The Covid-induced lockdown resulted in millions facing extreme hardship, but one memorable outcome was a rare exposure to clean air and bright skies. That was then. In recent weeks, the Air Quality Index has risen to severe levels in several parts of the northern region. If anything, Donald Trump’s remarks that India has filthy air should draw more of introspection than anger. There is no denying what he said, or the fact that nobody suffers more than Indians themselves. The State of the Global Air report has revealed that India had the highest exposure to particulate matter (PM 2.5) last year. Fourteen of the 20 most populous countries have recorded a gradual improvement in air quality, but India is among those with an increase in pollution levels.
Vehicular and industrial pollution, farmers burning crop stubble to clear fields, festive fireworks, all contribute to the deadly cocktail. The courts and the NGT have been actively pushing the authorities to do more. A National Clean Air Programme was launched last year; the PM’s interest in renewable energy is well documented; there has been a switch to Bharat Stage VI vehicle emission standards. A concrete policy, however, has not materialised. The endless bickering among states has ensured the absence of a concerted, unified response.
It was Trump who chose to walk out of the 2015 Paris Accord, aimed at limiting the global temperature rise, claiming an unfair deal for his country and undue benefits for India, among others. What he forgets is that India’s total emissions of greenhouse gases are less than half of that of the US. Whosoever wins the presidential election next month, a new round of international power play on climate change awaits New Delhi, and with it a fresh look at the energy-mix. Finding solutions to homegrown problems should be the real area of focus. As a prominent writer commented, instead of getting all insulted, why not take it up as a challenge to clean up our surroundings and our air?