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Are we prepared?

Are we prepared?

With the diversion of 32 flights from Delhi airport due to significantly reduced visibility from air pollution, the gravity of the environmental crisis presents itself in ways that should concern us about the detrimental effects of toxic air beyond its immediate impact on health of the common man. Although the chain of impacts may be understood well before hand beginning with the health of common individuals put at risk, a general stat of deteriorated public health points to the extra efforts that must be made in this direction to ameliorate the situation. With more people suddenly falling sick from pollution, the diversion of resources will have a bearing on the economic aspect of governance. Diversion of flights and presumably fewer arrivals into a pollution-stricken place is already indicative of an unfavourable economic situation. Blaming farmers of nearby states for the dismal air quality due to the traditional practice of stubble burning is of little gain beyond justifying occasional spike in pollution levels. A traditional practice may contribute to a compounded situation but the conditions created much in advance for this aggravation cannot be blamed on any one or two factors—it is a combination of factors that are collectively responsible for the disastrous environment. Felling trees with impunity in the name of "development", reckless urbanisation, unorganised settlements, transport fuel, and public transport with regard to both preference and viability have majorly contributed to the bad air quality. It is therefore necessary to understand that this compounded problem will need a multi-pronged, integrated solution to ameliorate the situation.

Punjab and Haryana getting shrouded in a blanket of haze and Delhi and NCR not being spared from the same are testimony to the fact that air known no territorial boundaries and that bad air in one region is bound to affect another in its vicinity. In the days following Diwali, Delhi made bad news as it remained engulfed in smog despite light showers in several parts of the city. Although the mild spell led to a marginal drop in the Air Quality Index (AQI), the pollution levels continued to remain in "severe category", with the AQI measuring 447—severely hazardous level. The environmental condition, quite predictably, instigated sharp reactions from Union Minister Prakash Javadekar who attacked Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for "politicising the issue". The Minister said that "I feel it is very unfortunate that the Delhi chief minister is politicising the issue of pollution and indulging in blame game instead of finding a solution. He is instigating children to send letters to Haryana and Punjab chief ministers to present them in a bad light and as villains". Political mud-slinging aside, there needs to be an agreement that air pollution is an issue that concerns all of north India and not just the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Aam Admi Party leader Raghav Chadha shed some light on the territorial aspect of pollution, saying that "Air pollution is not only an issue for the national capital. It is a north India issue that calls for a north India solution. Central Board of Pollution Control (CBPC) has said that Varanasi is the most polluted city in the country as per air quality index," while addressing a press conference. Explaining further, he added that "Six of these are in UP and the other four are in Haryana. Delhi did not even figure in the 10 cities with the most polluted air". Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal retaliated to the allegations that his government is playing a "blame game" over the air pollution crisis in the national capital and posted a plea on Facebook saying that "we don't want to do that (play blame games)... it is about our health... our kids... our future...". Referring to the long-term impact of toxic air with respect to children, it comes amply clear that the future is at stake in many respects. Sick children cannot perform well, growing up in a prolonged condition of sickness, public health will acquire unforeseen dimensions. Governments blaming one another will bring out no solution that will help ease matters. What must be done at a war footing is that governments and competent authorities get together to address the crisis. Instilling the culture to plant as many trees as possible and increase the green cover has to be a necessary first step. Construction dust, stalled projects, fixing roads and lining them with greenery are the immediate steps that must be taken. Political mud-slinging and name-calling will only compound matters further. With more pollution than what we have in the present and lesser resources to attend to even the existing problems, are we prepared to deal with a situation ant worse than this? Clearly, we are not. And this is why a solution must be worked on immediately.

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