A World Health Organization (WHO) report, 2012, states that 13 of the world’s top 20 most polluted cities are in India. In 2014, researchers of Yale University, USA, and WHO declared Delhi the world’s most polluted city. In 2019, World Air Quality Report by Air Visual Institute revealed that 21 of the top 30 most polluted cities of the world are in India.
“Delhi’s Air pollution has been occurring perennially for more than 2 decades but gets worse in winters. Delhi blames farmers instead of its vehicles,” Dr Gurinder Kaur said.
“Delhi, as usual, is engulfed into smog with the onset of winter. The Delhi Government immediately started blaming other states for air pollution in Delhi. The Central Government was already not in line with the farmers’ interest, issued a new ordinance on 29 October 2020, stating farmers are responsible for Delhi’s smog,” Dr Gurinder Kaur said in a webinar organised by the Center for Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) and India Water Portal on Delhi’s Air Pollution and its Solution.
Every year at the beginning of winter, not only Delhi but the whole of Northern India is enveloped in smog. It is a combination of Fog and Smoke. Fog is a natural phenomenon during winter, and it disappears soon after sunrise. Smog is formed when the air is contaminated with a huge amount of pollutants and it gets thicker after sunrise.
In 1990–2000, when the air in Delhi was heavily polluted, the then Central Government was impartial, saved Delhi’s air from being polluted by diesel-driven motor vehicles by using CNG in place of diesel. For the last decade, air pollution has been causing havoc in Delhi and the Nation Capital Region.
Dr Kaur said, “The actual reason for increasing air pollution in Delhi is its increasing number of vehicles, industries, the rapid increase in construction activities, thermal power plants, bricks, burning of garbage dumps, indiscriminate cutting of trees and air flights.”
She evidenced this with facts and figures which says in recent years, the number of cars increased from 24 lakh (2000) to 1 crore (2018), releasing carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), Sulphur dioxide, ozone and other gases which pollute Delhi’s environment.
According to the Meteorological Department of Delhi and the Center for Science and Environment, in 2012, 70% of air pollution in Delhi is caused by vehicles only. Research by IIT Kanpur highlighted industrial units release 98% of Nitrogen oxide, 60% of sulphur dioxide, 14% of PM 10 and 10% of PM 2.5.
No doubt the burning of paddy and wheat residues pollute the air, but it only lasts for 20–25 days in a year, contributes to only 4–6% of the already existing pollution. Besides, paddy was not the crop of Punjab and Haryana; it was imposed on these states for meeting the requirements of the central pool of food grains through favourable MSP and assured procurement.
Paddy plantation season in Punjab was pushed from May to June to coincide with India’s monsoons. This has shortened the time between harvesting paddy and sowing wheat. Farmers are forced to burn paddy and wheat residues due to their economic hardship. APAU, Ludhiana research highlighted that in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the wind speed was below 5 kilometres per hour which couldn’t have drifted localised smog from Punjab to Delhi and the National Capital Region.
Neither the Central Government nor the State Government refutes that these internal activities of Delhi are responsible for pollution in Delhi because, during the COVID-19 lockdown, the skies had cleared up. At the same time, farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were harvesting the wheat crop and burning wheat straws.
The Central Government should not deny national and international reports of air pollution or find a scapegoat to blame it on; rather, it should have a solid strategy to mitigate the existing issues and tackle future risks related to air pollution.
Air pollution is rising not only in Delhi and the National Capital Region but also in the other states of the country. According to a report of Greenpeace Organisation, India, released on 21 January, 2020, 80% of cities have polluted air according to national air quality standard. So, both the Delhi and Central Governments should take the initiatives they did in 2000 to mitigate the grave problem of air pollution but not punish the poor farmers.
Instead of punishing farmers, the Central Government should co-operate with them, understand their problems, provide helpful solutions, and hand in hand, save the nation’s air from getting polluted.
The Government must take steps to control air pollution, or else our future looks grim if serious measures are not taken. The Indian Government needs to streamline public transport services to decrease the use of private vehicles. Pedestrian walkway and bicycle lanes should be constructed on the roads. Purification devices should be installed in industrial units so that the hazardous gases emitted from the industries don’t endanger people’s health.
Replace diesel engines with energy from natural sources. Pollution from the soil, sand and gravel, etc. during construction work should be reduced. Airports, both domestic and international, should be facilitated in every state to distribute air traffic more uniformly across the states, which will help reduce the extreme buildup of air pollution in Delhi.
Initiatives such as the National Clean Air program should be implemented. Appropriate fines on any polluting industrial units, vehicles, construction unit should be imposed.
Instead of playing a blame game, we must take immediate steps to ensure that our delays don’t lead innocent people to fall victim to air pollution. Besides the central Government, every citizen must keep their surroundings clean and protect our environment.
Dr Gurinder Kaur Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)