A report released by The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health said that India led the world with 2.51 million deaths in 2015 (28 percent of the global total).
Alarm bells should start to ring in the heads of our political masters in the wake of the World Health Organization’s recent report that 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities are in India, with Kanpur topping the list. But that won’t happen; politicians continue and will continue to ignore such life-and-death matters so that they could focus on their petty political skirmishes.
This is despite the horrifying facts listed out by the WHO: “Air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world. New data from WHO shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.” “WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to polluted air.” “Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.”
“The pressure on the farmers to avoid burning and prevent pollution is tremendous. But the alternatives are exorbitant.
India’s share is more than that of any other country. It is evident not only from the latest WHO figures but also a report released by The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health last October. It said that India led the world with 2.51 million deaths in 2015 (28 percent of the global total), beating even the bigger and more industrialized China recorded which had the second highest number of such fatalities (1.8 million).
There is no indication that anything has improved in India in terms of air pollution. The images of last 10 days by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) still show huge chunks of land in India where fires are raging, thus making the summer heat more unbearable and the environment far more polluted.
In other words, little has happened on the ground since the onset of last winter when entire north India got under a shroud of smoke because of stubble burning. Meanwhile official continues to make claims that stubble burning has gone down substantially. Media reports, however, present a different picture.
The Times Of India has reported (May 5), “The pressure on the farmers to avoid burning and prevent pollution is tremendous. But the alternatives are exorbitant. The central government announced a special subsidy on happy seeders in the Union budget of 2018, in which the allocation for the sub-mission on agriculture mechanization was increased from Rs 525 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 1,140 crore. But as of now, even wealthy farmers have not acquired happy seeders. There aren’t too many around to hire either.”
Several points emerge from these reports. First, the powers that be can’t look beyond subsidies to tackle the humungous problems like crop burning that are big polluters. And even the subsidy regime, it appears, is shoddily planned and poorly executed.
Second, there isn’t any medium- and long-term policy on the cards to combat air pollution. Such solutions will require urgent attention of not only the Centre but also state governments, bureaucrats, scientists, technocrats, and civil society. For instance, scientists inform us that the Gangetic plains are like a large valley between the Himalayas and Vindhyas, thus trapping the pollutants within.
Policy makers have other priorities like changing names of places, promoting or excluding Hindi, protecting cow protectors, life-and-death issues take a backseat.
But then Indian geography has more or less remained unchanged for several thousand years, including at least a century of industrialization. So, what has actually caused the present nightmare?
The answers to this question, unfortunately, depend upon the respondent; and this brings us to the third point: often ideological, doctrinaire positions are promoted by various pressure groups to peddle their own agendas. For example, there is well-known green NGO based in Delhi which is pitted against private vehicles, especially diesel ones. Excessive emphasis on private vehicles has distracted the attention of policy and decision makers from the complexity and vastness of the problem.
Fourth, air pollution is triggering climate changes locally, one of which was the dust storm on Wednesday in north India that leftover 124 people dead and many more injured. Another such storm was looming large at the time of writing these lines. This is not unsubstantiated conjecture. Nature, the prestigious science journal, published a study in 2011 study showing that air pollution aggravates seasonal storms in South Asia and the Middle East.
Finally, policy and decision makers have other priorities. Since politicians are busy with matters such as announcing Lingayats as a separate religious community, changing names of places, promoting or excluding Hindi, protecting cow protectors, and organizing jamborees, life-and-death issues take a backseat. Unsurprising, then, bureaucrats keep pushing files, vested interests pushing the envelope, and professional activists peddling their (often dangerous) agendas.
The conditions, meanwhile, continue to deteriorate not just on the environment front but elsewhere too.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.