Diwali is a time of jubilation. It is a time when we run around the place in new clothes, boggling sweets and putting on weight. There’s smiles, laughter and if your Diwali is anything like it is in my house, then there is a pooja followed the narration of the Ramayana.
The concentration of PM2.5, tiny particulate pollution that can clog lungs, averaged close to 700 micrograms per cubic meter, 12 times the government norm and a massive 70 times the World Health Organisation standards.
But in Delhi, there’s the added Diwali bonus of foggy air, terrible smells and a constant burning sensation in your eyes and nose. Every year, Delhi gets an atmosphere full of polluted air as a Diwali gift from its loving and caring citizens. Take a look at this-
Taglines like “Air so dirty, you can taste it” are making the rounds in national newspapers. Who’s to blame?
Crackers. I don’t know who started this idea of bursting crackers for Diwali. Agreed, this was supposed to be a festival of lights, but that doesn’t mean you add lights that go Bang! and send a whole load of smoke in the air!
But crackers are only amplifying an already existing problem. The air in Delhi has always been a problem for it’s citizens since the 1980’s. This was why the Delhi govt. ordered the phase-out of all diesel-run public vehicles in 2002, and made it mandatory that public transport would run on CNG. This move, along with the reliable functioning of the Delhi Metro, brought us some relief, but that relief was short-lived.
The number of vehicles in Delhi are so many that if you put them end-to-end, the resulting length would be thrice as long as the Nile River. You cannot begin to imagine how much of particulate matter and toxic gases are released into the atmosphere because of this. Earlier this year, the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, heralded the Odd-Even system to help reduce the air pollution in Delhi. Unfortunately, the implementation was not strong enough for it to make any major difference (but it did reduce traffic congestion massively).
Generally, the polluted air of Delhi is swept away by the strong winds this air experiences. That is why this topic never comes up in the summers. But come winter, and the story changes. Cold air is heavy and it sinks. If there is no wind on top of this, then all the polluted air will just settle down into the streets of the city. The pollution levels in many parts of the city as of today are 70 times higher than the safe level described by WHO! This is only going to get worse in the next two months. Seriously, bring out the masks.
Another problem that contributes to the blanket of polluted air not just over Delhi, but the entire North India is are the farmers of Punjab. This is the time to change crops. The harvest from earlier in the year leaves a lot of stubble in the land, which needs to be removed before the new crop is sown. But instead of tilling the land, the farmers simply burn the stubble. That adds a huge amount of smoke into the air, which settles down due to the winter. This year, the CM of Delhi had requested the Punjab Govt. to ask farmers to manually remove the stubble. But the farmers have a problem of their own; after a weak rice crop earlier in the year, they simply do not have the money or the time to waste on hiring labor to remove the stubble. The result? More dirty air.
What are the solutions?
For a problem so grave, the solution is actually quite simple! If we could try to use public transport more, walk more and car pool, a huge load will be released from the atmosphere. Better support to our farmers to practice environmentally safe methods of agriculture is not asking too much. How much money will it take to sponsor tractors to remove stubble from lands? Not something we cannot manage.
Another, bigger step that we can take specifically in this time of the year is to not burn crackers. Now, not everyone will have the motivation or the sense to do this on their own, so let’s go ahead and ban crackers. If you are a Delhiite, you must sign this petition. If you are an India, I strongly recommend that you sign it, for this will one day apply to you too. If you are not an Indian or living in India, still, I request you to sign this. It will go a long way in sending the right message to the world. A message that says we reject the ideas the capitalists throw at us, a message that says we want clean air to breathe.
According to reports, the respiratory system of 7 year old children in Delhi resembles that of 70 year-olds.
Let these kids get a chance to live and breathe the way nature intended, not the way we have made them breathe. By this time next year, if the govt. bans or even comes down heavily on the crackers industry, we will have won. Meanwhile, continue to do the small things that will prevent the air from becoming polluted, anywhere you live!
P.S- While you’re at it, you can sign this petition as well. It’s also a petition asking for stronger laws tackling pollution in the city. Every person counts! The more pressure we put on the govt., the faster we will see results.