Delhi’s Infinity War of pollution

Varun Singh
Varun SinghSep 27, 2018 | 18:35

Delhi’s Infinity War of pollution

While the title may seem a little dramatic, the resemblance of the problem faced by The Avengers in the last Marvel Comics Universe movie — Avengers: Infinity War — with our problem in the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) is uncanny.

All good forces joined hands in the movie to save the world from the Thanos, who had the power to disintegrate half the world with a mere snap of his fingers (after acquiring all the Infinity Stones, of course). Whereas in Delhi, pollution levels, every winter, is gradually reaching a stage of calamity. If collaborative and pragmatic steps are not taken by all well-wishers conjointly, the city may face its biggest challenge this winter.


delhi-infinity_092718060601.jpgDelhi has to unite to fight its own Thanos — air pollution. (Art: Pathikrit Sanyal)

The state of affair may have improved temporarily — there has been a decrease in pollution levels because of excessive rainfall this monsoon. But the next few months can easily be a grave cause of concern leading to the day of Diwali. The festival of light, which marks the return of lord Rama after exile, is celebrated by praying to lord Ganesha and Goddess Laxmi for good welfare, prosperity, wealth and wisdom.

An event, which is supposed to mark an entire month with celebration and good omens, at present — in stark contrast — marks the pinnacle of pollution in the city. It is also a day that traumatises senior citizens and newborns.

As has been reported over the years, pollution levels in Delhi post-Diwali gradually increases and along with cases of respiratory issues. Last year, respiratory doctors claimed that one out of four in the city faced respiratory issues due to an increase in pollution levels. The thin line between smokers and non-smokers has been obliterated in the city — breathing Delhi’s air for a day is equal to smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Although some reports claim it may be as bad as smoking 50!


Post-Diwali every year, along with good wishes and wealth, heavy smog is also ushered into the lives of Delhi residents every year. In fact, the post-Diwali pollution levels have been repeatedly compared with the Great Smog of London in 1952 — a period of cold weather combined with airborne pollutants that caused the death of 4,000 people and a 100,000 more to fall sick. While, London did well to get around the pollution levels by taking drastic measures to get rid of the greenhouse gasses and later converting to clean energy, Delhi is yet to find suitable answers to tackle the issue at large.

Perhaps, it is because the constitutional functionaries responsible are busy fighting amongst each other, while the danger upon the citizens of this city looms at large.

The difference of opinion and a power struggle between Delhi government and the Lieutenant General — due to their difference of interpretation of powers under Article 239AA (4) of the Constitution of India — was recently resolved by the Supreme Court.

smog-2_092718060815.jpgConstitutional functionaries fight each other, while the city chokes. (Photo: Reuters)

The apex court held that the power should be read with the conscience of the Constitution and for the fundamental purpose of administration and welfare of the people in ethical manner. The apex court also highlighted the role of the Centre and State by defining collaborative federalism. It beautifully summarised the power and role of both parties, and held that while there may be a difference in approach and method, the goal and the objective must remain the same — to serve the people and work towards the welfare of the society.


While, the Delhi government has initiated many steps to curb the menace, including the Odd-Even formula, enhancing of parking fee for temporary basis, ban on the entry of trucks and civil constructions; most of these efforts have been stop-gap or knee-jerk reactions. And none of these steps have effectively lasted for long, or, for that matter, manages to improve the air quality drastically.

The Central government, with the help and guidance of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, has also worked an action plan to improve the air quality for Delhi along with all other polluted states across the countries, which are amongst the most polluted in the world. The action plan includes satellite-monitoring of crop burning, monitoring air quality, a push for clean natural gas, improvement of fuel quality and improvement of vehicle standards.

While, these steps taken by both Centre and State, on the face of it, are beneficial for the people at large, drastic steps are need of the hour.

India was happy to adopt common law principles from England but failed to shadow the country’s approach towards tackling the pollution menace. The Clean Air Act of 1956 in London did not improve situation overnight. But it did help the city slowly recover from the hazy winters.

Small countries like Singapore have taken hard decisions like not allowing even a single addition to the existing number of cars in country unless the old car is scrapped. This system of maintaining equilibrium within the country, and allowing the addition of car only through a bidding process amongst the buyers, is called the Certificate of Entitlement.

While Delhi struggles to ban something as simple as the usage of firecrackers in and around Diwali, the Government is not willing to provide a blanket-ban due to reasons best known to itself. The Hon’ble Supreme Court continues to rally around the implementation of a ban on the usage of fire crackers, but not a lot can be achieved unless all necessary stakeholders are interested in welfare.

Most developed countries around the world have evolved due to sacrifices and hard decisions taken by governments — that have been welcomed by their mature citizens.

Delhi, home to more than 14 million people, is one of the most polluted cities in the world.

odd-even_092718060835.jpgDelhi, where the "dil" is big but the pollution problem is even bigger. (Photo: Reuters)

The time has come for the city to evolve through constructive and collaborative federalism, which requires active participation of all stakeholders. It is not just up to the elected government who owe their moral and constitutional duty to improve the air quality, but also up to all the residents of the NCT to become more responsible to protect themselves. No policy of the State or the Centre can see its ultimate benefit unless we the people wish to adhere to the standards set out.

Be it a ban on the usage of firecrackers during Diwali or our responsibility towards remaining conscious of our moral duty to reduce the air pollution, all of the NCT has to participate.

The standard of our duty has been wonderfully summarised by the American Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson:

"A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high virtues of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation."

Al Gore, a famous environmental activist from the United States of America made a critically acclaimed movie called the Inconvenient Truth in 2006 to highlight the effects of global warming and the need to preserve the environment for future generations. The movie predicted complete chaos in the world in the next 50 years, if the environment was not protected. That inconvenient truth has changed drastically for developing countries and more specifically Delhi.

If we don’t take immediate action for self-preservation, our home will be in danger.

Last updated: September 27, 2018 | 18:35
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