Reducing air pollution requires political will

Pradeep Guin | Updated on March 13, 2020

A mass revolution of sorts is required, demanding from the government that it takes necessary steps to provide its citizens better quality of air to breathe

Amidst the larger national debates on CAA, NRC, Kashmir, rape-related violence, dwindling economy, and several others, which are important matters to debate on, air pollution seems to be dying yet another season.

It shall only form a formidable agenda to be actually receiving the needy attention of the official policymakers (read the government) when the AQI (Air Quality Index) readings reach hazardous levels later this year during Deepavali, even though we continue to breathe unclean air now. There’s need for a mass revolution, like the most recent one on proving citizenship, demanding from the government that it takes necessary steps throughout the country to provide its citizens better quality of breathable air.

Failure to curb the issue of air pollution is primarily due to lack of political will, political negligence and refusal to accept the fact that exposure to poor quality of air does have a negative impact on health Irresponsible statements such as air pollution does not reduce people’s lifespan, made by influential public figures, only trivialises the issue.

Budget allocation

Lack of political will to address this issue also translates to inadequate budget allocation, which drives home an important point that controlling air pollution is surely not on the priority list for the present government. With a budget cut of 50 per cent on pollution-control measures (from ₹20 crore in 2018-19 to ₹10 crore in 2019-20), and non-elaboration on financial allocation to National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), we can only expect more number of days with hazardous level of AQI readings.

Ironically, the BJP government in its manifesto for the 2019 general elections had vowed to ‘work towards substantially reducing air pollution’ as well as ‘completely eliminating crop residue burning’ to tackle air pollution. The present budget allocation, however, does not point to that.

There is ample global evidence now that supports the fact that air pollution is a silent killer. WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during the first global conference on air pollution and health (Geneva 2018) has already declared air pollution as a “silent public health emergency”.

Public health disaster

Air pollution, in fact, is very much on its way to becoming a public health disaster, unless controlled in a timely and sustainable manner. Air pollution accounts for around eight million premature deaths annually across the globe, mostly from the developing counties. According to a joint study by ICMR, PHFI and IHME, which was published in 2017, in India, air pollution is linked to a child’s death every three minutes, and every eighth death in the country is linked to exposure to poor quality of air. Will our policymakers wait for another ‘Great Smog of London’ (which killed more than 10,000 people) to happen in our country before taking concrete action to tackle this menace?

Constant exposure to polluted air is slowly damaging the overall quality of life, more severely that of children. Increased incidence of respiratory illness among children, apart from similar diseases among adults, along with heart disease, diabetes and several other ailments are known to get aggravated due to polluted air. It may not be wrong to say that we would be raising a complete generation of morbid individuals, who will only end up paying for our wrongdoings, in the name of stubble burning, bursting crackers, driving more and more cars, greater dependency on fossil fuel-based energy, and so on.

Our future workforce may not be able to contribute its best, as constant exposure to unclean air would have a bearing on their productivity and quality of life.

We ought to fight for clean air today for a better tomorrow.

The writer is Assistant Professor, Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, Sonipat


Published on February 19, 2020

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