Since the days of Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, he has had a stake in Delhi. Although I’m not sure when Delhi’s dirty air turned into genocide.
Rajdhani has always been an excellent master class on elevated air. In whitewashed central political districts, aggressive entitlement is the stock in trade. It is enlivened more positively in the Delhi Gymkhana Club, the IIC and its nepotism institutes and perhaps more positively in the corridors of power. While in new-vintage Gurgaon and Noida, the hard-earned talent may be good but the expressions of arrival are attractively simulated.
But bad air is no laughing matter, and I know that from first-hand evidence. Many children in the zone grow up on a steady diet of Levolin and Budecort, steroids that are administered through high-tech nebulizers. Such things are usually associated with geriatrics or lung ailments, but in North India like rice and pulses.
Even in 2022, the pattern is largely unbroken, as AQI scores of over 400 battle relentlessly with modern-day ODI targets. Everyone, including the IIT-educated Kejriwal, seems to know who the culprits are, but a system for detention is yet to be legislated. The straw-burning features of the Punjab, as Gabbar Singh of this piece, is apparently a logical necessity, but Jai and Veeru are not in integrated vision. To add, natural wind speed and significant industrial pollution in NCR contributed to this defeat, but as side actors.
SOPs for closing schools and regulating traffic, perhaps more needs to be done. As, of course, the astrological life span of the inhabitants of the area may well be reviewed due to this war situation. Even more tragically, the immune system of some of those very close to those we lost to covid may be underperforming due to infiltration of this dirty air, and I’m pretty sure.
But then, rich Indians have developed a gated mentality, and this is a source of joy and perhaps an agent of destruction, which is precisely why sales of air purifiers are rising like Surya Kumar Yadav’s T20 strike rate, while efforts to burglar-proof homes. To include the fearless invisible intruder. These are truly private initiatives while policy-level interventions must gatecrash the party, in a viable monarchy.
It actually starts with a conscious, and not air-fairy, awareness that AQI pollutants are nothing less than carcinogenic and we need to act. Otherwise it becomes an unknown killer, a mystery factor in the otherwise positive prognosis of many important conditions. Although seemingly obvious, Indians being Indians, this is probably a pipedream, we prefer coffee with luck to a fence conflict with reality.
Just today, Arvind Kejriwal tried to take a high ground by calling the termination clause a ‘North India’ issue, in an attempt to protect his Punjab government’s credentials. Though truthfully, this is a pan-India issue, as Delhi is undoubtedly the national capital that represents our best facade, logically housing the best minds of the country. An automatic gas chamber regime may not be a great playing field, eventually stunting the nation’s development, as bright fellows turn into feeble corpses.
Now see, some of the toughest problems have been solved due to positive reinforcement and perhaps this is an inspiration for Delhi. The Green Revolution pioneered by Norman Borlaug was a sustainable innovation as was Verghese Kurien’s story of milk, correcting significant nutritional dilemmas. Three decades ago, as students, we cringed about the waste of paper but saw how the digital evolution has done away with the tyranny of printed documents beautifully. Picking up a vaccine for polio seems like a nerve-wracking sight to cure the common cold, when so many such dangers are on the verge of meeting their nemesis.
In a strange way, Delhi’s proud air can actually help clear Delhi’s sick air and listen to me. The region needs an active resurgence of civic pride and a mass movement to influence every power to act according to sustainable protocols. This includes states, states, private residents as well as all actors in the larger reservoir of industry-assisted euthanasia. A powerful case study would be the resurgence of Singapore’s river, which today has gone from a tiny dumping ground to a hub for all things sweet. Perhaps, the ambassadors of the strongest cause of the day may turn their cannons to this lively subject, for it is life and death in truth and not figuratively.
If Lutyens had a fair say, I doubt he would have reached an ecological solution to preserve his architectural prowess. Those who thrived on both the air and air of Delhi 2003 must now come on board, instilling much-needed accountability.