By Pitambara Somani and Anisha Mittal:
This Diwali, we were tested.
The test gauged our response to a public health crisis.
The results are in: even though we did marginally better, we still failed.
Pre Diwali pollution levels this year were in-fact lower than the pre-Diwali pollution levels of 2016. However, despite the Supreme Court cracker ban and the Badarpur power plant being closed, the air quality index reached the ‘severe’ category on the night of, and the day following, Diwali. Unsurprisingly, Delhi choked under toxic air as it did last year and the year before that.
Diwali, which symbolizes the victory of good over evil, failed to reinforce the same idea this year. We let momentary pleasures, misplaced religiosity, and the trap of our “chalta hai” attitude make things worse for us. We are all affected by our poor air. This is a fact. 100% of the Indian population is exposed to PM 2.5 levels multiple times higher than the WHO standards. This issue affects all classes, genders, cultures, ages and ethnicities. Why do we only wake up when things get dire? Are we waiting to see every face covered by a mask, or fresh air become a privilege? We need to understand that the air we breathe is killing us. Right now.
The Supreme Court, under its authority, took a massive step and passed a sweeping order to ban the sale of firecrackers this year. This was not to ruin Diwali celebrations or hurt religious sentiments, but to ensure healthy and clear air for all its citizens. In the past two years, reports have clearly shown the deplorable condition of our air on the night of Diwali and the on the next day. Banning the sale of firecrackers during Diwali was necessary, but still not close to sufficient. It’s time we, along with the government, carry our share of the responsibility to mitigate and solve our air affliction.
We do not need not be an environmentalists, activists or government officials to fight this problem. Our world is struggling to breathe. This is no longer a fight we can choose, this is an inevitable battle. It is futile to play the blame game with political parties or even some of our fellow citizens. We need to make lifestyle choices right now to help ourselves and future generations. Use public transport, buy energy-saving appliances, eat local produce, reduce, reuse, recycle, plant trees. Above all else, be environmentally conscious. Your carbon footprint in this world does not only belong to you, it affects us all. We need to make small changes to achieve big results.
Our mindset of ‘what can I do alone’ needs to change. We need to stop waiting for others to make changes first. In a country where medical healthcare is a luxury, how can we allow our air to be the reason we admit ourselves into hospitals? It’s sad how money has become a priority and people don’t care about their own lives. The solution to this problem is not to leave the country, but to take responsibility for our actions.
These are some of the reasons we all failed this year. Some may apply to you, others may apply to someone you know. Our environment dictates our quality of life. If we take care of it, it will take care of us. We are connected to this issue. This is our fight. The Supreme Court has done its part, the government and the residents of this city need to rise up to the problem we have created for ourselves.