Needed: Non-polluted air to breathe

On the day, Monday, November 7, a global conference on climate change (COP22) opened in Marrakesh, Morocco, our national capital New Delhi was reeling under the worst pollution in decades. Three days earlier, the Paris deal on climate change came into effect globally on November 4, 2016 after decades of discussions on how to reduce carbon emissions that are playing havoc with human lives and natural habitat of millions of species.

India is a signatory to the deal, along with 194 other countries, and all the countries, including the US and China which are major polluters of the Earth, have ratified the deal which was approved in Paris in December last year. With the ratification of the deal by individual countries complete on Friday last, the landmark and historic agreement awaits actions by individual signatory countries that will come up for review at international climate conferences. The countries are expected to complete their roadmaps of measures being taken/implemented in four years from now when the climate deal’s carbon reduction targets come into effect from January 1, 2021.

Whether India can meet or not the toxic cut targets from 2021 onwards, its immediate problem under its nose is Delhi pollution. It is not new for Delhites. Summer or winter, they have to face dust and smog, seasonally. Add to this, the ever increasing carbon gases from lakhs of vehicles and industries which spew out tons of poisonous gases into the Delhi atmosphere. Even on normal days, the pollution levels are so high that the city has earned the sobriquet ‘pollution capital of the world’.

Last weekend proved to be a nightmare for citizens, prompting Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to declare ‘emergency.’ From Monday, schools had been shut for three days; construction work stopped for five days; demolition activities and running of diesel sets banned for 10 days; Badarpur thermal power plant closed down, also for 10 days, etc. All these emergency measures are aimed at reducing the pollution levels to a point where people can at least breathe.

Do these steps taken by the Kejriwal government solve the capital city’s perennial problem? Hardly. They are only short-term palliatives, not long-term solutions which neither the state nor the Central government has never contemplated. Except the recent curbs on vehicles to ply on different days according to their odd-even numbers and Supreme Court-imposed restrictions on old vehicles, no concrete action has been taken to mitigate Delhi’s pollution problem. In fact, ever since the Kejriwal’s government came to power, its confrontation with the Centre and AAP-BJP spats have aggravated the civic problems. In other words, people’s welfare has become a hostage to political wrangles.

The present crisis should be a lesson to both the state and the Central governments, if they have any inclination to learn. They can’t keep blaming each other for ever for lack of clean air. Improving and maintaining the quality of air, without which no living organism can survive, is the basic duty of the government at state and central level. If they can’t do it, for whatever reason, they are failing to fulfill the first basic need of people: quality air to work and stay healthy. By depriving the citizens of quality air, the official machinery is making people sick and unproductive.

It’s a common problem that calls for solutions in a united manner involving people, governments and everyone who has a stake in preserving and maintaining the environment. If it is Delhi today, it’s some other city or state in the country. If the authorities keep passing the buck, a day will come when we will be living in toxic gas urban conglomerates. The larger question, then, is if we can’t tackle a city’s pollution how can we hope to bring down carbon emission levels to acceptable international standards in the whole country?

 

 

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