Like festivals such as Deepavali, Holi and Christmas that come every year, air pollution in Delhi has become an annual feature every winter. For at least two weeks, the air in the national capital becomes so noxious that every Delhiite takes in harmful and life-threatening pollutants.
For the past few years, the events that unfold every winter have fallen into a pattern: The media highlights the problem, the courts breath fire at incompetent and irresponsible authorities, threatening to imprison derelict officials, while the politicians engage in a blame game. On the ground, however, there is little to show by way of any action. Only the divine brings succour to the city’s denizens, when either rain brings down all the pollutants in the air or the wind blows them away. In short, Delhiites are at the mercy of the weather Gods for a clean and healthy winter. This is actually a pity as the air pollution is largely, if not totally, man-made.
The major causes of air pollution in Delhi are stubble burning, road dust, construction dust, industrial smoke and vehicular emission. Controlling each one of them is entirely possible, provided the authorities are serious about it. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case.
Perhaps Delhi can learn a few lessons from Beijing, which until 2012-13 was the most polluted capital in the world. The Chinese authorities came up with a plan to fight air pollution based on forecasts made by its pollution-observing agencies. Whenever the air quality index was forecast to be bad, the authorities would immediately take preventive steps in order to control dust pollution and vehicular emission. Children would be barred from outdoor activities and vulnerable sections would be issued health advisories.
In other words, Beijing managed to control pollution and its harmful effects by taking preventive measures. In contrast in Delhi, the Graded Response Action Plan that the government has put in place is essentially reactive. It comes into force only when pollution levels spike. It’s time to change the way we fight the air emergency.