Deeds, not words: Delhi gasps for breath

Deeds, not words: Delhi gasps for breath

Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was recorded at 400 units in October 2021, which is considered severe as per the scale developed by the Central Pollution Control Board. It is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Over the past few years, the discussion has centred on the health issues of its 30 million residents. Medical experts are clear: poor air quality leads to a number of respiratory problems, especially among the most vulnerable – children and the elderly. Dust particles from stubble burning in the farmlands of neighbouring Punjab and Haryana flow towards Delhi with a push from the North-western winds. This report by Vox explains the problem in detail and raises questions on the environmental importance of efficient agricultural practices. This continued issue highlights a critical lack of coordination between the state-level and central governments which is directly impacting the quality of life for Delhi residents.  

The Supreme Court of India had to step in to force the governments to chart a long-term plan to reduce the AQI. As a result, the Central Government has been ordered to devise an emergency plan in consultation with the Delhi and neighbouring states’ governments. The court heard the matter of Delhi’s pollution for the third time in 2021 alone and stated that ad hoc measures will not work to curb this problem. The court was responding to a petition filed by an 18-year-old environmental activist, Aditya Dubey who is seeking judicial intervention for measures to control worsening air quality in the city.

In response, the Delhi State Government introduced a 5 point plan to curb air pollution. The plan identified four key sources of air pollution and proposed solutions such as an anti-dust campaign, water sprinkling across areas with high dust emission, a ban on diesel generator sets, stopping open-burning of waste at landfills and spraying the bio-decomposer solution on 4000 acres of farmland within Delhi. It also proposed measures under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), such as banning coal furnaces, a key contributor to the city’s air pollution. Six of eleven coal powered plants in a 300 kilometres radius of Delhi have been temporarily shut and schools have been on a week-long leave as a part of the response. 
While these measures demonstrate an acknowledgement and an improvement in the response of the state government, they are not sufficient to address the critical issue which transcends state borders. The Delhi government has limited jurisdiction and is bound by geographical boundaries. The Central government must immediately intervene and, working with Delhi and surrounding state governments, generate a comprehensive and coherent emergency plan. Air pollution is an annual crisis for the city, making national and international headlines and impacting the health of an estimated 30 million people in the city. As the Supreme Court remarked, “This is the national capital. Look at the signal we are sending to the world”. It’s time for the Government of India to show leadership on reducing air pollution to protect the residents of Delhi and set an example for the rest of the country.

Photo Credit: Sajjad Hussain / AFP / Getty

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