By Asher Ghertner
In January 2019, Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra expressed personal anguish over Delhi’s persistently poor air quality. Describing air pollution’s infringement upon citizens’ right to life, he framed Delhi’s slow pace in resolving what is now known as “airpocalypse” (Dahiya et al 2017) as a direct result of government implementation failure (Hindu 2019). The month before, Chairman of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel ordered the Delhi government to place a ₹25 crore deposit with the Central Pollution Control Board, citing its failure to curb air pollution stemming from plastic burning. Despite the NGT’s clear directions, Justice Goel said, pollution has continued unabated (Satish Kumar and Others v Union of Indian and Others 2018):
Inaction of the authorities in the present matter has aggravated the environmental degradation and caused loss of human health also. They have failed to remedy the situation inspite (sic) of repeated opportunities.
The University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index (Greenstone and Qing Fan 2018: 4), using less conservative assumptions, estimated that the people of Delhi on an average lose more than 10 years of life due to bad air, and the World Health Organization (WHO 2018) declared “air pollution the most important single risk factor for premature disability and death in India.”