Air quality in Mumbai was the subject of a detailed report in this newspaper on Thursday, with the air quality index at 305 ug/m3, considered very poor. The drastic drop in the air quality was on account of the Diwali celebrations which peaked this year, compared to the preceding two years when the Covid-19 pandemic prevented celebrations to a large extent. Meteorologists explained the poor air quality by saying that the wind velocity was not enough to blow away particulate matter. This is, however, small consolation for citizens, especially infants, the ailing and the old. What is true for Mumbai is true for the rest of the country too, including the capital.
Compared to previous years, however, there was a perceptible improvement in the air quality in New Delhi on the morning after Diwali, thanks mainly to the strong winds that swept away polluting particles. The campaign for a healthier celebration with a fall in the use of firecrackers also played its role, but it is too early to heave a sigh of relief as no other city is as air pollution-prone as the capital. Besides vehicle use, burning of stubble in neighbouring states, use of diesel generators, illegal factories and construction work add to its pollution strain. On a per capita basis, no other state has as many vehicles as Delhi does. The latest world air quality index has listed eight Indian cities among the 10 worst cities in Asia. While Delhi was not one of them, Gurugram, adjacent to Delhi, recorded the worst air quality.
There was only one Indian city where the index was good and that was Rajamahendravaram in Andhra Pradesh. This subject is discussed every time around Diwali and is then forgotten. Exceptions are when the level of air pollution goes so high that the government has to order closure of schools and colleges for days together, or an individual judge of the Supreme Court indicts the government in an obiter dictum. Control of pollution has to be a round-the-clock, round-the-year affair, because it is the health of the people which is at stake. There are no piecemeal solutions, and improvement of air, water and ground quality has to be dovetailed into every aspect of human activity. After all, when health is lost, everything is lost!
Kejriwal’s worship-able notes
Nobody knows how serious Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was when he asked for printing the pictures of Ganesh and Mahalakshmi on India’s currency notes, besides that of Mahatma Gandhi. He proposed this as a way to bolster the rupee vis-a-vis the dollar. No rulers, before or after Independence, ever thought of printing worship-able notes. He referred to one currency note in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, that had the picture of Ganesha (that note has been replaced since). The irony is that the Indonesian rupiah is one of the weakest currencies in the world. One Indian rupee can fetch Rh 188. Although Indonesia is an Islamic country, it does not encourage “rewriting of history” to obliterate its Hindu past when it was part of an Indian empire. Hindu icons are still respected. However, there is one fundamental difference. For the Indonesians Ganesha is just an image, whereas for Indians he is an object of worship.
Yet, the currency note is one of the most ill-treated objects in the country. Banks refuse to accept mutilated and heavily-soiled notes and there has been a resultant improvement in the way people treat the notes. Still, they are folded several times and saliva is often used to count them, even by educated persons. Moreover, both women and men keep the notes closest to their body, exposing them to human sweat.
It would be sacrilegious for the average Hindu to find Ganesh and Lakshmi treated in this unhygienic manner. Recently, a butcher in Uttar Pradesh was beaten up for having wrapped meat in an old sheet of newspaper that happened to have pictures of a deity in an advertisement. How would such “sensitive souls” react to someone with dirt on his hands tendering currency notes that show pictures of such gods? Moreover, the Hindu pantheon of gods numbers 33 crore — what if demands to represent more of them are made?
That raises another question: was Mr Kejriwal even serious?