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Rising pollution levels in Delhi and National Capital Region a major concern

Rising pollution levels in Delhi and the extended National Capital Region (NCR) could soon see inhabitants walking around with oxygen cylinders on their backs to counter it, warn experts adding that a person would need at least five oxygen cylinders a day.

Rising pollution levels in Delhi has become the cause of several ailments, including premature birth, decrease in lung immunity, allergies or aggravation of existing allergies, strokes, heart and lung disease, cancer and other acute respiratory diseases.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 92 percent of the world’s population, including in India, lives in areas where air quality is below acceptable standards. It also says that about 88 percent of premature deaths occur in low and middle-income countries where air pollution is high and escalating.

According to the web site delhiair.org, air pollution in Delhi-NCR occurs due to a complex mix of pollution from human activities such as vehicle emissions, industry, construction, residential fuel burning, dust and sea salt.

Heavy concentration of particulate matter is greatly affected by meteorological conditions -in the winter, cool air causes”inversions” that stagnant the air and trap pollution close to the ground. Also air flow patterns from Afghanistan and Pakistan pick up emissions as they move over the densely urbanised regions of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in these two states burn the straw in their fields and this pulls pollutioninto Delhi and its surrounding neighbourhood. Pre-monsoon dust storms and city activities also contribute.

The web site further reveals that the NCR generates 10,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste, much of which is eventually burned, and thus, adding particulate pollution to the air. Galloping urbanisation brings massive construction projects to the area. In addition, Delhi has over a crore vehicles on its roads, and the result is another pollution “hotspot.”

ANI approached a couple of experts to get a better understanding of the causes behind this menace, and what steps needed to betaken to reduce it.

Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director (Research and Advocacy) and head of the air pollution and clean transportation programme at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said, “The issue of dealing with and countering the problem of rising pollution is not as simplistic as it appears. Post-2009, we saw a slow-down in actions related to and around pollution. We were losing out on the gains made prior to 2009, and as a result, the scale of pollution again increased.”

When asked for a comment on how pollution is impacting the lives of the homeless population in the NCR, especially those living onsidewalks and in the Trans-Yamuna area, and how they burn items like discarded paper, tyres (available for as little as Rs 10), wood, shoes et al to keep themselves reasonably warm during the winter, Roychowdhury said, “This winter, an emergency, graded response action plan has been activated on thedirection of the Supreme Court. What is desirable is a comprehensive actionplan (and) additional measures that address issues like providing more affordable housing and rentable stock, ensure Euro-6 standards to reduce vehicular emissions, reduce movement of personal vehicles by increasing purchase cost and impose more taxes and put in place a parking policy for public areas, and introduce proper waste management.”

Environmentalist Chandraveer Singh bluntly said, “The problem of air pollution is not new, it has been there for ages and we talk about it, express alarm about it, wrestle with it year in and year-out, and almost never come up with a well considered strategy to minimize it, yet alone counter it.”

“There is a need to generate awareness, improve coordination between civic bodies, the government and the people. We have adifficult task on our hands, and if we don’t take appropriate emergency steps, we are looking at a Delhi-NCR where people will be walking around with at least five oxygen cylinders on their backs in a couple of years. The temporary closing of schools is not a solution at all,” he added.

On issues such as vehicle emissions, industrial pollution, construction, residential fuel burning and dust, Chandraveer Singh categorically blamed the government for non-compliance with recent orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and added that there is no infrastructure in place at the state or central level to ensure corrective action. Going a step further, he said that by and large, the administration is “clueless” on the counter-pollution narrative.

“It is important for states to coordinate more effectively and efficiently with each other. All stakeholders, including the Centre, have a role to play. It is up to them to bell the cat of pollution,” Singh added.

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