The climatic change is becoming a global crisis and a colossal challenge to deal with having India as no exception. There is an inherent relationship between climate change and growing air pollution. Ordinarily, air is said to be polluted when it contains toxic chemicals and compounds at such levels which expose humans to a health-risk. It is not just detrimental for health but for the whole planet.  

Air pollution is caused by a range of human activities, inter alia, burning of fossil fuels, agricultural activities, transportation emission, mining operations etc. Sometimes, it is also caused by strong natural forces such as volcanic eruptions, dust storms, forest fires etc. 

As per United Nations, air pollution kills more than 6 million people every year. As per the information mentioned on the official website of United Nations Environmental Program, “airborne pollutants are responsible for about one third of deaths from stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, and lung cancer, as well as one quarters of death from heart attack.” Under the title, ‘Five reasons you should care about air pollution’, the information further mentions that, “Globally, 93 per cent of all children breathe air that contains higher concentrations of pollutants than the World Health Organization (WHO) considers safe to human health. As a result, 600,000 children die prematurely each year because of air pollution.”

As per a 2018 WHO study, out of 10 most polluted cities in the world 10 were in India. This study had been conducted over 4000 cities across 100 Countries of the world. 

In India too, the situation is threatening. The increasing rate of air pollution in Indian cities is an alarming sign and an existential threat for the future of urban dwelling. As per a United Nation’s report, fourteen Indian cities in 2016 were included in the top 20 most polluted cities of the world. In 2013, this number was merely three. Such a drastic increase in the number of polluted cities in India in such a short span of time is indeed a frightening situation. Further, as per a study published in the Lancet Planetary Health Journal, ‘India’s toxic air claimed 1.24 million lives in 2017, or 12.5 percent of total deaths recorded that year’. This presents to us a chilling picture of an exponentially degrading air quality in urban India. 

As per a United Nation’s report, the India’s urban population is expected to be 40.76% by 2030. The present figure of India’s urban population is 34 %, according to ‘UN world urbanization Prospects 2018’ report

Dr Harsh Vardhan, the then Union Minister for environment, forest and climate change had made a statement in the Parliament in January 2019 that, ‘There was no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlation of death/disease exclusively to air pollution.’ But, as per a study conducted by Indian Council of Medical Research, functioning under the Union Health Ministry itself, ‘One out of every eight deaths in India in 2017 could be attributed to air pollution.’ This implies that India needs to fight this frightening situation on a war-footing basis. 

The situation is very severe and several urgent measures are required to be taken to tackle this situation. The first among them, in my opinion, is to encourage the use of public transport among the masses. The use of eco-friendly vehicles should be encouraged such as CNG motor-vehicles. The electric rickshaws should also be encouraged in cities for plying passengers. The electric buses should be purchased by all States in huge numbers to ensure pollution-free public transportation in cities across the Country. The Central government has recently been enthusiastic about it. 

In every city, there should be a properly maintained pedestrian track and a bicycle track. The private diesel vehicles should be systematically phased out within a definite time frame. 

The feebate policy as recommended by ‘Niti Aayog’ that is to be made operational post 2020, in its 15 points actions plan under its ‘Breath India’ mission, needs to be strongly implemented. Feebate system are one of the best available policy options to reduce passenger car emissions. Feebate systems impose a fee on vehicles with high CO2 emissions or fuel consumption (i.e., low fuel economy) and provide a rebate to vehicles with low CO2 emissions or fuel consumption 

In winter season, in many cities, the administrations provide wood for bonfire when the temperature plummets to a chilling cold. This adversely impacts air quality of the cities in this season. In my opinion, as an alternative to this, more and more shelter homes should be made having the facility for electric hitting. Electric hitting of the shelter homes will have a lesser negative impact on environment than the open burning of wood as bonfire to get heat.  In these shelter homes, people should be permitted to take rest in day time also in the winter season. 

Moreover, waste-burning should be strictly regulated as it is a major cause of air pollution in Indian cities. Therefore, the provisions for a strict fine should be made for burning leaves, tyres, plastics and other such stuffs. There is no need to make it a punishable offence in my opinion but a provision for fine may also deter public from indulging in waste-burning. 

Most importantly, greening the city is a must move to control degrading air-quality in urban areas. There should be a mandatory green-belt in all cities across the Country. More and more spacious parks should be made having adequate greenery in it. The idea of green-roofs should also be encouraged in cities among the urban masses. But, after all, the strict implementation of all such policies is a prerequisite for any positive outcome for us to see. 

Further, read more: 

A Fly and Fall of concept of ‘Public Interest Litigation’

Pen and paper are mightier than a laptop and tablet, PC?

Rohit Kumar

Rohit Kumar is a law graduate, an RTI activist and a former SBI Youth for India Fellow (2017-18) Batch.

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