Air pollution: Why this year is not going to be different from the last | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Air pollution: Why this year is not going to be different from the last

Delhi faced one of its worst winters in terms of air quality last year. Crop burning, Diwali crackers, and coal power plants all added to the mess. But have we learnt any lessons?

editorials Updated: Oct 06, 2017 10:06 IST
Air pollution due to burning paddy crop in Haryana in October 2016
Air pollution due to burning paddy crop in Haryana in October 2016(Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

As winter approaches, northern India and large cities like Delhi stand at the brink of yet another smog and pollution-filled season. Last year, the situation had become so bad that schools had to be closed for a few days, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had recommended that people work from home to avoid going out, the coal-fired Badarpur power plant had to be shut down for 10 days, and the government pondered a scheme to create artificial rain through cloud seeding to reduce the amount of particulate matter in the air. The CM even described the city as a ‘gas chamber’.

One of the big culprits blamed for last year’s terrible air quality was burning of agricultural stubble in Haryana and Punjab. Millions of tonnes of stubble is burnt by farmers in northern India just before winter, and this, coupled with the already terrible conditions in Delhi, makes the situation much worse. This year, in spite of a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order banning the burning of stubble, over a dozen cases of crop burning had already been reported from Haryana by Wednesday. The coming of Diwali is not going to help the situation either. With citizens abdicating responsibility by bursting crackers, the air pollution levels will invariably spike on the day of the festival. It takes a long time for pollution levels to descend again from the Diwali spike.

There are lessons to be learnt from China, which is another country that faces a problem of air pollution so bad that the government has had to declare ‘war’ on it. After the disastrous ‘airpocalypse’ in 2011-2012, the Chinese government created a national air pollution plan, at the heart of which was a drastic reduction in coal use in metropolitan cities. Increasing investments in renewable power has also helped bring down pollution levels. Strict emission norms for vehicles, ‘red alerts’ issued for dangerous pollution levels, and empowered and decentralised pollution control authorities have also helped put in place a long-term solution based approach. There are lessons in such steps for Delhi and other metropolitan cities as well.

Given that governments of three states are still scrambling for solutions this year, and no coherent norms have been put in place for the coming winter season, it appears as though we have learnt nothing from our experience last year. This does not bode well for the city or its citizens. Nothing short of a mammoth effort that includes awareness and mitigation campaigns can help the city of its citizens in the coming winter months.