Most of the people presently living in Delhi know this for a fact that the air is heavily polluted and people are gasping for breath due to pollution and smog for the last 11 days. But you will be surprised to know that none of the governments responsible for controlling air pollution can pinpoint one major cause that has caused smog and polluted air since Diwali night. Opinions of governments and experts differ about what is the main cause which has made the air hazardous to breathe in Delhi.
On Monday, the Delhi government counsel told the Supreme Court that paddy stubble burning in western UP, Haryana and Punjab was the main cause of air pollution in NCR, but the Centre told the court that industries, construction activities and vehicular emission in Delhi NCR were the main reasons for air pollution.
The surprising part is that while governments differ on the main cause of air pollution, they are ready with measures for tackling them. As of now, all schools and colleges are closed in Delhi, Haryana government has also closed all schools and colleges in Faridabad, Gurugram, Panipat and Sonipat, and the Delhi government has closed all its offices and has asked its staff to work from home.
On Monday, the Supreme Court directed the Centre, Delhi government and state governments of Haryana, UP and Punjab, to hold an emergency meeting to devise emergency measures to tackle air pollution within the next 48 hours.
The bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana, Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Surya Kant observed, ‘We don’t think the executive governments will sit together and make a decision as we had expected on Saturday. It is very unfortunate that we have to set an agenda for them and the areas they have to focus on for taking urgent decisions.’
The bench said: “We find major contributors of air pollution in the NCR are construction activities, running of non-essential industries, transport and running of coal-fired power plants. We find some initiatives have been taken by Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and adjoining areas, as also by the Delhi government in compliance with directions passed by this court. We appreciate it.”
The apex court was however critical of the Delhi government in other aspects. It warned that it may start an audit of money spent by the Delhi government on combating air pollution. The Delhi government counsel Rahul Mehra had said, ‘Municipal Corporations are the ones which carry out road-sweeping tasks. They are independent autonomous bodies. It is for the corporations and mayors to file an affidavit stating whether the number of 69 mechanized road sweeping machines is adequate’.
On this, the Chief Justice of India said, “there is always some excuse or the other that can be given when the work is not done. You are passing the buck to the municipal corporations.” Justice Surya Kant said, “this kind of lame excuse will compel us to find out and hold an audit inquiry into the total revenue you are collecting and what you are spending on the popularity slogans instead of looking after the people.” Justice Surya Kant reminded the counsel that the municipal corporations were before the Supreme Court in some other cases and had pleaded that they do not even have money to pay salaries to their staff.”
In its affidavit before the apex court, the Delhi government said, a smog tower has been built in Delhi as per SC directives, all construction activities in Delhi have been stopped till Nov 17, 372 water sprinklers have been deployed to prevent dust pollution, and schools and colleges have been closed. Delhi government also said, it was even ready to impose lockdown for a limited period, but since air has no boundaries, a similar lockdown has to be imposed in neighbouring states. Anti-smog guns are being used at construction sites with areas more than 20,000 sq ft, it claimed. Delhi Pollution Control Committee is trying to implement the plan for use of CNG fuel in 1,636 industrial units.
The apex court said, “So far as stubble burning is concerned, broadly affidavits state that their contribution is not so much except for two months. However, at present, a good amount of stubble burning is taking place in Haryana and Punjab.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the bench, “We have come to the conclusion that stubble burning is not the major cause of pollution and it contributes to only 10 per cent of the air pollution. Reacting on his submission, the bench asked, “Are you agreeing that stubble burning is not the main cause? That hue and cry has no scientific or factual basis?”
Referring to the affidavit filed by the Centre, the apex court said 75 per cent of the air pollution is due to three factors — industry, dust and transport. “In the last hearing, we mentioned stubble burning is not a major issue, city-related issues are there. So if you take steps on them, the situation will improve….. In fact, now the cat is out of the bag, the farmers’ stubble burning contributes to only 4 per cent of the pollution as per the chart. So we are targeting something which is totally insignificant.”
On Monday, the Air Quality Index in the capital was ‘very poor’ at 353, and this is unlikely to improve in the next two days. Though the AQI is lower compared to earlier days, the government cannot rest on its oars by saying that the air is now less hazardous. Poison, is, after all, poison, no matter what the quantity is in the air. Aged men and women, and children, are hit hard because of air pollution in Delhi. Doctors say, that breathing the polluted air in Delhi for a day means as good as smoking 15 cigarettes.
Looking at the disjointed efforts being made by the governments, it seems the people of Delhi will have to bear this gas chamber torture for some more days. The reason: governments are not unanimous about the main cause of air pollution. While one holds paddy stubble burning as the main cause, another says bursting of firecrackers during Diwali was the main reason. A third blames the huge number of vehicles in Delhi which are emitting hazardous smoke. There are others who blame construction activities and industries. The common people can only hope that the Supreme Court, by taking a firm stand, may force the governments to take immediate measures.
We also know that light rains for a day or two, can clear the air and make it easier to breathe. Till then, people will have to remain indoors and avoid breathing outdoor air. Instead of relying on government initiatives, people can take small steps at homes to avoid polluted air. Keep money plant, areca palm, mother tongue plant at home. They help clean up the polluted air and give out oxygen. Do not allow the elderly and the kids to move outside their homes. Wear a mask when you move outside. It will protect you, both from Coronavirus and polluted air.
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