Up in Smog: Rising Levels of Pollution in Delhi-NCR Reach Life-Threatening Levels of Toxicity

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In the wake of this year’s Diwali celebrations, the air quality of our country’s national capital has reduced to sub-optimal levels, with the pollution in the air posing dangers to the health of the population. Pollution levels in Delhi and NCR reached a three-year peak, with several parts of the regions completely engulfed by poisonous smog. To combat the crisis, citizens have incorporated air filtration masks into their daily attire, and investments in air purifier systems are at a high.

The poor air quality irreversibly damages an estimated 2.2 million, an approximate 50% of the lungs of all children in the region. According to a WHO survey of 1600 world cities, the air quality of Delhi is the worst of any major city in the world.  The estimated cause of over 1.5 million deaths, air pollution levels in India are at a devastating high. According to another study by the WHO, India has the highest rate of deaths from chronic respiratory diseases and asthma anywhere in the world.

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Through the Fog

The day after Diwali, you couldn’t see the ground from my balcony on the first floor.” Aashna Sharma, a citizen of the region reveals. “The AQI outdoors registers as severe, while indoors, with the air purifier plugged in and running, it registers as very poor.”

It is not an uncommon sight to witness hordes of masked masses walking the streets, doing their best to carry on with daily activities as the city is lost to smog and pollution. “You see couples on bikes wearing them, it’s almost impossible to breathe without one on.” Aashna explains.

With a number of flights diverted due to poor visibility conditions in the Delhi airspace, the government has declared that all schools and educational facilities would be shut down until the worst of the situation has passed, on Tuesday. The River Yamuna, which passes through the national capital has been equally affected by the pollution, being deemed unsafe for consumption and bathing for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Kejriwal government continues to implement measures such as sprinkling water on roads to settle the dust, as well as a third edition of the odd-even scheme of transport vehicles. However, with almost zero-visibility and rising rates of hospital stays, intensive care, and emergency cases, the same question hangs on the lips of every citizen: Are these measures enough?

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Inadequate Governance

The crisis in the nation’s capital highlights our government’s stark inability to take effective action, especially when dealing with issues that span a number of states and territories, led by opposing political institutions. With no real clarity on the source of the pollutants, the AAP run Delhi cabinet shifts the blame onto the Congress-led states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. With elections on the horizon early next year, it seems governing bodies would rather indulge in power-plays and blame-sharing, while citizens choke on toxic air. This opportunistic nature of the government’s functioning has no winners, and the victim count rises higher every day.

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The Supreme Court yesterday condemned the Centre and state governments over the horrendous state of affairs, declaring that the Capital city was choking on an annual basis, and that such an issue cannot be allowed to continue in good faith in any civilized society, where the right to life holds greater value than any other. Calling into question the effectiveness of Kejriwal’s odd-even policy, the Court has asked for a complete report on its previous editions.

“This can’t go on. Delhi government and Centre can’t just pass the buck to each other. People aren’t safe even inside their houses and rooms,” the Court said in a statement. Where then, does the issue lie? Is it in the Capital’s indecision over a complete carpet ban on fire-crackers, or in the government’s inability to curtail pollution-causing activities around the city? The answer, according to the Supreme Court, may lay in the crop-fields of Punjab.

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An EPCA report points out that 40 percent of the pollution in the NCR is caused by crop burning in adjacent areas, with the remaining 60 percent of the pollution being due to local factors like garbage burning and industrial activities. ASG Nadkarni cited a report during the committee hearing, stating that four districts in Punjab contribute to a total of 44 percent of the crop burning incidents. Senior advocate Aparajita Singh informed the bench that as per the Centre’s affidavit that crop burning has gone up by 7 percent in Punjab and is down by 17 percent in Haryana.

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Why are crops still being burnt? This happens every year and the government doesn’t do anything. We will call all those responsible here and settle it now,” the Court said, adding that it would now monitor stubble burning, imposing strict measures and fines on farmers involved in stubble burning and sprinkling water in pollution hotspots across the states. The SC has introduced a ban on construction and demolition activities in the Delhi-NCR region, even fining garbage burning and dumping activities in the region.

 

Poison in the Air

The harmful chemicals in the atmosphere can cause a number of deadly diseases, with the inhalation of Potassium causing lung cancer and thyroid complications and Nitrate being the cause of a decrease in blood pressure, headaches, and abdominal cramps. Inhalation of other chemicals, such as chloride, may lead to coughing chest pain, irritation to the eyes and skin.

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With levels of pollution equated to smoking an estimated 33 cigarettes a day for unsuspecting citizens, more and more people in the NCR are imploring others to stay indoors and wear pollution masks while traveling. “The city is a gas chamber,” Aashna states, “it gets harder and harder every day to keep yourself healthy.”

Conversely, Mumbai recorded the cleanest air quality in the last 5 years following the city’s celebrations for the festive season, with reports displaying a decrease not only in levels of air pollution but in those of noise, too. With tensions and health concerns in the capital region at an all-time high, the country looks to the government for a solution. The atrocious state of affairs must be remedied, for the sake of the health of our nation’s youth. The situation in Mumbai City is a testament to the fact that this feat is one that is easily achievable. As citizens of our great nation, the onus falls upon our shoulders to pressure our governing bodies into effective action.

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What measures do you think our government should take to curtail the rising levels of pollution in the Delhi-NCR region? Let us know!

The media used in this article is courtesy of Aashna Sharma, The Culture Gully, and Ashish Pareek.

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