No thrill without the chill

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No thrill without the chill

Thursday, 06 December 2018 | Kota Sriraj

Blame global warming and rising pollution levels for the inordinate delay in the arrival of winter. Looks like this season we have to do away with our woolens

Winter in Delhi is now no longer what it used to be, what with some of the residents still using fans and most citizens yet to don woollens. There are no tell-tale signs that December has arrived. Even retail stores selling customary woollen clothes have been  caught unaware as sales have understandably plummeted. This state of affairs has been almost endorsed and made official with the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) confirming that this winter would be warmer than usual.

Considering that last winter was already the third consecutive warm one, hopes were riding on this year to be normal. But going by predictions made by weather experts and IMD, this may not be so. Last year too, mean temperatures for January-February 2018 were 0.53°C, higher than the normal of 22.17°C. The seriousness of the feeble winter season can be understood by the fact that February 2018 itself was the 12th warmest month in the last 118 years. This decidedly clear shift in temperatures is due to increasing levels of pollution and the resultant spike in average mean temperature.

As we speak of pollution, the National Green Tribunal had recently levied a Rs 25 crore fine on the Delhi Government for its inability to rein in the pollution levels that went through the roof. We are quite happy with “very poor air days” for the past two months. Thanks to raging toxic fires in the Mundka waste dump yard, the situation is slowly but surely getting out of hand. A pertinent question that needs introspection is: Was the levying of Rs 25 crore the only thing that the NGT could do? Does money, if paid, set things right? If this be the case, anyone can get away by polluting the environment. Sadly, we have no answers to these questions.

Instead, the NGT could have set an example of sorts and boosted the morale and confidence of the Mundka residents by compelling the State infrastructure to extinguish these fires in record time. In fact, it could have asked the Delhi Government to use the same Rs 25 crore to engage private pollution handling companies to deploy helicopters to spray special fire extinguishing agents to quickly bring the fire to a halt. Unfortunately, the belief of the authorities to move according to the slow administrative template means that when decisive and fast actions are needed, the Government is seen to be slow and ineffective — the resultant sufferers are the environment and the citizens.

The blame also lies squarely at the doorstep of the Delhi Government, which has literally done next to nothing to segregate garbage. To take the example of the Mundka waste dump yard once again, a visit to the place presents a depressing scenario and reinforces the sad reality as to why India may never make it to the list of bigger nations who have a responsible and sophisticated waste segregation policy and more importantly, a policy that is fully in action. The Mundka waste dump yard is a mixed bag of discarded sports shoes, tonnes of plastic, marble dust waste and broken bathroom plastic fittings. The list is endless. Clearly, there exists no on-ground agency, with qualified personnel wearing health protective gear sifting the garbage. Instead, there are barefooted children rifling through the waste, who do not wear masks and inhale toxic substances such as plastic burning smoke and asbestos dust.

With conditions such as these, it is not surprising that Delhi is unable to present to its people clear air days. People who are unlucky enough to be staying near the dumping yards are getting subjected to year round supply of polluted and toxic air. If the NGT and associated authorities do not rectify these conditions on a war footing, very soon school timings will have to be changed to that time of the day when the air quality is better than in the morning. Moreover, the elderly will have to leave the city if they need better life as this punishing pollution levels will eventually tax the fragile health of our senior citizens.

Lack of priority in tackling pollution is the key determinant as far as Delhi is concerned. Sample this: The NGT and the specially-appointed pollution control panels of the Government are chasing the subject of vehicular pollution and banning those vehicles that are more than a specific year old, but are turning a total blind eye to methane-spewing mountains of waste that are on fire, giving out toxic smoke. How can the authorities be so mixed up with their priorities is a mystery. One can understand if the Government makes a move to ban vehicles if a robust and effective public transport system is in place but that is still nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, Delhiites will have to make do with a watered down version of the winter season and wear more masks than woollens.

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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