A study on air quality in India conducted by Yale and Columbia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF) has ranked India a poor 177 of 180 countries. It also warned that India was staring at a public health crisis if concrete measures are not taken to curb pollution. The study has only reinforced what is an open secret: successive governments have done little to tackle this problem.
Perhaps the most telling image of this health hazard was of Sri Lankan Test cricketers with face masks on Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla Maidan during the final Test match against India in December 2017. Despite the protective gear, two Lankan bowlers had to leave the ground early as they faced breathing problems. For the first time in Test cricket, a match was disrupted because of air pollution.
Every winter the national capital is draped in smog caused by the burning of farm stubble and sometimes by weather conditions in West Asia. But it is not just Delhi that is facing air pollution. Many other cities also have poor air quality, as the study has pointed out. Chinese cities also suffer high levels of pollution, mainly from industrial units. But like most industrialised countries, China has been able to curb the problem through monetary fines and banning polluting industries.
The major contributors to bad air quality in India are auto emissions, fossil fuel-powered heavy industry, construction and the burning of agricultural waste after harvest. But hardly anything has been done on any of these fronts. That the government accords low priority to poor air quality is clear from the fact that many cities have just one real-time monitoring station, that too located somewhere in a green area, which does not show the correct picture. The government needs to regulate pollution from the construction industry, ban old vehicles, both public and private, as they cause higher pollution, and have the political spine to stop farmers from burning agricultural waste in the winter.