In cities with clean air, cycling benefits health. However, in polluted areas like Delhi, it is not recommended due to higher exposure to harmful toxins. Delhi's unhealthy air quality has gained attention, causing individuals to refrain from cycling and engaging in intense outdoor activities. Although there has been a slight improvement, Delhi experienced severe pollution for five consecutive days in the past. While some wealthy individuals have resorted to air purifiers and air-conditioned cars to evade pollution, not everyone has access to such options.
Various measures have been implemented in response, including school closures and restrictions on construction and non-essential trucks. Dust control is being carried out through the use of water sprinklers, and doctors advise wearing masks and minimizing outdoor exposure. Furthermore, the "odd-even" car rules, which limit the number of cars on the road based on license plate numbers, will be reintroduced after Diwali.
The discourse surrounding air pollution in India may appear repetitive and dismal. It is crucial to consider official statements along with the perspectives of scientists, experts, and citizens. Despite mounting scientific evidence, the health consequences of polluted air are not being adequately addressed. A scientific paper identified air pollution as the cause of 1.7 million deaths in India in 2019, constituting 18% of all deaths in the country. Deaths related to outdoor air pollution have risen by 115% from 1990 to 2019, while those caused by household air pollution have decreased.
Prioritizing health should be the focus when tackling air pollution, as current strategies fall short in addressing its health impacts. Temporary solutions like smog towers and water spraying offer momentary relief but do not solve India's smog problem. The conversation on air pollution in India tends to revolve primarily around winter and Delhi, disregarding the situation throughout the year and in smaller cities. Other cities, like Fatehabad and Mumbai, also grapple with significant air pollution concerns.During the winter season in India, pollution poses a significant problem. However, Krishna argues that addressing air pollution should not be limited to just this time of year. Instead, the issue needs to be tackled comprehensively throughout the entire year. Numerous factors contribute to the polluted air in many parts of the country, including construction activities, vehicle emissions, burning of crop residue, and industrial discharges. It is vital to consider all these factors rather than focusing on just a few.
Krishna raises a valid point questioning why the conversation around air pollution often fails to adequately address power plants, which play a significant role in causing air pollution. A recent study uncovered that only a small percentage of coal-fired power stations in India have implemented systems to control sulphur dioxide emissions. Furthermore, there is a need to discuss and improve regulations, as the existing guidelines for emissions lack effective enforcement. Additionally, the lack of detailed local data on the health effects of air pollution, particularly regarding respiratory infections, is a concerning oversight.
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the National Clean Air Programme was launched in 2019 with the objective of reducing PM2.5 levels in cities by 20-30% by 2024. Nonetheless, progress has been sluggish, with only a few cities completing their initial studies and making the findings accessible to the public. Furthermore, the development of city action plans and the National Emission Inventory remains incomplete. To achieve the goals set for 2024, the establishment of more air quality monitoring stations is imperative.
While it may be a formidable endeavor, preventing health issues caused by air pollution is conceivable if there is a genuine commitment to addressing the problem on a nationwide scale throughout the year.