Right now, what is happening in Delhi — officially the most polluted capital city in the world — vis-à-vis environmental regulations is an encapsulation of what climate change activists have been saying of the COP26 conference: that it is “blah, blah, blah” (articulated by Greta Thunberg). The Indian prime minister announced that the country “pledges” to hit net zero emissions by 2070, which is a really long way off. It’s akin to saying “in the foreseeable future” without any commitment. But more to the point, if India is failing to contain pollution that is spiralling out of control in its capital city, how does it plan to launch a nationwide movement — even in the foreseeable future?
Let’s set the baseline first. According to the World Health Organisation’s safety guidelines, the PM2.5 (tiny, toxic particles that can clog lungs and give rise to a host of health complications) level, should, ideally, be between the 0 and 50 a range. Delhi, currently, is reporting staggering levels: hovering around 400, and even higher (in certain areas). That is not even bad or poor; it’s hazardous. The city is covered in smog, schools are being shut down, and it has devolved into a situation that can be safely classified as an emergency. For many years now, the Delhi state of affairs at this time of the year — post Diwali, pre-winter — has been debated endlessly. Everyone concerned appears to know exactly what leads to this unfailing annual episode that is getting worse by the year: the burning of farm stubble in neighbouring states, traffic and factory emissions, and fireworks during north India’s biggest festival — all of which get a life of their own in the wake of changing weather as temperatures dip in the region. And yet, everyone appears to do nothing about it.
What India needs immediately is enforcement. The reasons for the current crisis engulfing Delhi in a gray haze have been identified, but there is this tendency to be complacent once things get back to a semblance of normalcy: instead of addressing the issue on a war footing, it’s put on the backburner and conveniently forgotten… till it comes back, more intensified, the next year. Take the matter of stubble burning. What can’t it be resolved? Why can’t it be stopped, and an alternative recourse created? Different states will start sniping at each other, citing reasons of political ideologies and social divisions. If climate change is a global challenge, the least that can be done is to treat it as a national commitment, and rise above petty bickering and delaying tactics.
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