Millennium Post

Passive peril

Passive peril

In times of a pandemic, when all focus revolves around precaution and quarantine measures, air pollution might not fare as an important subject of discussion. At least not unless the AQI plunges to hazardous levels as it does during winters in New Delhi. Even so, a mere glance over new reports is harmless. The data compiled by the European Space Agency on nitrogen dioxide emissions between January 1 and March 11, using a 10-day moving average, shows a drop in the concentration of the pollutant over Italy, particularly the northern region, strikingly coinciding with the Covid-19 outbreak. NASA and ESA had observed a similar situation in China between January 1 and February 25. The observation points to drop in air pollution due to decreased vehicular movement and industrial activity which happen to be two of the prime polluters. The trend forces introspection over the impact that an unfortunate virus pandemic has made on our environment. It draws a relative picture of what forced curtailment offers against an expected one. Today when we stand forced to stay indoors, invariably avoiding fossil fuel combustion, the air is less polluted. Not that this information was unknown. But it has been heavily neglected. There is not an iota of doubt that despite air pollution and climate change, our modern-day society — that was shaped by the industrial revolution — has curtailed us in making honest attempts at mitigating these problems. How far can we say we have come when it comes to controlling air pollution. Even the leading countries have not kept their end of the deal in all honesty when it comes to the Paris Accord. Covid-19 is a mere reminder of what collective human action can offer, especially when in a war-footing mode.

To say that air pollution causes an estimated 4.2 million deaths annually, our concern for the same has not been up to the expected levels. Given the panic caused by the immediate threat of Covid-19, our relative calmness towards air pollution is deplorable. It presents the narrow outlook of considering problems seriously only when they become an immediate threat to life. A not-so-strong outlook towards active deterrents, therefore, facilitates laxity while allowing the problem to linger and grow. While it is clear that Delhi has an acute air pollution problem, the fact that the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) on Tuesday issued heavy fines (Rs 1 crore) to as many as 19 ongoing construction projects in the national capital for non-adherence to dust-control measures, effectively causing air pollution, underlines the viability of deterrence in place. In this case, a set of guidelines on dust control issued back in November of 2017 by the Central Pollution Control Board have been blatantly ignored, attracting fine. Now while we expect the fine to add weight to the deterrence, there is a fear of non-compliance that may only stretch to legal interventions and delayed punitive measures for offenders. In such a scenario, it is essential for the state to make laws that offer stern deterrence and invite heavy penalty, including imprisonment. While the nature of punishment may be deliberated and decided, the intention of deterrence cannot be compromised.

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