Challenge to breathe easy!
Like a scene from the climax of an apocalypse, the roads are almost deserted, the air—a thick grey cloak, objects beyond ten meters barely visible and each breath a struggling effort to clasp the last threads of life. This isn't post-war Japan or bomb-torn Syria, it is the heart of our very India, romanticised by green pastures and refreshing mountains. None of this imagery seems to hold any truth in the eyes of the present. 2016 had been an abysmal year in terms of air pollution. Last November had presented a new, massive challenge to the citizens of NCR—a challenge to breathe, cautiously. This year, with the Supreme Court order against the prolific use of firecrackers, citizens had breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that the nauseating memory of the past year will not repeat itself in 2017. Yet, all efforts proved to be insufficient as Delhi woke up on Tuesday and Wednesday to the harsh memories of just the previous year. Reminding everybody, once again, that pollution is a reality that cannot be controlled by temporary measures, it demands a policy upheaval. It is endemic to our society, while its extent and reach make it almost an epidemic now. The air quality index (AQI), which measures the concentration of harmful particles present in the air, touched a high of 451, where the maximum reading of the scale is 500 and anything above 100 is considered to be detrimental to human health. As Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal coined, Delhi has become a 'gas chamber' that is indiscriminately suffocating all its residents. Addressing the emergency situation, all schools were called off and the deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia went on to advise people against taking their routine morning walk or sending children for outdoor activities. In a first, good health was advisable by avoiding exercise and walks, as the air was deemed unhealthy for inhaling beyond limited spans of time. Each year, we encounter this dismal problem of air pollution which settles as a thick cloud of smog on the national capital. The fog of the incoming winters along with smoke ushered in from crop burning in the neighbouring districts of Punjab and Haryana spell out ill news for the national capital, which faces the brunt of severe air pollution. A walk in the streets of Delhi, right now, is a challenge. The air is nauseating, the cloak of pollution is dense and potentially threatening. The prevalence of poisonous particles in the air was measured to be at a level which far supersedes permissible limits. In fact, the condition is severe enough for the Indian Medical Association to announce that situations correspond to a public health emergency—specifically for the vulnerable category of children and senior citizens. The Central Pollution control Board emphasised that a dense cloud of smoke-filled air from Punjab and Haryana along with moisture cloaked winds of the Eastern region had contributed to aggravating conditions in the national capital region. Wednesday morning provided no relief as the city woke up to an even denser cloak of smog. The low levels of visibility have led to several accidents on the Noida Expressway, with cars ramming into one another in a domino effect. The air causes serious threats to life as it worsens conditions of asthma and can give rise to heart ailments and strokes. The particulate matter in the air can be absorbed by our lungs allowing it to make its way through our blood circulation, eventually paralysing our entire metabolic system. The problem persists because the governments of Punjab, Haryana and even Rajasthan have failed to curb the practice of crop stubble burning, which has been banned by the NGT as a devastatingly harmful practice. Punjab is offering a $1 million reward for an effective solution the problem, however, the farmers of Punjab have insisted that the government provide enough compensation for them to opt for other methods that would replace this harmful practice. As alternatives are expensive the farmers demand subsidies that would put in place a stubble removing machinery. In Bathinda farmers' have been encouraged to reuse the stubble as compost for future farming—similar measures could be adopted across Punjab. Yet, as usual, the state governments have displayed a lack of initiative in effectively tackling this problem that threatens the well-being of over 21 million people living in the national capital region. One has to breathe the Delhi air to literally realise how living can become the greatest challenge. It is way past time that the governments of Punjab and Haryana buckle up to ensure that the simple act of breathing can be reduced from becoming an everyday challenge.