In an effort to fight China’s persistent problems with heavy smog, Beijing has come up with a unique solution: According to State media, Beijing is creating a new environmental police, which will focus on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration and the burning of wood and other biomass. Beijing and dozens of cities in China spend many winter days under a thick, gray haze, caused chiefly by thousands of coal-burning factories and a surplus of older, inefficient vehicles. Another 300,000 high-polluting old vehicles will be phased out, Xinhua said. Polluting factories will be closed and some 2,000 others will be upgraded to meet higher pollution treatment standards. Beijing authorities had earlier announced that they would begin installing air purifiers in some of the city’s schools and kindergartens. They were already ordered to stop all outdoor activities.
How the police force will fare will depend on implementation, but at least the Chinese authorities are proactively thinking about tackling the menace, unlike in India where our plans to tackle air pollution seems to have lost its way in the thick smog. Post-Diwali, when Delhi was choking, reams were written and air time spent on how to tackle Delhi’s worsening air. Now that the sun is out and the air seems clearer --- though actually it is not --- everyone seems to have forgotten that we had a job at hand. Even as we write this editorial, Delhi’s air quality index is very poor, according to HT’s air quality index metre. Even during good days when the Centre and the city government threaten to do something about the air, the smaller cities are all but forgotten. In fact, the air pollution discourse must move beyond Delhi. Several reports suggest that cities like Ghaziabad, Allahabad, and Raipur recorded much worse PM 10 levels than Delhi in the last decade. The north-south divide manifests itself in data going back to the 1990s as well.
Air pollution should be addressed in a comprehensive way, not focusing only on megacities like Delhi but also on other smaller ones to eliminate the causes of air pollution. This will not only require short and long-term planning but also systematic implementation, says a report by the Asia and the Pacific Policy Society. But should Delhi set up a Beijing-type green police? No. India first urgently needs to ensure that national air quality planning is put in place so that all cities have a clean air action plan that is implemented in a time-bound manner.