The pollution levels in Delhi and several cities around it are as big a national emergency as any. Millions of people are being hospitalised and millions more are unable to attend work due to conditions outside their houses. Millions will die due to respiratory diseases if not immediately than over a period of time. Exercise outdoor is not possible. The pollution lasts throughout winter with lesser or greater severity, muscle decay will set in with further health complications and so on and on and on.
London had bigger smogs in the 1950s. The British government acted with such alacrity and effectiveness that London has not been visited by that type of smog ever since. Nearer home the Chinese President acted with equal alacrity and managed to reduce pollution in Beijing to a reasonable degree. What about the Indian Prime Minister with the largest mandate in a democracy anywhere in the world? It is pointless blaming the state governments although they could have done much more. They have not. Why should the Supreme Court sound the alarm bells? Time to act is now, this very minute as the saying goes.
Briefly, some recommendations for consideration at the highest decision- making levels are: – Immediately announce emergency measures to bring down pollution within seven days, if not earlier, and before many more millions suffer. – Stop crop burning by farmers with immediate effect up to a radius of 200 kms around Delhi. Those farmers who douse their fires within 72 hours after announcement should be given compensation packages on a formula that will be announced within 20 days.
Those who do not do so will not be given any compensation. Fire engines from neighbouring towns and areas should be pressed into service to douse the fires. Where tube wells exist they should be used by volunteers to ensure flames are put out immediately. A statement to this effect should be announced over national channels by the PM himself. In order to control pollution in the coming years, global tenders should be put out for curbing the menace of crop burning through schemes that use tractors and other mechanisms already in the market to remove the stubble, prepare the fields for the ensuing crop and convert the stubble into energy brickets.
The overall loss through work stoppage, closure of schools, deaths and health hazards runs into billions of dollars annually around the national capital every year. The cost of the tenders as part of a central scheme of the government will not exceed a few tens of millions of dollars. Even if it is more, it is a pittance compared to the losses and misery taking place in the national capital and surrounding towns. The authorities should know that the economy is already in distress. By not acting on pollution in a firm manner at the earliest they would be helping to sink it further.
Winter is the time when tourists visit India in large numbers. It is not the case this winter. Hardly any foreign tourist could be found at India Gate, Humayun’s Tomb or Qutab Minar. Many traders who depend on winter sales will be obliged to shut shop. The Sri Lanka effect is being visited on the country without the church blasts. Further prevarication could ruin the economy for years to come. The upturn would be immeasurably delayed., Once the government takes strong action it will revitalise the economy, the states, the people of India and electrify the world. It will serve as an example for the subcontinent, region and other countries.
(The writer is Executive Director, Eco Monitors Society)