The air that we breathe (part 2)

There’s not much in the way of travel warnings for Delhi, despite the chronic levels of air pollution hanging miserably over the city. Maybe adding “thick smog” to the list of things for travellers to be wary of doesn’t bode so well. The truth is, that while some view Delhi as the poster city for Incredible India, many are far less enchanted. With the Air Quality Index reaching some 5 x the levels of hazardous conditions just a few weeks ago, simply not enough is being done to breathe new air into the choking city. Well, not by the Government anyway.

Today a subgroup of the My Right to Breathe campaign held a peaceful protest outside the Environment Ministry in Jor Bagh, New Delhi. The streets were lined with concerned parents and children sharing their messages on posters and banners, all pleading to the government to take greater steps to handle the pollution levels. Even under a clearer winter sky, the pollution levels were 3 times higher than what is deemed acceptable by Indian standards. Though really, their missive was even more targeted; today was the deadline for the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) to meet the strict emission targets set by the MoEF&CC in 2015. These targets were set so that the water consumption and smoke emission levels would not exceed safe limits. However, missing the 7th December deadline would effectively allow the 300+ coal based Thermal Power Plants to continue operating as they do today, throwing sulphur dioxide into the air for the next 2-5 years. The groundswell today was a deliberate and direct plea for the CEA to adhere to these regulations, which if followed through, would have a significant impact on improving Delhi’s air quality.

All over social media, people are talking about the pollution in Delhi. Though when it came to joining in support outside the Ministry, relative to the scale of the problem, only a small number of people participated. Some say it all comes down to the attitude that prevails; “it’s someone else’s responsibility”, or “someone else will do it”. Today, clad in masks and scarves, even children took to the streets and voiced their opinion. They talked about being forced to play inside, to miss school, to give up outdoor sports because their parents are too afraid to expose them to the toxicity levels in the air. The sentiment shared by those who went today is that “we are all in it together”; young kids, the elderly, the government, corporations and those on the streets. What people can’t do is get complacent or feel that nothing can be done, surely the kids asserted that today. The clean air movement in Delhi has to be a collective effort and one that is not going to rest until those with the power listen to the people.

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