December 30, 2018, was the worst day for 20 lakh residents of Gurugram, as the Air Quality Index (AQI) rose up to 485, making the so-called millennium city the most polluted city of India since October. Next day, the AQI was 435 (severe category), making it the second-most polluted city of India after Ghaziabad (443). The AQI in other towns of the national capital region (NCR) was in close vicinity: 424 for Delhi, 406 for Faridabad and 422 for Noida. The PM 2.5 level on December 31 was 683 microgram/m3 measured at the Vikas Sadan in Gurugram. The only hope of the district administration for the AQI to subside is the expectation of western disturbances in the atmosphere to cause a wind velocity of 8 kmph to 10 kmph. Remedial steps like sprinkling of roads or mechanised sweeping are of only cosmetic nature.
The poor air quality in Gurugram and adjoining areas presents a major public health crisis. The adverse impact of exposure to polluted air on human health is deep and pervasive, affecting all sections of urban populace ; 400 million people are constantly living in 650 (district centres and megapolis) virtual gas chambers and inhaling polluted air with increasing toxicity without any demur. Continuous inhalation of polluted air with the AQI oscillating between 250 and 450 is eating into the vitals of human body like the process of slow poisoning. The overall impact on health is suffocation, aggravation of existing ailments, reduced life expectancy, lifelong dependency on medication, impairment of cognitive skills and synergetic movement of different organs and finally a big hole in the pocket.
India is credited with having 14 out of 15 most polluted cities in the world. Delhi is the most polluted city of India. The annual mean of PM 2.5 in Delhi is 132, which is 13 times the WHO norms. One can imagine the severity of the problem in Indian cities, particularly in Gurugram.
Severe air pollution in Gurugram and the NCR has become a round the year phenomenon. Except for the two months of the rainy season, the AQI varies between 250 and 450. The moment the AQI enters the poor quality or severe zone (201 and 500), it calls for declaring a crisis or an emergency-like situation with disaster management plans ready. But there is no such activity visible on the part of the Haryana Government in this regard.
Around 35 per cent of air pollution has been found to be due to generation of dust from unpaved surfaces and building activities. The remaining 65 per cent pollution is due to vehicular emissions and smoke from the chimneys of industrial units. Consequently, one third of air pollution can be mitigated by paving or grassing raw surfaces between road edges and building lines both in commercial and residential areas.
Having known all the deleterious effects of inhalation of polluted air on human health, strangely nobody in Gurugram and the NCR is worried and concerned about his own health.
The billion dollar question is how long this show of silent suffering will go on. Will people living in the gas chambers of Gurugram and the NCR continue to suffer the drudgery and die premature deaths or start migrating to villages.
(The writer is retired Engineer-in-Chief, Public Health, Haryana)