“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 recent times and the Delhi has notoriously become the most polluted city in the world. As per the Supreme Court, 8 people die prematurely every day due to 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 pollution and do not have the wherewithal to save themselves with the help of various technological and other solutions. These residents of Delhi who generally do not own 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 hazardous air.
The affluent households are not that much affected by the toxic air due to the use of air-conditioning, air purifiers, 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 a high propensity for increased pulmonary hemorrhage. On the face of it, three toddlers moved to the Supreme Court to demand the “Right to breath fresh air” under the “Right to life” under Article 21. In fact, the right to breathe fresh air is a human right. This public health emergency needs to be solved on a 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, the country will not progress in the future.
Various studies have been conducted to understand the causes of air pollution in Delhi. Almost all of the reports including the recent Economic Survey released by the Government of India have been vocal about vehicular emissions as one of the main causes of pollution. Delhi has seen the uncontrollable growth of personal cars in 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% of 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 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 the private sector to create charging infrastructure under CSR activities and seriously formulating a policy for the 100% electrification of the public transportation system.
The problem of stubble burning is also needed to be tackled with cooperation between the Centre and States. Farmers need to be given subsidies to buy Turbo Happy Seeder(THS) machines and there is also a 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 take 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 a 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 the Delhi government 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 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.