Delhi’s air pollution levels touched a three-year record high yesterday. According to data from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, the Air Quality Index recorded pollution levels of 999+ across several parts of the city for PM 2.5 and PM 10 pollutants.
Just so that you’re putting things in the right perspective… 999 is the upper limit of the Air Quality Index. There’s nothing more that the machine can measure!
The Supreme Court has lashed out at both the State and Central governments, saying that such poor-quality air is unacceptable in a civilized country.
“This can’t go on. Delhi government and Centre can’t just pass the buck to each other. People aren’t safe even inside their houses and rooms,”
A combination of governmental and public apathy, as well as lack of awareness among farmers surrounding the Delhi-NCR region, is to be blamed. Instead of running preventative public educational campaigns around air pollution year-round, the government(s) prefer to engage in political turf wars, with the result that by the time it’s a month to Diwali, the memories of the previous year’s choking has long since faded in public memory, and citizens are ready with the glib reply of ‘Diwali is just one day in a year!’
But Delhi’s poor air quality gets worse long before Diwali; in order to prepare the land for the winter cropping season, farmers in the areas surrounding Delhi – Punjab and Haryana, mostly – set fire to the stubble that remains after the last harvest. The smoke that bellows, blows in the direction of the national e capital thanks to the loo winds and the flat topography.
The lack of awareness about the impact of stubble burning upon millions of lives, not only in the National Capital Region but also in the areas immediately surrounding the fires, is due to the low level of education, as well as the lack of sustained governmental programs promoting both awareness and alternative ways of removing crop stubble.
The Court Brings Down the Hammer
As of today, the Supreme Court has issued a blanket ban on stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; it has also placed a ban on all construction and demolition activity in the Delhi-NCR region, as well as on garbage burning.
Violating the construction ban will invite a fine of Rs 1 Lakh, while anyone found burning garbage will be subject to a fine of Rs 5000. As for stubble burning, the court says that if crop burning is found to continue, the entire state administration will be held responsible.
It remains to be seen whether the people and the administration(s) will act positively after this. Despite the emphasis on ‘green firecrackers’ by the government last year, they have not had many takers among manufacturers, mainly due to a lack of knowledge.
The firecracker industry, while exploitative and downright cruel, is the only source of income for the workers on the factory floor; however, it is growing clearer and clearer that India’s air quality cannot coexist with a thriving fireworks sector. It is necessary, therefore, to work towards providing the children in the factories with education so that they can have real futures in more sustainable sectors, and to give the adults training in order to transition to sectors where their jobs and lives will be more secure.