The SC initiative on pollution should be turned into a national movement

A one off measure to manage pollution in the national capital region (NCR) or elsewhere will not work. The ban on sale of crackers during Diwali imposed by the Supreme Court should only be seen as a first step towards cleaning up the quality of air that’s dangerously poisonous with particulate matter, toxins and cancer-causing carcinogenic agents. If there’s no significant improvement in the air quality in Delhi, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Noida and elsewhere post-Diwali, it does not mean that the apex court order did not work. It only reflects severity of the problem that needs to be tackled on a war footing.

There was perceptible change in atmosphere and decibel levels given the muted bursting of crackers. But the adverse environment conditions that prevailed through the weekend only reflected the limited impact the decision had. While a small beginning has been made, a comprehensive package of measures needs to be put in place to deal with the pollution of every variety confronting the Indian society at large.

Land, water, air, sound and general atmospheric pollution levels have reached gigantic proportions seeking solutions on a much larger scale. Sure, religious sensitivities have to be taken into account and there’s no reason why leaders of different communities should not be consulted. For instance, the Hindu leadership could’ve been apprised and taken into confidence by the government in enforcing the ban on sale of crackers. Politicians like Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Chouhan should perhaps be given a lesson or two on pollution, given that he burst crackers citing traditions of the festival. Similarly, Tripura governor Tatagatha Roy’s proposal to stop broadcast of Azaan on loud speakers to reduce noise pollution levels should be given serious thought. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s experiment on odd and even numbered cars on alternate days to bring down pollution levels in the national capital should not be viewed as a gimmick. Every available model, experience and experiment will have to be tried, if we have to breath clean air, eat healthy food, live safe and sleep well. It’s only a couple of years ago that the White House officials had expressed their apprehensions at then US President Barack Obama being invited as the chief guest for India’s Republic Day parade. Apparently, one of the big issues flagged was the high level of pollution that the US President would be exposed to in New Delhi! 

Against this backdrop, the court’s order to put in place a phased strategy to manage the NCR’s pollution levels assumes significance. This strategy includes regulations on chemicals, controls on bursting of crackers, community events and campaigns to sensitise people on the emergency-like situation faced by the capital’s residents. In several parts, voluntary compliance of SC orders worked. But equally, there were violators, who will fall in line only through stringent enforcement. Similarly, there were businesses that resorted to black marketing of crackers, taking full advantage of the ban and profiteer. The initiative launched by the court should not lose momentum now that Diwali is behind us. It should be turned into a national movement. After all managing pollution in our cities, towns and villages is our own business. Like disaster management drills, we should undertake exercises to manage pollution and environment in the NCR on an experimental basis. Technology and outreach campaigns would be the key to deal with pollution backed by a long-term strategy.