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Tackling the emerging catastrophe

Delhi needs its people to bring about an undying spirit to change the dystopia that has become an annual predicament, slowly choking the city

Tackling the emerging catastrophe

Every day, everyone is made aware of Delhi's killer pollution. Be it in the papers, on TV channels, social media or at late night parties, this topic, about the air, is predominantly in the air, so to say. Be it while jogging in the park or taking the metro or driving to work, why even sitting at home or in the office, the inevitable sensation is that "this pollution is simply unbearable, it is killing". More seriously and worse still, the droves of foreigners who love Delhi are far more concerned - tourists are dwindling, business meetings are shifting to other (though inconvenient) venues and even diplomats have come to express their discomfort and indignation over the danger to their own (and the public's) health. In fact, a few days ago, a bunch of old, travel-weary European tourists were spotted, wearing masks and holding handkerchiefs over their sobbing eyes, pleading with the unending traffic in CP to stop so they could quickly shuffle across. Immediately upon seeing them, the fearful thought came flashing by: Is another Holocaust-like mass Gas Chamber readying itself in the Capital? Such is the magnitude of the danger on the anvil, not to mention the atrocious noise levels and the irreparable harm being done to the city's soil and water conditions.

What to do about this "killer" menace? Maybe, if it were a man-eating wild tigress, merciless "shoot-at-sight" orders could have been nonchalantly given, no matter how preposterous they might be! The blame-game for "reasons" of this pollution has seen so many come & go. Old-timers may recall if it was once the thermal power plants (which had to be shut down) then soon it was the public buses (replaced with the "world's largest CNG bus fleet") or else it was the innovative (though ineffective and irksome) "odd-even" scheme being ushered in. Nowadays, it is being attributed to the residual stubble burning by farmers in neighbouring States. Frankly, this is like the wolf in the Aesop's Fable drinking from the river upstream blaming the goat drinking downstream for dirtying the water. Thank God, at least the poor, gullible peasant has not been accused of causing the Tsunamis in Indonesia or the sad air crash there! The transparent fact is that year after year, there is now a clear move to seek newer "fall-guys", none of which has proven to lead to what could remotely be lasting solutions.

Yet, most remarkably, as if the pollution could be wished away by a tooth fairy or praying that it wasn't for real, life goes on. If not as usual before, but somehow each of us chooses to get along, the life-threatening pollution levels notwithstanding. There is no doubt, an increased clamour for "something needs to be done", so much so that the governments, experts, and whosoever else wants to, too set about "clearing the air". This post-mortem fire-fighting too, those of us who have been around in Delhi for long, know has come to be some kind of a seasonal ritual. It is now a regular feature of the annual calendar, just like Diwali or Dusshera. With a drab and monotonous punctuality, when the time of the year comes, the weatherman throws his hands up. The seatbelt sign goes on and just like the woollens used to invariably come out before the onset of winter, nowadays the in-thing is to don the ubiquitous mask. Leading public personalities are prominently on social media distributing these masks too, reminiscent of the good old days when old ladies visiting Rishikesh & Haridwar distributed blankets, ostensibly to seek redemption for their souls. Just like the Sadhus lapped up the blankets readily, many Delhiites pull on the mask too.

Pollution, but, will not be shooed away by pulling on more masks. The mask can be pulled on, no doubt, but more than the masks that need to be pulled "on", are the masks that need to be pulled "off". Delhi can no longer shy away and hide behind the several masks that have been adorning the city (and its residents) for so many years. The time has come to see, and accept wisely and dispassionately, the writing on the wall: Delhi is dying. The beautiful Delhi of the years gone by, our beloved "New" Delhi (as contrasted with its old walled self), reminiscent of a newly-wed Dulhan becoming doubled with age, is indeed dying. Taking into account the latest, added NCR monstrosities, a visitor may perhaps be forgiven to conclude that there is now only Delhi – old, older and oldest! Former Prime Minister, the Late Rajiv Gandhi, once made his (in)famous remark that "Kolkata is a dying city". This reinvigorated all Kolkata lovers to redouble their energies for its survival and re-dedicate themselves to an urban renewal in the city. As a result, things began to change, with results sooner than expected for all to see. This is what can save Delhi as well.

Tackling pollution, or for that matter conserving the environment, taking the issue on a larger canvas, is not a difficult task as is sometimes sought to be made out. As young students of chemical engineering, decades ago, memory recalls how environmental engineering used to be the favourite subject on the timetable. The reason for this was simple: there were no formulae, no tricky calculations or complicated designs, and to make matters simpler and even more user-friendly, the teacher himself rarely took classes! As the learned Prof would say: It is like CS (not Computer Science but Common Sense). This is what needs to be applied now, to clear the emerging catastrophe in Delhi.

Take, for instance, the presently most quoted reports, which are attributing Delhi's deteriorating air quality to 2 main quarters – particulate matter levels and gaseous content. Now, this is bewildering, because these are essentially inert substances, demonising them as pollutants is putting the shoe on the wrong foot. It wouldn't be a surprise if in the current name-changing spree all over the cow belt, even Nitrous oxide, sulphur and PM 2.5 were to get Asura namesakes! Imagine a Nitrasura, PM 2.5 & 10 could be Bhayankarasura Senior and Junior respectively and fly ash, of course, could be Bhasmasura! The fact is that these chemical substances are always in the air and it is the daily, incessant manmade activities, rather disasters, which turn them into so-called irritants by expelling more and more in the air. These are the real reasons, which need to be urgently addressed. Introspection is required from each person who owns or builds a property, owns or uses a vehicle, AC, fridge, etc. The list is endless. Even the most-often used deo, spews out such "agents" or reactants, ending up in "killing" Delhi.

The harsh truth is that instead of waiting for governments, their experts and scientists to bell the proverbial cat, tackling pollution has to start from the grassroots. Handling this, actually, can be better done by the people themselves, far easier and more effectively, for such a "killer" comes from within, not extraneously. A mass movement should be able to wipe it out. One such effort to do so has been initiated by Voluntary Initiative for Conserving the Environment (VOICE) in the Capital. Together, Delhi can do it, lest breathing lots begin to be auctioned like parking lots!

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

R. Sreenivasan

R. Sreenivasan

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