Kejriwal said that the Yudh Pradushan ke Virudh campaign to fight air pollution in Delhi would provide separate and specific plans for thirteen identified air pollution hotspots. The announcement came against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Kejriwal said could prove “life-threatening.”
The Chief Minister said “polluted air can be life threatening in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Both [the] affect lungs.” Kejriwal said the state government is convening a “war room” to tackle the problem of air pollution. His administration’s response includes an app for a “Green Delhi” through which, he said, “people can bring pollution causing activities, such as garbage burning or industrial pollution, to our notice. There will be a deadline to address complaints. I will get a daily report about resolved and pending grievances.”
Air pollution in Delhi is a major public health concern. Indeed, impaired air quality as a consequence of pollution is an issue India faces at large. Earlier this year, it was reported by Health Issues India that “India ranks among the three countries hardest-hit by air pollution in fiscal terms, the others being mainland China and the United States. India loses US$150 billion to air pollution, according to the report, while mainland China loses US$900 billion and the United States loses US$600 billion.”
That is just in fiscal terms. The health effects are manifold. As I wrote at the time
“Health Issues India has reported at length concerning the manifold health effects of exposure to toxic air, as is the daily reality for denizens of many of India’s cities. In fact, India is home to seven of the ten most polluted cities in the world and has regularly grabbed headlines over the situ in its metros – Delhi perhaps being the most notable example. Last year, air quality in the national capital deteriorated to such an extent that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal likened the city to a “gas chamber.” That was not the first time that such a comparison has been made.”
Kejriwal, in his war cry against air pollution in Delhi this year, spotlighted stubble burning. As Health Issues India reported last year, “every year, India’s paddy field farmers burn seven to eight million metric tonnes of crop waste…Delhi is perhaps the most notable casualty of this. 2017 saw a public health emergency declared in Delhi as pollution levels skyrocketed, forcing school closures and leading Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to equate the national capital with a ‘gas chamber’. Last year, as the crop burning season approached, Delhiites braced themselves for a similar calamity.”
The Chief Minister said “scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute here have found an economical way to deal with the problem. They have prepared a solution which can turn stubble into manure.” He added “we are going to prepare this solution at a large scale from Tuesday under the supervision of experts from the institute. This solution will be used in Delhi this year. Next year, we will urge other states to use it.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution has been a concern some have felt to have been ameliorated. “Though it seems morbid to identify a silver lining of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the pandemic has shone a light on the impacts of human activity on air pollution,” Parry wrote in March. “Many of India’s cities — identified as being among the most polluted in the world — now sport clear views…residents of New Delhi are experiencing the longest period of clean air on record, according to Government data.
“The limitations on work and travel put in place by the quarantine has significantly limited the use of cars and motor vehicles, as well as limited the impact of industry and factories across India. The result has been clear skies, a rare occurrence in India’s polluted cities.”
Yet pollution will not go away. For areas of the country as hard-hit as Delhi, the threat is palpable – and existentialist. The Delhi government’s stand against air pollution is undoubtedly a necessary one.