Government’s Irrational Policies on Pollution Are Affecting the Poor, Students

The year 2021 was a bad one for daily-wage earners and students. Both suffered due to the government’s irrational policies in view of coronavirus and winter pollution in the NCR. The government should realise that daily-wage earners, especially construction workers, are very important to society. And a good education for children is required in any country.

Delhi is generally highly polluted in winters. In December 2021, the government announced various measures to curb pollution. The Supreme Court also intervened and monitored the situation in NCR. However, this didn’t stop the air quality in Delhi from oscillating between ‘poor’ and ‘severe’, as per the AQI index.

What is worse is that all these measures only harmed the poor and students, who are easy targets. In the name of reducing pollution, the government stopped construction activities in Delhi. When the government lifted the ban, the Supreme Court intervened and imposed it once again. This rendered about seven lakh construction workers jobless. Construction workers are daily-wage earners. If they don’t earn their livelihood, it becomes difficult for them to survive.

What is important is that the construction ban was not imposed on the ongoing Central Vista project, which involves constructing a new parliament building along with several other government buildings. The Union government justified the Central Vista construction by saying that it complies with the CPCB norms of 2017, resulting in no pollution.

This is unreasonable, as the same norms could have been followed by builders. In fact, a plea filed by the Developers and Builders Forum representing about 60 builders in the Supreme Court claimed that they use the latest construction technology, which reduces dust pollution.

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Now, the question is whether any authority, the government, the Supreme Court or National Green Tribunal (NGT), did a study that proved that the Central Vista project is not emitting dust but small builders are? Did anyone try to verify the government’s claims?

In any case, is a blanket ban on construction activities justified? Most of the 700,000 labourers work on constructing residential buildings, which have no significant impact on pollution.

The Union government stated that the Central Vista project is of national importance. How can the Central Vista project be of more importance than the lives of thousands of minimum-wage construction workers, or the health of over one crore residents of Delhi?

Similarly, the government’s decision to shut down schools in Delhi is pointless and does not achieve anything. This is another decision that has no scientific basis. No study was conducted to find out how closing schools will curb pollution or how children will be safer at home.

A study at the University of Chicago proved that indoor pollution in Delhi is almost as high as pollution outdoors. Since most families don’t own air purifiers, students are not really being protected from pollution by staying indoors.

Due to COVID-19 and pollution, schools in Delhi have been closed for over 600 days in the last two years. This can drastically affect children’s education and development. It seems that closing down schools is the easiest thing that a government can do, and all the authorities are happy to sacrifice the careers of millions of students just to show society that they are doing something.

AQI levels are generally very high in winters in Delhi. The main reasons for pollution are stubble burning, vehicular emissions, industries and construction. According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), an initiative of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) to measure overall pollution levels, this year the pollution in November was very high. This was mainly due to the late withdrawal of the monsoon. This delayed stubble burning by the farmers of Punjab and Haryana. Generally, the peak stubble season is in October. However, this season it was in November. As a result, November became the most polluted month.

The contribution of stubble burning to the PM 2.5 levels in Delhi was as high as 48% in November. However, neither the governments nor the courts took any concrete measures to curb stubble burning.

Similarly, vehicles are another major pollutant in Delhi. According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based NGO, vehicular emission contributes about 30% to local emissions. To curb vehicular pollution, the government should discourage private ownership of vehicles. This is possible only if the public transport system is good.

Delhi has a scarcity of buses. That is why people use private vehicles to commute. About 16% of Delhiites travel in personal vehicles, according to CSE. Delhi has only 6,000 buses, while it needs 11,000. If it’s serious about curbing pollution, the government should try to improve the public transport system.

Vibhu Gairola is a Class 11 student of Sanskriti School, Chanakyapuri.