India suffers from various kinds of pollution including that of air, noise, water and public life. As a nation we are silent on most of the pollutions and occasionally there is some talk about air pollution.
While Delhi has been identified as the most polluted city in the country, it would shock many to learn that Bhiwadi in Rajasthan was the most polluted town in 2022, according to IQAir, a collaboration of organisations concerned about air quality, the world over. IQAir is the technology partner of United Nations Environmental Program, UN Habitat, and Greenpeace and strives to empower change and contribute to a sustainable path to better air.
While Bhiwadi ranked number three in the most polluted towns/places in the world in 2022, Delhi stood at number four, according to IQAir. On November 9, at 6 am, Delhi was the worst polluted city in the world with an air quality index of 420.
While air, sound and water pollution affects public health, pollution in public life, which includes corruption and hate speeches, costs human life and affects the economic health of the nation.
According to Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) India ranks 85th with a score of 40 on 100. Transparency International is a global movement working in over 100 countries to end the injustice of corruption.
It focusses on issues with the greatest impact on people’s lives and holds the powerful to account for the common good. The organisation exposes the systems and networks that enable corruption to thrive, demanding greater transparency and integrity in all areas of public life.
The CPI released in January this year, states “…in India, considered the largest democracy in the world, the government continues to consolidate power and limit the public’s ability to demand accountability. They detain more and more human rights defenders and journalists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).”
Pollution in public life should not be confined to corruption alone, but should take into consideration the behaviour of leaders in that domain, which includes political parties, religious leaders and organisations, and social organisations.
The Supreme Court of India has taken cognisance of air pollution, particularly in Delhi, and has also commented on corruption in public life, whenever cases pertaining to these issues have come up before it.
Air pollution can be attributed to industries, vehicles and burning of various types of materials, including firewood, for use as domestic fuel. Though there is a perception in the country that things have improved all fronts since 2014, the reality is to the contrary in several sectors. The government has claimed success of the free liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder scheme for the poor and the perception persists; however, there are several reports showing the failure of the scheme and the return of the people to polluting fuels.
The IQAir report shows the quality of air even in smaller towns, where there aren’t industries, the air quality is wanting. Agartala, for example, had good air quality, only in July 2022.
We lack strict laws to deal with air pollution caused by industries and by vehicles and even the existing laws are not implemented effectively to take appropriate action against the biggest polluting industries. Industries of various sizes have not only been polluting air, but also have been found to release effluents in nearby public water sources, polluting the water.
The legal battle by environmental advocate and Magsaysay awardee MC Mehta against air and water pollution in the country seems to have been ineffective, as industries continue to pollute air and water. Mehta took the high and mighty head-on, even though there was threat to harm him or his family. He was no doubt successful in getting positive orders on the pollution of Ganga or the ground water in Patancheru near Hyderabad, in Telangana.
Mehta had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in 1990, on behalf of Delhi's Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action expressing concern over the pollution of ground water in Patancheru. The Supreme Court directed the district judge of Medak to inspect the location and submit a report. This report, submitted in November 1995, concluded that over 100 industries were responsible for causing groundwater pollution in the region. But for financial fines, there was no criminal action against any of the polluting industries.
During festivals and celebrations, a large section of the population indulges in air and noise pollution, with liberal use of gulal, firing of crackers and beating of drums at high decibels. Those indulging in this show little concern towards other humans, whose health is affected by the noise and the gulal in the air during festivals and political rallies.
With proper political will, it will not be too difficult to tackle air and noise pollution, but the pollution in public life is not easy to overcome.
Those in government and their blind supporters may argue that the report of Transparency International is a perception, as the title states, hence need not be taken seriously. That is not a valid argument as the perception report is based on research carried out by established methods.
There is no doubt that according to the organisation, corruption perception has changed positively in the last few years, yet we are a long way from a corruption-free society.
The biggest and the most damaging pollutant in public life is that of hate speech. Hatred against communities is being spread in a big way and unless it is arrested, India may head towards a civil war, which has to be seen in the light of the continued ethnic violence in Manipur.
The author is a senior journalist and media trainer. He tweets at @a_mokashi