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Why Delhi mustn't blame Punjab, Haryana for choking smog

Gunjeet Sra
Gunjeet SraNov 07, 2016 | 13:30

Why Delhi mustn't blame Punjab, Haryana for choking smog

“Maybe this world is another planet’s hell” - Aldous Huxley

As I made my way into Delhi on Saturday, the shift in the air was palpable, the weather which was clear throughout my 600km journey on the road started to smog as I neared Delhi, but nothing prepared me for the low visibility as soon as I hit the NCR.

At 3.30pm, the city was engulfed in a dystopian smog that made one afraid of even rolling down the car window. It looked like cool December, but I knew in my gut that it had the effects of a gas chamber.

Diwali in Delhi is like Halloween. Only it is a lot less fun and ten times scarier.

The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) of the ministry of earth science issued an advisory four days before Diwali, clearly stating that this year was going to be significantly more polluted than the last two years.

According to the advisory issued, the air quality in NCR would be “severe” on October 30 and 31 and “worst” on October 31. The air quality index (AQI) was 443 on Diwali day. It would reach 472 the day after. In its forecast, SAFAR also said there was enough moisture in the air and winds were stagnant, increasing the atmospheric holding capacity of the emissions from firecrackers.

As per SAFAR guidelines, when the AQI is this poor, people should avoid all physical activities outdoors. But life in Delhi continues as normal, save for schools that have remained shut because children breathe faster than adults and are more prone to air pollution. But what about asthma patients, the old and those with lung and coronary diseases?

Can they afford to put their lives on hold? Probably not. So the only solution they have is maybe an air purifier, a mask and advice to leave the city.

Everybody else seems indifferent when they should in actuality be alarmed. Particulates in the air currently are registered at shocking levels - PM 10 is in the range of 900-1700 microgram per cubic metre when the standard level is 100 and benzene, a cancer-causing agent, is across the city. 

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Blame the stubbornness of Delhi residents to not compromise on their lifestyle choices. (Photo credit: Reuters)

Meanwhile, NASA, the Delhi government and The New York Times have blamed the air pollution on farmers burning crop residue in Haryana and Punjab. In one clean sweep, Delhi has once again been absolved of all responsibility and the blame lies on its neighbouring states.

While crop burning does cause pollution, it is definitely not the sole reason why Delhi's air is so toxic, and to repeatedly keep blaming crop burning on the poor air quality of the capital is nothing less than irresponsible on the part of the government. It also shows their hypocrisy to admit their inability to control the levels of toxicity.

According to estimates, 32 million tonnes of rice straw is set on fire in this season every year, and this is done because farmers prepare their fields for their next harvest. The farmers are ill-equipped to deal with waste because they simply cannot afford the new technology that is available to handle the waste material.

The only long-term solution available to handling this waste is a focus on sustainable agriculture and a programme of decentralised waste management. But this is only possible if the government is willing to make it happen by prioritising public health and taking an active interest in improving farm practices across India.

But what everyone has been ignoring is the fact that only 20 per cent of the pollution in NCR is accounted for by these outdated farm methods.

According to a study by the Central Pollution Control Board and IIT Kanpur (2015), a whopping 80 per cent of air pollution in the capital is because of sources within the city and NCR. Delhi has reached the state it has because of a combination of factors, the major being a lack of political involvement in solving the pollution crisis and the stubbornness of its residents to not compromise on their lifestyle choices.

According to data by the road transport ministry, the capital has the highest level of high-emission vehicles in the country. Simply put, it has more cars than it can handle. Its industrial units too release heavy pollutants that add to the miserable air and yet the Delhi government nor the central government have any particular effective plan to deal with the crisis.

As I write this, I can hear the boom of crackers from different parts of the neighbourhood. People are going about their life as if this is the new normal.

It is clear that the blame shifting to farmers of Punjab and Haryana has also given a window to the average Delhi resident to continue living their life without giving a thought to how they are damaging the environment.

If the pollutants from Punjab and Haryana were actually causing the high levels of toxicity in the city, shouldn’t they have been responsible for the same conditions in their own home states?

Last updated: November 08, 2016 | 11:53
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