India's capital New Delhi and surrounding areas are choking under dirty air and toxic smoke. Following air polution to the level of forcing a declaration of health emergency, educational institutions in Delhi and neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab have been closed for the last few days.
Meanwhile, one of the means of defending against pollution, the even-odd numbered vehicles to ply on alternate days, kicked off on Monday. But the city continues to be in smog with none of these solutions having any significant effect. For quite some time, Delhi has been bearing the disgrace of being one of the most polluted capitals in the world with its unhealthy air and nosediving air quality indices (AQI).
The place of India in the Global Environment Performance Index (EPI) in 2018 is a no respectable 177. It is the same report that highlights the serious state of Delhi's air. The capital is in a vicious cycle of pollution emanating from air, sound, water, industrial, vehicular, hospital and solid waste. Even when the 2014 report of 'Ambient Air Pollution' prepared with data on 1,600 cities of 96 countries was released, Delhi was bracketed with Beijing, long notorious for its pollution. In the PM (Particulate Matter) index that marks the evolution of micro-particles in atmospheric pollution, it is less than 2.5 micro-meter. In short, the air is filled with toxic waste almost in every molecule of the atmosphere.
Experts point out that this hazardous state will lead to pulmonary diseases and even to lung cancer. The city's AQI is at a lowest and worse than severe level of 294. Read with this the fact that air pollution is the fifth largest killer of India. A survey conducted with 17,000 respondents showed that probably out of fear of such a state, 40 per cent of Delhi-dwellers are known to be in a hurry to escape from this apalling situation to other places or to relocate to safer cities. The other day, a group of environmental activists wrote a letter to the prime minister urging steps to save the segments most vulnerable to the harm of pollution, i.e children and the aged.
What brought Delhi to this crisis level is population growth and the inordinate increase in different types of consumption. The list of factors inevitable or man-made that cause the major part of suffocating pollution is dominted by unplanned construction of industrial production, increase in vehicles despite the availability of metro rail, with the air sound pollutants emitted by them, accumulation of solid and industrial wastes coupled with lack of facilities to process them and extensive use of cooking methods using firewood and biogas.
On a daily average 8,000 metric tons of solid waste and several times that of industrial waste is being produced. But even now Delhi does not have the infra-structure to process thesolid, liquid or water-borne wastes and the waste released by factories and hospitals. Although the government brought in many laws and reforms to control pollution, none of them penetrated to the grassroots. Not only that, in the upcoming season following harvest in neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and UP, large-scale stubble burning will cause smoke plus the emissions from firecrackers of Dipawali, thus pushing the capital city to worse smog and darkness.
The Centre and states had collectively decided for co-ordinated action for pollution control. But instead of trying to implement them, all parties wash off their hands with mutual allegations of non-co-operation. The Supreme Court had passed an observation the other day that Delhi's pollution problem cannot be solved by merely introducing even-odd vehicle restriction, and it is beyond understanding why the government is fighting shy of facing this phenomenon that puts the entire country to shame. The apex court's warning that people are not safe even within their homes and the Delhi and central governments should not gamble with people's lives, reflect the concern and anxiety of a country. If only the seats of power had grasped the spirt of that warning, made laws and their enforcement tighter and more effective, thereby showing greater vigilance to save choking Delhi from pollution!