Murky memories of 2017
As we bring this year to a close, there is much to introspect and much more to radically alter in our everyday activities. Taking centre stage, among the many catastrophes that have impinged upon ordinary life, is the massive trouble of pollution, at large, and air pollution, in particular, that is plaguing our cities today. In 2007, the pollution prevalent in 60 per cent of the cities in our country had been classified as critical, the absence of timely mitigative measures implemented with efficiency has led us to this—today, we are battling a situation where 88 per cent of our cities have a critical pollution level, with North India, particularly the National Capital Region and major cities of Uttar Pradesh witnessing the worst levels of particulate matter dispersed in the air. The harmful particulate matter has a lethal impact on our bodies, it hampers our lungs leading to breathing difficulties, or in the long-run, even chronic cardiovascular diseases. For new-born children, studies show now, besides affecting the respiratory system it is also compromising upon the nervous and immune systems leading to mental health illness and a compromised immunity that succumbs at the first onset of disease. Despite the Supreme Court imposing a ban on crackers across Delhi, the pollution levels through November continued to choke the air in the capital, asphyxiating citizens and presenting AQI levels that overshot the desired tier by miles. The Sri Lankan cricket team that played a test series in India, were left with their players choking and backing out of the field due to extreme nausea. Hospitals this time around are battling exigencies of pneumonia and compromised lung among the elderly in more concentrated numbers than before. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana continue to practice rampant residue burning as the government has been ineffective in providing an alternative that would match their income levels and prevent the problem of noxious air suffocating the environment. The farmers are left with little option as the time gap between the end of one season and the beginning of another leaves them with scant time to adopt intensive alternatives that are anyway detrimental to both economic resources and time. Though the Delhi government continues to blame the farmers of the north, it must come about to realising that alternatives remain absent. The locked horns between the AAP in Delhi and the Central government has further aggravated Delhi's problem. With either preferring to blame the other prior to complementing efforts and reaching a crucial solution, Delhi is caught in a dead-end which is showing no signs of immediate respite. The upper house of the Parliament on Thursday engaged extensively on this looming concern of pollution. The most detrimental aspect is possibly this, Delhiites have become so dangerously acclimatised to the troubles of the air that the danger has permeated their sensibilities. Even though the end of December continues to present heightened levels of particulate matter dispersed in the air, the impendency of the problem has been sharply reduced. Despite the Supreme Court emphasising on the urgency of the problem and necessitating sharp orders for the governments at the Centre and the states, there continues to be a lapse in coordination between the different stakeholders who govern our country. In a bit to appear hostile to the enemy and showcase individual strength ahead of the opposition's—every party which assumes power in India compromises upon policymaking with effective coordination, always favouring the battle to outdo the opposition ahead of the idea of collaborative decision making. The Centre blames the AAP and the AAP blames the Congress in Punjab who will go on to again blame the Centre—the cycle is vicious, unending and only detrimental to finding a solution. A control on rapid urbanisation projects and containment of vehicular pollution must also be deliberated upon by the respective authorities. The dismal condition of public transport in India compels the affluent to afford cars for their daily commute. There is a pervading mentality that reserves public transport for the less affluent and private vehicles thereby also assume symbols of privileged conditioning. These meaningless binaries can only be dismantled when our public transport system is uplifted without digging a hole in the citizen's pocket—we must continue to remember that over 23 per cent of our population does sustain below the poverty level. With the 2019 Lok Sabha elections now only a year away, there is little possibility that all members of the Parliament will collaborate to form a consensus and battle climate change and pollution that has today infected our planet with a lethal virus. Only when the parties and leaders of our country set aside personal and political agendas to serve the nation ahead of individual ideology, will India progress to provide its citizens a dignified life. Abysmal air, ineffective policy-making and rampant corruption have compromised on the idea of the world's greatest democracy.