After China and the US, India is the world’s third-largest polluter. In fact, after Diwali this year, Delhi’s AQI (air quality index) touched 999 and beyond, way above the acceptable limits. Thick layer of smog on Delhi skies looked a deadly cocktail of ominous and life-threatening pollutants. And it is not just Delhi. Many cities in India, particularly north India, have become toxic gas chambers, engulfed in dangerous smog, driving its inhabitants’ health to menacing lows. The alarming rate of air pollution in India is now no more another challenge, it is a full-blown environmental crisis that we are dealing with.
In 2013, China took note of its catastrophic air pollution levels when its PM 2.5 touched 755 micrograms per cubic meter (g/m³) — 30 times higher than the WHO-prescribed daily average limit of 25 g/m³. Taking drastic measures from the word go led China to an AQI of 53 in 2019, which is considered moderate.
So, what exactly China did, and can we learn from them too?
- China identified the key polluted zones and regions, focused all its efforts on those and saw the average concentration of PM dropdown substantially for those areas. We can certainly earmark the most polluted zones and start a pilot project.
- Nation-wide ban on coal was announced, including household consumption. This may take some time in India as alternative sources for domestic use are still limited. Our reliability on coal plants will take time to wean off until the time renewable sources and infrastructure is fully developed.
- China built the world’s biggest air purifier in Shaanxi province and since its launch, it has produced more than 10 million cubic meters (353 million cubic feet) of clean air a day. Certainly, we can work on creating a ‘clean air’ infrastructure like this, at least in the dangerously polluted zones.
- By restricting the purchase of new cars in large cities, China was able to contain the number of cars on city roads. Delhi government has been resorting to the ‘odd-even’ formula of vehicles on roads for a fortnight, occasionally to reduce the emissions and ease the roads. The same model can be replicated in other parts of the country too, with required adjustments.
- China brought measures to increase its forest cover to 23% by 2020 and 26% by 2035. Afforestation and reforestation must be a part of our pollution control policy bring up the green covers in and around our cities.
That being said, India has been taking measures that abide by its commitment towards the Paris Agreement of 2015 on climate change. India also has been transitioning towards renewable sources of power and aims to have 275 GW from renewable energy, with 57% of the total electricity capacity from renewables by 2027. However, a crisis-like situation now needs a crisis-like response. Strict policies followed by stricter enforcement, over a pre-decided period alone will yield results for India in its drive to combat air pollution.