Gurugram’s pollution response system needs a complete overhaul
The mobilisation against the proposed road through the biodiversity park has shown that residents of Gurugram will put in effort to address common problems. They are the ones who suffer the most and they should be seen as key partners in this process of change.
While the citizens of this city are fighting to save the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, the pollution levels in Gurugram are ‘severe’, having crossed the 400-mark on the AQI on October 28, higher than even Delhi and Noida. I don’t generally like to harp on the good old days, but the NCR used to be a beautiful place at this time of the year, when people enjoyed the nip in the air and the sweet fragrance of Saptparni trees. It was a time to take the woollens out and take early evening walks. Now, most people are hurrying to rush back indoors. There is no question of enjoying public spaces in this environment. We are all being told by doctors to stay indoors as much as possible, especially children and the elderly.
Clearly this city, along with its larger neighbour Delhi, is going through a crisis. There is no doubt that the existing model of city planning has exacerbated the level of pollution in the city. Of course, there are other elements that are also responsible for the high levels of pollution, but the lack of green cover as well as high rate of construction and car-oriented transport planning in the city has had a major impact.
Forecasts show that the period between November 1 and 10 are going to be the worst.
To reverse this situation, very serious steps need to be taken by the governments and citizens. We have heard about the effect of stubble burning on poor air quality, which reached its peak last year. This year, there are efforts on to try and eliminate this factor. The dust storms from the Gulf have also had an impact. The graded response action plan (GRAP) for addressing air pollution include mechanised sweeping of roads and inspection of construction sites. It was on 29th October that the Pollution Control Board issued guidelines, including ban on burning garbage and water sprinkling. While the authorities have started implementing these measures, experts have pointed out that the preparation should have started months ago. After the terrible level of pollution last year around this time, the planning should have begun last year itself, but the response, as always, has been last minute.
What is needed is a total overhaul of the response mechanism to respond effectively to the varied causes of the problem, including stubble burning, construction, polluting vehicles, setting and enforcing air quality maintenance standards, moving away from private vehicle-oriented transport planning, instroduction of cleaer technologies through policies and increasing the green cover.
The UN Secretary General has tweeted that 6 million people die every year because of air pollution, i.e., one in nine deaths globally. We know that developing countries like ours carry an unequal burden when it comes to mortality.
The residents of Gurugram are the ones who suffer the most and they should be seen as key partners in this process of change. The mobilisation against the proposed road through the biodiversity park has shown that people in this city will put in effort to address common problems.
This column often exhorts Gurugram residents to embrace a more public space oriented culture, but the growing seriousness of air pollution makes it difficult for people to use and nurture public spaces, even if they want to. Residents of this city deserve a better environment and future where we don’t need to wear masks and children can go out to play without fear of developing breathing complications.
(Kalpana Viswanath is the co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, a social enterprise. She works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities)