Delhi-NCR pollution: The apathetic political class should wake up and smell the air

Delhi is the city of the walking dead. If it is not already then, rest assured, it will soon be, thanks to air pollution. Being alarmist? Yes, because it is better to be alarmist than apathetic. Every time you breathe here you inhale a cocktail of toxic chemicals; every time you step out in the open you take into your system pollution equivalent to smoking more than two packs of cigarettes; and the more you are exposed to Delhi’s air the more you would be cutting years from your life. In case you don’t already know this the national capital. It is the country’s power hub; people sitting here operate the nation.

Now, consider these: a generation of Delhi’s children will grow up to be very unhealthy adults; and yes, they will die much earlier than the previous generations. Continuous exposure to pollution will leave them with debilitating diseases. Respiratory diseases will be common as will be ailments related to immunity, blood pressure and the heart. A few schools are closed temporarily in the times of heavy smog in early winter. If pollution goes unchecked, then the shutdown period may get longer and longer, affecting the education of children.

Boys playing football on a smoggy morning in New Delhi on Wednesday. Reuters

Boys playing football on a smoggy morning in New Delhi on Wednesday. Reuters

According to media reports, as many as 30,000 people die in the city due to pollution every year. However, there’s no respite in sight. The number may get bigger. Experts and doctors advise people not to move out of their homes in the morning and evening. Toxic gases hang very low, close to the ground, during these periods. Where does it stop? Delhi has a really big problem on its hands.

If all this does not wake up Delhiites, nothing will. But chances are that these grim details won’t. There won’t be angry voices on the streets demanding action to curb pollution or efforts to pressure the political class to acknowledge the problem at the least. Like we have mentioned earlier, it is a city of the walking dead. It has stopped the ability to respond and react to real issues. Bring in politics, make it an AAP vs BJP or BJP vs Congress issue and see how Delhi jumps to life. Only politics manages to stir people in the capital.

There’s little point discussing what’s causing air pollution in the city as it has been analysed to death by experts. We know burning of crop stalk and thousands of tonnes of solid waste in neighbouring states are a major contributor to air toxicity in Delhi. We know the ever burgeoning number of vehicles in the NCR add to the problem; floating dust particles, fire in the city’s garbage dumps and industrial emission make the matter worse. Experts have been offering solutions year after year. But nothing has moved. The degree of density of suspended particulate matter, which is close to five times the normal in places like East Delhi, tells a story of apathy and indifference.

The solution to the problem needs the involvement of several state governments and coordination among them. Thus it calls for an active intervention of the Union government. We have seen no such effort so far

As politics, that unending reality show, plays out on the streets of the national capital in quick adrenaline-filled episodes – on Thursday, the theme was the detention of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and the protests by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal; on Friday it might be something else with a slightly different or the same cast of characters – someone has to tell the leaders and parties to smell the air, literally, and get their priorities right.

When is Delhi, more specifically its political class, going to react? Will there be pressure from the citizenry on the government through street protests?

It is difficult to decide at the moment what is more toxic: Delhi’s chemical-laden air or the apathy of the leaders and its people.

Updated Date: Nov 04, 2016 14:40 PM

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