Air pollution has been known to shorten life spans while severely affecting lifestyles.
The citizens of New Delhi are choking their way to disease and premature deaths as the air has turned so toxic the city resembles a vast gas chamber. One of the most polluted cities of the world on any given day, Delhi invites noxious levels of poisonousness in the winter, which makes it clear that the governments of the region do nothing about it all year and wake up when only when it gets so bad that fitness enthusiasts must come out wearing gas masks.
Among the protocols followed when the air gets too pernicious to even breathe is to close schools for a couple of days. So risible are the measures to address what is a catastrophic atmosphere for NCR residents. Meanwhile, farm fires burn unchecked in Punjab and Haryana as crop burning goes on merrily, adding copiously to an ‘air’ emergency and there is neither the political will to stop them nor the money to pay for alternatives.
As the blame game rages between the state government and the Centre, band aid measures in a graded response plan like stopping nonessential construction and demolition activity in the NCR and restricting use of vehicles that operate to dirtier fuel emission standards kick in. They do not yet have the luxury of blaming Diwali for it as the lighting of fireworks is nearly 10 days away. Meaningful as the curbs on fireworks may be, they do not offer a holistic solution to what is a far wider problem.
Cities that tackled unhealthy pollution levels like Beijing and Los Angeles can be quoted as examples of what concerted action can help achieve. Of course, the authoritarian methods of China cannot be used in a highly political land where even polluting two- and three-wheelers cannot be stopped from plying as livelihood issues crop up. And Los Angeles could wave a magic wand at automobiles in the form of raised emission standards to make the air breathable as cars and trucks were the major polluting factor.
Caught as India is in a bind of being unable to take decisions like stopping crop burning by incentivising viable alternatives, insisting on the smallest of vehicles to perform to far higher emission standards and containing the construction dust in a country that is eternally a work in progress, the blame game among various states and the Centre remains.
The ordinary citizens and vulnerable groups of people who face breathing issues, respiratory distress, asthma attacks and pulmonary problems and skin infections are left to their own devices. International cricketers participating in the World Cup, who play in a wealthier ecosystem, use inhalers to cope with the pollution levels of many Indian cities, which is illustrative of where many of our metros are heading — towards the Delhi model of unstoppable pollution leading to severe air warnings.
Air pollution has been known to shorten life spans while severely affecting lifestyles. Decades ago, they used to caution visiting sports teams to not drink the water. Perhaps, a cautionary “don’t breathe the air” may have to be added now. India must wake up to its worsening plight and make all-inclusive plans to make the air breathable in its bigger cities in general and New Delhi and Mumbai in particular.