Clean water has been recognised as a basic human right. Clean air, however, is not. A person can survive a few days without water, only a few minutes without air.
India has seven fundamental rights - equality, freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, right to education and the right to constitutional remedies. Today, however, as we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis, we are denied clean air, which is a basic human necessity. We have an opportunity and a moral obligation to take action, now.
Clean air act
Indian needs a Clean Air Act and an autonomous new body to enforce it. It should be the equivalent of the powerful Environment Protection Agency in the United States. Currently, there are many different organisations trying to combat air pollution, with no top boss to marshal them all and achieve defined goals. We have the NCAP, EPCA, GRAP, CPCB, SPCB and who knows how many other acronomys. The one thing they do have in common is that they are failing miserably.
The Clean Air Act of 1963 is a United States Federal law, designed to control air pollution on a national level. It is one of the United States’ first and most influential modern environmental laws and one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world. London and New York once had their great smog too. Today, as we discuss the deadly smog in India, we should turn to the West, to understand their solutions to the problem.
If a state in teh US refuses to comply with the EPA’s minimum standards, the EPA can take over the environment administration of that state by law. That’s how powerful it is. Lesser powers include stopping federal funds, while major amendments in 1977 and 1990 have strengthened the Clean Air Act to include more pollutants, greater goals and greater implementation procedures.
Violating the right to life
Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides for the right to life and personal liberty, stating, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal l iberty except according to procedure established by law.” It imposes a duty on the state to protect the life and liberty of the people.
Air pollution violates the rights to life and health, the rights of the child and the right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Billions of people today are breathing toxic air, even though air pollution is almost entirely preventable. According to the University of British Columbia in Canada, “Every minute of every day, a child dies of illness caused by air pollution. In that same minute, a dozen adults will die, prematurely, because of toxic air inhaled during their lifetime.”
The total - seven million premature deaths a year, is larger than the number of deaths caused by war, murder, traffic accidents, malaria, tubercolosis and HIV/ AIDS combined. Our scientific understanding of the adverse health effects of air pollution has made great strides - we know that it causes heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. In India, for example, ambient and household air pollution was attributed to some 1.2 million deaths in 2017, according to a study in The Lancet.
India now provides free LPG stoves to over 100 million poor families. These stoves dramatically reduce air pollution, save time previously spent gathering fuels like firewood and emit fewer greenhouse gaases than solid fuel stoves. The World Bank has estimated that switching all remaining households to clean stoves and fuels by 2030 would require an investment of approximately $5 billion per year.
Clean air is a basic human necessity and a fundamental right that we are denied every day as dirty industrial plants blanket schools, playgrounds and homes in layers of pollution, violating environmental provisions. In the absence of a powerful and autonomous central implementing body, India will remain in the smog.