The Delhi Malaise

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 10 Nov 2018 10:14:06

New Delhi, November 8 (PTI): Delhi recorded its worst air quality of the year the morning after Diwali as the pollution level entered “severe plus emergency” category due to rampant bursting of toxic fire-crackers, authorities said on Thursday.

In a gross violation of a Supreme Court order, people in several cities burst fire-crackers until at least midnight, two hours after the 10 pm deadline. Loud bangs rent the air in New Delhi. Violations were also recorded in Mumbai, Kolkata, Jaipur and other major cities. ...

THIS kind of reporting was expected to happen after Diwali. Authorities, too, were expected to assert that the air quality fell to its lowest level post-Diwali, thanks to the rampant violation of the Supreme Court order limiting bursting fire-crackers only for two hours between 8 pm and 10 pm. And expectedly, the blame came to the doorstep of Diwali as the main culprit in this dirty game of environmental pollution. Delhi was the target city in this reporting, though similar reports were filed by the media from other cities. For, Delhi has been suffering from very bad air quality for the past several months (nay, several years). In the past couple of weeks, reports came in a torrent talking about how air quality in the national capital was sinking. That was so when Diwali was still some distance away.

How could the honourable Supreme Court blame the Diwali festival in advance? But it did, and also imposed a two-hour time bracket to burst fire-crackers. The Supreme Court deadline did not make much difference as perhaps the common people did not bother about the judicial restraint. They also knew that the law-enforcement agencies like Police or the Pollution Control Boards could do little to restrain people from violating the Supreme Court’s time bracket. In the nutshell, thus, the festival of lights faced the blame.

Let us restrict our discussion only to Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) for a moment. Let us not miss the reality that the NCR region has been facing the problem of worst kind of urban-triggered environmental pollution for decades, not just for days. Delhi air has always posed a serious health hazard for the people. Delhi’s river -- the Yamuna -- also suffers from an extreme neglect that has led to a complete spoiling of its water quality and flow. So bad the condition is that the people who went for Chhat Puja on the banks of the Yamuna were shocked to sense a terribly foul smell emanating from the dirty river-flow.

In addition, there is also the issue of spoiling of the white marble of the iconic Taj Mahal nearly 300 kms from New Delhi, thanks to environmental pollution, so much so that the honourable Supreme Court even threatened to order the Taj’s destruction if the Government could not protect the world heritage monument from impact of pollution. Those who have followed Delhi’s dipping graph on pollution standards also know that the whole region covering thousands of square kilometers has suffered from worst kind of industrial pollution. So, one day, feeling mad at the whole scene, the judiciary also issued orders that the burning of dried harvests in farms be stopped immediately. Even when that order was followed to a large extent, there was no reduction in air pollution in the NCR in general and Delhi in particular.

A few years ago, facing a condition of extreme pollution, the courts had ordered imposition of CNG as the only certified fuel for vehicles in Delhi. That order was implemented ruthlessly, and the national capital started enjoying good air quality -- though only for a while. Again, the situation came back to square one. Then came and went the odd-even vehicular use, which also had only a limited positive impact and Delhi was back to its worst pollution levels in no time.

It is obvious, thus, that Delhi’s pollution problem is much bigger than the leaders and administrators and judges can imagine. And that should make all of them to sit together to think harder and more honestly. They will have to free themselves from temptation of placing the blame at the doorstep of just one factor -- say Diwali or the stack burning in farms or the vehicular density. The need is actually to find out a comprehensive solution and not a piecemeal one as has been done until now. If that approach is not taken, Delhi will be a lost megapolis in a few decades more. And for that moment (whenever it comes), we cannot blame Diwali festival alone.

Let us talk more about Diwali and Delhi. Diwali is celebrated all over the country -- from metropolitan cities to the small villages. There may be some high pollution levels in all these places post-Diwali. Yet, the clamour of banning fire-crackers does not go up in all those places, let alone some elite and shallow propagandism. Those other cities too have their own industries, their own other polluting factors, their own issues of urban mismanagement. But then, why is it that Delhi’s air quality dips so low -- lower than that in any other city in India?

This is the question that needs a thorough and non-partisan investigation. This is the issue that needs to be tackled in the right earnest, with utmost sincerity, and without any bias for or against any one factor (as is visible in the case of Diwali festival and the fire-crackers).

It is necessary for us to realise that Delhi’s issues are altogether different and cannot be equated with the general condition obtainable in other parts of the country. Most unfortunately, we have never tried to go deeper into the issue, and kept ourselves satisfied with superficial thinking. The problem of pollution all over the world stems from absence of deep thinking and subsequent action. Delhi is no exception. But that exception must be made.