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Lok Sabha TV- Public Forum: Poisoned Air
Air pollution has touched alarming levels in recent years. China and India, two of the world’s most populous countries have the most polluted air in the world. According to some international researches, half of the world’s air pollution deaths occur in China and India. Whereas deaths linked to air pollution in China have been steady in recent years, the rate has increased in India where smog readings in major cities has been more than safe exposure levels regularly. It is horrifying to note that air pollution kills two people in India every minute and some of the worst polluted cities are in India. The risks are physical and economical. Air pollution is one of the deadliest form of pollution as it a major reason for premature deaths across the world.
Issues Concerning India:
The National Air Quality Index was launched by the Government last year as an official reporting standard for air pollution levels that would allow for comparisons across cities. In 2015, Delhi alone was found to have pollution levels 12 times higher than the WHO guidelines. While another six cities Lucknow, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Agra and Varanasi had pollution levels at least ten times higher than the permissible levels. Delhi Government tried to improve the air quality of the city by regulating the number of cars on the streets. WHO’s Report in 2016 on Ambient Air Pollution levels indicated that Delhi’s air had high levels of particulate matter measuring 10 microns or less which made it the most polluted cities in the world second only to Riyadh. The burning of agricultural waste in states like Punjab and Haryana, vehicular emissions, dust from construction sites and factory emissions further aggravate the problem.
It is high time for the Government and the civil society to take action on the sources of pollution. Majority of deaths in India are due to indoor air pollution as well which is caused by solid fuel burning, animal dung, fuel wood, crop waste and so on. Economic growth will help in overcoming this issue to some extent such as the steps being taken by the Government to provide LPG to poor households. Crop burning and biomass burning are largely an outcome of policy failures and distortions which need to be rectified. For example- paddy is not grown in ecologically stressed areas like Punjab and Haryana.
As far as industries are concerned, the problems in India comes from small and medium enterprises sector which are largely outside the reach of monitoring and enforcement agencies compared to large industries and it is very difficult to ensure that they are compliant to the rules and regulations concerning environment as they are large in number and spread all over the country. The technology they use is generally outdated, the fuel being used by them is often very polluted and they do not have financial support to upgrade their technologies. Enforcement of rules is much more stringent in China. The sources of pollution in China is largely attributed to industries in cities. Particular meteorological conditions which prevail especially during winters also lead to high concentration of pollutants are also responsible for air pollution.
India has a long way to go but it has to get its priorities right. The first is to look at the issue of indoor fuel burning as this will have a social impact specially on women and children of rural and semi-urban areas and the second is to address the issue through political dialogue among stakeholders for better policies and their implementation.