Night of 2-3 December, 1984: World’s worst industrial disaster — the Bhopal gas tragedy — occurred after deadly Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked out of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. Thousands died on a single night and the air got so poisonous that many more died thereafter and thousands had to be evacuated from the city.
November 2016: Unfortunately, Delhi’s air quality this winter has almost reached its nadir. It might sound as an exaggeration but the Delhiites are witnessing symptoms quite similar to the Bhopal gas tragedy — coughing, severe eye irritation, sore throat, irritation in the respiratory tract, nausea, salt-bitter taste in mouth, uneasiness, etc. Children are the worst victims. According to the environmental experts, it’s a stage, where evacuating the city seems to be an alternative option.
And, why not?
The Air Quality Index (AQI) has crossed the hazardous mark of 500+. The level of particulate matter PM10 on Sunday reached at 1690 umg/m3 at 8 am in Anand Vihar and 1,300 umg/m3 at 6 pm in central government employees’ residential colony RK Puram. It’s multiple times higher than the permissible limits (50-100).
“The air pollution level in Delhi has reached a stage where people should evacuate the city. The AQI has crossed the hazardous level of 500 and now touching almost 1,000. It’s unimaginable,” said Ravi Agarwal, director, Toxics Link, an environmental NGO.
Will it eventually help the city to breathe easy?
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a slew of measures to combat the emergency situation like closing of schools for three days, ban on construction work for five days, shutting down Badarpur power plant for 10 days, etc. The meteorological department has predicted that weather condition will improve after three days.
Despite these measures, will the residents of the national capital be able to breathe easy?
No, say experts.
“No, it’s not possible. Following the measures announced by the Delhi government and weather condition getting better after three to five days, the air quality in Delhi may come down to around 500, which has now become an average for Delhi, from 900+ mark. Everyone will be happy and the situation will continue to be as usual,” quipped Agarwal.
“The measures taken are fine, but unless there’s restraint on the numbers of vehicles, including trucks, it won’t be helpful. Toxic emissions from vehicles contribute to Delhi’s air pollution in a big way and impact people’s health,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Delhiites want to know:
- Do the politicians irrespective of political ideologies and parties not live in Delhi?
- If they do, why the pollution issue has been politicised?
- Why both the central and Delhi governments have failed to act?
“It’s not a political issue. Environment is a concurrent subject. Both the Ministry of Environment and Delhi government should work in coordination to combat this menace. The Central Pollution Control Board has the authority to exercise its power on Delhi. After all, the citizens including the leaders cutting across political spectrum are suffering and Delhi is getting a bad name,” Agarwal observed.
A big question: Why did the government ignore the IIT Kanpur study?
It’s still unclear why the government failed to act on the measures suggested by the government-commissioned study of IIT Kanpur?
The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), Delhi sponsored a project 'Comprehensive Study on Air Pollution and Green House Gases in Delhi' to IIT Kanpur last year to effectively address the air pollution problem in Delhi.
The study recommended a comprehensive year-wise action plan (2016 to 2023) to check all the sources of air pollution. Despite recommending implementation of the plan from 2016 (precisely July) so as to deal with the crisis during winter, the government failed to initiate any action, barring introduction of the odd-even scheme, which eventually stopped.
“The IIT Kanpur report mentioned a wide range of short-term and long-term measures. Despite, the study being commissioned by the government, why did it fail to initiate any action is questionable. Right from the central government agencies to Delhi government — all have the data but why there’s lack of coordination?” questioned Agarwal.
Roychowdhury added, “Delhi government got one full year to plan and act, but we failed to hear anything from them. It’s a lost opportunity. Delhi has reached an alarming stage and it has become a regular practice in Delhi every winter and citizens, especially the children have to face the brunt.”