End the blame game: On Delhi’s pollution crisis

Concerted efforts are needed for a long-term solution to Delhi’s pollution crisis

The recurrent tragedy of addressing the problem of air pollution in Delhi is that it invariably descends into a blame game. The Centre blames the Delhi government, because it belongs to a different political dispensation, which in turn quite conveniently blames farmers in Punjab. What is never addressed head-on is that the air pollution crisis is not a problem that can be solved overnight. The lockdown last year provided compelling evidence that taking vehicles off the road and a cessation in industrial and construction activity led to clearer skies. Source apportionment studies by various institutions have shown that the contribution of stubble burning varies significantly, from as low as 4% on some days in October-November to as much as 40%. But the running of power plants and construction are also necessary activities that cannot be shut at a moment’s notice. The move to ban the entry of trucks too is not any more effective than waiting for the wind to blow over, and has consequences for the economy. The way forward is to view winter air pollution as a natural disaster and target root causes. Road dust is the dominant source of particulate matter and the most significant impediment to clean air, and unfortunately the least amenable to an easy fix. The emphasis must be on concerted and consistent efforts, and not annual blame games.

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