Smog over Delhi is not just a subject for ‘hot air’ debates currently on prime time. It is for real. And now that it has occupied space in consciousness, scary too.
I’ve been in the capital for the past three days for the Professional Wrestling League and a distinctly murky, yellowish haze has been in evidence right through; particularly in the mornings and late evenings.
Of course, smog is not the only pollutant afflicting Delhi right now. There is the recurring, high-decibel furore over the National Herald case that has disrupted the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament for the past many days, with no end in sight.
(As an aside, I would think it much better for the Gandhis (mother and son) to fortify their legal defences and let the courts decide on the case rather than create a major political imbroglio, whatever their compunctions about vendetta politics.)
But in the long run, I venture, the air we breathe is of far greater importance than the shenanigans and free-for-alls in Parliament. Politicians will come and go, governments will rise and fall, power struggles will continue. But all this cannot obfuscate the ‘good’ of the people.
Why smog is lethal comes through plainly from academic definition. The Cambridge Dictionaries Online describes it as, “A mixture of smoke, gases and chemicals, especially in cities, that makes the atmosphere difficult to breathe and harmful for health.’’
In less dour language, it means persistent smog can seriously imperil the lungs, affect breathing and consequently the lives of people in such circumstances for any length of time.
And by all accounts, the problem is not restricted to Delhi, of course. Rather, it’s a nationwide.
The Air Quality Index (AQI), which highlights the latent danger from smog statistically, has provided alarming figures for Delhi: in the past few weeks, the AQI has ranged between 550 and 680, which is way above the 300-500 band described as ‘hazardous’.
This is pretty much the case across North India in cities like Lucknow, Kanpur etc. Though none come close to Delhi’s dangerous levels of air contamination, they are clearly headed to those levels.
Germane to this column, however, is Mumbai. While the AQI for the city is not something that will leave one as breathless as in several parts of North India, at a reading of 132 (unhealthy for special groups) about four days ago, the portents are grim.
A mean of the AQI readings of the past couple of months actually puts the figure a little higher, in the 150- 200 band, which makes it unhealthy for everybody. And this, too, has been steadily growing, spiking at certain times of the year.
Interestingly, the readings for Mumbai have Bandra at its focal point. At one time, this was the queen of the suburbs for the quality of life it offered compared to Sobo.
In the old days, Parel and Labaug (for its textile mills) and Chembur/Deonar (for heavy industries) were considered the most polluted areas in the city, but that has obviously undergone a change. Some environmentalists argue that Sobo is the worst hit.
How does one combat this rising menace? Realising and accepting that a problem exists is a good starting point. Ignorance-driven fatalism must give to a scientific understanding of the issue and how it can be addressed.
The causes of smog are too many to list here; and neither is this my expertise. But some basic steps are imperative: like avoiding the use of cars on certain days, or making car pools for unavoidable regular commute.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has been both praised and pilloried for assigning days of car travel based on odd and even number plates. The efficacy of this measure is being hotly discussed, but it can only be known if this is tried.
At least in this matter, Delhi has given a lead that Mumbai must not only follow, but improve upon. Given its far superior public transport system, this should be relatively easier: provided there is political and public will.