(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
India’s capital Delhi is gasping for breath and the fact that schools have been shut, flights diverted, construction work halted and public health emergency declared should tell a thing or two about the dire air-pollution blanketing world’s second most populous city of 30 million people.
Man and nature outdo each other every winter in producing a gas chamber which irreversibly damages the lungs of millions of children and makes air-pollution the fifth biggest killer of all–bigger than diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and malnutrition.
The megalopolis lies lower than its surrounding areas which has dust blown in from the deserts (Rajasthan) and smoke from burning farms (Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab) that remains trapped due to stagnant air of cold winter. Tens of thousands of industries on its periphery, snarling trucks with construction materials which inject dust in air and at least 10 million vehicles on its artery of roads further choke the lungs of its residents.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi registered a high of 484 this week which is in severe category, way above the 0-100 considered “good” and “satisfactory”. Half of this problem is due to stubble burning of crops in neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Yet, twice as trickier is the solution than the problem would appear at first sight.
Every year, after the paddy harvest, farmers are left with stubble which has grown progressively stubborn over the years due to increased use of pesticides and fertilizers. It doesn’t interest cattle. It blunts the cutting instruments. Pulling it out is time and money-consuming. Transporting it further involves expense. With a fresh crop season beckoning, farmers opt for burning the stubble as an easy way out.
India is a federal nation and states and Centre often run at cross-purpose to each other. They haven’t found a way to incentivize the farmers to pull out the stubble and transport it, say to private power producers who in turn could be incentivized to use the stubble and its valuable biomass fuel into renewable electricity. Big players have already invested $42 billion in India’s renewable energy sector since 2014 and could lap up to this opportunity which would end the stubble menace. Thailand took a similar route to tackle rice husk issue and overcame it in five years.
One of the measures being tried by Delhi government presently is odd-even scheme for cars which is odd-numbered cars run on odd dates and even-numbered vehicles on even dates. However, since vehicles measure up to only 2% of the problem, this at best is a band-aid to what is a badly-infected body.
To be sure, Delhi isn’t the only Indian city grappling with clean air issue. Indeed, 22 of world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. Population is one issue which makes India’s cities highly congested and reduce traffic to a crawl, filling the air with toxic smoke. Nearly 100 million Indians still use fuelwood and biomass cakes for cooking and general heating needs which World Health Organization (WHO) reckons leads to death of 400,000 people each year due to indoor carbon monoxide poisoning. India burns ten times more fuelwood every year than the United States. Most Indian cab drivers use adulterated fuel blends of gasoline and diesel to reduce their gas expenses but at a great cost to environment. India, lest we forget, is also the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind China and the United States.
India has woken up late to air-pollution but frankly so did the world–only around the turn of the 21st century. Humanity lived with bad air for centuries before realizing that air pollution is causing unimaginable health disasters. Today it accounts for one in nine deaths worldwide. It kills 7 million people a year, more than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Every single city in Middle East and Africa exceeds the WHO markers as does 99% of South Asian cities and 89% in East Asia. Even in Europe it accounts for 500,000 deaths per year.
In India, the air pollution act was passed in 1981. Since then India has formed its own National Air Quality Index. This year it has launched the National Clean Air Programme with 20-30 per cent pollution reduction target by 2024. This plan is specifically meant for 102 cities which are considered to have worse air quality than the national standards. After all, life can’t do without breathing.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Pollution in Delhi will be a toxic matter in the assembly elections in next few months. The Capital turns into a toxic gas chamber in winter primarily due to crop stubble burning in north India as polluted air hangs overhead on a surface which is lower than the adjoining regions. Crowded streets with vehicles don’t help as do the open trucks carrying construction materials and blowing dust particles around.
The cost of pollution in the Capital is no longer a secret. The air quality of Delhi and NCR is among the very worst which World Health Organization (WHO) found in its survey of 1600 cities. Air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India costing 1.5 million lives every year. In Delhi, poor air quality damages the lungs of 50 percent or 2.2 million children.
So when the air quality improved by 25 per cent there was no way Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was going to let go his moment. Every newspaper you flip open you see a full-page ad with Kejriwal in his benign-est smile; like a wolf who has the best of manners before it pounces. Kejriwal is thumping his chest by claiming it’s been due to 24×7 electricity supply which has reduced the usage of generators and heavy fines which he has imposed on construction sites in violation of dust control norms. He has another ace of odd-even scheme for cars next month to make profit of.
Of course Mr Kejriwal is not honest enough to admit the air improvement has largely been due to Delhi’s wind blowing in easterly direction. All this is set to change next week when the wind would start blowing north-westernly. This would bring in the dusty air to the Capital region. Stubble-burning would then bring its weight to bear on Delhi NCR. That the monsoon is still in a retreating mode had also considerably cleared the Capital air. But then monsoon is not here forever—it would go in next few days.
This is not the only noise Kejriwal has made on the pollution front. He has launched an online campaign where he is asking residents to chip in with their suggestions to reduce pollution in the Capital. This is participatory governance, like the one he did in his first term as Delhi chief minister by severing the arrangement with Congress. Then too he had apparently acted on people’s express opinion. Much has flown down the dirty Yamuna in the last few years though.
The regulatory bodies for pollution, like the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA), unfortunately for Kejriwal, are putting out facts as they are. It has told the Delhi administration that 13 hotspots in the Capital need “immediate” attention. Open waste burning and industrial pollution have been identified as two unattended issues. Delhi administration in response has promised it would soon have camera-fitted drones to monitor instances of garbage burning and indusrial emissions in the city. But then promises come easy to politicians.The 13 “dangerous” hotspots for immediate action in the Capital have been identified: It’s Okhla, Narela, Mundka, Dwarka, Punjabi Bagh, Bawana, Wazirpur, Rohini, Vivek Vihar, Anand Vihar, RK Puram, Ashok Vihar and Jahangirpuri.
The truth is Delhi would soon gasp for breath. These advertisements featuring Kejriwal in his best pose would soon disappear. The residents would look for their own options: have masks on face, stay indoors or worse, bring it on. Every year we hear the same noise on crop stubble burning and nothing happens.. There are no plans to educate the masses on their responsibility. All we have is a chameleon of a chief minister beaming at us in the newspapers, claiming credit for 25 per cent reduction in air pollution when the real menace hasn’t even set in. We all have been fooled once by his rehearsed “innocence”, let us not be suckers again.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
If you were to ask the majority of this country if they want “One Nation, One Poll” the answer would be an overwhelming yes.
People might not have the figures–Rs 6,000 crores on exchequer alone in recent Lok Sabha Polls and many times more by parties and candidates; Or the numbers on manpower—one assembly seat in Lucknow alone has over 300 polling booths and engages 2000 men on polling day; Or the imagination to guess how many lakhs of police, para-military forces, bureaucracy are pressed into service. Yet, they can sense a gap in their daily lives like a drawn tooth.
The erudites amongst us offer debating points we exhale in the musty air of a bar amidst gathered gentry. So Akhilesh Mishra tells us in Indian Express how it affects Rajya Sabha; how parties can make outlandish promises (Like Arvind Kejriwal on free Metro for women); how at least 15 state elections anyway fall more within a year either side of a Lok Sabha poll.
So what’s the problem?
The likes of Congress, TMC, BSP, SP, AAP, DMK, RJD, AIMIM etc sure have a problem for they stayed away from the all-party meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon on Wednesday. They saw it as an attack on the Constitution, the “federal” character of our set-up; and blurring the local and national issues which could affect a voter’s judgment.
All this is humbug. Indian voters know how to choose in a state or in a Lok Sabha elections. Constitution is for people of India and any measure which is good for them, must come into force. Such Constitutional changes could be made between ad breaks on television. IT TAKES NOTHING. As for the scaremongering on President’s Rule by stealth; what-if-government-in-Centre falls, these are easily fixable issues: E.g get the no-confidence-motion out of the way at the start of a new Parliament. And if I may ask how it has helped democracy when sworn enemies—Congress and JD (S)—joined hands only to usurp Karnataka last year?
The reason likes of BSP or SP, Congress or RJD, TMC or DMK or AIMIM don’t want “One Nation, One Poll” is caste and religion. With national issues delinked, the ones of dalits vs suvarans (upper caste); Muslims vs Hindus; Tamil or Bengali asmita easily gain currency. Narrow parochial issues keep these parties relevant. The faces of Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Asaduddin Owaisi remain in circulation. The nation loses its steam on the tracks of targeted growth.
Just recall the incidents or speeches which happen around state polls. In Delhi, it was fake attack on churches in 2015, Una incident in Gujarat, Bheema Koregaon in Maharashtra: All were intended to sharpen the caste and religious divide. “Ramzaade” vs “haraamzaade” speeches surface. Quota politics come into play. What room is there left to discuss developmental issues threadbare?
In a paper to Niti Aayog last year, Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai offered an easy way out to the cacophony of whether state assemblies could be dramatically reduced or enlarged so as it coincides with the Lok Sabha polls. They pointed out that 15 state elections anyway fall in and around Lok Sabha dates. The remaining states could be bunched together around the mid-way mark of a Lok Sabha term. So, one Lok Sabha elections and two for state assemblies in a span of five years, is the way forward.
It’s not to say the road ahead is easy. For, there is also this matter of panchayat elections and its 30 lakh representatives. The matter of getting all political parties aboard.
But then so was the issue with GST. It’s a reality now. There are examples galore around the world where simultaneous elections are held, including in US where a voter not only chooses his President but also 20 different representatives on a single ballot. Sweden has one election and so is the case with South Africa.
The fact is, in early years of Republic of India, elections were held simultaneously in 1951, 1957, 1962 and 1967. It fell into abeyance because assemblies began getting dissolved due to Centre’s interference. The dissolution of Lok Sabha in 1970 was the final nail which broke up the elections in India.
Coincidences do happen. Both Times of India and Hindustan Times took the editorial route to chide HD Kumaraswamy on Tuesday. Next day, an Indian Express edit scolded the Karnataka chief minister. All three hags from the Lutyens’ Media were fuming. All three were lecturing HDK to understand the “reality” of coalition. To understand that as a senior party, Congress has a right to be a bull in the china shop. All coincidences, isn’t it.
Hindustan Times felt it’s nothing but drama from Kumaraswamy. Strange, for Arvind Kejriwal has been doing his “drama” for four years and yet escaped HT’s attention. The newspaper cited roads, power supply, garbage as issues dogging Bangalore. All these happen at a grander scale in Delhi. Right under its nose. But the stench never reaches the nostrils of these pen-pushers. Meanwhile, Congress has all its support: “It’s natural it (Congress) wishes itself to be taken into account before a major decision.” Wah, when it’s matter of allies of BJP, it’s the latter which is being “autocratic” and riding roughshod over its juniors. But in the matter of Congress, it’s juniors who must hide their tails between the legs. Pathetic, I say.
Times of India, says almost the same thing, the same day, the same lead on its edit page. Only coincidences, I understand. It wants Kumaraswamy “must accept this reality and soldier on” for in a situation of collapse, the “prime beneficiary would be BJP.” It warns HDK that his public lament would “not be music to voters.” Bravo.
And that must not happen, isn’t it. BJP must not benefit. Innocent, gullible voting cattles must not see this wrong connection which has made a mockery of democracy. Kumaraswamy has been given the chief minister’s chair and he must act like Manmohan Singh (yes, that’s the exact advice Times of India gives to HDK!). Sealed lips, zero conscience.
Indian Express wants Kumaraswamy to understand “asserting his control over the coalition would be difficult.” The “journalism of courage” doesn’t explain how the Chief Minister could run when the dogs are tugging at his dhoti. Or, without his allies behind him, how he could push through legislation in the state assembly. It also gives HDK a lecture in statecraft: “people hate tears.” Ask Pushpa (yes, it draws analogy from movie Amar Prem-that’s the seriousness it accords to the matter).
The newspaper terms it “idle tears” for if Kumaraswamy is serious he must give way to a colleague of his to run the government. I wish Indian Express had the courage to offer the same advice to Congress. Likes Gandhis, JD(S) is also all about Gowdas. They are dynasts no less. Would Rahul Gandhi step aside only because Congress is in a coma?
None of these three newspapers steel their spine and address a simple logic: If Kumaraswamy is distraught, if he is crying in public, could it be because Congress MLAs have made his life hell in Bangalore. And if it’s so why Congress is not reining them in? Is it because Congress simply can’t for the MLAs would then run under the BJP’s banyan tree? Why blame one opportunist when the other has turned it into an art form in last 70 years?
But then Congress is a different matter. It’s a holy cow with hind legs of a horse which can kick you in your teeth. The milky diet that you are fed on would be withdrawn. Hello Lutyens Media, why do the sham of being worried about democracy and a billion-plus people of this country? Why not concede you are lackeys and little else?
The striking municipal employees of Delhi this week relented after the high court intervention but it appears only a pause before it drops its broom again on rulng Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Typically, AAP sees the role of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its control of Capital’s civic agencies behind this mess at their door.
Mess literally is at every door. In Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Ludhiana, Pune—name any city and any town. Strikes only put the pictures in front of our eyes which we feint, dodge, duck, skirt, nose-block or sprint everyday in front of proverbial dhalaos (proverbial garbage dump in our neighbourhoods). Now that you can’t evade the headlines, pictures, putrid smell or rotting garbage on Capital’s streets, and are pinned to the wall, brace for a knock-out punch.
India generates 62 million tonnes of trash every year by its nearly 400 million people living in urban India, now the world’s third-largest garbage accumulator. The World Bank sees a 240 percent rise in it by 2026. Now hold your breath (pun intended), nearly 45 million tonnes of it is untreated. Put it this way, it amounts to nearly 3 million trucks which, if laid in a row would scale half the distance between the earth and the moon.
So let’s take a closer look at this mounting shit. Delhi and Mumbai (10,000 tonnes of garbage every day) are obviously top of the heap but lesser towns are no less alarming. Ludhiana has crossed a 1,000 tonnes of waste a day and so has Nagpur or Indore. And all of this doesn’t include the industrial waste. Rapid economic growth, flight to cities, overcrowding, pathetic urban planning, corruption, all have taken a heavy toll.
Last month, Mumbai was wrapped in toxic smog for days. So bad was the air quality that schools were ordered close. It so happened that Deonar, one of Mumbai’s biggest landfills, had suddenly caught fire. It receives 5,000 tonnes of waste every day.
Deonar, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) claims, would be shut down this year. The landfills in Gorai and Chincholi Bunder have already been closed due to over-use. Same is true of Mulund which is facing a closure.
In Delhi, the waste was dumped into four landfill sites. Three of the four landfills stopped working, so overflowing and hazardous, fire or otherwise, it were. These landfills were extended over 164 acres which is four times less than required area of 650 acres according to a 2011 report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). So bad is the situation that even some dhalaos can’t be emptied in the space of a week.
Bangalore onwards. Mandur, at 153 acres, is one of the most controversial landfills of the city. The entrance to the city was blocked by its residents in 2012. They claimed that landfill was poisoning the local water supplies. Police intervened and dispersed the protestors who then went on a hunger strike. The state government finally intervened and ordered it to be closed.
In August 2012, more than 5,000 people, women, schoolchildren, kids, defied the police in Vilappil, a small village about 15km from Kerala’s captail, Thiruvananthapuram, to protest against a waste treatment plant. Again, the protest was on the contamination of the groundwater. Since then they have moved the Kerala High Court who have referred the matter to National Green Tribunal.
The story of these landfills is horrific in its own account. Not all garbage is collected—only 68 per cent of it by the municipal authorities. Only 28 percent of it is treated. There is no waste segregation system. It means waste is burnt without separating biodegradable waste from non-biodegradable garbage. A lot of wet waste decomposes. It’s prime habitat for rodents and mosquitoes that spread malaria and dengue. We already know of the contaminated water. The stuff that rots catches fire. Rising smoke fill the air—half of which is deadly methane. Drains are blocked which cause floods. Air and water pollution leads to diseases and a great strain on health infrastructure. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), 22 types of diseases can be prevented in India if waste is managed well.
What’s worse, 50 percent of the biodegradable waste could be turned into compost which could support farming. Untapped waste could generate enough power to meet the demands of a small union territory like Pondicherry. Segregation could keep plastics, paper and glass apart. Plastic waste is a crucial fuel for energy plants.
Rules exist but are hardly enforced. For example, a rule states that “landfills should not be near habitations.” What’s near is undefined. So the Deonar site is less than a kilometer away from the nearest residential colony. The rules want scrap-dealers and rag-pickers to be stake-holders in the clean-up operation. But rag-pickers hardly have designated spaces to sort out the rubbish. There is no protective gear against hazardous dumps.
There are some admirable actions on the sidelines though. In Bangalore, there is a non-profit organization called Daily Dump which moves from door-to-door and advocate the waste segregation. They organize a “Trash Trail” which is a nine-hour “expedition” on foot and by van through the city’s waste fields.
Blaming authorities is convenient. The infrastructure has aged. Citizens have their hands soiled with blame too. Most still like to dump their waste away from home, rather than in front of it for easy pick-up.
The Modi government has set its sight on “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission). It aims to collect, process, dispose, recycle and generally manage the garbage in over 4000 Indian towns among other things. This ambitious scheme is of around $10 billion.
Just for facts, China and United States create a higher amount of waste than India. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries create half of world’s garbage. An average person creates waste of around three times his own weight each year.