Crisis is in the air -Darryl D'Monte
-The Indian Express
Delhi has become world’s air pollution outcaste. Its decision-makers haven’t understood the consequences.
The first thing that the Central and Delhi governments should own up to regarding the air pollution crisis is that everyone was forewarned and cannot pretend to be taken unawares. This “winter of our discontent” is the season when, as temperatures dip, pollutants hover around the surface of the city and do not waft upwards. Things will only get more acute towards January. To make matters worse, smoke from burning farm waste descends on the capital from surrounding states at this time, which is a far more intractable problem.
Three years ago, the writing on the wall was the revelation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that Delhi was the most polluted city in the world, and 13 out of the 20 worst impacted were in north India. The tell-tale parameter is the smallest measurable particulate matter — PM of less than 2.5 microns — which was an annual average of 153 micrograms per cubic metre that year, well above the WHO limit of 35. Beijing, which was previously the black sheep of the world’s urban air contamination, recorded 53 micrograms.
Last year, Delhi lost this dubious distinction to Zabol in Iran and fell to 11th place on the world map. However, north India continued to fare among the worst on the globe, with Gwalior second, Allahabad third, Patna sixth and Raipur seventh. While Delhi continues to get all the attention on this score, one should pay heed to children and senior citizens in these other beleaguered cities. These residents can’t afford air purifiers like many of the capital’s well-to-do and diplomats, not to mention the bizarre measure of installing huge vacuum cleaners on its roads.
Has any decision-maker in the capital understood the full consequences of declaring its air a “national emergency”? Visitors — whether on business or diplomats — will think three times before visiting Delhi this winter. One has only to recall that it was estimated that when President Obama visited for the Republic Day parade in 2015 he may have lost six hours of his life by spending three days in the capital. The US Embassy imported 1,800 air purifiers for his entourage. Children can’t attend school or play outside, and this has made Delhi the air pollution pariah of the world.
This could put paid to the prime minister’s “Make in India” campaign. Indeed, if a good economist could calculate the financial losses on days missed at work, avoiding the outdoors at certain times of the day and the bills for respiratory diseases, it would reveal a huge bill borne mostly by individuals, and prompt the authorities to take all measures possible to curb this public health menace.
Certain causes, like the burning of farm residue require a carrot and stick approach to encourage farmers to recycle crop waste rather than burn it. But other causes like the pollutants from thermal power stations in and around the capital and the dust from construction can be more easily tackled by stiff penalties.
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