Opinion | ‘This is Hell’: Indian's gasp for breath. We seem to have learnt no lesson.
GURGAON: It was the morning of 5th November. The day after Diwali.
But it wasn’t quotidian. Waking up, I felt Congestion, unease and an acute difficulty in breathing. My eyes sored as I struggled with constant sneezing. By all means, the experience felt ominously close to what it would be, being exposed to a gas chamber.
It was exactly that.
The sight outside my bedroom window was numbing. The somber sunlight in a mild winter month as November was replaced by a thick layer of smog- a hazardous mixture combining several toxicants and fog, the vision was completely phased out and what went inside on inhaling was nothing less than poison. This rare phenomenon was now a reality inside a city that is often lauded as the 'Millennium' one.
Air quality Index till 50 is regarded as ‘safe’ and ‘good’. In my city alone, air quality recorded by officials that morning was 442. It was partly because of Firecrackers burnt so as to mark the festival and partly because of stubble burning in various agrarian states of the country, particularly in the north. Western Disturbances coming from the Himalayas only worsened the situation.
But this whole saga isn’t about how it happened, instead the systemic way by which we enabled it to happen. It was a state and citizen orchestrated cataclysm. And we are doomed as a nation.
Though bans were put in place on restricting the usage of crackers by the governments, implementation was a failure at large, as people were able to openly defy the law, burn crackers customarily and get away with it without facing any trial. Such sights were visible all around the National Capital Region. Their sale was just as common as any other component of the festivities. And while there was still a marginal regulation, firecrackers are within accessible reach rest year-round on several other occasions.
Every year stubble burning by the farmers in the nearby regions during the harvest season worsens the hitherto situation. This time it was no exception. According to SAFAR(System of Air Quality And Weather Forecasting and Research), stubble burning of agricultural land also contributed significantly to the PM 2.5 levels, peaking at 36%. Vehicle Exhaust is too one of the reasons among others.
“Farmers in Punjab and Haryana need to diversify from rice to other crops to save water and the environment,” said former Agriculture Secretary Siraj Hussain. The government should help them shift to crops that use less water, like soybeans, pulses and corn, compensating them for any loss in earnings “for two or three years,” said Hussain, a visiting senior fellow at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.
Researches by many institutions from across the globe, including one from the US-based research group Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), claims that India’s poor air quality could be reducing the life expectancy of its people by as much as 9 years. It has also been noted that almost 99% of Indian's breathe air that is above the WHO’s defined safety limits.
Even as politicians continue to shift the blame on one another, I am aware about how well the Indian citizen has been failed by the authorities at every local level, by neither leading the change nor allowing one.
Indians must also acknowledge that they are themselves to blame when they take pride in burning the most amount of crackers in their neighborhood or altogether disapprove of the basic fact that fireworks cause pollution in the first place.
As India veers towards a total environmental and ecological destruction, from plans of wiping out forests in Buxwaha in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India for Diamond mines to plans of fragmenting forests in the Western Ghats in Goa for Industrial projects, India's future lies on the cusp of a major inflection point. Floods in the state of Kerala this monsoon were a tragic reminder that India won't be spared by the perils of Climate Change.
And behind all of this, lies an ailing population who fears what's coming true- and what all is about to.
On the part of the governments, to their base, they can simply do no wrong.
It's the rest of India, and the world, that is left to count the cost.