Every Diwali, a billion people in India wake up to the news of smog-ridden cities in the aftermath of celebratory fireworks. And much like the hangover after a night of drinking, we promise ourselves, never again!; that moderation will be the key next time around!, etc. Yet, we once again find ourselves in a similar (if worse) situation. And in 2016 again, a year after three infants challenged the Supreme Court to curb air pollution from firecrackers (one of the families has since migrated away from Delhi), we are faced with yet another hangover.
For the first time, more than 1,800 schools have been closed in the national capital region in response to highlevels originating from a complex mix of emissions: from the Diwali fireworks burning, stubble burning in Indo-Gangetic states, wintertime meteorological changes and the ever-present urban emissions (vehicles, cooking, lighting, waste burning, industries and power plants). Starting with a bang during Diwali, the situation usually deteriorates till the height of winter.
The question that usually follows is what we can do now. The short answer: literally nothing. Perhaps stay indoors with air filters (for those who can afford them) or, better yet, vote with your feet and move away. There is nothing that one can do in two or three weeks short of clamping down on every industry and power plant, banning vehicles from all streets and avoiding all fires for burning – for warmth or to rid of waste.
That said, there are in fact measures that we can take over a medium to longer time-frame, especially if done with thought and sincerity, and that could begin to have an impact before Diwali in 2017. An earlier article spoke about the myths and the myopia of policymakers. Now, let’s take the long view, exemplified by the question: what is it that we can do to really make a difference in the coming years? These are real solutions that are not gimmicks and some of them are straightforward (which should not be confused for easy) and, more importantly, need some time to manifest their results over subsequent months and years. It is a basic human right to breathe clean air, so let’s discuss where we can start.
1. Public transportation has to improve
2. Support cycling and biking
3. Link parking fees with the air quality index
4. Pave and maintain the roads
5. Use cleaner fuel in all vehicles
6. Improve garbage collection
7. The city needs heating solutions
8. Adoption of cleaner technology for industries
9. A no-cracker Diwali
10. Find a solution for stubble burning
11. Clean power generation
12. Enforce construction debris norms
13. Address governance issues