Delhi is facing a health emergency as the air pollution levels have breached the ‘severe’ category, turning the city virtually into a gas chamber.
Schools have been shut, flights have either been cancelled or diverted, the number of patients suffering from respiratory disorders has increased multifold — of the total number of patients visiting hospitals and clinics, more than 50 percent are children — and Odd-Even scheme to restrict vehicles on roads has come into force from Monday.
With the rising pollution, the Delhi government issued a health advisory asking people to avoid outdoor activity as much as possible. The citizens have been asked to equip themselves with anti-pollution masks as a preventive measure.
Amid all this, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is finding himself at the receiving end of the health emergency, even though the pollution levels in the National Capital Region (NCR) are not entirely his responsibility.
Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh have put the onus for risky pollution levels in the National Capital on Delhi alone, though the truth is much bigger than the petty politics that these senior leaders are indulging in.
A week ago, images from space released by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) showed that stubble burning in the states of Punjab and Haryana spiked to alarming levels. It has also been established that stubble burning in the neighbouring states is the biggest cause for dangerous pollution levels in Delhi.
The Delhi government had quoted data from the NASA satellite, which mentioned that stubble plume from the northwest regions had become one of the significant contributors to Delhi’s pollution.
What is more alarming is the fact that choking of Delhi post-Diwali is an annual phenomenon while the Union environment ministry and the state governments of Punjab and Haryana, who should have ensured to take care of their bit, have again been found napping.
It is common knowledge that the festival of Diwali coincides with the harvest of the Kharif crop in north India (crop that is sown in summer and harvested in October post-monsoon). Following traditional practice, farmers burn the stubble in the farm after the crop is harvested. In the past few years, however, this practice has annually asphyxiated Delhi post-Diwali.
The problem was exacerbated by the burning of crackers on the festival, which, however, through stringent awareness programme, has been brought down drastically.
It's now the stubble burning that needs to be dealt with, which has emerged as the main culprit in today’s menacing pollution in Delhi-NCR.
Considering the severity of the situation, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had to finally step in and a review meeting was called on Sunday comprising different ministries and departments, chaired by principal secretary to the prime minister PK Mishra.
The high-level meet advised for 24x7 monitoring of the situation and several steps to combat the situation and prevent stubble burning.
However, both environment experts and citizens feel that ahead of the season, no adequate measure was taken by government agencies to prevent pollution in Delhi due to stubble burning that has hit the city with an emergency-like situation. After all, it’s the citizens of Delhi-NCR who are paying the price.
Mukesh Khare, professor of environmental engineering at IIT Delhi and a member of Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has emphasised on re-evaluation and reassessment of Graded Response Action Plan to make the latter more efficient in present circumstances.
“Bhopal gas tragedy occurred once and it has been dealt with after taking precautions, stringent measures and necessary actions by the government. But Delhi pollution problem is occurring every year and is not properly dealt with,” Khare told Firstpost.
Khare said, “Delhi has virtually turned into a gas chamber. Had this condition occurred abroad, the city mayor would have been taken to task, but here there’s no authority to own up responsibility. As a result, blame-game has begun. There’s no centralised regulatory authority to deal with this menace. Where will one go for redressal? A serious thinking and strong action is needed to combat pollution not only in Delhi but in other cities as well.”
According to Centre’s pollution forecasting agency -- System of Air Quality and Weather Forecast and Research (SAFAR), there is a spike in the percentage contribution of crop residue burning in the PM2.5 (fine particulate matter with diameter less than 2.5 micrometers) levels in Delhi’s air. On Sunday, PM2.5 shot up by 75 percent and reached an unprecedented high of 560 micrograms per cubic meter, while, PM10 touched 665.9.
PM2.5 is extremely hazardous as it not only affects the lungs but can also enter the bloodstream. Both in combination are extremely hazardous.
“Inability to prevent stubble burning by the farmers in the neighbouring states of Delhi is a big failure of the government. Despite knowing the major sources of pollution, why did they fail to take precautions ahead of the season? It’s the responsibility of the government to understand farmers' problem and approach them, and thereby help farmers in the disposal of stubble through alternative methods. Unfortunately, it wasn’t done this year again,” Ravi Agarwal, director of the NGO, Toxic Link told Firstpost.
The Punjab chief minister has finally admitted to stubble burning in his state. He mentioned that action had been taken against 2,923 farmers but added that Centre’s compensation to farmers could prevent stubble burning.
As stubble burning is not a new phenomenon, the Union environment ministry has a lot to answer about the steps it has taken in the past year to tackle the situation so that Delhi can be prevented from being turning into a smoke chamber. The governments of Punjab and Haryana also have a lot to answer on the steps they took in the past year to ensure that the smoke from their fires did not choke their neighbours?
In such a scenario, it seems thoroughly unfair to put the blame squarely on Kejriwal alone for not being able to keep the air of Delhi clean.
The Delhi chief minister has urged through a video on social media not to “politicise pollution and sit together with the Centre” for an amicable solution. That perhaps is the need of the hour given the seriousness of the situation.
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Updated Date: Nov 04, 2019 15:36:09 IST