Measures to check the menace of air pollution in Delhi by the executive and the judiciary has received both bouquets and brickbats. The truth is that air pollution is a clear and present danger and the time to act is now.
Decimating the 15-year-old Congress party and neutralising the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to capture power in the national capital Delhi was not an easy task for Arvind Kejriwal and his party. After all, they had jumped into the political bandwagon by capturing the people’s imagination during a subaltern spring two years ago. By plasticising alternative politics, Arvind Kejriwal has a knack for annoying all his political rivals all the time.
Yet, they are all concerned about Kejriwal’s constant coughing. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally advised him last year to consult 72-year-old Bangalore-based yoga therapist Dr H R Nagendra. Kejriwal did go to Bangalore but to Jindal Naturecure Institute. More than ten months now since he underwent yoga therapy, his cough is back. He plans to undergo a nature therapy for ten days again.
If it is any consolation, Kejriwal is not a loner gasping for breath. Millions in Delhi either suffer silently or succumb to it. Delhi’s children have the weakest lungs when compared to youngsters from other cities. A study conducted in May this year by the HEAL Foundation and Breathe Blue, shows that four out of every 10 children in the capital suffer from severe lung problems.
Global studies too lend credence to these frightening claims. The air that people breathe in India is dangerously toxic. The World Health Organisation revealed this in 2014 after studies conducted in 124 cities pointed to the presence of high levels of microscopic air pollutants in the ambient air. The levels of particulate matter with a diameter of 10 microns exceeded the WHO air quality guidelines of 20 micrograms per cubic metre in all cities assessed. The national capital has the highest concentration of PM2.5 — particulate matters less than 2.5 microns– form of air pollution, which is considered most serious.
Depending on their size, these particulates can penetrate deep into the lungs, blood stream resulting in chronic illness and premature deaths. They also aggravate asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease and cardiac problems. Long term impact includes cancer. New Studies have shown that air pollution impacts diabetes, and brain and foetuses. Others pollutants in the cocktail are carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide.
Those better-off like Kejriwal get on to yoga therapy, fix air purifiers in their apartments or move out of Delhi or even India. Faced with a grave situation, Delhi seems to have finally woken up to debate and follow it up with action. The first salvo was fired by Kejriwal who decided to stagger car traffic in the capital.
Road space rationing, alternate day driving or traffic restrictions are practiced across the globe in cities like Beijing, Paris, Santiago and Singapore. The Even-Odd scheme that Delhi plans envisages allowing even number plated cars to ply on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday while odd number cars will ply on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The plan spares working women. Details are being finalised and the Delhi government is looking to add a huge fleet of 7000 buses and increase the frequency and coaches for the Delhi Metro to boost its existing public transport infrastructure.
Delhi’s plans have earned its leaders bouquets and brickbats. India’s Chief Justice T.S. Thakur welcomed the Delhi government’s move. He urged Supreme Court judges to go for car-pooling, saying this would send a right message to the public.
Following this, the Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice ushered more radical reforms banning registration of diesel-guzzling high-end luxury cars and SUVs with engine capacity of 2,000cc and more in the entire National Capital Region (NCR) till March 31, 2016. A one-time pollution tax on small diesel cars in the new year will also be imposed. The National Capital Region includes Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Faridabad.
Read the full article in our upcoming issue of India&You (January-February 2016).