It’s early winter and Delhi has become a gas chamber so enveloped in smog that flights are disrupted due to poor visibility. The focus was on Delhi even more as an India-Bangladesh T20 cricket match was played, with the fielders needing masks. The Safar air quality index has gone north, somewhat appropriately as the NCR symbolises everything mankind can do to pollute the environment. WHO believes the air quality is worse than smoking 50 cigarettes a day. Schools are shut, cars run to “odd-even” restrictions in a bizarre move to cut automobile pollution. The problem is they seem to wake up to the smog only in November and take a few desperate measures. Until then they go their merry way, with construction dust, firecracker fumes, diesel emissions of heavy vehicles and plastic and garbage burning fouling the air.
Air quality science says 46 per cent of pollution is caused by stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. No amount of incentives seems to convince farmers not to burn the straw left from the harvest. Delivery of straw management equipment is dreadfully short, with 63,000 machines given so far, while there are 27 lakh farmers. We know Delhi’s air is a national problem that is bringing the NCR global notoriety; yet the Centre doesn’t seem keen to get the states to sit together and find lasting solutions. Coal-fired power plants can't be stopped the entire winter. Neither can masks be given to 100 million people, nor can schools and colleges be shut indefinitely for “Safar” holidays. Do we want to protect our children by giving them a chance to breathe clean air or consign them to life in a nationwide gas chamber?