Sunday, April 11, 2021

Toxic air quality

The Air Quality Index (AQI) in National Capital Region (NCR) and New Delhi and its surrounding areas dipped to a new low of 597 into severe plus category marking a further drift post Diwali celebrations last Wednesday and Thursday morning. Despite the fact that Supreme Court fixed the hours from 8 pm to 10 pm for bursting of harmless crackers on Diwali, there was violations of these directions leading to further deterioration in the air quality. Apart from the violation of the Supreme Court directions, the police in the NCR miserably failed in checking the sale and bursting of the fire-crackers that is one of the major causes of worst air pollution. The directions of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for allowing only the sale of environmentally friendly fire crackers and harmless Diwali lighting toys were equally flouted by the enforcement agencies for the reasons best known to the central government. The appeals from the government agencies and Non-Government Organisations also fell on deaf ears of the people as well the law enforcement agencies. The rulers, who are ruling the roost in NCR and its adjoining areas, were busy in celebrating the festival of lights in one place or the other without caring the harmful air quality that the common masses were forced to breathe on this day and the days that followed. The AQI monitors that have been installed by the central government agency have also been warning about the worsening air quality for the past many days particularly after the onset of winter season when the air quality had started going down. The AQI monitors have pinpointed the stubble burning in agriculture fields by the farmers in Punjab and Haryana as one of the major reasons for worsening air quality. In the same breath, the concerned authorities warned of increasing ailments of respiratory disorders among the people due to bad air quality. The number of people reporting with these ailments to the medical facilities across the NCR has been increasing with the passage of every day. It was only in the recent past that it became known to the people that nine out of ten worst polluted cities around the world are located in India. The recent reports have suggested that China and some of the European cities have taken corrective steps and improved the air quality in their cities in less than half a decade but the Indian government has failed to make any progress on this front. In the case of Beijing, which was having worst of the air quality in 2011 with smog caused by thermal power station and vehicular emission, the government banned pollution vehicles, reduced the air pollution caused by coal fired power stations. As of today, the air quality in Beijing has improved and the city now falls in the category of safe and moderate air quality for the local residents. If that could be the case with cities in China and European countries, why could not such measures be initiated in the NCR for reduction of pollutant emission. With the introduction of CNG buses and electric-run metro-railways, the pollution was controlled to some extent in NCR but the situation did not improve as the number of personalized vehicles and construction activities increased. The air quality continued to worsen with no follow up actions from the government and its agencies. In fact, the entire planning process has been has gone haywire as the congestion in NCR, demand for Mass Transit System (MTS) and personalized vehicles increased over the past few years. The experiments of banning old and worn out vehicles did make some difference last year but the petty politicking and different governments pulling in opposite directions only added to the confusion on corrective measures. In fact, the major cities like New Delhi and other metropolitan cities are a failure so far as economic development is concerned. Instead of allowing the haphazard expansion of New Delhi, smaller and manageable small satellite townships could help in reducing the pollutant emission and piling up of garbage. The action from the governments is needed on war-footing basis if the governments want the people to survive with harmless air quality in major cities of India.