Fighting Delhi’s Pollution is Not a Seasonal Gig

Fighting Delhi’s Pollution is a Full-time Job; Not a Seasonal Gig

Air pollution is now no longer something anyone living in Delhi or the National Capital Region (NCR) is concerned about. Residents are not talking about it anymore. The media don’t care about it either – you won’t find coverage of the issue in any publication, local, regional, or national. Barely three months ago, Delhi was choking. On November 5 last year, the Air Quality Index (AQI), a measure of particulate matter in the atmospheric air that we breathe, had touched 382; around the same time in some of the city’s adjoining suburbs, it had crossed 400. On February 10, as I write this, AQI in Delhi was 186 (as per data on the website); and in Gurgaon 177.

No wonder there’s little concern about air pollution now. AQI has sharply declined since January, almost halved by some measures. Yet, this might be the right time for India to ramp up its fight against air pollution. Every year, beginning in the end of October and lasting well into January, air pollution levels in India rise to dangerous levels, hazardous even. Those are the colder months and as we know cold air traps emitted particulate matter and the density of pollutants in the air increases. Then, as it starts to get warmer, the particulate matter disperses and pollution levels decline.

AQI measures the density of five pollutants in the air: ozone, particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. Tiny particulates are most harmful for the respiratory system as they get embedded in the lungs and can lead to a host of serious health problems from breathing-related ailments to death. An AQI level that is higher than 300 is classified as “Hazardous”, which means that the entire population of a city or a region is at risk of health effects and the only safe bet is to stay indoors, avoid outdoor activities and follow health advisories.

Everybody knows that warnings such as those mean nothing in India. People have to be outdoors. Many have to work outdoors, and life has to go on no matter what. Ironically their lives face increasing levels of risk. Consternation and concern about pollution peaks with the AQI level: the higher the AQI the more the outrage and worry. When the AQI levels fall, those worries disappear. That cyclical variation in concern about pollution is as predictable every year as the cycle that the AQI levels follow.

That cycle has to be broken. Let’s consider today’s aforementioned pollution levels in Delhi and Gurgaon. At 186 and 177, respectively in Delhi and Gurgaon, the AQI levels (at the time that I write this) are considered “Unhealthy”. That is, everyone, including those who are otherwise healthy, may begin to experience health effects; sensitive groups, such as people with existing respiratory conditions, are at significantly higher risks; and the warning is to limit outdoor activities, especially strenuous ones. Well, is anyone in Delhi or the NCR heeding these warnings? Silly question, because after all, “unhealthy” is better than “hazardous”.

GRAP(pling) with the pollution

Yet, the time to tackle air pollution in Delhi and the NCR (as well as in an ever-lengthening list of Indian cities and towns) may be now. Unfortunately, thus far the response to the pollution problem has been short-sighted. In the Delhi & NCR area (as well as in some other Indian cities), there is something called the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). Introduced by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), GRAP triggers specific actions that escalate depending on the level of pollution in a city as measured by the AQI level.

When the level is “Moderate” to “Poor”, GRAP triggers restrictions on construction activities, vehicular emissions, and industrial processes. When it is “Very Poor” to “Severe”, more steps such as banning diesel generators, closing brick kilns, and implementing the odd-even vehicle rule (cars with odd registration numbers are allowed on one day and those with even numbers the next day). If pollution reaches “Emergency” levels, even stricter steps are added such as shutting down schools, restricting outdoor activities, and enforcements are made tougher.

In theory, GRAP seems well-calibrated. In practice, it has failed. GRAP was introduced nearly eight years ago. In eight years, the pollution problem in Indian cities has worsened at an alarming pace. Every year, especially during the colder months, which ought to be called the “pollution season”, peak AQI levels become higher.

GRAP has faced challenges mainly because the various agencies involved are unable to efficiently coordinate their actions. Also, GRAP is triggered only when pollution actually happens. It is a sort of post facto action, a retroactive system that is triggered only after the problem has already occurred.

Getting a long-term solution

To seriously tackle air pollution in Indian cities, particularly in the NCR where it is acute every year, a longer term, sustained plan is required. A plan that is constant and not triggered only when things get truly out of hand.

Many countries have tackled chronic air pollution problems. In developed countries, which are less densely populated and where industrial activity, particularly in heavy industrial sectors that consume more energy and spew more effluents, has already ebbed, the problem of pollution is less acute. Yet some of the energy conservation and recycling measures followed by them could be lessons. More important, though, are the sorts of solutions that cities in China have been able to find. Ít is a combination of these lessons that Indians must adopt to tackle air pollution in its large cities. And they have to be implemented constantly; not episodically.

ALSO READ: Biofuel Push Will Help Farmers, Curb Pollution

In China, sprawling metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai made headlines because of uncontrolled pollution levels less than 10 years ago. Today, things have improved. The Chinese government and authorities have taken significant steps to combat air pollution. They’ve implemented strict emission standards for vehicles and industries. Investments in renewable energy, afforestation, and urban green spaces have also been done to improve air quality.

The key lies in implementation. City states such as Delhi and its burgeoning satellite cities of Gurgaon, Noida, and Faridabad, have not had big success with controlling construction activity. In a developing country with a population as large as that of India’s and one that is constantly urbanising, construction becomes a constant activity as demand for housing grows unabated. Then there is the difficult task of zoning in urban areas. Despite decades of effort, polluting factories and manufacturing facilities merge with residential areas in Indian cities, which often become messy sprawls of residential and commercial activity.

Vehicular traffic in Indian cities continues to grow. The number of vehicles in Delhi and NCR is estimated at more than 15 million by some sources. Despite periodic expansions, the area’s public transport system is overcrowded and as the number of middle-income households increases, the number of personal vehicles such as cars and two-wheelers increases too. Many of these add to the emissions that contribute to air pollution.

Integrating pollution control and development

To tackle pollution, India must integrate environmental concerns into its overall development plans. Rather than treating pollution control as an isolated issue, it should be part of a broader strategy. This would require involving multiple stakeholders including different government agencies, local communities, industries, and NGOs. Collaborative efforts can lead to better policy formulation and implementation.

India will also have to revamp and make its real-time data on pollution more accurate. That could help monitor the results of anti-pollution efforts better. It could also improve public accountability and drive more action on the part of communities and individuals.

Nothing works as well as carrots and sticks, particularly when they are in the form of incentives and penalties. India could introduce special taxes on polluting activities (e.g. emissions, waste disposal) and provide incentives for cleaner practices (e.g. renewable energy adoption). Industries have to be held responsible and accountable for pollution. Penalties for non-compliance should be significant.

To be sure, India does have fiscal incentives to address pollution and encourage more sustainable practices. These measures aim to make waste generation, energy production, and transportation sectors more environment-friendly. India has proposed incentives worth $12.4 billion to encourage power plants to install emission-curbing equipment and develop infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs). What it needs to work on, however, is to make the penalties stricter for polluters.

Indian industry needs to adopt less polluting, cleaner technologies, which can be a challenge and also expensive in a developing country. And invest in more research and development for sustainable solutions.

Finally, there is the challenge of urban planning. Can Indian cities continue to expand in unlimited ways? Should urban planners and city authorities curb such unfettered urban expansion and instead aim at compact cities that are well-planned urban areas with efficient public transportation, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and green spaces.

Ideally, such cities would encourage waste reduction and recycling and develop efficient waste management systems. They would limit plastic waste through bans, alternatives, and awareness campaigns. And their residents would have access to education about the impact of pollution on health and the environment.

All that sounds like a great utopian dream. Yet, while it is true that achieving development targets hand-in-hand with environmental goals is a balancing task that is fraught with huge challenges, it is not impossible to achieve. In some parts of large cities in India, pedestrian zones, albeit tiny and limited, are being developed; school students have been active in their efforts to spread awareness of the harms of pollution; and there is the beginning of a shift towards alternative energy to fuel growth. Sadly, though, a lot more will have to be done. Tackling air pollution in India’s big cities is a full-time assignment. Not a seasonal job.

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Delhi Lieutenant Governor (LG)

Delhi: L-G Saxena Inspects Streets To Take Stock Of Pollution Mitigation Measures

As the air quality in the national capital worsened further, Delhi Lieutenant Governor (LG), Vinai Kumar Saxena on Monday paid an inspection visit to the streets, taking stock of the pollution mitigating measures being undertaken by the various departments, agencies and civic bodies in the metropolis.

L-G Saxena inspected the pavements, footpaths, central verges and the yards of the Power Plant and Millennium Bus Depot, which are believed to be among the main contributors to surging air pollution in the national capital.

“Travelling, mostly on foot from the stretch behind Red Fort – Rajghat – ITO – Pragati Power Plant – IP Estate – Millennium Park near Sarai Kale Khan on the Ring Road, the LG inspected the pavements, footpaths, central verges and the yards of the Power Plant and Millennium Bus Depot, which causes much of dust pollution leading up to higher PM 2.5/10 levels, read an official statement released by the L-G office.

It was found that the pavements and footpaths were covered with thick layers of dust and loose silt at several places which were flying off with passing vehicles, causing even more pollution. Taking strict note of this, LG directed the officials to immediately clear the pavements and streets, the release stated.

L-G Saxena also inspected the ongoing works of dust mitigation by mechanical road sweepers, who he found to be causing more pollution by way of blowing the dust which was not being taken care of by a following water sprinkler as the case should have been, it stated, adding that he also took stock of the Mobile Anti-Smog Guns, it said.

The L-G further instructed accompanying officials of PWD, MCD, and DDA to immediately ensure the covering of the footpaths and mobilise other remedial measures to keep the yards of the Power Plant and the Bus Depot dust-free.

Saxena also directed the Transport Department and Delhi Police to strictly ensure that vehicles prohibited under GRAP-IV are not allowed on the roads. At the same time, strict enforcement was asked to be maintained at border points to check the entry of polluting vehicles entering Delhi from other states, said the release.

According to the release, L-G Saxena also urged the people to take all pollution mitigating measures particularly optimum use of public transport. He also urged them to avoid unnecessarily using private vehicles for short distances and carrying out any sort of construction, or demolition activities.

Earlier, on Monday, the overall air quality in the national capital continued to be in the ‘severe’ category for the fifth straight day, as per the Central Pollution Control Board.

According to the data issued by the System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR-India), the air quality in the national capital was recorded at 488, up from 410 on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Gopal Rai on Monday called a meeting of all departments concerned in view of the increasing pollution.

The meeting reached a consensus on the strict implementation of GRAP-4 amid the worsening pollution scenario.

Under GRAP Stage-IV, NCR governments and the GNCTD may decide to discontinue physical classes even for classes VI-IX, and class XI and ask schools to switch to the online mode of learning.

According to doctors, for a person to remain in good health, a recommended AQI should be less than 50. However, the overall AQI in the national capital over the last few days has hovered over 400, which could prove fatal for those suffering from lung-related diseases and even pose a risk of lung cancer.

Frequent instances of stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana, have been blamed for the runaway air pollution in the city.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in a statement said immediate action is required for the prevention and control of air pollution in these cities to ensure better air quality for residents. (ANI)

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Gopal Rai Pollution

Rai: Delhi Govt Cannot Control Pollution Completely

Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai on Friday said that the government cannot control the pollution in the national capital completely and that sources outside the city cause twice the pollution than inside.

The Environment Minister said that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal-led government in Delhi is working on a war footing to curb the pollution level.

This came after the air quality in several parts of the national capital reeled under the ‘severe’ category on Friday morning with Mundka recording the highest Air Quality Index (498).

As per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the AQI in the Lodhi Road area was recorded at 438, in Jahangirpuri at 491, in the RK Puram area and in IGI Airport (T3) at 486 and 473 respectively.

When asked whether the Delhi government has failed in curbing the pollution level, Gopal Rai said, “First of all, it is wrong to think that the Delhi Government can control pollution completely because the matter of pollution is not of Delhi alone. Sources outside Delhi cause twice the pollution here than the sources within Delhi.”

He said that the Delhi government is working on a war footing. “It is a result of the efforts of CM Arvind Kejriwal that as per the report of the Central Government, in 2015, there were only 109 days out of 365 in which air quality was good. Last year we reached 163 days. This year, Delhi experienced more than 200 days of good air quality.”

The minister said that after the Delhi government’s efforts, the 13 hotspots identified last year across the city now have been reduced to 5, adding that the next 15 days of November are crucial.

“Last year, 13-14 hotspots were identified where there was a continuous increase in pollution. Now their numbers are 4 to 5. In the whole of North India, there is this kind of situation of AQI. The next 15 days are very critical for Delhi. The speed of the wind is low, and the temperature is going down. Seeing this, the GRAP 3 rules have been implemented. We have called the meeting of all the concerned departments at 12 p.m. today. We are seeing that, though rules and policies are being made and directed, their implementation is not strict. This is a challenge,” he added.

AQI at multiple locations in the NCR region of Noida also plunged to the ‘severe’ category with Sector 62, Sector 1 and Sector 116 recording 483, 413 and 415 respectively.

A resident of Noida said that in the wake of dense smog, he has started experiencing breathing problems.

“I can feel irritation in my throat and difficulty in breathing. There is pollution…Something should be done about it. How will an ill person breathe properly? You can see how the situation is,” he said.

Another resident, Maya Sharma, too, complained of difficulty in breathing.

“My son is going to school. The smog seems to be increasing. No notification regarding the closing of schools has come yet. I am sending him to school wearing a mask…Precaution should be taken as children are falling ill easily…Breathing has become a little difficult. If online classes take place, children will not fall ill,” she said.

Meanwhile, health experts have advised to follow precautions including wearing masks and avoiding going out unnecessarily.

Dr Dhiren Gupta, senior paediatrician, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital said that air pollution in the national capital is going to impact the paediatric age group more than adults.

“Pollution is going to impact the paediatric age group more than adults. Once you are exposed during pregnancy, there are very high chance that an unborn new-born will be allergic later on. In infancy, remodelling happens in the lungs and other areas. It impacts their lives.”

He said that nowadays every road is like a smoking zone. “It not only affects patients who are allergic or have asthma but also normal people…Try to avoid going out early in the morning or late in the evening because the pollution level at that time is very high. At most, you can wear an N95 mask… We can take some measures so that we don’t contribute to this pollution,” the health expert added.

Dr Nikhil Modi, Senior Consultant Respiratory Critical Care, Apollo Hospital, also advised to follow precautions.

“We are in that time of the year where pollution has started to increase once again. The number of patients with breathing problems has increased. More people have coughs, colds, water and irritation in their eyes, and breathing problems… People of every age are affected by this. The time has come for us to use masks. Go out only when needed,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Delhi government on Thursday ordered for all the government and private primary schools to remain shut for the next two days.

In the wake of the worsening air quality, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) invoked the third stage of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) on Thursday.

Stage III of the GRAP is implemented when the AQI hits Severe in the range of 401-450. As part of its response to combat pollution the state government can impose strict restrictions on BS III petrol and BS IV diesel four-wheelers in certain areas and may suspend physical classes in schools for primary grade children up to Class 5. The Delhi government has since suspended primary school classes. (ANI)

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Arvind Kejriwal

Kejriwal Briefs ‘Summer Action Plan’ To Curb Pollution

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday briefed the ‘Summer Action Plan’ and said that between 2016-2022, pollution in Delhi has reduced by 30 per cent.

Addressing a press conference in the national capital, Kejriwal said, “In 2016-22, pollution has decreased by thirty per cent. In coordination with 30 departments of the government, we have made a Summer Action Plan”.
He said that the causes of pollution in summer and winter are different, thus a Summer Action Plan consisting of 14 main points are released by the government today.

“The causes of pollution are different in summer and in winter. We are releasing the Time Action Plan for summer today that consists of 14 main points and the primary focus of the action plan is on dust pollution, which has been a major contributor to the city’s worsening air quality,” he said.

Informing about the steps being taken to tackle this issue, the AAP convener said, “The government has procured 84 mechanical road sweeping machines, 609 water sprinklers and 185 mobile anti-smog guns. Additionally, 70 integrated road sweeping machines and 250 integrated water sprinklers are being procured to improve the situation further”.

“Real-time source apportionment studies will be conducted at 13 air pollution hotspots and a mobile air lab deployed at each of these locations,” he added

Highlighting the deployment of patrolling teams to check dust pollution, he said, “The government will deploy 225 and 159 patrolling teams during days and nights, respectively, to monitor dust pollution in the city.

Kejriwal also mentioned the plan of planting saplings in the city to decrease pollution.

“There is a target of planting 52 lakh saplings to increase the green cover. Out of these 42 lakh saplings will be planted in summer and 4 lakh saplings will be distributed free,” he said.

“We are working closely with NDMC and MCD for the development of parks. Making the first of its kind E West Eco Park,” he added.

“The government has prepared a standard operating procedure to prevent fire incidents at landfill sites. A plan is also being prepared for the scientific disposal of industrial waste”, the chief minister said.

Further, he also said that he is discussing with the neighboring states regarding the steps to control pollution.

“Discussing the neighboring states regarding the steps to control pollution. We have a government in Punjab, I am in constant touch with Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, they are also working to increase electric vehicles,” he said. (ANI)

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Air Quality Delhi

Delhi AQI ‘Very Poor’ Measuring At 322

Delhi air stood at ‘very poor’ category on Sunday with Air Quality Index (AQI) reaching 322. The Air Quality of the national capital, which was at a moderate level for the last few days, stooped to a new low, over the weekend.

According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), Delhi’s air quality was recorded in the ‘very poor’ category on Sunday.
The air quality in the Delhi University area was recorded as ‘very poor’, with PM 2.5 at 333, whereas the AQI in Noida measured at 348. At Pusa, the AQI measured at 315.

Meanwhile, Lodhi Road and Mathura Road also experienced ‘very poor’ air quality with AQI at 306 and 390, respectively.

With AQI of most areas around the Delhi-NCR region measuring above 300, the AQI of Gurugram came in the ‘poor’ category at 266.

The Air Quality Index from 0 to 100 is considered as good, while from 100 to 200 it is moderate, from 200 to 300 it is poor, and from 300 to 400 it is said to be very poor and from 400 to 500 or above it is considered as severe.

Earlier, the air quality in Delhi was in the ‘moderate’ category, it deteriorated and reached the ‘very poor’ category.

The residents of the city have urged the government to take steps to control the ongoing menace of air pollution in the city. Some have even urged the government to bring back the odd-even rule in the city. “Air pollution is slightly less as compared to last year. The cold has also increased and the odd-even should be brought as soon as possible to curb the remaining air pollution,” said a resident. (ANI)

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Air Quality In NCR

Delhi Air Quality Dips To ‘Very Poor’ Category

The air quality in the national capital reached the ‘very poor’ category on Saturday morning with an index of ‘310’ recorded on the Air Quality meter after some relative respite to Delhiites for a few days.

According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), Delhi’s air quality was recorded in the ‘very poor’ category on Saturday.

In the Delhi University area, the air quality was recorded as ‘very poor’ with the presence of PM 2.5 in the air at 318, whereas the Pusa area recorded it at 314.

Noida, also saw the air quality in the ‘very poor’ category with the AQI at 386 today.

Meanwhile, Lodhi Road and Mathura Road also experienced ‘very poor’ air quality with AQI at 306 and 303, respectively.

The AQI at the Delhi Airport Terminal 3 was recorded as ‘poor’ at 266.

The Air Quality Index from 0 to 100 is considered as good, while from 100 to 200 it is moderate, from 200 to 300 it is poor, and from 300 to 400 it is said to be very poor and from 400 to 500 or above it is considered as severe.

Earlier, the air quality in Delhi was in the ‘moderate’ category, it deteriorated and reached the ‘very poor’ category.

Kuldeep Kumar, a resident of Mandir Marg said, “If you still go out in the morning, then there is a burning sensation in the eyes. Right now the level of pollution has come down a bit, but not much.”

“The government should do something about these 4-wheelers plying in the city. Today if there are four members in a house, all four have a 4-wheeler,” he added.

Another resident of the city urged the Delhi government to bring back the Odd-Even policy. “Air pollution is slightly less as compared to last year. The cold has also increased and the odd-even should be brought as soon as possible to curb the remaining air pollution,” he said. (ANI)

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Delhi Air Pollution

The Poor And The Voiceless Are Worst Affected By Pollution

Aliza Firoz, pursuing bachelors in history at the Jamia Millia Islamia, says small baby steps towards a clean environment can make a big difference

Like all things in the realm of our life, even pollution and its impact are not equal in Delhi and its neighbourhood. The poor, daily wagers, working women, construction workers, rickshaw-pullers, cyclists, they all suffer the most, including their children. The rich can remain safe in enclosed spaces, they can travel inside their cars with windows shut. Many of them own two or more cars, diesel-guzzling SUVs, several air-conditioners and huge refrigerators, adding hugely to the pollution in the air. Most of the rich simply don’t care for the environment.

The main thing is to be sensitive and learn to act small, take small steps, in our personal and social life. Why use crackers and blow up hugely expensive ‘laris’ worth thousands while filling the air we breathe with poison!  Even in weddings and birthday parties they are bursting crackers! If India wins a cricket match, they start bursting crackers! They should understand that this can be very harmful and hurtful for human beings and animals, including the ailing, the old, little children. They should understand that animals can’t even speak about their anxiety and pain, amidst this loud and noisy celebrations. Can’t we see how the sparrows, the birds, are terrorised by the sound of the crackers?

There should be a conscious effort by everyone, all of us, to follow certain principles and rules for the sake of the larger collective; only preaching and not taking action will not do. There should be social consciousness which can make us behave and act in a certain responsible manner.

ALSO READ: ‘I Celebrated Diwali With Nebulizer & Medicines’

Why not go for environment-friendly crackers, for instance? Why not choose car pools with your friends – from the same class and status if that is what they are comfortable with – instead of one car for one person? Why use loudspeakers when you can operate without them? Why not make small water pools to immerse the idols after the festivals, instead of polluting water bodies and rivers?  Try using earthen pots to cool water instead of refrigerators, for instance. Or, don’t add to passive smoking.

We must take care of basic things. We should learn to be minimalist in terms of our daily life. We should not create and make huge amount of waste, including non-biodegradable plastic, and learn recycling, or using the waste for productive purposes. When you cut a packet of milk and leave that little piece on the ground, it might take thousands of years for that piece to dissolve. We should draw inspiration from ‘Ikigai’, the Japanese form of minimalist living, and drive satisfaction from it.

Recently, I saw a former woman IAS topper burning a cracker; she got hurt. The video became viral. She is a role model, a bureaucrat, why should she glorify crackers? Besides, sadly, she got badly hurt too, like many children do when they burst crackers.

I repeat, small steps, the smallest actions, make a big difference. Only then change happens. ‘Boond, boond se banta sagar…’

As told to Amit Sengupta

Toxic Water and Filthy Ghats

‘Yamuna Ghats Are Unworthy Of Holding Sacred Chhath Puja’

Poonam Singh, 47, a Yoga teacher and activist in Delhi, says toxic water and filthy ghats heaped misery on Chhath devotees like her for years

Chhath is considered a Mahaparv or the festival of festivals. However, the amount of pollution we have had to navigate over the years to be able to perform this holy ritual is unimaginable. I stay in east Delhi and I have been holding the Chhath puja for 24 years (since 1997) mostly at Yamuna Pushta area. And not once did I find the Yamuna ghat without toxic waste, filth and muck – absolutely unworthy for holding a religious ritual.

In 2018, I got a chance to perform Chhath at Hrishikesh and I marvelled at the experience. A clean river in its glorious flow can lift your spirits. It makes you calmer as you are not worrying about the toxicity of the water or stepping upon dirt and filth. Last year when Covid happened, many devotees (including me) tried to improvise and recreate small water bodies on our terraces. However, even though the water was clean, the community feeling was missing. People couldn’t meet each other, or guide and help each other in this festival. This year also I am performing the Chhath on our terrace, simply because the condition of the Yamuna is unbecoming of hosting a sacred ceremony.

Singh (seated right) with her family and friends performing Chhath puja at her terrace

I still remember how it used to feel when we had to go through the mud and slush in order to reach the ghat. Since 2016, apart from the dirty water, the air pollution added to the misery; it became unbearable to stand in the water for long stretches of time and inhaling the pungent air. We all could smell the toxic fumes coming from the river.

Plus, there would be too many people jostling for space. My eyes used to burn and water a lot, and I had severe skin irritation the following days. In order to save our health, I used to take clean water from home for the evening and morning arghya (water offering).

ALSO READ: ‘Govts Must Know The Values Behind Chhath’

Only last year I became the president of the Delhi chapter of a Kanpur-based NGO called Paryavaran Suraksha Sansthan and hope that in the future we can take care of the issue of clean rivers and ghats. But it’s beyond the capacity of one NGO to tackle the issue. We need serious, collective efforts. Doing Chhath on the terrace is also no easy task given the pollution levels. So much effort is made to create pandals, install loudspeakers, give a holiday etc. but no efforts are made to give devotees their most basic need: clean water and air.

I somehow feel our lifestyle was earlier closer to nature. As the Chhath festival signifies, the season change was marked with immunity boosting foods and mentally preparing oneself for the bleak, cold winter months ahead. We need to go back to a more nature-friendly lifestyle. Serious dialogues are the need of the hour between government and civil society. Climate change is an issue of serious concern and we shouldn’t take it lightly.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

Swechha- an honest attempt to save Yamuna river  

Director Vimlendu Jha says, “We have been working as non-profitable organization for the betterment of pitiable state of Yamuna in the capital since 10 years. We started with our first campaign, ‘We for Yamuna’, it was an awareness campaign about the dying river. In its early days, in year 2000, we got amazing response from the youth of Delhi. The much better thing was chief minister announced, a 5 days ‘Shramdaan’ a voluntary clean-up drive of river at eight different locations after our initiative.”
What makes Swechha different from other NGOs, “We have three cross cutting core areas- environment and education, youth and civil society and active citizenship that sets us apart from the rest of other NGOs,” adds Vimlendu. In last 10 years Swechha has tied up with 60 leading schools all over India for different environment issues. Vimlendu says, “We are advocating coexistence of both development and environment and that is thing what we are trying to tell the young generation.”
“In earlier days when most of us were undergraduate students came together to take a solid action on pitiable condition of Yamuna. We were just amateur activist’s group and didn’t know what to do and how. One day, we were sitting near Dilli Haat and decided to form a youth led group later we finalized the name ‘Swechha’. We did street plays, pamphlet distribution, awareness campaigns and lots of other odd jobs to promote the cause and issue.” Vimlendu recalls. He told that since team of volunteers visiting authorities for assistance, they had to encounter rowdy people.
Swechha is opposed the encroachments of the Yamuna bank with concrete structures. Now, they are planning to work as pressure group to compel government to formulate policies against encroachment of river. They have also started a volunteer driven community programme called ‘Pagdandi’ that focuses on human contribution to save environment. On world environment day, volunteers organize cyclthon to spread awareness about clean energy and save environment.

Air pollution reducing life expectancy of Chinese

By Gaurav Sharma

Worsening air pollution has reduced the average life expectancy in China by over two years, said a report released here this week.

The report, launched by the International Energy Agency, also stated that outdoor pollution could be the cause of as many as one million premature deaths while air pollution was claiming a total 1.2 million lives every year in the country.

“Average life expectancy in China is reduced by almost 25 months because of poor air quality,” said the report released on Monday.

The report pointed out that nearly half of China’s population was living in areas where air quality targets were still not met.

It warned that deaths due to outdoor air pollution and household air pollution could soar up to 1.5 million and 1 million, respectively, if air quality does not improve.

“Growth in energy demand has gone hand-in-hand with economic transformation and social development, but there has been a high cost for the environment,” observed the 266-page report.

It lamented that “only 8 of the 74 major Chinese cities that are currently subject to air quality monitoring met the national standard for clean air in 2014”.

Air pollution is one of the biggest problems in China. Unchecked growth of industries and factories over the past two decades has led to massive pollution in the country.

Beijing is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Its neighbouring province Hebei, which accounts for 25 percent of China’s steel production, is heavily polluted.

In 2015, China issued 97,000 administrative orders, shutting down 20,000 polluting plants and recovered $654 billion in fines — an increase of 34 percent over 2014.