Economist on India Pollution

INDIA STINKS. If at this misty time of year its capital, Delhi, smells as if something is burning, that is because many things are: the carcinogenic diesel that supplies three-quarters of the city’s motor fuel, the dirty coal that supplies most of its power, the rice stalks that nearby farmers want to clear after the harvest, the rubbish dumps that perpetually smoulder, the 400,000 trees that feed the city’s crematoria each year and so on. All this combustion makes Delhi’s air the most noxious of any big city (see article). It chokes on roughly twice as much PM 2.5, fine dust that penetrates deep into lungs, as Beijing.

Delhi’s deadly air is part of a wider crisis. Seventy percent of surface water is tainted. In the World Health Organisation’s rankings of air pollution, Indian cities claim 14 of the top 15 spots. In an index of countries’ environmental health from Yale and Columbia universities, India ranks a dismal 177th out of 180.

This does not just make life unpleasant for a lot of Indians. It kills them. Recent estimates put the annual death toll from breathing PM 2.5 alone at 1.2m-2.2m a year. The lifespan of Delhi-dwellers is shortened by more than ten years, says the University of Chicago. Consumption of dirty water directly causes 200,000 deaths a year, a government think-tank reckons, without measuring its contribution to slower killers such as kidney disease. Some 600m Indians, nearly half the country, live in areas where water is in short supply. As pollutants taint groundwater, and global warming makes the vital monsoon rains more erratic, the country is poisoning its own future.

Indian pollution is a danger to the rest of the world, too. Widespread dumping of antibiotics in rivers has made the country a hotspot for anti-microbial resistance. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, grew by 6% a year between 2000 and 2016, compared with 1.3% a year for the world as a whole (and 3.2% for China). India now belches out as much as the whole of Africa and South America combined.

In the past India has explained its failure to clean up its act by pleading poverty, noting that richer countries were once just as dirty and that its output of filth per person still lags far behind theirs. But India is notably grubby not just in absolute terms, but also relative to its level of development. And it is becoming grubbier. If electricity demand doubles by 2030, as expected, coal consumption stands to rise by 50%.

It is true that some ways of cutting pollution are expensive. But there are also cheap solutions, such as undoing mistakes that Indian bureaucrats have themselves made. By subsidising rice farmers, for instance, the government has in effect cheered on the guzzling of groundwater and the torching of stubble. Rules that encourage the use of coal have not made India more self-reliant, as intended, but instead have led to big imports of foreign coal while blackening India’s skies. Much cleaner gas-fired power plants, meanwhile, sit idle.

Reliant on big business for funding and on the poor for votes, politicians have long ignored middle-class complaints about pollution, failing to give officials the backing to enforce rules, or to co-ordinate across jurisdictions. That is a pity, because when India does apply itself to ambitious goals, it often achieves them. Next year it will send its second rocket to the Moon.

Narendra Modi, the prime minister, promised with admirable frankness when he took over to rid the country of open defecation. Four and a half years and some $9bn later, his Clean India campaign claims to have sponsored the building of an astonishing 90m toilets. This is impressive, but India is still not clean. Its skies, its streets, its rivers and coasts will remain dangerously dirty until they receive similar attention. more  

View all 33 comments Below 33 comments
If you take strong action, you may lose votes .Population control is also very importtant to restrict pollution, it also help economic growth.No political party would dare to do it. more  
We lack basic decipline regarding hygenic practices.Another is labor employed by local bodies do not do their jobs sincerely and are unionised,with the result a bad worker never get punished.Also rag pickers will spill the garbage from dust bins and will collect plastic or other saleable material from junk. more  
I think all the route causes for making Delhi polluted so dangerously are yet to be find out. The causes so far pointed out for making the national capital so dangerous to live in are equally exist in our other cities but those cities are still comparatively safe. Moreover, till two years back Delhi did not face such calamity though the similar situation was, more or less, existing during that period too. Then what had made Delhi all of sudden a killing ground ! This need more and more study to find out the hidden causes. Until the disease is properly diagnosed, complete cure would not be possible. As far as cleansing of the entire nation is concerned, it would be wrong to expect the government alone to make it clean and maintain cleanliness all the time. The Modi government has done its job by igniting feeling of the need for cleanliness in public mind and by providing toilets and other essentials in the form of cash & kind and now the responsibility of maintaining cleanliness lies on us, the common man. But what we see is that the majority of us continued to be arrogant and are stubborn towards acceptance of the reality and amending ourselves for the good. What we see today is that apart from those pedestrians, people on bi-cycles & two wheeler, those riding a latest model costly four wheeler simply open the windows thereof and spit on the roads shamelessly. Wastes and wrappers of eatables are thrown on roads and public places even by the educated and so called respectable ones. When this is the state of characteristic affairs of majority of us, no government and its agencies can help us or the nation. We can't escape from our responsibilities being responsible and sensible citizen by blaming the government and the politicians. more  
WHY THIS MAIL WAS SENT TO ME On 2018-12-08 10:32, Rohini Sahni wrote: > more  
Dear Rohini, you have highlighted the real problem, but let me tell you honestly, that our political leadership, ever since we got independence, have never been honest to the people of India or the conditions existing all throughout the nation. To achieve anything on the ground, we have to establish an honest, reliable and answerable political system in the country. I can assure you that we, the Veterans have taken up this issue seriously and thus launched an honest political front, "FAUJI JANTA PARTY", with a clear message that, when we can defend the National Borders, Why can't we Defend/Safeguard our Parliament. Hence, Lets all join this and get things done as per our needs and requirement. e-mail- website-, contact number- 9871759977 more  
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