India’s two largest and significant cities are battling a haze like no other — bad and polluted air. The national capital New Delhi and commercial capital Mumbai have had so many bad air days this week that it raises deep concern for the coming fortnight when Diwali-related activities such as bursting firecrackers will peak. Delhi’s bad air stories have become (in)famous around the world. The 10 of the most polluted places in Delhi this Thursday showed an Air Quality Index (AQI) of above 400 which is ‘severe’ pollution.
Expectedly, schools were shut down, the elderly and ill advised to stay indoors, and the usual blame games began as it happens every year. Mumbai’s air has been of rather poor quality lately due to the frenetic construction activities that went unregulated for long though road dust and traffic emissions contribute to the deteriorating AQI readings too. The coastal city’s air, however, did not go into shocking AQI readings like Delhi’s, but that’s hardly anything to crow about. The air has been ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’. Other cities around India suffer similarly from air pollution.
This is a classic case of knowing what needs to be done but not taking steps in good time. That air pollution draws the world’s attention to how badly India’s environment is managed, should spur action from the union government that’s driven by international perception. The fact is that from centre to states to civic bodies, air pollution management has been marked by sheer apathy, short-sightedness in focusing on immediate ‘band-aid’ solutions, reliance on gimmicks such as anti-smog guns and water sprinklers, unforgivable lack of planning for the city’s environment, and unwillingness to enforce regulations on the polluters. Governments are duty-bound to ensure clean air and water, not merely chase GDP at the cost of pushing millions of people into peril. They know what needs to be done to lift the haze — and prevent it — but they do not show the willingness to walk their talk.