India burns its crop. India burns its garbage. India burns a lot it wants to get rid of.
Let’s look around. Crop burning is a practice. Our food-bowl states grow crops for us. At the end of the crop, every plant has produced two things: Things we as well as our buffalos, cows and goats will eat, and stuff that no one will eat. This is considered to be fit to burn. And burn we do. In the crop harvest months, the entire country wears a pall of crop-burning gloom. There is a haze in our lives that one has come to expect every year come the season to burn.
If rural agrarian India does this with gusto, urban and mini-metro India is not too far with its burning fetish. Burning (not controlled incineration) is par for the course in our big cities and towns alike. We love to burn dry leaves and twigs to warm ourselves in the winter months. We love to burn dry garbage all year round. It’s considered a great way to get rid of a voluminous mess. Burn up those mounds of leaf and garbage and within hours the ground is clear. All that is left is ash and plastic residue. The rest has gone into the air, polluting it along with everyone who breathes it all in.
This burning fetish is one that belongs not only to the individual in his little home with a garden in front of it, but also to those who dump garbage at street corners and institutions that belong to the government and our Armed Forces as well. I live right next to one such establishment, the Air Force Camp, Murugeshpalya in Bengaluru. And a lot is burned literally every other day. Burn it all in the open air and let loose particulate matter into the air all around.
We also burn for business. While large factories all around come under the Pollution Control Act and its stringent measures, smaller establishments of every kind have a wanton existence. Our jaggery and tile factories pollute at will, just as every other small enterprise does its own thing, often not worrying too much about what is let out as pollutants into the air. The sad thing is that dry and wet pollution can be seen visibly, but air pollution is well nigh invisible. At times there is just no colour to it and even if there is, it seems to dissipate all too fast. Tracking back to the source is all the more difficult. Evidence in air pollution has this happy aspect that it disappears fast and quick.
And then we burn for fun. Every anecdotal bonfire is one such piece of fun. Fortunately, India is not a land of the regular bonfire. But we have our festivals. Firecrackers are a classic act that pollute the air that much more. Festival time is not much of a celebration for those sick with respiratory ailments.
We also burn for commuting. Fortunately, pollution control laws that dictate emission standards are tight in India. There is a mandatory pollution control check every vehicle has to go through every six months. And despite it all, we pollute as we travel. The pandemic had cleared the air of this one pollutant for months. But once life resumed to normal, so did the pollutant.
Each one of us, in some way or the other, is a sinner in this country that silently celebrates air pollution. The sad fact is that we don’t take note of it. Not till it affects any one of us or a dear one in the family. By then, it is too late. Contributing to the degree of air pollution seems a national passion. All of us do it in our own small way. We need to sit up and smell the pollution.
There is a dire need to address the issue of air pollution in India. According to numbers published by IQair from Switzerland, 22 of the 30 most air polluted cities in the world are in India. And New Delhi is the most polluted capital city in the world. A dubious distinction that must make us worry.
Air pollution and tackling it are serious businesses in India. A big business opportunity. The solution needs to address two issues. The first is the one at the producer end. The second is at the point of managing it all once pollution has actually entered into our air streams and public spaces. As of now, we are managing it a bit too late, at a point of time when this pollution has entered into our lungs, repeatedly, over the days and years of our lives.
Air pollution needs two approaches. A preventive approach and a curative. Both are important for the country. At the end of preventive air pollution we need to be investing in filters that stop and break the spread of the insidious pollutant in terms of particulate matter that is all around us. We live in a world that has new technology in place for this very effort. Let’s urge its use.
At the end of curative air pollution, massive motors and machines that can gobble up dirty air and spew out the clean air should be introduced. The new trees of the new future ahead of us. Sad, but true.
In between these two approaches, there is an urgent need to educate ourselves very quickly about the quality of air we breathe in today at home, in office, in our schools and colleges, and in every public space we love to thrive in.
As I urge you to look at this subject seriously, let us remember that every breath we take is a polluted one today. We don’t drink polluted water, so why do we breathe in polluted air? The answer lies in the fact that we just don’t know how polluted the air we breathe is. What we don’t know, we don’t care about. What we don’t see, we don’t give a hoot about. Not till it makes our every breath a loud wheeze we hear ever so loudly as we sleep more