We are choking! In desperate need of help! In Delhi—extending to the whole cluster of cities that’s the national capital region. The air is heavy and toxic, difficult to breathe. A thin, evil murk has brought visibility down to a few feet. Rendered opaque in a greyish brown shroud. Young people are investing in masks, middle class homes are fitting air purifiers.
No, there’s no forest fire or natural calamity. Just that the authorities are concerned with other themes. Particulate matter is yet to take their political breath away, even though a public health emergency is upon us—a man-made emergency, fuelled by traffic, diesel generators that run homes and factories in the absence of regular electricity, construction dust, and smoke from the fields of Punjab, Haryana, western UP.
The fields that send food to our tables and then choke us—there’s 20 million tonnes of paddy stubble in Punjab alone, and the bulk of it is burnt! Diwali was low on crackers, so there was a little respite. The air quality index was less than severe.
But no one thought it fit to prepare for this early winter smog mania. Lungs, brain, many other vital organs, all are under attack … whispers of cancer, other chronic disorders. In Delhi, after some prodding from pollution control authorities, non-peak hour Metro fare has been reduced. And schools are closed till Sunday. The odd-even experiment to reduce cars on the streets is being talked about again. Flights and trains have been cancelled.
Those who have the option of leaving the city are doing that. And it’s not as if we have been industrialised on a par with China that we’ve to battle pollution on this scale. We are still looking for investment. Will it come to a country where the Taj itself is turning black … to cities filled with toxins in the air and a population struggling with ailments? The embarrassment of seeing the prime minister receiving the Belgian king and queen in the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt, partially engulfed in a cloud of pollutants, would hardly be a great Make in India advertisement.