By Jason Overdorf
Weaving through traffic in central New Delhi, Bharat Singh takes his hand off the throttle of his sputtering, three-wheeled rickshaw — India’s cheap alternative to a taxi — and coughs into his fist.
By the time evening comes around, I’m coughing like crazy and my eyes are red and burning,” he says, speaking Hindi.
“I can’t get to sleep because of the headaches, and when I finally do fall asleep, my coughing wakes me up again.”
Gaunt and rheumy eyed, the 20-year veteran of New Delhi’s congested roads is not alone.
Near daily stats show that the air in India’s capital is far more polluted than in Beijing, where a public outcry prompted the government to shut down factories and restrict the use of cars. And in New Delhi, rickshaw drivers, traffic cops and the underclass that travels by bus and bicycle are the worst affected, according to one new study.
But New Delhi’s problem might not be a lack of strict regulation. Instead, its overly harsh penalties for polluting the air could actually be to blame…
In 2010, a Global Burden of Disease study estimated that 627,000 Indians died prematurely due to outdoor air pollution (with the indoor variety a separate scourge), and experts fear that number could double or triple by 2030.
With statistics like those, the impulse is to treat polluters harshly. But, as it turns out, allowing violators to pay their way out of trouble — rather than mandating jail time — could be more effective, according to research by economists from the University of Chicago, Harvard and Yale.
“Criminal penalties are very expensive to enforce,” said Anant Sudarshan, one of the study’s authors, and the head of the India division of the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute at Chicago.
“You have to file a case and win that case, and that can drag on for years. And [criminal penalties] can be too severe for minor infringements.”
The problem is that while India mandates expensive pollution control standards for industry, it fails to enforce those standards because its regulators cannot don’t have the legal expertise — or endurance — to send violators to jail, Sudarshan’s colleagues Michael Greenstone and Rohini Pande wrote in a recent op-ed for the New York Times.
Continue reading at GlobalPost…