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article imageWhy is India's government not fixing its toxic smog problem?

By Karen Graham     Nov 6, 2018 in Politics
New Delhi - Pollution levels in New Delhi surged into the "severe" and "hazardous" range this week, yet the Indian government showed little interest that New Delhi is facing a "pollution emergency" and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept silent on the issue.
According to India Today, a shift in wind direction and the continued burning of crop stubble in neighboring states has contributed to the severity of the smog this week.
PM2.5 (particles in the air with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers) and PM10 concentrations touched 365 and 503 respectively, ranging into the 'severe-plus emergency' category, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. PM2.5 levels above 300 and PM10 levels above 430 are considered the severe-plus emergency category.
Reuters is reporting that even though air pollution is so bad in New Delhi - unlike in Chinese cities, where people wear masks while outdoors - it's rare that the locals take any measures to reduce their exposure. "Toddlers stand at school bus stops in crisply ironed uniforms, while security guards, street sweepers, and rickshaw drivers spend many hours outside breathing in the filthy air - all without any attempt at protection."
Reuters also found that most middle-class residents in the city did not have air purifiers in their homes. This is despite countless air quality warnings published in the local media, as well as warnings from doctors about the dangers of breathing the toxic air.
Burning of rice residues after harvest  to quickly prepare the land for wheat planting  around Sangr...
Burning of rice residues after harvest, to quickly prepare the land for wheat planting, around Sangrur, SE Punjab, India.
CIAT (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Does anyone care about the air?
Reuters wanted to know why everyone appeared to be so unconcerned over the toxic air. Was it because of ignorance or apathy? Maybe it was the blindingly overwhelming poverty?
To be fair, the Ministry of the Environment, along with city officials have been trying to maintain air quality, issuing fines to those who ignored the bans on all construction activities involving excavation. The Central Pollution Control Board stopped construction in Delhi and other NCR districts, besides the closure of all stone crushers and hot mix plants generating dust pollution.
The board has also responded to complaints about vehicle emission, traffic congestion, industrial emissions, open or garbage burning, leaf burning, road dust, unpaved roads, fires in landfill sites, and air pollution from generators among others.
The Indian capital New Delhi is one of many world cities struggling to deal with air pollution
The Indian capital New Delhi is one of many world cities struggling to deal with air pollution
DOMINIQUE FAGET, AFP/File
The really depressing part of all this is that India, with 1.3 billion people, has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world, according to the World Health Organisation. And interestingly, this was the year air pollution was supposed to be addressed by the government.
A government in limbo
In October and November last year, the Delhi city government declared it a public health emergency and its Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal described the Indian capital as a “gas chamber." Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office asked them to ensure that it did not happen again.
It could be that with elections expected to occur in May next year, neither the ruling political party or the opposition has little interest in tackling something that is a huge problem. This trickles down to the city level, creating little incentive to rectify the problem.
Pollution levels generally rise during the winter in Delhi and across northern India and neighbourin...
Pollution levels generally rise during the winter in Delhi and across northern India and neighbouring Pakistan, fuelled by crop burning in the region
DOMINIQUE FAGET, AFP
The Congress today said New Delhi is facing a "pollution emergency" and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept silent on the issue. Congressional spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi also targeted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on the issue, saying there is a mutual blame game in which the people of New Delhi are the pawns.
“The tragedy is that there is no political will at all either on the part of the federal government or the state government of Delhi and, as a result, we can see both blaming each other for the crisis that we are in,” said Yogendra Yadav, a political polling expert. “Whatever little government action you get to see is because of the pressure that environmental activists and the Supreme Court get to exert.”
More about New delhi, smog problem, PM Modi, lack of response, Toxic levels
 
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