“There’s so much pollution in the air now that if it weren’t for our lungs there’d be no place to put it all”- Robert Orben (Comedy Writer)
The above quote is so true for the city of Delhi. The pollution level has breached the highest mark in the recent times and the Delhi has notoriously become the most polluted city in the world. As per the Supreme Court, 8 people die prematurely everyday due to the air pollution in Delhi. There is a high possibility that these people belong to the lower and middle class as they are more affected by the pollution and do not have the wherewithal to save them with the help of various technological and other solutions. These residents of Delhi who generally do not own the cars, bear the brunt of the toxic air. As per one study[i], levels of suspended particulate are generally higher in the low neighborhoods of Delhi. The poor people also spend more time outdoors where they come in direct contact with the hazardous air. The affluent households are not that much affected by the toxic air due to the use of air-conditioning, air purifier, better nutrition and adequate greenery in the surroundings. Not only this, children in the region are the most vulnerable due to the harmful impact of air pollution. One in every third child has reduced lung function and high propensity for increased pulmonary hemorrhage. On the face of it, three toddlers moved to the Supreme Court to demand “Right to breath fresh air” under the “Right to life” under Article 21. In fact, right to breath fresh air is a human right. This public health emergency needs to be solved on war footing otherwise it will reach to a stage of unspeakable damage as our children are our future and so-called ‘demographic dividend’ and if they are not healthy and sound, country will not progress in the future.
Various studies, researchers have been conducted to understand the causes of the air pollution in Delhi. Almost all of the reports including the recent Economic Survey released by the Government of India has been vocal towards the vehicular emissions as one of the main causes of the pollution. Delhi has seen the uncontrollable growth of personal cars in the recent decades. As per NTPDC report, Delhi comprises 1.4% of the Indian population but accounts for more than 7% of all motor vehicles in the country. As per the recent Economic Survey, vehicular emissions are responsible for 30% pollution in Delhi. Therefore, there is a need to promote public transportation by providing more quality buses, extending the metro-lines to more areas, improve the last-mile connectivity by providing eco-friendly solutions- bike sharing, e-rickshaws, rent the cycle, charging higher parking fees, congestion charges to discourage usage of cars, promoting the idea of car-pooling and most importantly encouraging the buying of electric vehicles by providing more incentives, less interest rate on loans to buy electric vehicles, involving private sector to create charging infrastructure under CSR activities and seriously formulating a policy for the 100% electrification of public transportation system. The problem of crop-residue burning is also needed to be tackled with cooperation between Centre and States. Farmers need to be given subsidy to buy Turbo Happy Seeder(THS) machine and there is also need to look for innovative eco-friendly and sustainable solutions to convert the crop residue into useful manure.
Despite all these measures, there is a need to mobilize all the stakeholders and taking the help of civil society to take innovative steps to deal with the problem of toxic air. The Government of the day can’t be omnipresent. Therefore, citizens of Delhi-NCR need to become vigilant to persuade each other not to burn garbage, adopt the habit of car-pooling, plant more trees, take measures in their region for protecting the environment etc. In fact, corporate sectors and various other offices can also start some new ideas to deal with the problem of air pollution. For instance, corporates in Gurgaon have started one day of the week as car-free day[ii] which has proved to be successful in reducing the pollution level.
Not only this, there is a need to start a sensitization campaign among the citizens of Delhi towards the value of fresh air and its harmful impact on health. The Ministry of Environment and Health and Delhi government has started the Clean Air Campaign[iii] this February to sensitize the Delhiites towards the quality of air and as per the various reports, it was found that it turned out to be successful. There is a need to take more steps like this.
The pollution in the Delhi-NCR region is not only a public health emergency but also a case of environmental injustice where and poor and our future generations especially the small children are bearing the brunt of toxic air. The most ironical that in most of the cases these people haven’t contributed towards the deteriorating quality of the air. On the face of it, this is high time that authorities take heed of this injustice and take strong actions to provide fresh air for all the citizens of Delhi-NCR.