Choking Over Pollution: Delhi’s Toxic Air Truth

Delhi and Patna: Among Most Polluted Cities

Delhi and Patna : Among Most Polluted Cities

On one hand we have the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Indian space agency that took the country into a world record last week, by launching a record 104 satellites in one go; and then we have cities like Delhi, India’s capital, along with Patna, Bihar’s capital, that have let India down by being recognised as among the most polluted cities in the world, as per the latest report published in the journal, ‘The Lancet’.

Delhi and Patna have the dubious distinction of having recorded an annual average of 2.5 Particulate Matter (PM) in the air, that is around 12x of the maximum guideline laid down by the World Health Organisation (WHO). At 120 micrograms of PM per cubic metres, the consequences are already being felt by people in India.

The report, validated by 48 leading scientists and experts across 16 respected international institutions, has warned of the serious consequences of polluted air and its impact on people’s health.

The report based on 2010 global data, states that high Particulate Matter (PM) in the air results in 2.7 to 3.4 million pre-term births globally, with 1.6 million pre-term births occurring in South Asia alone. India is a major contributor to that figure.

As per the report, air pollution has reached extremely serious levels where at least two Indians die every minute due to toxic air. In other words, India is slowly choking itself to death while the government and all policymakers go about life as usual, from one day into the next.

Do We Really Care?

The government is clueless on the cause and effect of air pollution, with very little scientific data available to conclusively point to what exactly is causing air pollution.

Politics is played out in full as state governments and centre work at cross purposes. The recent debate and protest by people in Delhi and NCR over odd and even car scheme is ironical, given that it’s the common man on the road that suffers the most. And yet, we did not see people take to the streets like they did in Chennai over ‘Jallikattu’. Bull taming is obviously more of a priority than people’s health. By the way, Chennai fares pretty bad on the pollution scale as well.

The seriousness of the centre’s approach to the problem is best demonstrated in the meagre Rs 7 crore allocated to studying air pollution and its causes. This is mere lip service in a nation that’s the size of a continent and home to the world’s largest population. As for states investing on the issue, the less said the better.

And then, there is finger pointing and passing of blame between the states. Post-harvest field burning is a major contributor to air pollution and yet no state has demonstrated the political will to take on the farmers since they represent a sensitive vote bank. So states end up finger pointing as was seen this winter between Delhi, Haryana and Punjab, all culprits to the cause in different ways.

India Needs to Prioritize, and Fast

Health of the people comes first. Period. Everything else must be lower on priority. There is no point in promoting Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Jan Dhan Yojana if people are going to be suffering. Also, Rs 7 crore allocation to research and fight the problem is just not enough.

The pressure has to come from the people for the government to get its priorities right and that pressure is best applied during the election time. But health and air pollution is not part of any political party manifesto and the blame lies not with political parties but the people themselves. It’s the next generation which will face the consequences of our procrastination.

Europe, and even the US, have done a lot to address the problem and are investing heavily on finding solutions to the problem. But then India is busy lobbying for continuing its coal dependency to power ahead into the 21st century, albeit at the cost of its people’s health. Is anyone even listening?