The national capital of India, Delhi, has been choking ever since the Diwali fireworks fouled up the air. That looked like a trigger, which in fact it was not, for the continuing spell of intense air pollution. With a blanket of smog settling down over Delhi schools have been shut, construction and demolition works have been banned, polluting power plants like the one at Badarpur have been closed for ten days. “The city has turned into a gas chamber”, that is how Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, described the situation. I spoke to an 87 years old very old friend to inquire how he was doing. He reported that he and his 80 years old wife had sealed themselves in their second storey flat with doors and windows shut. One cannot move out even to buy the necessities. Even the warmth of the mellow winter sun that they used to enjoy in the approaching cold weather sitting out in an ill-kempt park, too, has been denied to them. It is a horrid situation – an abominable turn of events during the season of festivities, flowers and fun and frolics. Children are suffering the most. For them there is no school, no fun and games and, what’s more, they cannot go out in the open and play. If they get out they have to wear a mask – a necessary encumbrance.
In such a circumstance, no wonder people would look for means to ameliorate their condition. In the process,s people are increasingly turning to technological assistance. Science has handed over to humans a very potent appliance in the shape of technology that can be used for satisfying various kinds of needs – from basic to the most sophisticated. Most being aware of them, it is not necessary to go through all the developments in the matter. What is something new in India, however, is the air purifier that is not all that well known. If one looks for it in the internet one would come across numerous brands with various specifications and several claims for the machines’ versatility.
This is the machine age and one cannot really live comfortably without their help. With economic progress even the middle classes in their tiered differentiations have acquired air-conditioners that control the hot or cold weathers within the confines of one’s living or bed rooms or even large halls. With cut-throat competition and proliferation of manufacturers to meet the rising demands the prices have fallen making them affordable for those who never could entertain a thought of acquiring one a few years ago.
It seems it is now the turn of air purifiers. Now, with frightfully toxic ambient air people are getting more and more inclined to buy air purifiers. One of the first of them was perhaps installed by the US Embassy in the capital. Progressively, as the air quality deteriorates even during the seasons when it is expected to be normal or slightly worse air purifiers provide an alternative to treat the pollution in the air. They do filter out the harmful particulate matters (PM 2.5 and PM 10), protect people from taking in foul air which has all the potential to seriously damage their health. But installing it at home will protect one only for a period of 12 hours or so. When one is out and away from it one remains exposed to the pollution.
Apart from dealing with very harmful PM 2.5 and PM 10 these contraptions also help in keeping out the allergens helping to make those comfortable who suffer from allergy or those who are asthmatic. Besides, they extend protection from dust, pollen, pet dander, mites and their faeces, etc. Regardless of their benefits, Indian households never perhaps ever contemplated to buy such a machine that rendered only limited assistance. But with heavily toxic air that has settled down over Delhi people are turning to these machines that are, unfortunately, of limited use. Besides, the other disadvantage is that these machines run on dirty energy, rising consumption of which exacerbates the pollution caused by coal-fired thermal power plants. It is a great irony; it is we who create polluted air by our own indiscrete activities and then we have to have machines to filter it.
The whole sordid thing started with Diwali. With the pollution base already high the fireworks made it worse. Delhi air is not free of pollutants even at the best of times. Diwali made it worse, as it does virtually every year. And, yet people do not draw a lesson. But the fillip to the deteriorating quality of air was given by the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. For want of cheap labour that they used to get from Bihar they switched over to harvesters for reaping their paddy crop that, unfortunately, do not harvest as the humans do; they leave a fairly tall stubble. That stubble reportedly is of no use and hence it is set fire to. The burning of the remnants of the paddy crop in the three states has raised the smoke that engulfs the entire region, the urban concentrations including the megapolis of Delhi. That and the usual sources like smoke from thermal power plants and incoming dust from the desert region in the west compound the problem.
People are having a terrible time. United Nations has come out with a warning that the record pollution levels of 999 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre is more than 15 to 16 times more than what is considered safe. PM 2.5 and PM 10 particulate matters, both clocked 16 times more than what is safe. The air has become toxic and with every breath adults and children are inhaling poison which can eventually cause the dreaded disease of cancer.
Air purifiers or wearing masks when out in the open are short term preventive measures – like palliatives. A more fundamental approach to cut down on the source of pollution is urgently needed. Already number of deaths due to air pollution in the country is climbing rapidly and has risen to more than a million and has overtaken China.
It cannot be that the paddy stubble is absolutely useless. After all, it is an organic matter and has to have carbon as one of its components. No wonder, Nitin Gadkari, a central minister has suggested production of bio-fuel from it. This will eliminate the smoke and also be profitable to the farmers. Such plants need to be commissioned as soon as possible all over Punjab, Haryana and Western UP. Fireworks in Delhi need to be banned regardless of the fact that it is a demand of spring festivities or weddings or whatever. Public transport needs to be strengthened to reduce the dependence on personal vehicles. Delhi reportedly has 6,000,000 vehicles of all kinds – commercial, private, four wheelers, three wheelers and two wheelers of varied ages emitting into the Delhi atmosphere gases that are poisonous. Promotion of electric battery operated vehicles seems to be the need of the hour. And, Delhi should go for an all out campaign for solar energy. All government establishments, their extensive terraces, the stadiums and their open spaces, the parking lots etc. can be used for installation of solar panels.
All this needs to be done on war-footing; there is not a day to lose as numerous lives are being damaged and lost to this Frankensteinian monster.
*Photo from internet
15th November 2016