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Delhi sees worst smog in 17 years as risk of asthma, heart disease looms

Breathless in Delhi Updated: Nov 04, 2016 13:51 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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Delhi woke up to another smog-filled morning after Diwali in New Delhi on October 31, 2016. Delhi’s air is at it’s worst in 17 years.(Virendra Singh Gosain/HT Photo)

The unseasonal haze that has engulfed Delhi is not only choking the city, it is driving its residents towards an early grave.

Delhi’s worst smog in 17 years, which has pushed pollution to levels higher than on Diwali night, is making children wheeze, giving the otherwise healthy a chronic cough, and risking 17 million people to asthma, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.

All this while authorities — be it the state government or the Centre — are either mouthing platitudes or promising “action plans” that are not being implemented.

Read | As Delhi chokes yet again on Diwali, who is to blame for its toxic air?

Instead of implementing severe measures such as declaring a “red alert” and shutting down schools, construction activities and non-essential businesses, the Delhi government, the Centre and pollution-control agencies are busy passing the buck to each other.

Two days after deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia belatedly promised a slew of measures to curb pollution, a Delhi government spokesperson suggested on Thursday that unchecked pollution was the Centre’s fault.

“The government had proposed a dedicated bus lane which is still awaiting the L-G’s nod. For crop burning, environment minister Imran Hussain wrote to the Centre in September, seeking its intervention,” he said, abdicating responsibility.

Meanwhile, Union environment minister Anil Madhav Dave, while saying that the air pollution situation in the Capital was “grave” and the governments “needed to act”, admitted to Hindustan Times that he was helpless. “In a federal structure we have limitations. We cannot put pressure on the governments, we can only advise the states to act,” he said.

A senior Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) official, who was not willing to be quoted, also washed his hands of the issue, saying it is only an advisory body. “What can we do if the states don’t implement our directions issued under law (air act)?” he asked.

Read | Odd-even missing in Delhi govt’s latest plan to combat air pollution

On Thursday evening, the National Green Tribunal directed Delhi chief secretary KK Sharma to hold an urgent meeting on pollution with authorities concerned and file a status report by Friday.

In the middle of this political jugglery and bureaucratic red tape, PM 2.5 particulate matter on Thursday was at 955 umg/m3, more than 16 times the safe limit, and PM10 particulate matter was at 1,333 umg/m3 as against the maximum limit of 100 set by the CPCB.

What has made matters worse this year is that pollution from unchecked crop stubble burning in neighbouring states and emissions from firecrackers during Diwali have been heightened by poor weather conditions. Polluted air is unable to escape because low temperatures and low wind speeds are keeping it trapped near the surface. Experts warn that things will only get worse in the next three days.

Doctors argue that while conditions are poorer than usual, this is not a new problem. “If you’re born and have grown up in Delhi, you develop smoker’s lungs and are likely to have asthma, respiratory distress, and frequent throat, airway and lung infections,” said Dr Krishan Chugh, director of paediatrics at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon.

“Apart from air pollution, many of its individual components such as particulate matter, diesel engine exhaust, solvents, metals and soot are also on the IARC’s hazardous list, which make falling air quality a public health emergency that needs immediate action,” says Dr Harit Chaturvedi, chairman, institute of oncology, Max Healthcare.

But the lack of planning and poor response from the authorities, tantamount to dereliction of duty, is taking a heavy toll on a city that is struggling to inhale even as it waits to exhale.

Also read | Delhi, learn to clear the air: How five world cities got rid of smog

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