How bad really is Delhi’s air pollution? Findings will shock you
Not many had forgotten the sleepless nights and health problems the last year's Diwali came with, so much so that it was infamously called the Great Smog of Delhi, one of the worst levels of air quality in Delhi since 1999. So when the Supreme Court this week announced a ban on the sale of fireworks in Delhi with a view of arresting this menace, many breathed a huge sigh of relief. However, it also led to a huge hue and cry with many questioning whether the Supreme Court was right in doing it so much so that some sulking traders and citizens even threatened to openly defy the orders. This 'sledgehammering' by the Court has caused lots of chaos and uncertainty with more and more questions being asked but very few answers coming. Everyone is seen asking only one thing: Is the air pollution in Delhi so bad that the Supreme Court had to resort to such an extreme measure and what the government will do to reduce it?
Well, the answers to these questions are not very straightforward yet not very difficult to find. Consider this: According to a famous study by the University of Chicago if Delhi's foul air is cleaned up and made to meet the World Health Organisation standards, city residents stand to gain nine years in average in their lifespan. Also in a general perception Delhites and people frequently visiting the capital are no strangers to the fact that Delhi's air quality is bad and at times becomes so severe that even for a healthy adult it becomes quite a task to breathe properly, especially during winters. To measures the quality of air, the country has a National Air Quality Index developed by IIT, Kanpur. It translates concentrations of individual eight air pollutants such as particulate matters (PM2.5, PM10), CO, etc., into a single number that reflects the status of air quality in simple terms. But, it is the measurement of the concentration of PM2.5 and PM10 in the air that gives a clear idea of pollution as these are the most dangerous pollutants among all. Then, the data so collected is shown on six indicators ranging from good to severe (0-500). For instance, this Monday Delhi's air was "poor" with an AQI reading of 277. In contrast to this, Mumbai had an AQI reading of 78 being "satisfactory" while Patna had an AQI reading of 127 being "moderate" on that particular day.
Compared to other cities why it is that only Delhi has the worst possible scenario? The answer is a mix of both man-made causes as well as natural ones. The natural causes being the change in the wind patterns during winters, dipping of minimum temperature with the transition from autumn to winter, atmospheric dust from the western deserts regions and polluted air from neighboring states being blown into Delhi, etc. However, natural causes are clearly overshadowed by the man-made ones. The major causes being vehicular pollution, Industrial pollution, road dust, stubble burning by farmers in adjoining states of Punjab and Haryana, etc. Both these together combined with Diwali pollution make a perfect recipe for an excessively choked & polluted Delhi. This kind of air can give rise to several diseases such as a headache, Asthma, irritation in eyes, breathlessness, allergy, cough etc not just temporarily but also in a long term.
This problem has been further precipitated by the incompetence and lack of preparedness on the part of the authorities. The government over time has taken several measures, but the problem does not seem to be dying down. Last year, the radical idea of 'Odd-Even' despite hogging much limelight really fell short of providing any tangible output. The long-term plans by the government are still to see the light of the day. The experts have given some ways to deal with the problem such as preventing farmers from burning their crop residue, preventing old diesel trucks from entering Delhi, vacuum cleaning the roads to contain road dust, shutting down old thermal power plants in Delhi, encouraging more use of public transportation, etc.
The citizens are desperately looking upon the lawmakers and expecting them to come out with some practical, long-term stringent measures that could bring down the pollution levels from a severely hazardous level within some safe range. The common citizens, the children, the elderly deserve better as it is not just a violation of their constitutional right to clean environment but also it takes away the most precious thing from them: an ever wanting dream of residing close to nature with a safe and secure future.
Author: Akshay Arya
College: Faculty of Law, Delhi University
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