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Pollution, a national issue

Preeti Mehra | Updated on January 09, 2018

The problem needs sustained, uniform, coordinated action

Atmospheric pollution is not a problem exclusive to Delhi. It applies as much to Amritsar, Chandigarh, Agra, Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, Raipur or Chennai. It is now accepted that toxic levels of particulate matter in the air is caused by several factors — vehicular traffic, particularly diesel vehicles, construction activity, garbage dumping, agri stubble burning, industrial emissions and coal-based thermal plants to name a few. The data and facts are known and several international agencies such as the WHO have identified Indian cities as being among the most polluted in the world. One doesn’t have to wait for the Air Quality Index to touch hazardous levels to press the alarm button.

That Delhi is the worst-hit, particularly in the winter months is a given. But several studies now reveal that the crisis has spread across much of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The burning of crop stubble, which has been identified as the villain-in-chief of the current crisis, has impacted a large number of northern cities. But why has Delhi alone been the focus of attention? It goes without saying that alarming pollution levels do not augur well for India. Twenty-two of its cities rank in the WHO database of the top 50 cities in the world with highest levels of the dangerous PM 2.5 particles in the air. Neither is it comforting to know that the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health reported recently that air pollution killed 1.09 million in India in 2015 (other studies put the figure at 2.5 million) — the highest for any country in the world.

The prognosis is grim. And the recent blame game between the Centre, the Delhi government and the States of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, has sent out a clear message which cannot be ignored. State governments can no longer be entrusted to handle an issue that requires sustained, uniform and coordinated action. What is needed is a national policy and a stringent Central legislation to back it. We have had enough of bickering and knee-jerk reactions.

Associate Editor

Published on November 14, 2017

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