After Diwali came the inevitable cloud of smog in Delhi. The fact that smog is going to arrive any moment was known to every single person living in Delhi, just the intensity of this smog was a bit surprise. And why not? The toxicity of air was 14-16 times more than the safe limit. The PM 2.5 level skyrocketed making people vulnerable to various respiratory problems. Usually when the smog checks in, a translucent greyish layer of air cover the city. But this winter, this layer was quite thick, almost opaque.
As this year's smog came right after Diwali, a number of people directly blamed Diwali's crackers for it. On the other hand, some remain critical of the farmers of Punjab and Haryana who burned their paddy releasing poisonous gases in the air that reached Delhi through wind. While both burning crackers or crops fairly invite criticism not because they polluted the air but because these actions could have been avoided or minimized.
Diwali is celebrated everywhere in India and the crops are burnt every year in Punjab, Haryana and other paddy growing regions. If India's festival of light is to blame, the entire country should have been covered with smog. And, the foul air produced as a result of crop burning should affect Punjab and Haryana first. They did add up to the already polluted air and caused a spike but none of them can be blamed alone.
The rapid industrialization and urbanization, ignoring the threats imposed on environment, is one of the key factors that has consistently deteriored air quality of Delhi. The idea of sustainable development looks good only in textbook. In practice, we focus only on development. Corruption, too, can be blamed for the breach of environmental norms. Therefore, the toxic air in Delhi and north India is the result of all factors aggregated together. And, to deal with it every factor has to be dealt with separately.
The problem in fact is not just limited to Delhi. The whole of North India is dangerously polluted. The latest WHO list names four Indian cities in their list of world's ten most polluted cities in terms of annual average PM 2.5 levels. They include Allahabad, Gwalior, Patna and Raipur. The top 50 list features 22 Indian cities.
The emissions coming out of factories and automobiles is not fitted with PM filters mainly because they are expensive. The major source of power in India is still coal. Unless Delhi expand its renewable source of energy and become independent of conventional energy, the smog is not going anywhere.
Delhi government took a slew of measures to reform the city public transport. The public transport is already working on CNG and electricity. So, no big reform is needed there. As Delhi's buses and metros have to bear extra load and are always full of people, a large number of private cars are coming on the road everyday. Their emissions add up together making Delhi's air worse.
The odd-even rule was a part of Delhi Chief Minister's private campaign. After coming to power, the CM, apart from accusing Prime minister Modi for absurd reasons, only focused on this scheme. People, at a time, was optimistic about odd even and willingly participated. To silence the critic, the CM blamed BJP for whatever failure it had and alleged that they are trying hard not to make this ‘visionary’ scheme successful in Delhi. He then also declared the scheme - a grand success.
When you do cheap politics over issues like pollution, that is everyone's natural problem, it even mess up all the sincere efforts done previously. It demoralize the working force making it even hard to deal with the situation in hand.
To get out of this mess, the rich in India, particularly Delhi, have begun to insulate themselves from the toxic air. It's not their fault, clean air is the most basic needs of any living being on this planet. If one can get clean air by shelling out some money, people will not hesitate to do that. Money is always secondary when survival is under threat. Fortunately, at this moment the situation is not that tense, though, it is alarming. But, some companies are milking Delhi's misery. Like water purifiers, these companies are now eyeing for their air purifiers to be installed in every household. They are selling ‘clean air’ by creating a panick among people in baba Ramdev style. Buy it or face respiratory problems. They fully know that the advertisement based on the threats of medical complexities can even extract money from middle class people.
When the air was unadulterated, everyone had ‘equal’ rights over it but now only ‘polluted’ air is for everyone, the ‘purified’ air is for limited number of people. A rich doesn't need a government, the poor do. Therefore, the government must step in to fight air pollution before the poor are completely devoid of the atmospheric oxygen. After all, the air purifiers or even good quality masks are not in reach of poor.