BEIJING/SHANGHAI (REUTERS) – China could raise average life expectancy by 2.9 years if it improves air quality to levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), according a new study from a US research group.
China has vowed to determine the precise impact of air and water pollution on health as part of its efforts to raise average life expectancy to 79 years by 2030 from 76.3 years in 2015.
According to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), big air quality improvements made in the last five years have already been enough to push up average lifespans.
“China is winning its war against pollution … (The country) is due to see dramatic improvements in the overall health of its people, including longer lifespans, if these improvements are sustained,” EPIC director Michael Greenstone said at an event in Beijing on Thursday (Jan 10).
According to EPIC’s findings, air quality improvements made in the smog-prone northern city of Tianjin over the last five years are already expected to have raised the average lifespan of its 13 million residents by 1.2 years.
China cut average concentrations of hazardous particles known as PM2.5 to an average of 39 microgrammes per cubic metre last year, down 9.3 per cent from 2017 after a campaign to curb coal use and improve industry and vehicle standards.
However, average emission levels remain significantly higher than China’s own 35-microgramme standard, as well as the 10-microgramme limit recommended by the WHO. In northern industrial regions, average concentrations are much higher.
In a study cited by state-owned news agency Xinhua on Friday, a group of top Chinese health experts identified air and water pollution as one of the major health risks in China for the next 20 years, alongside obesity, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared “war” on pollution in 2014 amid fears that the damage done to the country’s environment as a result of more than 30 years of untrammelled economic growth would lead to social unrest.
However, with much of the low-hanging fruit already taken and the economy facing a slowdown, China has admitted that the campaign is under pressure.
“It would be very difficult for China to meet the WHO standards even with strong efforts to reduce industrial emissions and fossil fuel consumption,” Jiang Kejun, research professor at the Energy Research Institute, a government think tank, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Thursday event.
“Emissions from non-industrial sectors, agriculture for instance, also play a big part in air pollution and are hard to put under control,” he said.
DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – As reported by the domestic and international media, dozens of stateless Rohingya individuals are being deported to Bangladesh from Saudi Arabia.
They allegedly went to the country with Bangladeshi passports, which they had obtained from smugglers who manufactured fake or counterfeit documents for them.
Some of them are now being sent to Bangladesh, having spent years languishing in jail, while some others still remaining there.
While Rohingyas are Myanmar’s nationals by birth, the Saudi authorities have sent them to Bangladesh because they were carrying Bangladeshi passports.
The fact that foreigners have been able to obtain Bangladeshi passports so easily and even go abroad exposes the lacuna in the scrutiny process which poses a threat to our national security.
According to Henley Passport Index published recently, Bangladesh’s passport has been ranked 97th in a tally of 190 nations.
Ensuring a robust scrutiny process for those seeking to obtain passports will alleviate the concerns of many developed countries.
In the process, citizens of Bangladesh will enjoy better chances of securing employment abroad, admission in foreign educational institutions and face less harassment at the hands of foreign authorities.
At a time when Bangladesh is attaining solid economic growth and is expected to become one of the 25 largest economies in the world by 2033, it’s imperative that we focus on brightening our image on the global stage.
And, ensuring that the loopholes in issuing passports, which obviously exist as evident from this incident, are plugged, should be top priority.
The Daily Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.
From writing a bestselling book that sparked a national discussion on inequality to risking life and limb to be part of Thailand’s extraordinary cave rescue, their deeds have made them headliners this year.
Now as the year draws to a close, the nominees for Singaporean of the Year are looking forward to another productive year.
Veteran diver Douglas Yeo, 50, who helped in the evacuation of the last five victims in Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, hopes to focus on doing what he does best – diving – and sharing his rescue diving experiences through talks or workshops.
The other Singaporean who was involved in the Thai cave rescue – Mr Poh Kok Wee, 57 – intends to continue keeping fit to be ready to help with other rescue missions, despite his age.
Sociologist Teo You Yenn, 43, author of the book This Is What Inequality Looks Like, said the big goal for Singapore should be “redistribution from those with more than enough to those with less than enough to meet needs”.
However, society could start by coming to a consensus about a baseline below which no one in our society should fall, she added.
Miss Siti Noor Mastura, 28, who will soon quit flying as an air stewardess to focus on her non-profit work, also wants to lift families out of the cycle of poverty.
“That is very achievable. We have journeyed alongside some families and done it. We want to make it happen for more families,” she said.
Urban farmer Bjorn Low, 38, wants to bring healing to the vulnerable through green spaces. “My team and I are immersing ourselves in the practice of therapeutic horticulture and care farming so as to use our farms and gardens as healing spaces for the community.”
Vote for who you think should be The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year at str.sg/soty18vote; voting closes at 6pm on Jan 15.
Others have dreams of harnessing technology for social good.
“I wish for more engineers and developers to realise that they have an increasing influence and hence responsibility in deciding what our future will look like,” said technopreneur Annabelle Kwok, 26, who started NeuralBay, a company that offers artificial intelligence-driven solutions for multinational corporations.
“The true power of technology lies in the wisdom of how we build and use it,” she added.
Public voting for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2018 award begins today at str.sg/soty18vote and ends on Jan 15, and the outcome will be used as a reference by the 14 judges when making their final decision.
Dr Goh Wei Leong and HealthServe, which provides migrant workers with affordable healthcare, won last year’s Singaporean of the Year award.
Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling and his parents, May and Colin, and Madam Noriza A. Mansor, who won hearts when she helped a senior who soiled himself in public, were the winners in previous years.
The Singaporean of the Year will receive $20,000 and a trophy, while each of the other 10 finalist teams will get $5,000, among other prizes. The prize money is sponsored by the bank UBS Singapore. Other sponsors are Tridente Automobili, Singapore Airlines, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, and Osim.
The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony held at the Istana on Feb 12. President Halimah Yacob will be the guest of honour.
“Once again, we have an impressive line-up of nominees for the ST Singaporean of the Year, from Singaporeans who are blazing a trail in their fields, to going out of their way to help and support those in need at home and abroad, to sparking debate and action through their ideas and initiatives,” said Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of the English/Malay/Tamil Media Group of Singapore Press Holdings and editor of The Straits Times.
“What better place to gather these inspiring members of our community than the Istana, to celebrate their good efforts and to recognise the choice of this year’s ST Singaporean of the Year. We are most grateful to President Halimah, the award’s patron, for so graciously agreeing to host us at the Istana as it marks its 150th anniversary.”
Giving the gift of life
ROBERT CHEW, 69
Mr Robert Chew is among Singapore’s oldest and top blood donors, having donated blood 184 times.
He first started donating blood at the age of 18 and has been going to the blood bank to give the gift of life three to four times every year since.
Mr Chew’s 184 donations would have added up to more than 70 litres of blood, or about 210 cans of soft drinks. Another way of looking at it – Mr Chew has drained his body of blood 18 times over his lifetime as a donor.
When he turned 60, he made sure to go for medical check-ups every year so he could continue donating blood. “I don’t see a point in stopping my donations despite my age because each donation can save potentially three lives,” he said.
Over five decades, that would mean making a difference to 552 people.
To keep fit and healthy enough to donate blood, Mr Chew drinks milk every day, eats a balanced diet and jogs regularly.
Using tech to do good
ANNABELLE KWOK, 26
Technopreneur Annabelle Kwok has made waves as the founder of an artificial intelligence (AI) company and a wearer of many hats.
At just 26, she is already the founder of NeuralBay, a company that focuses on detection and recognition software related to humans, objects and text, and offers AI-driven solutions for multinational corporations.
Her clients include an aviation corporation, an automation industry company and chocolate company Ferrero.
The Nanyang Technological University mathematics graduate is also a hardware hacker, marathon runner, musician and avid volunteer.
Ms Kwok wants to use technology to do good.
“I want to share useful technologies with the companies which feel left out of the whole race for innovation and don’t have the resources and skills to build it by themselves,” she said.
Growing an Edible Garden City
BJORN LOW, 38
A former advertising man working in Britain, Mr Bjorn Low came back to Singapore in 2012 to start an urban farming social enterprise.
From an initial capital of $10,000, Edible Garden City looks to hit $1.5 million in revenue this year.
In a country where 90 per cent of its food is imported and only 1 per cent of the land is cultivated, the enterprise has helped to design and build 180 commercial and residential food gardens. It also supplies herbs, microgreens and edible flowers to 60 restaurants.
It was a pioneer in turning underused rooftop spaces into farming spaces in buildings such as Wheelock Place and Raffles City. In 2015, it piloted in Queenstown an urban farming model that involved the community, called Citizen Farm.
Edible Garden City also trains seniors, prison inmates, pre-dementia and psychiatric patients, and students with special needs in farming techniques for therapeutic or employment purposes.
Serving up free meals
NIZAR MOHAMED SHARIFF, 48, AND FREE FOOD FOR ALL
In 2014, Mr Nizar Mohamed Shariff set up Free Food for All, a charity that provides free cooked meals for the needy.
Each year, the charity cooks up to 100,000 meals for 3,000 elderly or low-income residents living in rental flats across Singapore. It also delivers up to 12 tonnes of food and groceries every month.
The charity has fed not just the needy in Singapore, but also those overseas.
Last year, it set up soup kitchens in quake-affected areas in Lombok and Sulawesi, Indonesia.
After starting a project to distribute food to the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh this year, Mr Nizar is now working on delivering ready-to-eat food to war-torn Yemen.
He hopes food can empower people. “Through food, we hope to empower our beneficiaries to be able to move forward and be contributing members of the community.”
Nursing a lifelong passion
HARBHAJAN SINGH, 78
Mr Harbhajan Singh was given the title of “Emeritus Fellow” by Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 2015, becoming the only nurse to have received the award, which is normally bestowed on doctors for their lifetime contribution to healthcare.
Mr Singh joined the hospital as a tuberculosis nurse 53 years ago. The skills and experience garnered from a lifetime of nursing work prepared him well to meet the biggest challenge of his life: fighting a national crisis.
In March 2003, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) hit Singapore, and the Communicable Disease Centre (CDC) became the main battlefield.
Mr Singh played a key role in getting the CDC ready for Sars patients as well as managing distressed family members of patients, and the donations that were streaming in.
Said Mr Singh, who is still working part-time at the hospital: “As long as I can still contribute, I will keep working here.”
Champion for food and faith
SITI NOOR MASTURA, 28
After her parents divorced when she was 17, Miss Siti Noor Mastura often endured sleepless nights on an empty stomach.
Her family moved 11 times in five years, not wanting to outstay their welcome in relatives’ homes. Her elder sister and her mother also battled mental illnesses.
Despite these challenges, Miss Noor overcame the odds to start Back2Basics in 2013, a non-profit group that delivers free halal groceries to beneficiaries including the elderly who are homebound and single mothers, the first such service for halal food items.
She also started the non-profit Interfaith Youth Circle (IYC), which does monthly scriptural reasoning sessions where people of various faiths discuss excerpts of religious texts from different faiths but of the same theme.
IYC also runs campaigns encouraging Muslims to open their homes to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri with strangers of other religions.
Helping others to see
ELIZABETH TAN, 33
For the past seven years, Ms Elizabeth Tan, managing director of home-grown brand Heatwave Shoes, has organised annual mobile eye clinics for poor communities in remote regions of the Himalayas.
She founded a charity Sight To Sky, which organises annual mobile clinics in India, Pakistan and Nepal.
With a team of medical and non-medical volunteers, the 33-year-old traverses hard-to-reach mountainous regions to provide basic healthcare checks. During these missions, the charity treats about 1,000 to 1,500 people. Sight To Sky also offers dental services as well as consultations for women’s health issues.
It aims to reach more remote communities. Plans are under way to build a permanent eye clinic in the Ladakh area in India.
Ms Tan hopes to inspire others to give. “You realise that there is always someone who needs more help than you. And no matter what your position in life, you can still make a difference.”
Nurturing a love of Stem
TEO YEE MING, 43
Teacher Teo Yee Ming has led Hai Sing Catholic School’s robotics team to win the world’s most prestigious robotics competition no fewer than four times.
A former design engineer, he took over the school’s robotics club in 2009. Under his charge, the school topped the middle-school category in the VEX Robotics World Championship in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
He is passionate about getting secondary school students interested in Stem subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and has been designing the school’s curriculum for these subjects over the past five years.
Last year, Mr Teo won the inaugural Outstanding Stem Teaching award given out by the Singapore Association for the Advancement of Science and the Science Teachers Association of Singapore. “I wanted to impact more children, to engage them and harness their interest in engineering,” he said.
Being family to young people
KENNETH, 47, AND ADELINE THONG, 39
Mr Kenneth Thong and his wife Adeline left their jobs and welcomed into their home youth without a roof over their heads.
These young adults could be unwed mothers, teenagers who lived on the streets or those with mental problems. Most are from dysfunctional families and have nowhere else to go. Many are too old for institutional care or fostering.
There are five bedrooms in the couple’s rented terraced house in Seletar called The Last Resort. There are no rules or limits to how long the youth can stay.
Ever since they got married, there has hardly been a time that the Thongs, who do not have children, have not had a young adult staying with them. They have housed more than 35 of them, for stays from a day to three years.
Said Mr Thong: “We want them to experience what a normal, safe, functional family looks like.”
Talking about inequality
TEO YOU YENN, 43
Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, head of sociology at Nanyang Technological University, is the author of one of the bestselling local books this year, This Is What Inequality Looks Like.
The book of essays is drawn from ethnographic research she embarked on to better understand the lives of people who live in Housing Board rental flats.
With more than 20,000 copies sold, the book has sparked a national conversation on socio-economic inequality in Singapore.
In the book, Prof Teo shows how class inequalities are embedded in education, labour, care and welfare. A key finding was that family life was bound up with other aspects, such as employment.
Everyone has to come together to tackle inequality, she said. “If you have had opportunities in your life, then you have a responsibility to make sure that these opportunities are also available to others.”
Mounting a daring rescue
DOUGLAS YEO, 50 AND POH KOK WEE, 57
Veteran diver Douglas Yeo played a key role in the evacuation of the last five victims in Thailand’s extraordinary cave rescue this year.
He formed a human chain with 29 others to carry the boys through a stretch of uneven terrain in the cave. At one point, Mr Yeo slipped 2m down into a crevice. But it was all worth it when he saw the boys being taken out.
Mr Poh Kok Wee, who has experience in high-rise rope work, noticed that operations at the main cave entrance were stalled by heavy rain and flooding. He met army officials there to propose scouting for alternative entrances.
Mr Poh and his team used ropes and climbed up the mountain to up to 2,000m above the water level to check out 15 holes that could lead to the missing boys.
By using sensors in one of them, they detected the location of the boys, who were found shortly after.
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Olympus Corp (7733.T) said it would propose to give top shareholder U.S. hedge fund ValueAct Capital a seat at its board, a rare move in the country where activists are still viewed by companies as asset-strippers to be resisted.
The Japanese medical equipment and camera maker also said Yasuo Takeuchi, its vice president, will become chief executive officer from April 1, replacing Hiroyuki Sasa.
Shares of Olympus jumped more than 10 percent after the announcements on Friday.
Olympus said it would propose Rob Hale, partner at ValueAct, be named a director at its annual shareholders meeting in June as part of a management reshuffle aimed to enhance global governance. Shareholders will need to approve the nomination.
ValueAct, which started investing in Olympus more than a year ago, emerged as a major shareholder in May with a 5.04 percent stake.
“The governance changes Olympus announced today will better enable the board to support and supervise management in their implementation of Olympus’s strategy to become a global leader in the medical technology Industry,” Hale said separately.
Olympus also said it would seek advice from ValueAct in the selection of two additional board directors, underlining a shift is underway in Japan’s attitude toward activists – traditionally seen by boards as not legitimate investors with whom to engage.
Activist investment is gaining momentum in Japan, backed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that sees active engagement between firms and shareholders as a valuable spur to economic growth.
(ASIAONE) – A Japanese baby who became Insta-famous for her full head of hair from birth is now the star of her first shampoo commercial – though not in the traditional sense.
Baby Chanco first captured the hearts of netizens in May 2018, when her mother Mami Kano started posting photos of the four-month-old with thick, poofy locks on social media.
Her voluminous hairstyle, which at its most buoyant occasionally threatened to overwhelm her tiny frame, continued to enthral fans on her Instagram account managed by her mother.
It has since burgeoned to more than 300,000 followers. The one-year-old, whose birthday is on Dec 23, starred in her first campaign for P&G-owned Pantene on Monday (Jan 7), alongside Japanese television announcer Sato Kondo, who’s known for her natural grey hair.
The ad tells the story of Chanco’s “hair story” from birth, with the inspiring and positive message of embracing one’s differences.
Kano, who was interviewed by People on Tuesday, said: “I’m so surprised by the reaction (to the video), but also very proud of the praise from many countries.”
Fans of baby Chanco and her mane will be delighted to know that Kano has no plans to trim her daughter’s hair anytime soon, with her telling the magazine: “I prefer to keep her hair long. In the future, I want to try some new arrangements, like braids.”
❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ 🎈HAPPY B-DAY🧸 🎀Babychanco😍🎉 . 1歳なりました❤️ . そして1歳記念にと @pantene_jp_official さんより、special giftが届きました❕👀💓 . people誌掲載がきっかけであれよあれよとこんな素敵なことに‼︎ ありがとうございました😊 . Baby Chanco is 1 years old!! To celebrate her birthday @pantene_jp_official has sent us a special gift!! So many great things have happened since People magazine did a story on Baby Chanco. Thank you so much 😊 . There is also English version!! . #母モンチ感動してます🥺 #髪つながりからのまさかの #パンテーン 笑 #pantene #さあこの髪で行こう #HairWeGo #TheHairyTale #語りがこれまたまさかの #近藤サト さん👩🏻🦳💓 #どんだけー🤣 #1yearanniversary #12ヶ月#12months#1year #爆毛#モンチさん#Monchhi♡ #partnershipwithPANTENE #thankyou
A post shared by 髪記録 / hair diary (@babychanco) on
JOHOR BARU • It was a drive down memory lane when Johor’s ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, took the wheel of a first-generation Proton Saga and drove Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to the Senai International Airport yesterday.
The vehicle was presented to the ruler’s father 34 years ago in 1985, Malaysian media reported.
Sultan Ibrahim personally drove Tun Dr Mahathir about 25km from Istana Bukit Serene in Johor Baru to the airport after their 90-minute meeting at the palace.
The blue car, bearing the number plate “Proton 1”, was presented by Dr Mahathir to the late Sultan Iskandar Sultan Ismail, when the late state ruler reigned as Malaysia’s king, The Star online reported.
“The driving was good and there was no breakdown,” Dr Mahathir joked with reporters later when asked about the journey, as quoted by the MalayMail.com news site.
“The car is 34 years old. It has a manual transmission and has about 22,000km on its odometer. Basically, this is a good endorsement for Proton,” he added.
Proton, the national car company, was the brainchild and pet project of Dr Mahathir during his first tenure as prime minister from 1981 to 2003. He is now pushing to have a third national car, the second Malaysian car project being the Perodua in a joint venture with Daihatsu.
The Saga was based on a Mitsubishi model. At the time of its launch, the Saga was sold at RM17,000.
The meeting yesterday was the first time that Dr Mahathir and Sultan Ibrahim had met since the Pakatan Harapan coalition won the general election in May last year.
The ruler, on his Facebook page, said that after the meeting, they shared a light meal. Pictures posted on the page showed Johor’s Queen, Tuanku Raja Zarith Sofia, joining them for the meal.
According to a source from the Prime Minister’s Office, the meeting was held following a request by Sultan Ibrahim a few weeks ago, but what was discussed was unknown, The Star said.
The two leaders had a frank exchange of views and agreed to keep communication channels open to avoid any misunderstanding, The Malaysian Insight news site said.
SINGAPORE – Singapore’s competition watchdog, which has been investigating alleged refusals to supply lift spare parts for the maintenance of lifts in HDB estates, is seeking public feedback on proposals by two lift companies.
The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) said on Friday (Jan 11) that it is conducting a public consultation on proposals by lift companies Chevalier and Fujitec Singapore to address the issue of the supply of lift spare parts.
In 2016, the commission said that it was investigating alleged claims that some lift manufacturers had refused to supply vital spare parts, such as motherboards, to third-party contractors for the maintenance of lifts in Housing Board (HDB) estates.
Each estate usually has multiple brands of lifts installed. Town councils can appoint the original lift installers for maintenance services, or appoint a third-party contractor.
A lift manufacturer has an advantage when tendering for maintenance contracts, as it has the parts for its own brand of lifts. If a lift company does not provide essential parts to third-party contractors, they may be prevented from effectively competing for contracts to maintain and service lifts of the particular brand in Singapore.
The commitments will address issues such as Chevalier and Fujitec Singapore selling parts to third-party lift contractors on a “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis” and ensuring that the purchaser is qualified to service the lifts.
They also include clarifying liability in the event of mishaps, injuries or loss, and ensuring spare parts purchased are not modified.
The feedback is meant to help assess whether the commitments will address competition concerns in relation to the supply of relevant lift spare parts, after which CCCS will decide whether to accept the commitments.
The public consultation will close on Jan 24. More details can be found on the CCCS website.
Last March, the competition watchdog accepted voluntary commitments by two lift part suppliers, BNF Engineering and C&W Services Operations, after a public consultation.
The commitments were amended and finalised following feedback before being accepted.
SEOUL (KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Vietnam and Singapore are likely to be shortlisted to host a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, South Korean foreign affairs ministry officials said on Thursday (Jan 10).
“(The venues you should pay attention to) are those mentioned by media including Vietnam, Singapore, and Hawaii,” one ministry official said on condition of anonymity .
“But Hawaii is said to be an unrealistic location as it doesn’t have a North Korean embassy there,” another official added.
The site that Kim and Trump will pick for the next meeting has been attracting keen attention, especially after President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday the summit will take place soon. Trump had said on Sunday that the US was “negotiating a location” and that he expected the summit to take place in January or February.
Singapore, which hosted the first Trump-Kim summit last June, and Vietnam are within flying distance of the North Korean leader’s plane, the Chammae-1, which is capable of flying a distance of 7,000km.
This matches Trump’s comment that the summit will be held “within plane distance”.
Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarised Zone that divides the Korean peninsula, is the site South Korean government hoped the meeting would take place. Kim and Moon held their first summit in Panmunjom on April 27.
“We would like to hold the meeting at Panmunjom, but the probability of this becoming a reality seems to be slim,” one of the officials said.
North Korea has embassies in Vietnam and Singapore and can run a team there to prepare for the envisioned summit with Trump.
Vietnam is known to have expressed an interest in hosting the meeting while Singapore is where the first historic summit between the two leaders was held in June.
On Tuesday, CNN reported that White House scouting teams visited Bangkok, Hanoi and Hawaii to inspect whether the locations are suitable for the meeting.
More Trump-Kim summit special reports and analyses here
TOKYO (REUTERS) – Japan’s top government spokesman said on Friday (Jan 11) that remarks by South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the issue of forced wartime labour were “extremely regrettable” and that he was trying to shift Seoul’s responsibility to Japan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was speaking at a regular news conference.
Moon said on Thursday that Japan’s political leaders should not undermine bilateral ties by “politicising” the issue of South Koreans forced to work by Japanese companies during World War II.
On a dimly-lit street, they look like lone warriors against unknown threats. From afar, their shadows loom over suburban Noida, a newly-gentrified satellite city on the outskirts of India’s capital, Delhi.
Heavy silence blankets the area, broken only by the occasional shrill blast from a whistle.
Two men, dressed in dark blue jackets and caps with the word “security” sewn in bright yellow, have just begun their nightly patrol.
“I have stopped thieves from stealing cars,” 55-year-old Khushi Ram, who goes by a first name only, says with pride. “And then I handed them over to the police.”
He and Ranjit Singh, 40, are security guards. But they are not protecting banks, brightly-lit jewellery stores or corporate offices.
They protect more than 300 posh homes every night – and they do this by going on foot patrol for hours.
“I like my job because I feel like I’m doing something for the public,” Khushi Ram says.
It is bitingly cold and as they rub their hands together to spark some warmth, they breathe out – and it blends easily with the dense smog hanging in the air.
Walk through any of the grid-like neighbourhoods that make up the bulk of Delhi’s residential housing for the middle and upper classes, and you will see many such security guards whose jobs are a halfway point between a watchman and a police officer.
They can be seen sitting on plastic chairs at the entrance to a neighbourhood, logging details as vehicles enter and exit; or patrolling the blocks through the night while tapping their wooden sticks on the ground – a familiar sound that is both tedious and reassuring.
They are part of India’s informal and often invisible workforce, which runs into hundreds of millions by some estimates. Many informal workers end up in jobs that are crucial to city neighbourhoods, from domestic workers to security guards.
“Everybody in the neighbourhood – from small children to the elderly – depends on us for their safety,” says Ranjit. “This is always on my mind when I am patrolling and it pushes me to do my best.”
Ranjit’s weapon is a torch. And Khushi Ram has a whistle slung around his neck.
The two men divide the sprawling block – lined with metal and wooden gates that stand in front of two and three-storey homes – between them and set off. Often, they walk and occasionally, they cycle.
They cautiously stop in front of every house and examine it through the gates before walking past.
The invisible workforce – stories about the unorganised workers at the heart of India’s economy
The two men did not think they would be checking gates and streets in a neighbourhood they could never afford to live in when they left their villages in search of greener prospects.
Ranjit is from the eastern state of Bihar and Khushi Ram is from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh – both are largely rural and among India’s poorest states.
Many of the guards I spoke to say they moved to Delhi in search of a government job, hoping to work for the police or the railways. These jobs are coveted because they come with benefits and tenure. Some of them even harboured dreams of joining the Indian Army.
But they ended up filling a different gap.
An acute shortage of policemen in India, where there is about one officer for every 1,000 people, has meant that many of these guards have become de-facto protectors across neighbourhoods.
“We work with the police to keep residents safe,” says Ranjit, who moved to Delhi two years ago. He was immediately hired by a local contractor to guard the neighbourhood in Noida.
Local police have also benefited from the work of such guards, seeing as there are about five or six of them in each residential block. “We consider them an extra force,” says Ajay Pal Sharma, a senior police officer in Noida. The crime rate in the Noida, he adds, decreased by 40% in 2018 compared with the year before.
“This is partly because of our relationship with the guards, who have a lot of manpower, so we try and work closely with them.”
Mr Sharma adds that his precinct has also trained some of the guards in recent years, as the bulk of them do not receive any formal training.
He said they have taught the guards to watch out for car thieves and suspicious activity.
The guards also keep their ears open for stray dogs – they say barks from them signal something worth investigating.
Khushi Ram moved to Delhi more than 20 years ago and has been doing the same job ever since.
He says that most people in the neighbourhood respect him, but others tend to look down on this line of work. “Some get nasty because they see us as a lowly-paid person who doesn’t deserve respect.”
His first pay check was for 1,400 rupees (about $20; £15.50). Now, he earns 9,000 rupees a month. “The increase in pay is not much, considering how basic living costs constantly go up when you live in cities,” he says. “I can barely survive with this income, but I don’t have any other skill so I have to continue.”
A job like this lies at the bottom of India’s booming private security industry, which employs about eight million people. An industry report estimates that by 2020, there will be more than 11 million.
The demand is driven by expanding cities, new businesses and a stretched police force.
But guards like Ranjit and Khushi Ram represent 65% of the industry, which is still unregulated. They have no promise of career growth and pay increases are sporadic and far from guaranteed.
“I employ 200 guards and pay them the best I can. But the problem is that people don’t want to pay a lot,” says Himanshu Kumar, who owns a small private security firm that stations guards in residential areas.
He says that many see these guards as chowkidars, a term for villagers who voluntarily patrol the streets in exchange for food and money.
“But cities are different,” Mr Kumar says. “You have to pay more because the job is tougher. Unfortunately, people’s attitudes have not changed.”
It is a winter night in Delhi, and the air is leaden with pollution. As Ranjit and Khushi Ram walk, they cough frequently.
The job requires that they walk for at least five to six hours every night and sometimes, they stop to make a fire to warm themselves.
There is no relief in the summer either as sweltering temperatures persist through the night.
It can be a pretty thankless job, says Ranjit, who only gets to see his family once a year since they still live in Bihar.
“In an ideal world, I would be paid more for this job but the pay is so low that I want to quit,” he says.
“It is harder than you think – to stay awake when the rest of the city sleeps.”
Photographs and additional reporting by Ankit Srinivas
This is the last story in a three-part series about the millions of informal workers who help Indian cities function.