According to the leading medical journal, Lancet, the health of an entire generation of children, particularly in India, is at risk because of climate change. This is no dystopian scenario but a stark reality in present-day north India as air pollution shortens the lives of all residents, not just children, by a good seven years, as per recent medical studies.
The national capital has been aiming to become a world class city for several decades now, but every year post Diwali it turns into a veritable hell as the air quality plummets and a toxic haze envelops the city. While the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi has been crying itself hoarse about the ill-effects of stubble burning in paddy fields in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana, the Supreme Court has come down heavily on the Centre and state governments for playing with the lives of people.
This has had little or no effect, the air quality index veering between severe and severe-plus categories on a daily basis. Stop-gap measures by the Delhi government and the top court-monitored Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) to alleviate the situation such as the odd-even vehicle rationing scheme, ban on construction and burning of garbage, keeping schools shut, etc., are of little help as has been proved year after year.
The Delhi government’s publicity blitz for its anti-cracker campaign ahead of Diwali failed to evoke awareness among recalcitrant Delhi’ites. Firecrackers are regularly burst during Diwali, Chhath and at marriage processions by thoughtless citizens unconcerned about their detrimental effect on the city’s air. The winter months are an apocalyptic nightmare in the national capital region. It is virtually darkness at noon as residents yearn for the sight of clear blue skies and don masks to ward off the foul air.
Visitors to Delhi in the winter months are horrified by the extent of the pollution. Visuals of Gerrman Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ceremonial reception in the smog-covered forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan were distinctly embarrassing. Her visit coincided with a severe drop in air quality forcing the authorities to declare a health emergency. A comprehensive policy to tackle the severe pollution that is gripping north India and its ill-effects is, therefore, the need of the hour.
All stakeholders ~ governments at the Centre and states, health professionals, urban planners, environmentalists and most importantly the citizens, who bear the brunt of this health hazard as they go about their daily routine ~ must be consulted before chalking out an action plan to deal with this dire scenario. The process must kick off well ahead of another smoghit winter and must not confine itself to Delhi, which many seem to think is the only priority for policy-makers. There is a large swathe of India outside the capital region that is similarly afflicted.