India – the world’s fastest growing economy is also home to the 10 most polluted cities in the world according to the World Health Organization (WHO). India has long struggled to put together the ways to face the dreadful question of curbing air pollution. Noises were made from the corner here and there about the same until last year when Delhi was engulfed with the thick sheets of smog. And, after a year the same question arises with the winters on the doorsteps of the northern part of India.
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Air pollution affects the both, rich and the poor. But the rich will be able to afford the cost of dealing with chronic asthma and cancer whereas the poor will not be able to do so. In other words, India’s wealth will be built on the backs of its poor, its elderly, its children and those genetically susceptible.
China had the reputation of smoky skies and thick layers of smog but, it has managed to reduce its notorious air pollution. The country has implemented anti-pollution measures since 2013 and had put it under the category of the national action plan.
According to the reports, it has reduced its coal consumption by 50% between 2013 and 2018 and sped up the use of filters and scrubbers. The drop in pollution in late 2017 exemplifies why bans in China often work better than elsewhere.
First, many of the biggest polluters are state-owned, and so are more easily controlled. The central government also told local officials they wouldn’t get promoted without meeting air quality targets, and the country has sought to move away from polluting industries.
Government policies forced millions of homes and businesses to switch from coal to cleaner-burning. China was quick to realize the hazardous impact of pollution on nation’s productivity and the economy and its people who demanded and supported the government from the back in their initiatives.
Whereas, in India, the Modi government’s policies on pollution will be put to the test as winter descends on the dusty plains of north India. Crops are burned during this season and millions of fireworks go off during the Diwali festival, usually pushing air pollution to hazardous levels.
Modi government has promoted solar power, improved emission standards and handed out millions of cooking gas canisters to reduce kitchen fires inside homes. Officials have also tried to ban farmers from burning crops. But environmentalists are still waiting for more concrete targets from a national clean air plan that has yet to be officially launched.
“The major challenge is that people are not consistently demanding improvements in air pollution, as happened in China,” Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, said via e-mail. “This is because the extent to which air pollution is causing people in India to lead shorter and sicker lives is not yet fully recognized.”
If strict policies to battle smog were successfully implemented, India’s citizens and the government would be much richer. By the World Bank’s calculations, health-care fees and productivity losses from pollution cost India as much as 8.5 per cent of GDP. At its current size of $2.6 trillion that works out to about $221 billion every year.
Pollution control has yet to become an electoral issue in India but, a war has begun against it. Now the question is for how long India will allow its economy and its people battle against this colossal chaos.