Air pollution in Delhi: Are we doing enough?

While India has drastically moved up in the Ease of Doing Business Rankings, it has also simultaneously earned the tag of being amongst the most polluted countries in the world, with National Capital Region (NCR) being the worst-affected. The city is in a state of public health emergency and anyone staying there cannot help but feel being in a severely affected war zone-like situation. Delhi is home to over 16 million people and is currently the world’s 11th-most polluted city. The levels of PM2.5, tiny particles that can clog people’s lungs, have increased by more than 90 times from the level that is considered to be safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO). All that the Delhi administration has done besides shifting blame to surrounding states and fighting on Twitter, is to try to put a band-aid by announcing revival of the Odd-Even scheme, under which vehicles with odd and even registration numbers are barred from the roads on alternate days; the scheme was later pulled out due to differences with the National Green Tribunal (NGT). But are such cosmetic measures enough to contain the toxic smog?

Let us try to take a holistic perspective of the current situation. Air Pollution is a proven case of market-failure and a negative externality where the ill-effects of one‘s actions are borne by the entire population and hence market fails to control the same by any negative reinforcement. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have a short window of three weeks to remove the tall stubs left over by combined harvesters before they have to sow the next crop. Burning stubble is the quickest and cheapest mode available and the practice has been going on for many years since paddy was introduced in these states as a second crop. However, it is only recently that the pollution situation has turned so alarming.

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