Choking Hazard
THE WEEK|November 25, 2018
Choking Hazard

Delhi grapples with its season of smog, as an unprepared Centre and state look for solutions

Soumik Dey

Spring, summer, monsoon, autumn and winter. The standard seasons of Delhi. Over the past few years, however, another one has crept in between fall and winter—pollution. And Diwali is when it peaks. This year, the morning after the festivities, a cloud of smog blanketed the capital. The levels of PM10 in the air spiked to four-digit figures, which even the pollution monitoring machines could not read. They max out at 999 micrograms per cubic metre. The PM 2.5 count was just shy of the 999 mark.

The people of Delhi had flouted the Supreme Court’s guidelines on the festivities and had burst crackers well into the night. “We have registered cases against 75 offenders flouting the firecracker norms,” said Delhi Environment Minister Imran Hussain. “Fines of 14 lakh were imposed on several other citizens indulging in sale of firecrackers or bursting loud bombs. But this is not a final solution as we can all see.” Said Delhi Health Minister

Satyendar Jain: “Admittance of emergency patients has more than tripled at most major government hospitals. This is an alarming situation for all chest specialists. It might be helpful if all of us restrict our outdoor activities to a bare minimum in these days.”

The politics of pollution

Last month, pollution levels in Delhi started to peak, partly because of stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana. This led to a political slugfest. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal blamed the state governments for doing nothing. The Delhi government wrote to the two states, urging them to take preventive action against stubble burning. This year, in the Union budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had initially earmarked 500 crore, which the cabinet increased to 1,150 crore, to fund a two-year plan to provide farmers machinery at subsidised rates for infield management of crop residue.

Reportedly, the funds were barely used. “Farmers are already indebted and no farmer wants to pay from his pocket to buy these machines,” said Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. “Farmers have not been given any subsidy. This is criminal; the Centre should intervene.”

The Haryana State Pollution Control Board, for its part, took out ads in Delhi newspapers, citing its own data about stubble burning. Punjab, too, countered Delhi’s charges. “Farmers had bought more than 24,000 crop-residue machines utilising the subsidy scheme this year,” said state agriculture secretary Kahan Singh Pannu. “I believe that incidents of field fires would have been reduced by 30 to 40 per cent in the state.”

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November 25, 2018