Tuesday, December 5, 2023

An appeal by PM Modi on Diwali firecrackers could help alleviate air pollution

Delhi had been enduring “severe” air quality for two weeks. But the air quality index (AQI) improved remarkably following light rainfall on November 10 and the air quality on Diwali morning was the best it has been in eight years, Mint reported. 

By evening, though, the city was once again blanketed by a thick layer of smog and the AQI back at “severe” after an unprecedented and widespread bursting of firecrackers in violation of a Supreme Court ban. In the end, the Delhi government’s ‘Diya Jalao, Patakhe Nahi’ campaign proved ineffective in curbing pollution.  An AQI between zero and 50 is considered “good”, 51 and 100 “satisfactory”, 101 and 200 “moderate”, 201 and 300 “poor”, 301 and 400 “very poor”, and 401 and 500 “severe”.

The air quality in Delhi and across north India deteriorates every year in the lead up to winter, when cold air traps pollutants from vehicles, factories, construction sites, and stubble-burning. Lasting solutions are needed to tackle this chronic problem.

While Mint SnapView has been advocating ways to tackle stubble-burning by farmers, it’s now apparent that Delhi’s habit of bursting firecrackers on Diwali needs to be addressed, too.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to the well-heeled to give up their cooking gas subsidy in 2015 could be instructive. Within a year of that campaign, 8.22 million families had surrendered the subsidy voluntarily, helping the government save 4,166 crore a year.

This was no mean feat, considering the government had first asked well-to-do families to give up this subsidy in back in 2012. Modi’s appeal evoked the desired response and people actually came forward to give up the subsidy. Additionally, work on setting up the supply infrastructure for piped natural gas to be delivered to households was completed on a war footing.

Modi must now nudge Indians to break their old habit of bursting firecrackers. A call from him to ‘light lamps, not firecrackers’, is sure to evoke much more enthusiastic response than the Delhi government’s appeal did.

Simultaneously, the ban on manufacturing, storing and selling firecrackers should be enforced strictly. This, along with lasting solutions for stubble-burning and other causes of north India’s winter pollution, would go a long way in improving the quality of the air we breathe.

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