Foreign media deplores air pollution in Delhi: Is anyone listening?

Foreign media has been raising concerns about the severe air pollution in Delhi. Each time it reaches a dangerous level, our govt assures of taking prompt steps and forgets it till the next time

Photo by Mahendra Pandey
Photo by Mahendra Pandey

Mahendra Pandey

Unlike Government of India, the foreign media has discussed and criticised the persistent air pollution in Delhi NCR. BBC on June 14 wrote, “people have been complaining about breathing problems, with many saying the city has become unlivable”. The Guardian on June 15 published an article which begins with “Smog more toxic than can be measured by monitoring devices has blanketed the Indian Capital”. It further says, Aishwarya Sudhir, an independent researcher who studies air quality in India said this week’s spike in pollution was a wake-up call that Delhi’s air is rarely safe.

“Polluting activities keep going on in the city during summer, including construction, allowing road dust to linger, the operation of coal-fired power plants and other things,” she said. Under an action plan in place since January 2017, pollution levels of the kind recorded this week should have resulted in trucks being denied entry into the city, the closure of brick kilns and other polluting industries, and a ban on using diesel generators. Yet the government seems only to implement some of these measures, and only in response to public outcry. “We tend to act only when it’s an emergency,” There were forecasts that dust storms would sweep the entire region. They should have acted on these weeks ago, not when it became this severe,” she added.

The Guardian also quoted, a leading lung specialist, Arvind Kumar, says the cancer patients he sees in Delhi are younger, more often female and more likely to be non-smokers than those outside the city. Children are the most vulnerable: a 2015 study concluded about half of Delhi’s 4.4 million school children had stunted lung development and would never completely recover.

ABC News on June 15 wrote that, “The New Delhi Government has made scattered attempts in recent years to try to control worsening air pollution,including stricter emission norms for cars and a tax on diesel-fueled trucks entering the city. But experts say there is little that can be accomplished without concerted national efforts, and pollution has only gotten worse”.

On February 24, ABC News had carried an article by Siobhan Heanue, South Asia Correspondent: India’s air pollution crisis risks becoming humanitarian catastrophe. The article starts with, “Before heading off on a foreign assignment, journalists take a course about working in hostile environments — learning about things like trauma first aid, weapons effects, and how to survive earthquakes, floods and civil unrest. It's all pretty useful training. And heading off to live and work in India, I was more than aware of the everyday dangers I'd be facing. For instance, India has one of the world's highest road tolls and Delhi is one of the worst places in the world for sexual violence against women. But I had no idea the most hostile thing I would encounter upon moving to India would be the air I'd have to breathe every day.”

She concludes by saying, “A study in the Lancet medical journal reported that a quarter of all premature deaths in India in 2015 — or 2.5 million — could be attributed to pollution. But there seems to be no political will or plan to address the pollution problem. Last month there was a theatrical display of water guns rolled out into a few city streets to "shoot down" the dust. This week the Government announced it was setting up a "war room" in its pollution control department to monitor developments. But it's all symbolic. These last few years of worsening air portend a far more dangerous, even dystopian, future. Without intervention, this environmental crisis will become a humanitarian catastrophe. No matter how shocking and restricting I find the pollution, at the back of my mind I know that eventually I get to leave. For most of Delhi's 20 million residents, that's not an option.”

Another article in Mail & Guardian on June 17 states that, “There is little evidence that either the central or Delhi government has any effective policy strategy for air pollution. Now is the time for India to peer through the smog and learn how another major city, Beijing, is taking meaningful steps to stabilise its own air pollution crisis. While China still has progress to make, some lessons from the country’s capital are a useful guide for clearing Delhi’s air.”

Comparing the public outcry against pollution in China with that of India, the article refers to Indian public outrage ‘seasonal’ and rarely swelling beyond social media. “The central government has remained largely silent about pollution while state leaders indulge in meaningless inter-party squabbling and political theatre.” it further adds.

“More broadly, it may be time to ask whether highly argumentative democratic models are always the best solution for problems that transcend city and provincial boundaries. Sensible and informed policy leadership is needed to solve environmental challenges. India must rise above petty politics, lest the country bicker its way into smoggy irrelevance”, concludes the article.

The point is, is anyone in Indian leadership paying attention to it?

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Published: 19 Jun 2018, 4:36 PM