Choking India cries for government attention; heres what the situation is
Environmental pollution in wintery months assumes alarming dimensions for citizens in the country. It is worst for urban inhabitants.
National capital region (NCR) gets maximum media attention but situation is far worst in other cities of north India.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) has been over the norm in majority of north Indian cities. On November 7, the AQI in Delhi was recorded at 448 at the scale of 500 while on the same day it was 451 in Moradabad and Howrah.
Analysis of the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) AQI bulletin has revealed that the air quality has clearly deteriorated across the northern Gangetic plain.
Specifically, in towns such as Lucknow, Agra, Kanpur and Muzzafarpur, the air quality is far worse.
The extent of the smog and air pollution has also been captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite on November 7 which shows a “natural-colour image of haze and fog” blanketing the region.
There has been a 100% hike in number of patients with respiratory disorders because of the bad quality of air in the NCR region, according to media reports.
The government has resorted to emergency measures like shutting of school and putting restrictions on the vehicular traffic in the city.
Words of Melba Maria Pria Olavarrieta, Mexico’s Ambassador to India illustrate the problem so poignantly.
In an article, the Ambassador points outthat she was stopped from jogging by a Policeman in her county when the AQI in her country was 151 but life in the Indian capital carries on as normal despite the AQI was 712 in the R K Puram area.
Scales of measuring by CPCB and World Air Quality Index project have different parameters and that is why figures are differing.
Problem of pollution has been growing for last two decades and it has been getting worst by every passing day.
India has been very active at the climate change talks at global forums and has promised to reduce coal consumption and switch to greener energies but focus on action on the domestic front has been lacking.
Unfortunately, governments, be at the Centre or in states, have chosen to ignore it at a very heavy cost to the health and welfare of people and society. Political parties have only paid lip service to the problem.
Though courts of the land have taken serious note of the dangers of the air and water pollution, the executive has been dragging its feats allowing the problem to grow. Majority of state governments have no long-term plan in place.
In order to understand the problem, let us have a close look at the issue of stubble or crop burning in states like Punjab, Haryana and western parts of Uttar Pradesh. It is one of the biggest contributor to air pollution.
In 2001, 13.4 million tonnes of stubble was burnt in Punjab and Haryana alone. By this year, it has risen to 35 million tonnes. Stubble burning takes place within a period 15 days as farmers of these states have to sow wheat crop in the same field.
Despite knowing the problem and consequences flowing out of it, neither the government in New Delhi nor that of Punjab, Haryana, UP and Delhi have come out with a long-term plan to solve it effectively. There are technical solutions available but the government and political parties would need to act in tandem to address the issue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a very ambitious mission ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ or Clean India Mission within five months of assuming power. A clean India cess is also being collected to finance the mission.
All taxable services came to be taxed with an additional of 50 Paisa on every Rs.100 worth services. Massive funds are being spent on not only building toilets but also on advertising the mission.
Would it not been prudent to link the mission with cleaning of the air? Would it not been wise to address the problem of crop burning for cleaning the air but possibly the Modi government and the BJP thought that this would accrue rich political dividends.
Political apathy was clearly evident when the Supreme Court put a ban on the sale of firecrackers on Diwali this year. The government and the ruling party remained cool to the highest court’s order.
In fact, the ruling party and some RSS outfits tried to project the Supreme Court’s directive as anti-Hindu ignoring the negative impact of burning of firecrackers on the air quality.
At the same time, India is becoming world’s top sulphur dioxide emitter, if it is not already one, according to a study led by researchers at University of Maryland.
It was bewildering to see the blame game that followed when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked for a meeting of the chief ministers of the region.
He was absolutely correct that Delhi alone cannot address the problem of pollution transcends state, national and international borders. Rather it knows no boundaries.
Pollution, be it air, water or noise, cannot be allowed to be treated nonchalantly by political parties. The problem touches every citizen-poor or rich equally.
Political leadership of all the parties without exception would have to learn that blaming one or the other is not going to help.
Instead of indulging in blame game, political leadership would need to rise above the narrow party interests. Parties would have to evolvea political consensus on the issue. The problem touches every citizen. It has a pan-India dimension.
If political parties could agree to take up the issue on an urgent basis, people could be made more aware of the dangers of the pollution. Until, peoples’ participation in the anti-pollution mission is not forthcoming, problem would continue to hit us periodically endangering our existence. There are no shortcuts and that is why sustained efforts over a period are required.
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.>