Growth’s toxic air

The flipside of high economic growth is its impact on environment, rarely recognized in our country.

As we pursue high growth at any cost, pollution levels in and around Indian cities is rising at an alarming rate and the government has conveniently decided to sleep over it, rather than taking some corrective measures.

It is obvious as the government has not made any substantial bid to revive the India’s auto-fuel policy, which expired 2010 and the apparent reason is pressure from the high growth automotive segment.

If the officials in government of India are to be believed there is no hurry to look at ambitious targets to reduce toxics from fuel emissions as financially bleeding oil companies and auto-sector has already made huge investment to achieve Bharat Stage-III or Bharat Stage-IV emission norms in 2010.

What the official failed to mention was high cost a citizen has to pay for breathing polluted air. Hospitals in Delhi and national capital region can provide enough data to show increase in number of cases related to rising air pollution. If the cost benefit analysis is done, the price of cleaning the air would be less than one pays for breathing toxic air.

Air pollution levels in Delhi crossed 570 micro grams in cubic meter of air this week, five times the national standard for respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM). In Delhi’s neighbouring Ghaziabad and Faridabad, where industrial activity is high, pollution levels were even higher.

The sudden jump was because of the chill factor in air but if one looks at the air pollution data of the last few years there cannot be any dispute over steadily rising air pollution levels. In fact, pollution crossed the pre-CNG levels two years ago in Delhi but it failed to wake the government from the slumber.

The government, Centre and the state, had remained mute spectators with just seldom speeches of concern without much action. And, the reason is that the price to clean the air is high and the industry has to pay it. The economy centric government of ours does not dare to ask the industry to clean its dirty linen.

The last two months witnessed reform bash with several incentives announced for the industry and stuck up economic regulatory and legislative issues cleared. It won immediate kudos from industry and spurting Sensex.

But, the same UPA government, failed to provide a similar push for introducing fuel efficiency/economy norms for vehicles held up since 2006 because of industry’s pressure. In addition, the government had also failed to augment the capability of the Central Pollution Control Board and the state pollution control committees to improve monitoring for air pollution levels in upcoming cities. The CPCB has cited financial crunch for its inability to up-data air quality of Indian cities since 2008.

This is only indicative of the double standards our governments adopt, especially in relation to public welfare. Corporate welfare is several notches above public welfare or else the government would have pushed the industry to spend some of their profits for providing cleaner environment to people. It may be because environment cannot not pay money to the political class whereas the corporates can.

People can expect better environment and quality of life only if they challenge the political class rather than being mute spectators. Or else, the dirty road ahead is all ours.

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