Is The Issue Of Air Pollution Not Strong Enough To Be A Vote-Bait?

“We didn’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we stole it from our children.”

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Image credit: Hindustan Times

Last year, I saw a massive debate on national television over the usage of firecrackers during Diwali. There was a move to ban the firecrackers. Many called it a wise decision, while others, as always, dragged in religion and whataboutery, to support the same. I saw some photos which went viral during Diwali, images of children lighting firecrackers, while wearing pollution masks!

Meh…

I don’t exactly know what I was measuring at that time- the irony which died several deaths or the number of times I facepalmed.

Pollution is not a stranger to India. In fact, it is one of the biggest challenges the nation needs to tackle, in the ongoing process of economic development. We are investing crores to build statues, while we have people who don’t have access to clean water. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ‘Swacch Bharat’ in 2014 when he came to power. It raises a serious question- where have we reached?

Will the government take this issue seriously? Can we expect that in their manifesto in the upcoming elections?

While working in office, I saw my colleagues falling ill and feeling fatigued due to the intense heat waves. At night we end up using the air conditioner throughout. Many states have been reporting several deaths and other cases of heat stroke and dehydration. It is unthinkable for the manual labourers and construction workers to be working out in the sun, in this intense heat. The number of dehydration cases went up abnormally.

We can’t rule out the fact that pollution has a lot to do with this. The exhaust from factories and automobiles contains high amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Greenhouse gases’ characteristic is its ability to sustain heat on Earth. When the number of greenhouse gases goes up and the number of trees and other plants go down, we are going to be in a more harrowing state, than what we are today. Due to the greenery in Bangalore, I still get some respite, but the same is not true in the case of other states in the South.

Delhi is one of the most polluted places in the world. As a matter of fact, if life expectancy among Indians on an average reduces by 3.4 years, then for the residents of Delhi gets reduced by almost 6 years. 2016 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranked India 141 out of 180 countries surveyed, which is based on depletion of resources, pollution, consumption of available resources, sustainable development and all.

When it comes to toxic gases and suspended particulate matter, as per the studies, more 45% of India’s population is exposed to levels higher than average. Which means that 45% of India is breathing toxic air.

Releasing greenhouse gases in return also results in climate change and the melting of polar ice. We have the leader of the free world using each opportunity he gets to diss the idea of ‘climate change’. Under his administration, the country pulled out of the Paris agreement, and mind you it is the second highest emitter of greenhouse gases and the nation depends on fossil fuels for energy.

The government must take radical decisions to combat pollution, and citizens need to be educated on the importance of the same. Arvind Kejriwal introduced ‘odd-even’ scheme to combat air pollution. If it is sustainable then it should be considered on a national level. The government should invest in clean energy production, including automobiles.

Public transport should be made available, and since the Delhi Metro has helped in reducing nitrogen oxide emission, schemes like that should be considered. And if firecrackers emit toxic substances, then they should be banned altogether. It is not about religion, but about the lungs which also belong to the critiques of religion.

I was watching a debate by Faye DSouza on Mirror Now, where she screamed ‘My caste is not your business, air pollution is your business. Water pollution is your business’. The government treated has every caste, every religion as a vote bank. Social media platforms are (mis)used to spread hate in order to get votes. In her words, the government should prioritise clean air because it is something that will affect everyone irrespective of caste, religion or economic background.

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