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October 7, 2020

Air pollution: Delhi is taking the right steps. But a more comprehensive approach is needed

Air pollution in India is a regional and national problem. The Air Quality Life Index finds residents of Delhi could see 9.4 years added to their lives if pollution was reduced to meet the World Health Organization guidelines.
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Editorial

Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, on Monday, announced a seven-point action plan to tackle air pollution, ranging from measures to control dust and mitigating hot spots to a mobile application for complaints and a “war room” for monitoring. He also requested the neighbouring states to come up with an alternative to stubble burning and to implement anti-pollution measures suggested by the Supreme Court in 2019 for 11 thermal power plants operating within a 300 km radius of Delhi. The Capital is inching towards an air pollution spike, with winds slowing and the mornings getting colder, and a large number of crop stubble fires being detected over northwestern India. In mid-September, the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority wrote to Punjab and Haryana, asking the states to control crop stubble burning cases. On its part, the Centre has talked about “airshed manag-ement” — which means scientifically identifying regional airsheds that have common airflows due to topography and meteorology — to tackle the problem holistically.

The Delhi government’s steps are much needed. According to University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index, a pollution index that translates particulate air pollution into its impact on life expectancy, residents of Delhi could see 9.4 years added to their lives if pollution was reduced to meet the World Health Organization guidelines; 6.5 years if pollution met India’s national standard. This year, Covid-19 exacerbates the challenge. Several studies have suggested that people whose lungs are affected by air pollution over the years are at higher mortality risk.

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