Friday, 20 March 2020

Covid19 - Employment in the time of Coronavirus

A cautionary note. Work from home is no panacea. If everyone working from home stopped working from home, it would make relatively little difference to the global economy since most work in this world cannot be done from home:
  1. Healthcare/ Paramedical/ Veterinary services
  2. Childcare/ Orphanages/ Senior Citizen care homes
  3. Agriculture/ Horticulture
  4. Dairy-farming/ Animal Husbandry
  5. Fishing/ Fisheries
  6. Forestry/ Lumberworks
  7. Food Production/ Processing/ Distribution
  8. Manufacturing
  9. Construction
  10. Real Estate
  11. Mining/ Quarrying
  12. Oil & Gas/ Nuclear Energy/ Renewable Energy
  13. Public Infrastructure - Water/ Electricity/ IT/ Sewage/ Stormwater/ Roads
  14. Waste Disposal/ Recycling
  15. Public Services - Police/ Fire/ Emergency
  16. Security services
  17. Military & Paramilitary
  18. Public Transport - Buses/ Taxis/ Railways/ Airways
  19. Shipping/ Logistics/ Warehousing
  20. Maintenance/ Landscaping/ Pest Control
  21. Vocational Education
  22. R&D sectors including Pharmaceuticals
  23. Investigative Journalism & parts of Mass Media
  24. Hospitality / Nighttime Economy
  25. Tourism / Recreation
  26. Entertainment including Cinema/Performing Arts
  27. Sports/ Fitness Centres
  28. Charities/ Non-Governmental Organisations
and the entire informal economy of Domestic Workers, unlicensed Street Traders, Beggars et al.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Back from the brink - Mauritian Wildlife Foundation

On Thursday, 22 November 2018, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species down-listed the risk profile of the Mauritian Pink Pigeon from "Endangered" to "Vulnerable". Official IUCN Red List definitions classify bird populations as ‘Critically Endangered', 'Endangered’ or ‘Vulnerable’.
Pink Pigeon Mauritius - Photo © Dr. Vikash Tatayah

As described in the subsequent National Geographic article - the Pink Pigeon was so rare that the great early-20th century naturalist, Walter Rothschild, included the pink pigeon in his book Extinct Birds. Fortunately he was premature in signaling the demise of the species, although at its absolute low point in 1990 the pink pigeon population had crashed to just nine wild birds before determined efforts by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, with support from a number of partners, turned its fortunes around. The result is a remarkable success story, with pink pigeon numbers now at over 400 birds hence its improved status to 'vulnerable'.
© Steve McCarthy
The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is running an ongoing 40year programme for the Pink Pigeon with support from the Government of Mauritius, the country’s National Parks and Conservation Service, conservation organisations such as Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Chester Zoo, Paignton Zoo, Institute of Zoology, and a host of universities including Reading, Kent and East Anglia.There are now pink pigeon populations at 9 sites in Mauritius and, as a successful species saved from extinction, the bird has had a global impact on the conservation community.

Mauritius is well-known as the site of the most infamous extinction caused by humanity - the ill-fated Dodo. It is only fitting that the island is now considered a path-breaker in rescuing endemic species from extinction because of their ongoing efforts with a number of very rare endemic species.

This includes (among others) the Pink Pigeon, Echo Parakeet, Olive White-Eye, the Mauritius Fody, the Rodrigues Fody and - of course - the Mauritius Kestrel, saved by what was called one of the most spectacular raptor conservation programs in the world by the Scientific American in 2010.

The Scientific American article went on to describe the success story as below:
Locally called the “Crécerelle de Maurice”, the Mauritius Kestrel had a population of only 4 individuals in the wild in 1974 that included just 1 breeding female.

This grim state of affairs inspired a conservation effort whose goal—to rescue the Mauritius kestrel from extinction—was thought unthinkable. Among the detractors of the project was British environmentalist Norman Myers. In 1979, Myers wrote: 
"We might abandon the Mauritius kestrel to its all-but inevitable fate, and utilize the funds to proffer stronger support for any of the hundreds of threatened bird species that are more likely to survive."

A few others believed in the project however, as was the case of well-known conservationist and writer, Gerald Durrell.
Remarkably, by 1994, less than 20 years after the start of the conservation project, a free-living population of the Mauritius kestrel has been attained. That same year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN)promoted the species from "Critically Endangered" to "Endangered." Six years later, in 2000, the species’s status was again lifted, this time to "Vulnerable."

The program included a number of groundbreaking conservation techniques, such as cross fostering, hand rearing and release of captive-bred and captive-reared birds as well as artificial incubation, provision of nestboxes and continued management in the wild. Captive kestrels were fed on mice and small chicks and a few years later, between 1981 and 1986, as many as 13 birds, thrice as many as had been reported in 1974, had been recovered. By the end of the 1986-1987 breading season, these birds had reared more than 30 new ones.
Meanwhile, eggs and nestlings were being removed from nests in the wild and artificially incubated. The young ones were then made available to be released in the wild. Release of captive-bred and captive-reared birds in the remaining endemic forests of Mauritius proved a significant success. More than 75 percent of the birds released in the wild became independent. Furthermore, they were seen to have a high mating rate.

Although the conservation techniques pioneered in the programme were still not being used in other countries, they were successfully put in practice in conservation projects for other Mauritian birds like the Echo Parakeet, Mauritius Fody and the up-listed Pink Pigeon.

Active management of the Kestrels is not done any more but the population of the species is constantly monitored. As per the MWF website - over time, the small population re-introduced to the Moka Range in the 1990s died out leaving the population in the Black River Gorges which has suffered a slight range contraction, and the Bambous Mountains population - together comprising around 400–500 kestrels today.
The Scientific American article quite presciently said in 2010: the status of the Mauritius Kestrel is likely to remain "Vulnerable." Due to the relatively small population of the species, the Mauritius kestrel is perpetually at risk. Indeed, chance events like tropical cyclones—not uncommon in the tropical region of Mauritius — may yet abruptly annihilate the entire population.

Judging by how the re-introduced Moka population died out, and the relatively un-improved numbers of the Black River Gorge/ Bambous mountain populations over the past 8 years - their author is probably correct.

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Le Théâtre de Port-Louis

The Opera House of Port Louis is said to be the oldest theatre in the Southern Hemisphere having had it's first performance on a Tuesday, 11 June 1822. The theatre was designed by Pierre Poujade, an architect from Bordeaux in France. It seats 600 people over three storeys and has an elaborately painted dome with chandeliers. The spectacular dome was designed by Vandermeesch. Apparently Dame Margot Fonteyn danced here in 1975 and her photos adorn the foyer. However, according to the website, the place has been closed since 2008 for urgent renovation so one can't go in.

Documentary by Leslie Wallace Athenas

In 2015, a 2 Week Creative Workshop called the "Port Louis Theatre Project" brought the theatre back to life by digitally animating the interiors using Projection Mapping. The workshop was conducted by Thomas Roda / Motionwip and Avneesh / electrocaïne. The original idea and direction was by Thomas Roda, MotionWip and Guillaume Jauffret. The project was curated and produced by Move For Art. The spectacular final animation can be viewed on Vimeo and Youtube (below).

Video-mapping was carried out over the 2 week period at the theatre and the entire process can be seen here in the 'Making Of...' post on the Motionwip website. As described on the website:

The team started off by surveying and tracing the interiors. They then installed the video projectors - 2nos. Barco 20000 Lumen projectors "in Blending" to do the 'Mapping' of the ceiling. In front, they used a Christie 20000 Lumen with optics at 0.7 (wide angle) to cover all the balconies of the theater.

After - one of the essential phases of the mapping was to cut out different elements of the existing decorative elements so as to animate them separately. Part of the team worked on clipping elements from photographs which they separated with digital masks using (mainly) Adobe Illustrator software. This part of the work was very delicate and required special attention, but this stage is usually the key to the success of mapping using 2D tools.

The third step was filming the theatre which was a real challenge, the majority of shots being taken in one day. The goal was to capture the existing dusty atmosphere and accentuate a few points of light to highlight the different elements of the theater without distortion. To create the right effect, the team did use a few little tricks like baby talc to accentuate the dust particles for filming.

The shots were taken mainly using a Canon 1D camera in 4K resolution with a motorized slider and crane to obtain fluid movement. The team did not want an intrusive camera but rather one that was in suspension, hovering & contemplative.

After the Setup phase, the workshop continued with 3 days of studio-work to animate the video mapping. The entire animation was done in Adobe After Effects with the final edit of the mapping to music. Part of the team created some animated elements in 3D to enrich the graphics (3D chandeliers, shadows etc.). The team decided to use existing music due to lack of time - Avneesh and Shakti "electroca
ïne" creating the acoustic track from 'Leopoldine' by Ez3kiel.

The final capture of the projection mapping was done on site using several angles, the whole taking a few hours to film while viewed by the team and some invited guests from Port Louis.

One of the art installations in Port Louis during the highly successful 'Porlwi by Light' night festival [4-6 Dec 2015] was another video-mapping installation - this time onto the front facade of the theatre. The theme for the festival was less abstract, showcasing instead the different cultures that make up the multi-cultural society of Mauritius.

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Port Louis by Light!

"Porlwi by Light" was a night festival on the streets of the capital city of Port Louis over the Dec. 4-6 weekend. Organised by the Porlwi Collective, it was driven by the desire to revitalise the cultural life of Port Louis. The aim was to build a creative platform, allowing the public and private sectors to collaborate and support contemporary art forms for urban regeneration.

Illuminated, festive and lively - the streets and buildings of Port Louis became the setting for a spectacular series of national and international artistic performances, light installations and sculptures, video projections, music concerts, performing art exhibitions, interactive art shows, guided tours and a plethora of gourmet and classic street food stalls — all for a duration of three nights invigorating the capital city. The experience went further with a floating light installation in Port Louis harbour, individual multimedia works of art in each cell of the historic prison, late night viewing hours at the Museum of Photography and even the chance to get into and explore a real Fire Engine complete with flashing lights and blaring sirens at the historic Port Louis Fire Station.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The future of... Energy Conservation

"More Kirk than Spock" announced an article in the The Economist last May. It was describing how macroeconomic models assume people come from the Star Trek planet Vulcan - exercising cold logic and maximising utility at every stage. But how real people, in the real world, behave quite differently. 

It appears that Behavioural research has been established at the scale of micro-economics but is still fighting to gain traction at the macro-level. Interestingly, governments appear to be waking up to the importance of behavioural insights faster than macro-economic theorists. As the article states:

The British government, for one, set up a behavioural-insights team to make policy more effective. It is now accepted that the way choices are offered does affect decisions, such as asking people to opt out of rather than into pension schemes or organ donation. The effect on take-up is substantial which should not be the case if individuals were perfectly rational.

This “nudge” approach works elsewhere. Fixing parking tickets to car windows with bright orange stickers (rather than a piece of paper under the windscreen-wiper) attracts the attention of passing cars and makes drivers less inclined to park illegally, because the risk of being caught seems higher. Writing to delinquent taxpayers and telling them that most fellow-citizens have paid up makes them more likely to cough up too.

Behavioural insight is also the basis of theories in criminology like the one about "Broken Windows". It states that signs of urban disorder promotes anti-social behaviour. So if one repairs broken windows within a short time, vandals are less likely to indulge in further anti-social behaviour by breaking more windows or causing further damage. Actual field studies like the ones by the University of Groningen proved the case. An envelope visibly containing a €5 note hanging out of a mailbox was stolen much more often when the mailbox was covered in graffiti and the area around it was littered.

An experiment by a professor of psychology, Robert Cialdini, studied how behavioural insight could be used to make people save energy. As the article in the New York Times describes:  

In one San Diego suburb, Cialdini's team went door to door, ringing the doorknobs with signs about energy conservation. There were four types of signs, and each home received one randomly, every week, for a month. The first sign urged the homeowner to save energy for the environment's sake; the second said to do it for future generations' benefit. The third sign pointed to the cash savings that would come from conservation.   

The fourth sign featured Cialdini's trick: "The majority of your neighbors are undertaking energy saving actions every day."... At the end of the month, Cialdini and his team read the homes' meters. They compared the four types of homes to other homes that had received no signs at all. The only sign that made a difference was the one about the neighbors.   

It appears that (illogical) behaviour matching a "Follow the Herd" mentality or "Keeping up with the Joneses" is more compelling to people than all the common sense/logic based actions including the most self-serving - saving cold hard cash. Humans would clearly never be Spock.
But as Cialdini demonstrated, governments could still try to manipulate people's behaviour (rational or irrational) to reduce energy use just as they are attempting to reduce crime with the Broken Windows policy. As respondents in a study on smart meters pointed out, real-time metering combined with time-of-day pricing would probably have an effect on people's behaviour. Presumably, watching their "Meter Ticking" and costs increasing would stress individuals enough to modify their behaviour. But even if the effort to reduce energy consumption is a success, one very tricky question remains - 

Does reducing energy consumption actually conserve energy?

On the face of it, this question may seem a bit absurd and a no-brainer. Yet there are scholars, even well-established government advisor types, who argue differently. One of them, Arik Levinson, was featured in a podcast last May (a few days before The Economist article) by the authors of the book "Freakonomics". In it he described how energy efficiency regulations weren't really that efficient. One of the reasons cited was the "Rebound Effect". 

Behavioural tendencies is again at the core of this theory that explains why energy efficiency gains may paradoxically result in increases in energy use. For example, when a person has a more fuel-efficient car, they may end up driving more because each kilometre of travel becomes cheaper. This then results in no net energy being conserved - or conversely, even more energy consumed. The phenomenon was observed in Victorian times:

The rebound effect was first described by William Stanley Jevons in his 1865 book The Coal Question, where he observed that the invention in Britain of a more efficient steam engine meant that the use of coal became economically viable for many new uses. This ultimately led to increased coal demand and much increased coal consumption, even as the amount of coal required for any particular use fell. According to Jevons, "It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth."

In the podcast, Levinson discussed his paper on "How Much Energy Do Building Energy Codes Really Save?" His conclusion based on data - none or not very much. He speculated on the reasons in his paper but his essential point on the podcast was that energy efficiency is now the central mandate of the U.S. government's climate change policy while it doesn't actually reduce energy consumption and the Earth continues to warm and carbon emission continues to increase.

Levinson's study was subsequently criticised by a few agencies including Energy Innovation LLC. They pointed out that the analysis was fundamentally flawed since it considered only electricity use and not natural gas which is commonly used for space heating and water heating in the state being studied (California) - and which has seen reduction after implementation of the energy codes. Even for electricity consumption, it was considered solely for lighting, appliances, personal electronics, etc. and not for electric HVAC and water heating systems which, again, saw more impact from building codes.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found in their nationwide study of the U.S. that 69% of building code savings in 2012 were in the commercial sector and only 31% in the residential sector. About 80% of those commercial savings were in electricity. Yet Levinson did not look at commercial usage of electricity only selected residential use. A third commentator, looking very closely at Levinson's hypothesis and methods, pithily wrote: 

...the paper was evidently written in a format that listeners to the Freakonomics podcast would like. This format is based on the narrative: "You thought that the answer was A, but OMG, really the answer turns out to be B." Note the use of the word "really" in this script, since Levinson employs it in the title...

Evidently, pandering to the crowd is problematic. 

Yet something in all the refutations is clear. Regardless of Levinson's methodology (or lack thereof), they all acknowledge that energy consumption by individual electrical appliances has increased, the number of electrical appliances in a household have increased and that house sizes, in general, have increased. This factor (even neglecting the first two) would have definitely increased energy consumption so the Rebound Effect appears to be confirmed. 

In fact, the Building Energy Codes have achieved the energy efficiency they were supposed to by simply maintaining energy consumption at pre-code levels even where usage has shot up. This means that Levinson's data appears to prove that they do work and are efficient. 

So his hypothesis in the paper is likely wrong (building energy codes do contribute to energy efficiency) and his hypothesis in the podcast is likely right (energy efficiency does not necessarily translate to reduction in net energy consumption). All of which leaves one to ponder as to whether Energy Conservation is truly ever achievable for humankind or will always be a pipe dream.
Postscript / October 2015: Mauritius is a classic example of the "herd" mentality for installing (or rather not installing) fans. The island has beautiful weather and most parts remain between the temperature of 20°C/ 68°F and 29°C/ 84°F through the year. The weather is so agreeable here that unlike most tropical countries, it was never the norm to install ceiling fans in buildings even after electricity had come into common use. Yet most new homes today are being built directly with Air-conditioning to "keep up" with the international market. 

This happens when herds of tourists and expats arrive on a tropical island from temperate zones, and want the temperature to be 18°C at all times. And locals give in and follow. The weather in Mauritius remains beautiful, the sun warm and the sea breeze cool, humidity levels mild - and everything still well-suited for the use of ceiling fans. But these were never part of the Mauritian lifestyle and now the aspiration is for AC.
Rental apartment Curepipe with AC -

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Light-rail De-railed

Back in early 2013, a blog entry was posted here about the history of trains in Mauritius including a charming documentary. The post was about how the original network gradually fell out of use and how a new transit system would bring back trains to the island. At the time the post was written, studies were being undertaken for feasability.

By mid-2014, the government had decided that it was feasible and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system became an important component of the national integrated transport system. The detailed design was underway and all details available on the Ministry of Public Infrastructure website

There was to be a nearly 25km. long line with 13 stations in the main Plaines Wilhelm conurbation of Curepipe, Phoenix, Vacoas and Quatre Bornes. Much of the LRT or Métro Leger would use the alignment of the standard gauge Mauritius Government Railways’ Midland Line (which closed in 1964) and serve existing central station sites in town centres. 

At peak hour, the light rail would take one from Curepipe to Port Louis in 32 minutes through 13 stations and carry 6000 passengers per hour per direction.  It was estimated that the system would transport 96,000 passengers per day so about 10% of the total population of Mauritius.

By October 2014, it was a 37km. long line with 20 stations and all was on track. The Ministry of Public Infrastructure had called for a tender and awarded the contract to a partnership - India-based construction firm Afcons and Spanish manufacturer CAF. The Indian government rather helpfully provided a Line of Credit for the project of USD 600 million and the remaining USD 250 million was to be raised on the local market.

But then in December, the light rail came to a crashing halt. Elections were held and the incumbents decisively voted out. The new government was elected with an anti-corruption mandate and put everything on review. In January 2015, the government programme for 2015-2019 was presented and  somewhere at the bottom of the list was the item:

- New Land Transport system for rapid access and connectivity throughout the country (Decongestion Programme; shelving of Light Rail Transit project)

The LRT had been quietly abandoned in favour of more road building. 

However, as the summer of 2015 continued, February and March saw a record amount of rainfall. New roads already commissioned developed cracks and had to be closed. One was blocked by a landslide. Traffic, particularly through Port Louis, got progressively worse. What seemed most apparent to even casual observers was that Mauritius, in fact, needed both an extension of the Land Transport System i.e. roads - as well as an extension of the Public Transport System beyond only buses. It was not a case of either/or.

Images: L' (Feb 19, 2015)
For a tiny island of only 1.2million people occupying an area of about 2000 square kilometres and positioning itself as a regional hub and economic powerhouse (the investment 'Gateway to Africa'), it does seem to be strange that a significant portion of the working population now spends nearly 2 hours a day everyday in traffic with no respite in view.

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The future of... Literacy

Education is defined as the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life. 
Literacy is to have the ability to read and write. Functional Literacy can be defined as the ability to read with true comprehension as well as to advance to higher levels of education.

The 2 states, of being educated and being literate, are frequently conflated but can actually be mutually exclusive. For example - many traditional occupations in India like building masons, carpenters, artisans and so on have inherited their knowledge from previous generations through word of mouth, training and practice. They are well-educated in their field of expertise and can earn a living from it. 

Kakuben Jivan Ranmal working with other textile artisans at the 
Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Trade Facilitation Center, India, 2010
Image: SEWA
Many of them are also illiterate, lacking the ability to write their name and signing with a thumbprint instead. Virtually all of them can count and do mental arithmetic but may not be able to actually write down numbers and calculations.

To delve deeper into the anatomy of illiteracy, one can consider the case of the street-side booksellers present in every city and town in India. Some are illiterate and some can read their native language. However they all stock material in  English. So how does an illiterate bookseller find the publication that a customer is looking for if they can't read the titles? 

The question was posed to one such lady who used to operate a large road-side book and magazine depot on the street outside the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad. She had arrived in the city from her village not knowing a word of any language except her native Gujarati and completely illiterate. Most of her stock was in English for the students from IIM who came from all over the country. The institute also hosted foreign students occasionally which may be why she also had books in German and French. Of course, she couldn't read herself so it was all Greek to her.

Second-hand bookseller on Pycrofts Road, Chennai

She had learned to recognise the names of the books and authors as images or Pictograms. She knew what the words "Frederick Forsyth" written in Latin script looked like as a picture even written in different fonts and colours - and she could then retrieve his books. Essentially what she was doing was recognising symbols or icons just as computer-literate folks have learned to associate the icon of an envelope with emails.

Also, the illiterate lady bookseller would have no problems whatsoever operating touch screen interfaces which are usually all icons and few words. She would be able to use apps which were voice-based and could speak into the phone to automatically transliterate and send texts and emails. Articles & books would be read to her using the common functionality provided for the visually-impaired. And, of course, she could always "read" audio-books. 
The humble thumb-print that she uses to sign all her legal documents as an illiterate citizen is now being used by the most tech-savvy folks to unlock their computers and enter their buildings. Online & offline technologies are all working towards perfecting digital signatures to remove just this very need to have someone physically "sign" their name. Yet one of the basic tests for literacy is the ability to sign one's name.

To that end, what modern technology has done is quite astonishing. Being illiterate is no longer any barrier to using information technology even when the user can neither read nor write information. One can even claim that technology appears to be perfectly designed for use by the illiterate and may even be encouraging illiteracy. If she has access to a touch-screen phone, does our lady bookseller even need to learn how to read and write?

In fact, complaints have been made that modern teenagers are so used to the technology doing their work for them - predictive text & Siri etc. - that some of them are now functionally illiterate even while attending school because they have not developed the ability to read or write properly. Any educator who has received an essay in "text-speak" can attest to that.

One of the reasons this state of affairs has come about is probably because much of modern software and hardware is designed to be intuitive and "user-friendly" to the point where even pre-school toddlers should be able to use them without having pre-existing knowledge of any kind whatsoever -  let alone that of the written language. After all, we were all illiterate when we were born.

So what does this mean for the definition of literacy? If a poor citizen in the developing world is tech-savvy and tech-literate (as many of them are with their mobile phones) but not able to read and write - are they really illiterate? Does the definition of literacy need to be re-examined in the modern context?

Also, how will technology change the future of illiteracy. Will it perpetrate more of the same or even exacerbate the condition as defined traditionally? Or will it be used to impart literacy in the most orthodox sense of the word.

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Chagos Islands...stealing a nation?

The Chagos Archipelago is a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean. Officially part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Chagos were home to the Chagossians for more than a century and a half until the United Kingdom evicted them in the early 1970s and allowed the United States to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands. Since 1971, only the atoll of Diego Garcia is inhabited, and only by military and civilian contracted personnel.

The sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago is being disputed between the UK and Mauritius. The United Kingdom excised the archipelago from Mauritian territory prior to Mauritius' independence. On 1 April 2010, the British government Cabinet established the Chagos Archipelago as the world's largest marine reserve. At 640,000, it is larger than the country of France or the state of California. The setting up of the Marine Reserve would appear to be an attempt to prevent any resettlement by the evicted natives in the 1960s and 70s. Leaked US Cables have shown the FCO suggesting to the US counterparts that setting up a protected no-take zone would make it "difficult, if not impossible" for the islanders to return. The reserve was then created in 2010. (source: Wikipedia)

John Richard Pilger (born 9 October 1939) is an Australian-British journalist based in London. Pilger has lived in the United Kingdom since 1962. Since his early years as correspondent in the Vietnam War, Pilger has been a strong critic of American and British foreign policy, which he considers to be driven by an imperialist agenda. The practices of the mainstream media have also been a theme in his work.

Pilger supported Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, by pledging bail in December 2010.  Pilger's bail money was lost in June 2012 when a judge ordered it to be forfeited. Assange had sought to escape the jurisdiction of the English courts by entering the embassy of Ecuador. Pilger visited Assange in the embassy and continues to support him.

His career as a documentary film maker began with The Quiet Mutiny (1970), made during one of his visits to Vietnam, and has continued with over fifty documentaries since then. Other works in this form include Year Zero (1979), about the aftermath of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, and Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy (1993). Pilger has long criticised his native country's treatment of indigenous Australians and has made many documentary films on this subject including The Secret Country (1985) and Utopia (2013).

Pilger's 2004 documentary film Stealing a Nation tells the story of the late 20th-century trials of the people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. In the 1960s and 70s, British governments expelled the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago, settling them in Mauritius, with only enough money to live in the slums. It gave access to Diego Garcia, the principal island of this Crown Colony, to the United States (US) for its construction of a major military base for the region. In the 21st century, the US used the base for planes bombing targets in Iraq and Afghanistan in its response to the 9/11 attacks.

In a 2000 ruling on the events, the International Criminal Court described the wholesale removal of the indigenous peoples from the Chagos as "a crime against humanity." Pilger strongly criticised Tony Blair for failing to respond in a substantive way to the 2000 High Court ruling that the British expulsion of the island's natives to Mauritius had been illegal.

In March 2005, Stealing a Nation received the Royal Television Society Award, Britain's most prestigious documentary prize.

In May 2006, the UK High Court ruled in favour of the Chagossians in their battle to prove they were illegally removed by the UK government during the depopulation of Diego Garcia. This will pave the way for a return to their homeland. The leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, Olivier Bancoult, described it as a "special day, a day to remember". In May 2007, when the UK Government's appeal against the 2006 High Court ruling was dismissed, they took the matter to the House of Lords. In October 2008, the House of Lords ruled in favour of the Government, overturning the original High Court ruling.

(source: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Le Morne - The Mournful One

The Cultural Landscape of "Le Morne" is a rugged mountain that juts into the Indian Ocean in the southwest of Mauritius was used as a shelter by runaway slaves, maroons (marron, french for brown), through the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries. Protected by the mountain’s isolated, wooded and almost inaccessible cliffs, the escaped slaves formed small settlements in the caves and on the summit of Le Morne. The oral traditions associated with the maroons, have made Le Morne a symbol of the slaves’ fight for freedom, their suffering, and their sacrifice, all of which have relevance to the countries from which the slaves came - the African mainland, Madagascar, India, and South-east Asia. Indeed, Mauritius, an important stopover in the eastern slave trade, also came to be known as the “Maroon Republic” because of the large number of escaped slaves who lived on Le Morne Mountain. 

Le Paysage culturel du Morne est une montagne accidentée qui s’avance dans l’océan Indien au sud-ouest de l’île Maurice et qui a été utilisée comme refuge par les esclaves en fuite, les marrons, au cours du XVIIIe siècle et des premières années du XIXe. Protégés par les versants abrupts de la montagne, quasi-inaccessibles et couverts de forêts, les esclaves évadés ont formé des petits peuplements dans des grottes et au sommet du Morne. La tradition orale autour des marrons a fait de cette montagne le symbole de la souffrance des esclaves, de leur lutte pour la liberté et de leur sacrifice, autant des drames qui ont trouvé un écho jusque dans les pays d’où venaient les esclaves : le continent africain, Madagascar, l’Inde et le sud-est de l’Asie. Maurice, une grande escale du commerce des esclaves, a même été connue comme la « République des marrons » à cause du nombre important d’esclaves échappés qui s'étaient installés sur la montagne du morne. (source: UNESCO)

Monday, 2 February 2015

What is Landscape Architecture?

Landscape Architecture is the design of outdoor areas, landmarks, and structures to achieve environmental, social-behavioural and aesthetic outcomes. 

It involves the systematic investigation of existing social, ecological, geological and natural/ man-made processes in the landscape; and the design of interventions that will produce the desired outcome. 

A practitioner in the profession of landscape architecture is called a Landscape Architect. 

The scope of the profession includes at varying scales of design, planning and management: 
  • Landscape design 
  • Site planning 
  • Stormwater management 
  • Erosion control 
  • Environmental restoration 
  • Parks and recreation planning 
  • Visual resource management 
  • Green infrastructure planning and provision 
  • Landscape master planning and design 

The profession of landscape architecture, so named in 1867, was built on the foundation of several principles—dedication to the public health, safety, and welfare and recognition and protection of the land and its resources. These principles form the foundation of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Code of Professional Ethics (the Code) as well. 

Code of Environmental Ethics
Members of the American Society of Landscape Architects should make every effort within our sphere of influence to enhance, respect, and restore the life-sustaining integrity of the landscape for all living things.

Members should work with clients, review and approval agencies, and local, regional, national, and global governing authorities to educate about, encourage, and seek approval of environmentally positive, financially sound, and sustainable solutions to land-use, development, and management opportunities.

The following tenets are the basis of the ASLA Code of Environmental Ethics:
  • The health and well-being of biological systems and their integrity are essential to sustain human well-being.
  • Future generations have a right to the same environmental assets and ecological aesthetics.
  • Long-term economic survival has a dependence upon the natural environment.
  • Environmental stewardship is essential to maintain a healthy environment and a quality of life for the earth.
According to the Royal Charter granted to the Landscape Institute in the UK, “Landscape Architecture” shall mean all aspects of the science, planning, design, implementation and management of landscapes and their environment in urban and rural areas and the assessment, conservation, development, creation and sustainability of landscapes with a view to promoting landscapes which are:
  • aesthetically pleasing, 
  • functional and 
  • ecologically and biologically healthy 
  • and which when required are able to accommodate the built environment in all its forms,
and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing shall include: 

a. the application of intellectual and analytical skills to the assessment and evaluation of the landscape and its character and the resolution of existing and potential conflicts through the organisation of landscape elements, space and activities based on sound principles of ecology, horticulture, design, planning, construction and management;

b. The planning and design of all types of outdoor and enclosed spaces;

c. The determination of policies and planning for existing and future landscapes;

However being a landscape architect frequently ends up not being about designing beautiful green landscapes. What happens quite often is that the green landscape that one designs in one place ends up actually creating a desert elsewhere.

In this TEDx talk, Professor Antje Stokman deconstructs the myth of the Landscape Architect creating sustainable utopias, and explores the idea of letting nature be a part of the landscape which could even mean designing for natural calamities like floods.

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Thursday, 4 December 2014

80 Native & Naturalised Trees of Delhi

1.     Kulu / Karaya gum – Sterculia urens
2.     Pisangas – Grewia flanescens
3.     Gangeti – Grewia tenax
4.     Falsa – Grewia asiatica
5.     Kala Siris – Albizia odoratissima
(Krishna Siris – Albizia amara subsp. amara non-native to Delhi)
6.     Siris white – Albizia lebbeck
7.     Salai Guggal / Indian Frankincense – Boswellia serratia
8.     Guggal / Indian Myrrh - Commiphora wightii
9.     Dhau – Anogeissus pendula
10.   Hingot – Balanites roxburghii
11.   Putranjiva – Drypetes roxburghii
12.   Chir / Cheel / Chir Pine – Pinis roxburghii
13.   Khair – Acacia catechu
14.   Kumttha – Acacia Senegal
15.   Phulai – Acacia modesta
16.   Ronjh – Acacia leucophloba
17.   (Desi) Babool / Keekar – Acacia/Vachellia nilotica subsp. indica
18.   Jhand / Khejdi – Prosopis cineraria
19.   Amaltas / Indian Laburnum – Cassia fistula
20.   Dhak / Palash – Butea monosperma
21.   Gadha Palash / Mandara – Erythrina variegate
22.   Kareel – Capparis decidua
23.   Kachnar – Bauhinia variegata
24.   Jhinjheri – Bauhinia racemosa
25.   Goolar – Ficus racemosa
26.   Anjeeri – Ficus palmate
27.   Peepal / Bo/ Sacred fig – Ficus religiosa
28.   Pilkhan – Ficus virens
29.   Jadi / Pilkhan – Ficus amplissima
30.   Usba / Chilkhan / Laurel fig / Indian laurel – Ficus microcarpa
31.   Bargad / Banyan – Ficus benghalensis
32.   Kabra / Weeping fig – Ficus benjamina var. nuda
33.   Kanju/ Churail Papdi – Holoptelea integrifolia
34.   Karanj/ Pahadi Papdi – Pongamia pinnata
35.   Kaim/ Kadamb – Mitragyna parviflora
36.   Barna – Crataeva adansonii
37.   Kaith – Limonia acidissima
38.   Kanak Champa – Pterospermum acerifolium
39.   Chamrod – Ehretia laevis
40.   Bistendu – Diospyros cordifolia
41.   Ber – Zizyphus mauritiana
42.   Peelu / Jal – Salvadora persica
43.   Khabbar / Khara Jal – Salvadora oleoides
44.   Siora/ Dahia/ Kuchna/ Sandpaper tree – Streblus asper
45.   Doodhi / Kura – Wrightia tinctoria
46.   Kankera – Mattenus senegalensis
47.   Gondi/ Goondhi – Cordia gharaf
48.   Arni – Clerodendrum phlomidis
49.   Roheda – Tecomella undulate
50.   Takoli – Dalbergia lanceolaria subsp. lanceolaria
51.   Gamhar – Gmelina arborea
52.   Aam / Mango – Mangifera indica
53.   Amla – Phyllanthus emblica
54.   Bael – Aegle marmelos
55.   Maulsari – Mimusops elengi
56.   Khirk – Celtis tetrandra
57.   Imli / Tamarind - Tamarindus indica
58.   Sanjna / Drumstick tree – Moringa oleifera / Moringa concanensis (sv) Nimmo
59.   Sausage Tree / Balam Kheera – Kigelia africana
60.   Neem / Margosa – Azadirachta indica
61.   Bakain – Melia azedarach
62.   Jamun – Syzigium cumini
63.   Safeda / River Red Gum - Eucalyptus camaldulensis
64.   Semal / Red silk cotton – Bombax ceiba
65.   Kapok / White silk cotton – Ceiba pentandra
66.   Ashok – Polyalthia longifolia var. pendula
67.   Shahtoot / Silkworm Mulberry – Morus alba
68.   Jarul / Crêpe Myrtle – Lagerstroemia speciosa
69.   Gulmohar – Delonix regia
70.   Saptaparni – Alstonia scholaris
71.   Kosam / Kusum / Lac Tree – Schleichera oleosa
72.   Mahua / Moa or Mowra honey tree – Madhuca longifolia var. latifolia
73.   Baheda – Terminalia bellirica
74.   Arjun – Terminalia arjuna
75.   Anjan – Hardwickia binate
76.   Maharukh / Ulloo – Ailanthus excelsa
77.   Khirni – Manilkara hexandra
78.   Buddha’s coconut – Pterygota alata
79.   Tadi / Munjal / Palmyra or Toddy Palm – Borassus flabellifer
80.   Karonda – Carissa congesta