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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Who’s in charge of Delhi’s air?

If there ever was a crisis that cried out for the union government to practice co-operative federalism, one of its favourite terms, it is this.

editorials Updated: Nov 14, 2017 11:35 IST

Hindustan Times
Commuters wear pollution masks in New Delhi, November 11, 2017
Commuters wear pollution masks in New Delhi, November 11, 2017(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
         

Will the person in charge of Delhi’s air please stand up? Right now, it isn’t clear who is charge. That’s probably because the issue involves three states, including Delhi, which is partly administered by the central government. It’s probably also because the central government hasn’t gotten involved in the issue with the sense of purpose and energy that characterizes this administration’s involvement . This is worrying because what we are witnessing in Delhi is nothing short of a national emergency. Let’s repeat that for effect: THIS IS A NATIONAL EMERGENCY.

Today, 14 November, is celebrated as Children’s Day in India; schools in Delhi are closed; but it is a good time for the powers that be to think about just what they are exposing the city-state’s children to: the equivalent of 50 cigarettes a day. In India, cigarette packs carry gory images of just what cigarettes do to lungs and throats; maybe it is time to use similar images elsewhere – in busy intersections where the Air Quality Index is literally off the charts; in entry points to the city; at the arrival lounges of airports, even. The message: This is what Delhi could do to you.

On Monday, Delhi’s air quality deteriorated again with a thick cloud of toxic smog enveloping the national capital. The Air Quality Index (AQI) was 468, only 18 points less than what it was on the worst day, November 9. Today could be worse.

Why have things come to such a pass? Who is responsible for this mess? Is the Supreme Court–mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority for the National Capital Region (EPA) a failure? Why hasn’t its Graded Response Action Plan delivered? What is the state government doing? What has it been doing for a year? What of the union government? What’s to stop the creation of a federal agency to tackle the problem?

There are two dimensions to the problem. The first has to do with the difficulties in implementing GRAP. It needs coordination among 16 different agencies in the Delhi-NCR region alone. Such complex coordination among different government institutions, states, and ministries not only delays quick decision-making but also makes it easy to pass the buck. Experts have said that GRAP can never be fully implemented if the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have no action plans of their own to curb pollution.

The second has to do with the lack of preparation. It isn’t as if anyone was taken by surprise.

If there ever was a crisis that cried out for the union government to practice co-operative federalism, one of its favourite terms, it is this.

First Published: Nov 14, 2017 11:35 IST

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