(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).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is back from the United States. During his sojourn, he had the President of the United States in attendance and in audience in the Houston event; won the “Goalkeepers Global Goals Award” from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); and above all had the world eating out of his palms on Kashmir. No Indian, arguably since Swami Vivekananda, ever set foot on United States and returned home with such global acclaim. (Never mind if our own Shashi Tharoor is working overtime to argue that Modi’s is not unprecedented, even if he has to resort to fake news on Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru).
If Houston was imagery, the concurrence of world on Kashmir in the United Nations was real substance. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan looked no better than a gangster, smoking gun from a nuclear upholstery, faking the championing of his country on behalf of Kashmiri Muslims, never mind he didn’t even whimper on one million fellow Muslims being kept in concentration camps in Xinjiang by China or that his country was responsible for over a million killings of fellow Muslims in once East Pakistan. Pakistan is today seen as what it’s worth in the world.
Be that as it may, Operation Kashmir is now in its second phase. It’s a phase when at some stage the Modi government would’ve to consider lifting the ban on internet, freeing thousands of politicians, activists, businessmen etc who unknown to their families are lodged up in and outside Kashmir. The present clampdown in Kashmir can’t go on forever. At some stage, elections would’ve to be announced and before that happens, the government and security forces would’ve to pull themselves back in the trenches. Leaders of regional political parties– Abdullahs and Muftis–would need to be freed. Longer it’s delayed, faster India would lose the world which is now standing next to it.
Or, Modi could act indifferent to the world. The world today is wooing him not because it’s convinced of Kashmir being an internal issue but because it wants India by its side. West, in particular, is wary of China and sees India as indispensible in halting the Dragon’s march. India’s market and the growth story is no less attractive to them. Modi thus could keep the frills out, delay elections in Kashmir as long as he deems fit, keeps Muftis and Abdullahs in house arrest and to hell with the cacophony of the seculars. He could put internal security above all other considerations, given the intelligence inputs.
Before the Houston event, Modi met a group of Kashmiri Pandits and assured them justice. Kashmiri Pandits–and their numbers run in lakhs–of course have a yearning to return to their homeland from where they were driven out in the 1990s. It’s been almost a generation since BJP has made it a part of their manifesto. The abrogation of Article 370 has raised hopes in the hearts of these Kashmiris.
But it won’t be easy. Muslim Kashmiris in the Valley today are incensed at the curb on their freedom and their knowns being lodged up in jails. The post-1990 generation have no idea that theirs is a land where once syncretism prevailed and Muslims and Hindus lived check-by-jowl. They are likely to see returning Kashmiri Pandits as intruders and not rightful owners of their hearths and homes. The natives would be seen as aliens. The reconstruction of their vandalized temples, as the Modi government has vowed, would be fodder to canons of insinuations and rumours. Winning hearts without compromising in security or allowing Pakistan to stir up mischief with its mercenary terrorists won’t be easy.
Lutyens Media is ready with its texts, blurbs and headlines once clampdown is lifted in the Kashmir Valley. These sob stories would be endlessly played. Modi would be shown to have committed a Himalayan blunder in tampering with Kashmir’s special status. Modi government would need to be on its toes to fight this war of misinformation. For every word of misinformation, it needs an article of facts to be put on public display. It would need nothing less than a separate Ministry against Misinformation on Kashmir.
Lutyens media has latched on to Imran Khan evoking the image of 2002 Gujarat riots. They of course won’t tell that every Court in the country has cleared Modi of culpability in the crime. (And it is not as if only Muslims were killed. The figures, released by the Congress-led government itself in 2005 put the figures as 794 Muslims and 254 Hindus killed). Similarly, Lutyens Media has gone to length to highlight the dozen protestors who stationed themselves in front of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, petitioning against the award to Modi on Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). They won’t let you know that the Mission is almost 100 per cent successful. Nearly all villages of the country are now Open-Defecation Free (ODF). As Sandipan Deb wrote in the Mint: “The WHO study estimated that SBM Grameen is likely to have averted more than 300,000 deaths between 2014 and October 2019. BMGF’s survey found that in ODF districts, there were 32% fewer cases of diarrhea among children, 15% fewer cases of stunting, and 37% less women with lower body mass index, compared with non-ODF districts.”
Governance, like life, can’t be still. One has to think on one’s feet. Modi has dealt with the first phase of Operation Kashmir to the last detail. The second phase is fraught with dangers for now guns would have to be replaced with roses.
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.