India this month joined the climate and clean air coalition of the UN, becoming the 65th country to enter the partnership. The coalition is an effort to monitor and reduce the emission of particulate matter—tiny dust particles that get deposited deep in human and animal respiratory tracts, causing serious health damages.
The move is crucial for India. Almost every urban agglomeration in the country has pollution levels exceeding limits considered safe by several notches. A recent Greenpeace report has found that levels of air pollution in Delhi is 10 times higher than in London.
The impact is far higher among the poor than those who can afford protection. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment has found that life expectancy in India has gone down by 2.6 years due to deadly diseases caused by air pollution. Air pollution is the third-highest cause of death, says the study. Experts hope that with India joining the UN initiative, sustainable and equitable policies will be adopted to manage the crisis. The biggest reason why many environmental policies fail to work is the lack of equity. While there are no trade restrictions on fuel-guzzling SUVs, policies like odd-even car usage make the public angry, not conscious, say experts.
Another problem is the idea of development in the country. While owning a bike and graduating to one or more cars is the idea of social and economic progression currently in the country, cities that have successfully reduced pollution have envisioned growth differently—putting effective public transport at the centre of growth. A recent news report from Chennai shows the city is moving in the opposite direction. In the last four years, the fleet capacity of MTC, the public bus corporation, fell by a substantial 2,985 vehicles. But a whopping 17 lakh bikes were registered in just one year till April 2019. Unless authorities are able to provide sustainable transport and living solutions, air pollution will remain a problem that is only researched and debated.