for example to the construction noise that has been going on outside our building for over a year, to neighbors' dogs, or to traffic. I am however intolerant of anything suggesting a celebration inside the building, as I see it as brazen indifference to others. (I do not believe people are blissfully unaware of their neighbors. No noise is innocent). For now, in the battle against the tyranny of modern cheerfulness, I have a pandemic on my side.
I can't wait for a full lockdown to begin, for government drones to start patrolling the streets. Taking pictures, fining, shouting instructions at the reckless and the merry. Sir, stop laughing, this is an emergency; Sir, turn off the Phil Collins..
Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.