Battling air pollution

Foreign diplomats express concern over air quality


November 18, 2019

/ By / New Delhi

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There has been increase in number of emergency cases due to air pollution crisis

Breathing in India’s national is getting bad to worse with the onset of winter. As stakeholders grapple with different solutions, air in Delhi reaches toxic level pushing Delhites to a brink of health disaster.

With the onset of November this year the Delhi government banned millions of private vehicles and also announced the closure of schools. The decision was prompted as thick gray pall of smog settled over the national capital. This occurs every year as the temperature cools down and winter sets in. The situation is so bad that the pungent-smelling air makes eyes water. It also induces coughing and breathlessness even for those without respiratory illnesses. The impact of the air emergency is proving to be disaster for many residents. A research study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) found 30-40 pc increase in the number of emergency admissions of those hit by the air pollution crisis.

Several residents packed their bags to visit metros such as Chennai or Mumbai while others preferred to stay indoors.

No diplomatic solution

The situation was so alarming that foreign diplomats posted in the national capital expressed concerns as it was affecting their health. Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, ambassador Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, expressed, “It (pollution) affects all of us. And it does not have a diplomatic solution nor is the Ministry of External Affairs responsible for solving it. This is a problem of major proportions to be solved by city and federal government…The Even-Odd scheme is a good start, but working closely with the farmers in Punjab on the issue of burning crops should also be strongly considered,” to news agencies.

Costa Rican ambassador to India, Mariela Cruz Alvarez took to blogging declaring that she had moved out of Delhi to the more environmentally friendly Bangalore.

“I’m a living proof that our planet is dying today, coughing as I write with my Indian bronchitis,” she wrote.

“I am sick with a serious upper respiratory infection due to New Delhi’s unbreathable air. My tropical lungs couldn’t take the toll. It is not funny to see your lungs expelling a dark residue as if I was a smoker — which I am not…We need to wake up fast. India I love you and it hurts me to see you drowning in loads of plastic and toxic air. Where is the leadership? Clean air and water are basic human rights,” she added in her blog post.

Most polluted mega city

Several stakeholder be it the local government, governments of the neighbouring states, federal government and even the Supreme Court have finally woken up to the air emergency. However these measures have proved to be scattershot only responding in times of crisis and conveniently forgetting as it subsides.

Before we delve into it further it is important to know that Delhi was declared as the world’s most polluted megacity by the World Health Organisation in 2018 after it analysed the levels of the pollutant PM10 in the air in cities with populations above 14 million between 2010 and 2016.

This is because it is choked by rising automobile emissions, construction dust, garbage burning, plastic dumping and crop residue burning in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab.

Taking suo motu cognisance of the worsening air quality, the Supreme Court bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi directed the federal government to assess the feasibility of switching to Japanese Hydrogen-based fuel tech.

Hydrogen fuel, a zero-emission fuel burned with oxygen which produces only water as a byproduct, is increasingly used in China, Japan and Germany as a clean energy alternative in public transport. It was key in tackling pollution crisis in Japan. It can be used as an alternative to some of the polluting fuels used in factories, cars and public transport.

The solicitor general, Tushar Mehta, told the Supreme Court that the central government was exploring the
introduction of hydrogen fuel technology. It asked the Centre to submit a report by December 3 after Centre told the apex court that it was exploring the feasibility of the technology.

Meanwhile the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has divided Delhi into four quadrants — cleaner, moderate, polluted, critical — on a monthly basis and given the city agencies a clear roadmap on what and where certain remedial action needed to be stepped up. An average PM10 level of below 250 microgram per cubic metre qualifies for the first two quadrants and above that for the remaining two quadrants. It is also working on Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) task force to further assess pollution control measures.

However Delhi is losing the battle against pollution because it lacks a central agency to coordinate efforts across states and industries. Different aspects of the economy that impact air pollution are fragmented across sectors viz agriculture, transport, construction, industries.

Even as air quality in the Capital continues to deteriorate, sale of preventive items like air purifiers and pollution masks have spiked significantly. Manufacturers are observing a 30 to 100 pc rise in demand compared to the same period last year.

No doubt time is running out for Delhites. It is time that steps are taken to mitigate pollution before breathe becomes air!

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