India's top court asks governments to check Delhi pollution

Pollutants in the New Delhi air is 15 times higher than the safe limit set by World Health Organization
India's top court asks governments to check Delhi pollution

A family puts a mask on their toddler in New Delhi as they prepare to travel on Nov. 9. (Photo by IANS) reporter, New Delhi
November 17, 2017
India’s top court has directed governments to take remedial action as air pollution worsens in New Delhi and most parts of adjoining states.

“The situation is life threatening,” India’s Supreme Court commented Nov. 13.

The court asked the federal government and state governments of Delhi, Haryana and Punjab to detail measures taken by them to check smog and pollution.

Pollutants in the New Delhi air, called PM2.5, have increased to over 900 micrograms per cubic meter in the past week, some 15 times higher than the safe limit set by World Health Organization.

The winter season brings with thick smog as smoke from open fires mixes with vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions and particle pollution from construction sites.

The situation is exacerbated by the burning of crop residues in the states neighboring the national capital, according to media reports.

“We cannot ignore the pollution,” the Supreme Court said, noting that the government needed to more tightly control construction activities and crop stubble burning.

The air quality is so poor that the government asked all Delhi schools to remain shut and advised elderly people — and those with breathing problems — not to venture out of doors in the morning or evening when the smog is at its worst.

The federal Centre for Science and Environment said it was for the Delhi state government to take steps such as decommissioning old polluting buses.

And public transport systems needed to be improved to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads.

In the continuing blame game, governments of neighboring states refused to take responsibility for the burning of paddy stubble. 

However, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal insisted on the shared responsibility of the neighboring states.

“Delhi has become a gas chamber,” he said. “Every year this happens during this part of year. We have to find a solution to crop burning in adjoining states.”

Observers say no major political party will take steps that could cause difficulty to farmers as they are a major voting base.

Jesuit environmentalist Father Robert Athickal, founder of nationwide green movement Tarumitra (friends of trees), told that the initiatives for corrective action should also come from people being affected by pollution. 

This included building up "green" areas and reducing dust-producing activities.

The thick smog is not new to Delhi and adjoining areas, where some 45 million people live.

The Supreme Court of India earlier this year put a ban on the sale of firecrackers in the immediate lead-up to Diwali, the Hindu festival.

According to a study by the Lancet Commission, India topped a list of air pollution-related deaths in Asia in 2015 followed by China and Pakistan.

Air pollution killed 1.81 million Indians, according to a media report quoting the study.

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