IN the midst of Diwali effervescence, New Delhi is, unfortunately, grabbing headlines again, with its air pollution nearing the dangerous ‘severe-plus’ scale. In the NCR, the ‘severe’ and ‘very poor’ levels already stand breached. The situation was headed to a crisis, aggravated by the sudden change in wind direction, fanning smoke and dust from states that continue to burn paddy straw. Pollution, however, should not be just about the National Capital or its satellite cities. There are no air borders. Across India, states are battling with noxious air. Oddly, Punjab — discredited rather unfairly for polluting Delhi’s air — has no means to check the Air Quality Index of its smoke-emitting villages. Its air monitoring centres are stationed in only six cities.
An ingenious perspective is now obligatory. Copious warnings have been issued to polluting units, farmers and random people burning garbage. For many years now, ‘Say no to crackers’ is a customary refrain at educational institutions, as are essays on mitigating pollution. Despite the steadfast thrust, nothing changed. The situation, in fact, has worsened. There are two organic gaps in our understanding: one, isolating pollution; and two, talking about it inexhaustibly, but not following it up in full measure. The annual air dread around Diwali season and disregarding it soon after has, as we have seen, yielded zilch; neither will bifurcating pollution into air and water categories. A multi-pronged approach and multiple coordinating agencies are needed at various levels to deal with it, en bloc. The focus cannot alone be on creating awareness. Periodic review meetings are imperative to check progress.
State pollution boards need to step up their game and come up with innovative ideas, undertake more field work and be unsparing of defaulters. Prosaic, infrequent action will get us nowhere, nor will finger-pointing. If we continue to trifle with the issue, even in our individual capacity, there is no escaping the cross we will lug as giant gas chamber enablers. A 21st century welfare State, with aspirations to sit at the high table and be counted, must handle pollution with the exigency and earnestness it warrants. The fear of the outdoors is now real.