I was in Delhi for just 30 hours this week Thursday to Friday.
My wife had warned me to cancel the trip and return home from Mumbai, but I had to go to Delhi for official work. She instructed me to stay at the hotel and apply eye drops every couple of hours (as I had recently gone through an eye surgery).
While I was in Mumbai earlier this week, I saw frightening news on pollution levels in Delhi. The pollution index crossed 700 which is considered absolutely unsafe for everyone, and I saw a doctor stating that Delhi might have to consider a public evacuation of its inhabitants. Delhi overtook Beijing to become the most highly polluted city in the world.
So, I was surprised to see many foreigners (mostly Westerners and Japanese) happily going out of the airport premises without a protective mask. Only one in ten people were wearing a mask, some were closing their mouths and noses with their handkerchiefs. I had my office colleagues with me, and it was embarrassing to witness the situation in the capital city of the country in front of them. We could not see the buildings on the other side of the highway, it was that bad. A thick smog has shrouded all of Delhi, and the government had closed all schools for the week, and was even trying to close all offices.
I did not venture out except for dinner time, and also kept applying the eye drops though I could feel some irritation in the eyes. It surprised me that there were so many folks walking on the roads as though nothing has changed. It amazes me how Indians continue to treat even an emergency situation with utter nonchalance. I saw that the security guards and other staff in the hotel were not wearing any protective masks, and there I saw the failure of the hotel management in protecting its own employees. The idea seems to be “so what” – if we lose a few staff, Delhi can always provide more people to fill the jobs at the lowest levels – utter disregard for the health and safety of staff members.
It continues to be a public health emergency situation in Delhi. And, as usual, the politicians on all sides were hitting at others and laying the blame elsewhere, and I could not see any actions being taken to address the situation on a war footing. While the root causes will take time to fix, it is imperative that the government spends its time, efforts and resources on removing the smog, for example, by spraying water all over the city from helicopters. India has the resources, but lacks the sense of emergency and purpose, and also political will to take drastic measures. Till the time that India starts to really care about population healthcare and human development, situations like these will go with the government of the day taking half-baked and half-hearted measures. India has one of the highest economic growth rates in the world, but that hardly matters when people are seriously affected like in this situation.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Particulate Matter (PM) is the most critical pollutant affecting most people. Please carefully read the fact sheet that the WHO has provided at its website – I am linking it here Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. The mean figures for PM10 (for particulate matter with diameter of 10 Microns or less) are: 20 for annual and 50 for 24-hour mean. With Delhi’s figure crossing 700, you can imagine the health problems that are going to be caused due to this smog hanging over Delhi. This means that there are billions and billions of these 10 Micron (or less) diameter particles which are floating around in Delhi at this moment, and these are being inhaled by Delhi’s citizens every second – with the underprivileged people in the streets affected the most. There are labourers and children who sleep on the roads in Delhi. The richer folks can afford expensive air purifiers, but the poor cannot. These instances continue in India with no redressal.
Who can we blame?
Is it the current government or the past government(s)? Is it the bureaucracy?
Well, it does not matter. One day people are going to die on the streets of Delhi. And, tourists and businesses will start to shun the city. Unless the government takes expeditious action now, and also stops this phenomenon repeating itself at the start of the winter season every year.
Delhi can now be called a gas chamber, one which needs to be cleansed and allowed to breathe.
Let us pray for the inhabitants of Delhi and not for its politicians.
11th November 2017