Delhi’s toxic air quality

India’s capital city is a gas chamber. Yet the powers that be are politicking about who is responsible  for this noxious outcome. There is of course no single cause for what has now become an environmental emergency. There is the burning of rice stubble in UP, Punjab and Haryana; the post Diwali release of fumes from crackers and the burgeoning vehicular population besides other weather phenomenon. which have all added up to what seems like an intractable issue at this point. That Delhi is now the world’s most populated city does India’s reputation much harm. It’s pointless for the Prime Minister of India to speak at the environmental conferences of the world when things at home are in a mess. India needs to take this dangerously spiraling pollution level seriously enough to bring in drastic policy changes.

On November 4, the Supreme Court held an emergency hearing on Delhi’s air pollution and pulled up the Centre and the Delhi Government for passing the buck. The Supreme Court also warned the three states for stubble burning and said any violation would be met with contempt of court proceedings. The apex court has also banned further construction and demolition work in the national capital region. In January this year the Government passed the National Clean Air Programme  (NCAP) – a five year plan to curb pollution across the country but more so in 102 highly polluted cities and to ensure air quality monitoring in all cities of India.

Studies have shown that toxic air such as that hovering over Delhi reduces the life span of people by seven years. Hence air pollution is also a human rights issue and violates Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. What is urgently needed in the metro cities of India with Delhi being at the top of the heap is an efficient public transport system that will reduce the number of private vehicles on the road. Unless this is ensured, it is pointless asking people to stop using private vehicles. While the metro rail has been of some help it is also true that with the buying power of citizens scaling up exponentially, more people are acquiring vehicles. Hence economic slowdown which has also resulted in the slowing down of the automobile sector is good news to many even if that hardly solves Delhi’s problems. Now that the issue has become a national health emergency and that the Supreme Court has taken it very seriously it is expected that immediate action plans will be executed.

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