Delhi Smog: What can we do collectively?

While this month the talk of the town has been Delhi’s thick blanket of smog, the pollution levels are still way above the safe limit. Though the horrendous air quality has caused a lot of distress in terms of canceled flights and low visibility, the long-term effects on the overall health of individuals have been far more significant. The sight of red-eyed Delhiites walking through a haze of pollution before the onset of winters has become a recurring event for the past couple of years, with authorities spurring into action only after the air quality has degraded to a level that’s made something as essential as breathing a difficult task.

The hospitals are filling up with people suffering from respiratory ailments, medical shops are selling out of respirator masks, retail stores are cashing in on-air purifiers and those who can afford to are even leaving the city for a brief period. However, it is the people who can’t afford these luxuries that are having to pay the highest price with no option but to work in a toxic atmosphere. Daily wage laborers, Hawkers, Drivers, Construction workers, Street vendors among many others are exposed to this air each day and have no option but to stay indoors. The purchase of air purifiers, nebulizers, and respirator masks continue to be a luxury that is affordable only to the middle class and the affluent leaving the lower segments of the society with no option but to breathe in toxic air. While short term solutions like odd-even vehicle control and spraying the streets with water to settle the pollutants shouldn’t be disregarded, it is pivotal to have a long-term approach to this problem as it is undeniably a result of inconsiderate over the years.  There is no short-term solution for a problem that plagues the city annually and while short term solutions might help, it is only more holistic solutions that will make a lasting impact. While lack of a political will has been a major factor that has allowed the things to get out of hands, the lack of effective action on the part of citizens to hold the government and authorities accountable is also a major contributor.

While Delhi government is being blamed for having a budget of 787 crores allotted for the green fund and not utilizing it properly, the Punjab and Haryana governments are being targeted for not being able to curb the menace of stubble burning each year as well as the Centre for not being able to implement a centralized approach, the fact remains that we are all to be blamed. While the authorities do have considerable control over the change of policies, one question that also targets the citizens is – are we open these policy changes that impact our daily routines? If the government does improve public transport – how many of us are willing to ditch our cars to travel to work? When the supreme court banned the sale of crackers right before Diwali, a huge segment of the population was unhappy with the decision despite knowing the detrimental effects of the burning of crackers. The odd-even policy implemented last year also wasn’t taken very well initially, though only after it was implemented that the people realized carpooling and taking public transport isn’t extremely difficult. Carpooling Apps and taxi aggregators filled in the lacunae by introducing their carpooling features, something that Delhiites still follow due to its cost-effectiveness and convenience.  

While it is important for different governmental bodies to work together to curb this monumental problem, it is equally imperative for citizens to recognize the impact that their everyday activities have on the environment and work towards minimizing their carbon footprint. We should also be careful when we make purchases that could harm the environment. Everyone is quick to point fingers at the producers of commodities that are contributing to the pollution levels, but isn’t the consumer also to be blamed? Many of our appliances at homes and offices also have a detrimental effect on the environment and we should always make well-informed choices that have the least negative impact on the environment. Since the combustion fumes are largely produced in manufacturing units and factories, minimizing our consumption of goods that are produced thereby leading a more informed life will also help in the long run.

Recycling is often an underestimated solution but if done correctly by a large proportion of the population, it can be one of the best and easiest ways to minimize consumption and consequently minimizing the production. Planting of Vertical gardens is another innovative solution that can curb outdoor pollution. Several plants have also been scientifically proven to have t to absorb pollution. These plants can be planted in rows in a vertical garden which requires minimal space and can easily be incorporated in offices, public spaces as well as homes/apartments. The Supreme Court has already banned PET coke and furnace oils in Delhi and the neighboring states. The Delhi Government is currently evaluating investing in Electric Vehicles for public transport. The concern regarding stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana can only be curbed by compensating the farmers to adopt environment-friendly practices and educating them about the benefits of mechanization. To ensure that our city remains a safe and pleasant place to live, every single citizen must take ownership and responsibility for our actions. It is vital that every individual makes lifestyle changes, better choices, informed decisions and works towards creating a pollution-free Delhi by reviewing and analyzing the impact of our daily activities.

Furthermore, there should be stricter laws and policies that are environment friendly, adoption of updated technology in the agricultural sectors, large scale monitoring of factories, manufacturing units, and construction sites by the authorities and innovative ways to curb air pollution be sought by collaborative efforts of experts in all fields. The citizens must be aware of their impact on the environment while holding the government and authorities responsible and accountable for the air that we breathe in. 

Final Words: “It is only through the combined efforts of the lawmakers, implementers, and citizens that we can make sure Delhi is not a global news spectacle for its deadly smog.”