'Each breath we take is killing us': Environmentalists write to PM Narendra Modi seeking intervention

New Delhi: A group of environmentalists wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday urging him to take prompt action in fixing the pollution problem in the country, especially in Delhi where the air quality was the worst in three years.

"We, the people of India, request you to please take leadership to resolve the serious problem of air pollution and its health impact in the whole country, especially in the Indo-Gangetic plain and most specifically Delhi, which is choking under a thick, lethal smog," the letter read.

"Our doctors have told us we are in a state of national health emergency. There is no time for reactive measures," it said. "We earnestly request you to save our children, our elderly, our most vulnerable who suffer the worst effects of pollution." The environmentalists include Jyoti Pande of Care for Air, Ravina Raj Kohli of My Right To Breathe, Atul Goyal of United Residents Joint Action and Brikesh Singh of Clean Air Collective.

They rued that instead of fixing the problem, every political party "remains intent on fixing the blame while Indians continue to die due to the terrible air". "Each breath we take is killing and our loved ones faster, yet, we can't do anything about it makes us feel helpless, sad and angry," the environmentalists said. Pollution levels in the National Capital Region shot up again on Sunday morning, with the air quality bordering the 'severe plus' category at several places. The air quality index (AQI) in Delhi stood at 494 at 4 pm, the highest since November 6, 2016, when it was 497.

"Your government is in power in most of the north Indian states and can improve enforcement of existing laws that will prevent open burning of every kind which is currently contributing maximally to poor air quality, especially through the malignant particulate matter that causes irreversible damage to our bodies," the environmentalists said.

They pointed out that according to AIIMS, emergency admissions due to pollution have gone up by 15-20 per cent in Delhi. "Mostly, people are suffering from chest and respiratory ailments. But these aren't the only risks we face. Cardiovascular risks, heart attacks, strokes and other diseases also rise during times of episodic spikes like we are seeing now," the letter read. "This problem of air pollution affects every single Indian, rich or poor, of all castes, religions, creed and across all state boundaries," it said. "No one apart from the Prime Minister of our country can take the lead to fix this issue."

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