Air quality alarms went up in the country’s top two cities – Delhi and Mumbai – in the last few days. Polluted air is a daily reality of life in many other cities and towns. There is much data about air pollution and awareness about solutions, as in the case of other issues like the Brahmaputra floods, deforestation in the Western Ghats, or climate change. But the best steps to deal with them are not taken, and they impact life, health, economy and society. Climate change is aggravating air pollution and the harshness of weather in unknown ways. A preview of that was seen last week when Delhi’s air quality plunged to “very poor” levels but recovered to “poor” levels fortuitously, because the winds blew away the dust, haze, carbon and other pollutants that had covered and choked the city. But the coming winter is feared to be a long night of misery for the city and for North India. This week, Delhi’s air quality index was at 346, which made pollution there the worst among 110 cities tracked worldwide for air quality.
Mumbai has not had a single day of good air this month. The air quality index was poor or very poor for much of the winter last year and this year too, that is likely to be the case. Mumbai’s locational advantages, including the cleansing sea breeze and the washing monsoon, are no longer able to keep the air good. There are common reasons for the rising pollution levels in the two cities. They are the increasing numbers of vehicles, especially diesel vehicles, construction work, coal-based power plants and polluting industries. Burning of trash and festival fireworks add to the damage. In the case of Delhi, there is the specific issue of the burning of farm stubble in Punjab and Haryana. There have been many attempts to deal with the problem but till now no solution has been found.
Awareness campaigns and strategies based on incentives and disincentives and even penalties have been tried but they have touched only a fringe of the problem. Both cities have detailed and specific plans to tackle pollution but these have not helped till now to mitigate the situation. Delhi has its Graded Response Action Plan and Mumbai has its Pollution Mitigation Plan. Air pollution is a serious threat to quality of life in many other cities, too. India has the dubious distinction of having 22 of the 30 most-polluted cities of the world. What causes concern is that the situation is deteriorating even despite the preventive and remedial plans and actions.
(Published 26 October 2023, 19:35 IST)