Citizens have a right to clean air through the year, not just when pollution peaks every winter without fail

Concrete, long-term action is imperative to rid Delhi’s air and water from industrial and vehicular pollutants, but Centre and adjoining state govts engage in a futile war of words year after year

Representational image
Representational image

Dr Gyan Pathak

We have just seen last week as to how the blame game played by the Narendra Modi-led BJP and the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP in the National Capital Territory Delhi did not help deal with pollution in the Yamuna river water, though their rules contribute 80 per cent of the pollution within 22 km stretch of the river. Blames were leveled even against other states – Haryana and Utter Pradesh – the river passes through.

The same blame game is repeated again for severe air pollution now while the capital is gasping for breath. Obviously, it will also fail to improve the air quality as we have seen in the case of Yamuna water pollution. We actually need concrete action, not the blame game played by the ruling establishments to shift their responsibilities on others, the Supreme Court of India said.

Though the Supreme Court came down on bureaucrats for developing a ‘don’t take any step’ attitude and asked the Centre and the states to implement in letter and spirit the decisions taken at the emergency meeting held on November 16, much more is desired not only to clean the air in Delhi, but also to keep it clean for the whole year, not only this winter or every winter. The air pollution in Delhi is not a new issue that has cropped up overnight, and the Centre led by BJP, ruling the city through its appointee Lieutenant Governor, and the city government-led by AAP have lost their control.

It is actually a long-term issue that has engulfed the city dwellers because the rulers have actually allowed the polluters to pollute the water and air, while the people’s right to clean water and air is not recognised.

It is also clear that blaming the farmers of Haryana and Punjab for Delhi’s pollution through stubble burning is only partially true, because it is only less than 10 per cent responsible for air pollution in the national capital. More than 90 per cent pollution in the air is generated in Delhi and surroundings in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

The Supreme Court’s observations are self-explanatory, which clearly indicate how poorly the ruling establishments at the Centre and the states are performing. “They do not want to take any decision. They want courts to pass orders…” it said.

Delhi’s air pollution is contributed chiefly by two sectors – transport, and industry. Farmer’s stubble burning is only a temporary phenomenal and that too contributes less than ten per cent of the pollution, mainly in the winter as fall in atmospheric temperature with low velocity of air is unable to carry away the polluted air from Delhi to elsewhere. Smoke and fog create severe smog and people start gasping for breath.

As for the transport sector, Delhi says there’s no point of banning vehicles or having work-from-home if not implemented in neighbouring states. Inaction in this regard was highlighted when SC said, “You all say the vehicle is the main cause, but gas guzzlers, hi-fi cars run on Delhi roads. Who will encourage them to stop this?”

It is disheartening to learn about the government’s attitude towards the problem which not only presumed the Delhi pollution as entirely a temporary phenomenon and ignoring how poor governance contributes to pollution throughout the year. The Solicitor General told SC that meteorological scientists were also there in the emergency meeting and according to them, the wind flow will be there after November 21. “Would this court not consider waiting till November 21 before implementing harsh measures,” asks SG.

On behalf of the government of Punjab, it was said in the court that the state does not fall under Delhi-NCR region but has taken measures to stop stubble burning. Haryana government’s reply was a typical one which we have grown up hearing, that the chief secretary and district magistrates are taking stock of the situation so that no stubble burning takes place in these (next) two weeks.

It should be mentioned here that there is scientific alternative to stubble burning and the UN project being implemented in India is not popular as even farmers don’t know what it is. It is surprising that neither Haryana

nor Punjab said anything about effective implementation of alternative ways to stubble burning.

The Centre has suggested in the Supreme Court a ban on entry of all trucks in Delhi except vehicles carrying essential goods. It also suggested keeping all schools in Delhi shut. It is but a cosmetic step, and cannot actually protect the children from the devastating impact of air pollution in the city.

Delhi government said that they can increase the supply of CNG buses in the city and can even increase metro and bus frequencies. It also requested the SC to order work from home (as if air pollution in Delhi will not harm people working from home), ban movements of vehicles even in the adjoining states too. Delhi government has also informed the court that ‘anti-dust campaigns’ are being conducted.

The real issue is to keep the air clean, but many suggestions brought forward in the Supreme Court are concerned more about protecting people from the “health hazards” from the air pollution, ignoring the fact that no amount of action can protect people if air pollution remains in the city, and the sources of pollution are allowed to pollute throughout the year. Governments must focus on “clean air”, not on other issues.

(IPA Service)

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