The Big Story:
As residents in most other cities begin looking forward to the Diwali season enthusiastically, it is a different scenario in the National Capital. The festival, which falls on October 18 this year, has become a marker for the start of the dreaded pollution season in New Delhi.
A study released last week by the University of Chicago paints a grim picture of where pollution levels currently stand in the city. If New Delhi adhered to World Health Organisation standards on the permissible levels of particulate matter in the air, its residents could gain as much as nine years in life expectancy. Last November, PM 2.5 levels rose to almost 1000 mg/metre cube of air, which was 40 times more than the WHO standard of 25mg/metre cube. PM 2.5 levels refer to particulate matters in the air that are less than 2.5 micrometer in size and has the potential to enter the bloodstream and cause an array of diseases.
Over the last two years, the administration has done little but provide knee-jerk reactions when the air turns pungent. Delhi’s pollution problem has its origins both within and outside. Surrounded by large states where farmers complete their harvest just before the winter kicks in, the smoke in the air is increased manifold owing to the habit of crop straw burning. To reduce this problem, what is required is efficient coordination between state governments in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. However, given that the farmers constitute a big and sensitive vote bank, state governments have been reluctant to use coercive methods. There are also experts who believe the crop burning is used as an excuse by the administration and that about 80% of all pollution in Delhi originate within.
For example, cracker burning constitutes an important element in the spike in pollution levels during Diwali. The Delhi government has done little to show that this menace has been tackled firmly. In fact, even the Supreme Court, which is hearing a batch of petitions on the pollution problem, is not convinced with how the government has gone about in taking on the cracker problem. “The government has been content giving “general directions” which is “mere paperwork”. There is zero information about the success or failure of its campaigns, if at all undertaken, against bursting of firecrackers,” the court said this week.
Following court intervention, the Central Pollution Control Board did put together a graded response programme to tackle pollution earlier this year. This included an emergency response plan in case pollution breaches a certain level. Construction would be halted, diesel generators will be shut and vehicular movement would be restricted. But since January 12 when this plan came into effect, Delhi has not adhered to the WHO standards even once even though summer is the better season for pollution in the city. Was this plan put into effect even on a single day after February? If yes, residents have clearly been kept out of the loop as there was hardly any information put out in public.
What is clear from the proceedings in the Supreme Court is that the crucial aspect of coordination between agencies has been given a go by. As the court opined, authorities are functioning like islands as though pollution was no big deal. The state governments should realise that a problem like pollution can only be tackled through sustained efforts and not through stop-gap measures just before winter. Given that pollution robs a citizen of almost nine years of his life, it is a serious challenge to the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. A failure to set right the pollution problem is a serious abdication of constitutional duty.
The Big Scroll
- Rohini Pande and Anish Suganthan on what needs to be done to take on farm fires in North India.
- M Rajshekhar reports on the lessons derived from Delhi’s odd-even car policy.
- Karan Thapar in Indian Express writes on the moral bankruptcy of Aung San Suu Kyi in her participation of the violence against Rohingyas.
- Mathew Idiculla in The Hindu argues that subnationalism, as long as it is not secessionist, could be a constructive element in any democracy.
- Biju Dominic in the Mint on the very many problems that smartphones bring to memory.
In this latest part of Scroll’s ‘Revisiting Demonetisation’ series, Vinita Govindarajan goes back to flower markets in Chennai, where anger against Narendra Modi is still lingering.
“An unexpected fallout of demonetisation was that even the poor in Tamil Nadu had become familiar with the name of the prime minister. Struggling to make a living, and immersed in the Dravidian politics of the state, they ordinarily had little interest in the Central government in distant New Delhi. But after their hard-earned savings in cash had turned to wastepaper overnight, they suddenly woke up to its power. Narendra Modi’s name had become synonymous with demonetisation.”