Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave Delhi a small reason to cheer: The city is no longer the most polluted in the world. That crown of thorns now sits on the head of Zabol in Iran. Reacting to the report, New Delhi-based policy think tank Centre for Science and Environment said this has been made possible because the city adopted some important measures: The Euro IV emission standards were introduced in 2010; in the last two years, actions have been taken like not allowing pre-2000 trucks to enter the city; the closure of Rajghat coal-based power plant, the odd-even traffic management and crucially building public opinion around the issue.
As is the nature of political parties, the Delhi government has been quick to claim credit for the pollution ranking. But this chest-thumping is a bit premature because the work is far from over and it will take years of concerted effort to improve the air quality in the city. There is another reason why we must not rejoice: In the world’s 20 most polluted cities there are 10 Indian cities, and all are in the north and central belt, which is exactly where the density of population is among the highest in the country. In fact, even when the 2014 list of polluted cities came out and Delhi topped it, the focus was so much on the Capital that most forgot about the plight of the citizens in the smaller cities who not only have a hard time living in such a polluted atmosphere but also have to contend with half-measures from their governments.
For example, the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board recently issued a notice to brick entrepreneurs of Ghaziabad, GautamBudh Nagar and Hapur to convert from natural draft kilns to induced draft kilns in 90 days. It is estimated that the brick kiln sector is the largest contributor to PM10 emissions in the NCR region after transport, road dust and thermal power plants. There are around 700 brick kilns in the three districts of Ghaziabad, GautamBudh Nagar and Hapur. Most of these kilns are natural draft Bulls Trench Kilns. While the UPPCB has rightly identified brick kilns as an important source of air pollution, experts say that the technological solution suggested is inadequate and will not lead to a reduction in pollution.
Instead of focusing on some cities --- they make headline news no doubt ---- the focus must be on an all-India air pollution plan since it is the fifth largest killer in the country.