“The government is thinking about the economic growth of the country, but people are dying of diseases or suffering from diseases. How can you grow economically when, within your country, your citizens are facing economic problems because of the air pollution?”
These words of a New Delhi resident who has never smoked a cigarette in her entire life but is today suffering from lung cancer, resounds in the heart. Afflicted by cancer due to air pollution, this is not a lone case; so many of the Indian population is today a victim of the very development and progress which has earned India the tag of being the fastest growing economy in the world. Sadly, just as it has pushed China to number two in economic growth, even in toxic air quality, India ranks number one is the world, second being China.
There is a big difference here though – the moment China started getting global attention for the poor quality of its air, it took drastic steps to cut this down, some of it at the cost of economic growth. In India, we continue to play politics over this toxic air quality, with no solution in sight. Year after year, as winter approaches, the same old debates on TV, the same questions in newspaper editorials; nothing has changed. No solutions.
India is today home to 10 of the most polluted cities in the world, yet, unlike China we are not worried at all. We continue with our rampant, mindless growth, leaving the teeming population in a cloud of dust as new construction sites continue working at break neck speed and choke on the exhaust from the millions of cars.
Crop burning and fire crackers are the usual suspects named – we even know what causes this; yet we are not able to control it. In China, when alarm bells were sounded, literally, when the air quality became very toxic, China took things seriously and made efforts to shift to less polluting services and consumption, the levels of dangerous particles in the air called PM2.5 came down to 20 days in 2017 from 43 in 2015. In New Delhi, it has risen from 66 in 2015 to 84 in 2017.
Obviously, using the odd-even car strategy alone is not working. Solar power and cooking gas are like putting band-aid on an amputated arm. When will we see the official launch of the National Clean Air Plan with real targets?
Permanent solutions are needed. There has to be a law for mandatory recycling of construction waste. There has to be an alternate to burning agro waste. Cars alone are not the culprit – it is the fuel used and quality of car engine which causes the damage.
- Impose a congestion charge - extra fees for rush-hour drivers.
- Corporate India can join hands with Govt – introduce flexi hours to minimize traffic at peak hours, take steps to create awareness.
- Make the public transportation stronger and more convenient to use – like the MRT of Singapore or the Tube in London.
- Build more freeways so that traffic can move away from the city, especially for trucks.
- Yes, it might not sound auto-friendly but we need to make owning a car more expensive – both in terms of registration as well as cost – just like in Singapore.
- Parking should be exorbitantly costly – people will automatically use public transport.
We need to change the way we live and think or else one day, we all will not be able to breathe at all – Mumbai and the rest of India….are you hearing the warning bells?