The Smog Thickens

By: Kakoli Chatterjee
The way things are going probably in a few days we will find ourselves fighting to breathe.

Five working days have gone by but Delhi citizens are still facing the consequence of their over indulgence during the Diwali weekend. It is not mithai or chocolates that I am referring to. The air hangs heavy with pollutants and toxic heavy metals. These include barium, aluminium, lead, mercury salts, antimony, copper and strontium. The situation is no better even after five days after Diwali. On November 5, the AQI stood at a whopping 445 units. All this for a few moments of pyrotechnic entertainment!

Adding to Delhi’s pollution woes are burning paddy stumps in the neighbouring states, emission of vehicles, dust from construction activities. The Air Quality Index (AQI) reached 483.66 units in Delhi on Sunday, the day of Diwali. An alarming scenario considering that it is eight times the prescribed limit of World Health Organisation (WHO). As if the situation was not bad enough the pollution level went up further to 517 units, two days later.

Last year was no better. Pollution level was more than six times higher the normal level at 341.67 units on the day of Diwali though it went down by a few notches in the next few days.

In 2012 the AQI on Diwali was 748 which rose to 811 the next day, which is a huge leap than the current year. But there was no hue and cry then because of a lower level of awareness. As a Central Pollution Control Board scientist aptly says, the situation has not gone from bad to worse, it was always worse!

Most of the time our excuse is we are buying these firecrackers to entertain our children. It is high time we press our pause button to contemplate what kind of planet we are leaving behind for our children. Individual awareness is necessary but it is also important for the administration and political class to be a party to this. Including environmental clause in their party agenda as a routine, and not adhering to the spirit of it is meaningless and a hypocrisy and most importantly does not serve any purpose.

As Delhi is surrounded by a worsening smog even after five days many questions arise in the minds of its citizens. Before the festivities began did the Delhi government /council of ministers take any decisions about how to keep the pollution level low? Did they give any directions to the police and other authorities to monitor the quality and sale of fire crackers? Were there any steps taken at all to control pollution in the National Capital? All questions however, remain unanswered.

November 4, 4 PM
November 4, 4 PM
November 5, 4 PM
November 5, 4 PM

While the ruling party and the opposition are always at loggerheads over any given issue, nobody thinks the current environmental issue is important enough to be discussed or be angry about.

Jagdish Pradhan, BJP MLA, Delhi seems the only one to be upset enough to comment on the issue. He opined that the AAP government was fully aware of the danger and should have banned firecrackers and specifically polythene which people burn during and after Diwali. The clean up of the post Diwali mess also adds to the rising pollution level. There is a need to curb this practice. Strict actions should be taken to put a check on this, he said. He also added that it was necessary to impose a ban on setting up of factories producing chemicals and acids within the city limits.

Right now Delhi is not unlike a gas chamber with respirable pollutants hanging low due to low temperatures and little or no wind.  People with asthma and other respiratory conditions are severely affected by the low quality of air. As Dr. Vivek Nangia, Director and HOD, Pulmonology, Fortis Ft Lt Ranjan Dhall Hospital points out, “There is a significant increase in the numbers of individuals coming in with chest infections, congestion and wheezing post-Diwali. While some of these are new walk-in cases, others are those patients who already have a respiratory condition but under control with medication. There is a significant rise of patients coming specifically with pulmonary ailments.”

On a cautionary note Dr. Nangia adds, substantial exposure to such poor quality air reduces immunity significantly and as a result one becomes prone to diseases like lung infections and pneumonia.

As a preventive measure, he suggests, if the AQI is over 300 its best not to move out of the house but to stay indoors. If the air quality index is between 200 to 300, high risk groups who are already suffering from respiratory problems should avoid going out.

If basics such as food, water and air are not part of the development agenda, there is perhaps no need to develop at all. Why? Because most of us would not be around to witness it.

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