With most Indian cities dominating the pollution list, it’s high time the Government acts
A recent study by the World Health Organisation, conducted between 2010 and 2016, showed that in terms of small particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns, India accounted for 14 of the top 15 polluted cities in the world. There was a clear bias towards north Indian cities, with Kanpur topping the list. In fact, in the National Capital Region, not just the capital city but two cities in Haryana — Faridabad and Gurgaon — too made it to the list. As far as urban megalopolises go, Delhi has the world’s worst air quality when it comes to particulate matter measuring 10 microns, with a population exceeding 14 million inhabitants. The rise of Indian cities in these surveys has been alarming, particularly as instances of stubble burning increased dramatically; as also vehicular population.
While the Government has realised that stubble burning is a serious issue, the political will to counter it has been non-existent with all three political forces in Punjab — the Akalis and the BJP, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party — seeing their local politicians washing their hands off the issue or in certain cases, daring the Government to stop them from burning fields. Similarly, in Delhi, a very flawed car rationing scheme was attempted, which had so many loopholes that one would go dizzy looping around. Politicians did nothing to stop stubble burning in northern India because they are too paranoid to act against the farmers. However, as the sealing and demolition episodes show, if given leeway by the Supreme Court, bureaucrats can act. At the same time, nothing is being done to attempt worthwhile solutions that can reduce vehicular pollution in Delhi. The Delhi Metro, in a hare-brained decision, decided to increase fares twice in six months, and then even hiked parking charges a few days ago, which saw a dramatic decline in ridership despite new lines coming online. To top it all, wrangling between the State and Central Governments has put the next phase of the Delhi Metro on the back-burner. While vehicles will have to meet new fuel efficiency and pollution norms from 2020, enforcement of the existing rules and regulations is pathetic. Enough old diesel private and commercial vehicles operate and overloaded three-wheeler cargo carriers pollute with impunity across the country. Proper enforcement of pollution norms for vehicles, acting against farmers and better public transport solutions are obvious fixes to the problem but why they don’t take place is mysterious and a failure of governance. For this, all political parties should share the blame. Instead, all they do is random finger-pointing.
It would behove politicians to realise that they are failing their constituents and the Indian public. Increasing levels of air pollution will drive down quality of life indexes and will disproportionately impact the “poor,” for whom all politicians claim to work. While politicians and their ilk can afford air purifiers and air conditioners in their homes with clean air — they can even afford daily face masks — poor air quality will start killing people and reduce their ability to work through pulmonary illnesses as well as stunting growth. Our politicians may be scared of stubble burning farmers but the fact is that if they do not act, India’s future and economic growth will be damaged. And we can keep on screaming “Jai Kisan” into the 22nd Century as a backward nation.