Delhi: the most polluted capital city in the world

According to a report from IQ Air ( a Swiss air quality technology company), India’s capital  Delhi remained the most polluted capital city in the world. Though, as per the World Air Quality Report, 2020, Delhi’s air quality improved by around 15 per cent between 2019 and 2020, there is not much to cheer about. For, the breather is largely attributable to the pandemic-induced lockdown when most poisonous fumes-emitting activities — resulting in industrial discharge, vehicular emission and construction dust — came to a halt. As these buzzed back to life gradually, so did the smog starts engulfing the city. Incidentally, going by the number of premature deaths due to air pollution (seven million per year), it is more hazardous to health than Covid-19. In Delhi alone, particle pollution claimed nearly 54,000 lives in 2020. The concern is compounded as reports suggest that 7-33 per cent of the Covid deaths are linked to exposure to polluted air. Surely, it necessitates action on a war footing.
In India, 1.7 million deaths were attributable to air pollution in 2019, which was 18 per cent of the total deaths in the country, while economic loss due to the lost output from premature deaths and morbidity from air pollution was 1.4 per cent of the GDP in India during this time, which is equivalent to Rs 260,000 crores ($36.8 billion). This is as per scientific paper titles “ Health and economic impact of air pollution in the states of India: Global Burden of Disease Study 2019”. Green laws have been toughened over the years amid grand declarations and designs to deal with the alarming problem. But the continued poor ambience, unfortunately, reflects a lack of honest and steely determination to make Delhi free of impurities. Notwithstanding the frequent warnings, raps and rebukes by both the high court and the Supreme Court, as also the green tribunals in the matter, the system has betrayed stubborn impunity while implementing the rules framed for reducing air impurities.
India could soon have a single law governing air, water, and environment-related activities. The TSR Subramaniam Committee, which was set up in 2014, proposed a new model umbrella law, Environment Law (Management Act) or ELMA, incorporating the concept of “utmost good faith” where applicants of environment or forest clearance are responsible for their statements.
This self-certification on the environmental impact of a project is untenable because the company may not know the impact or choose not to reveal it. While the implementation of green laws has been weak, the proposed dilution of the precautionary principle is even more unfair to victims of pollution. The government must ensure a transparent and collaborative effort for framing a new law, which puts the environment and people at the forefront.

- -Prabhakar Purandare

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