By Satyendar Jain
Air pollution on Diwali declined in Delhi this year relative to the last four years due to the Delhi government’s extensive preventive measures, including a mega laser show. From an average PM2.5 level of 958 in 2016 to 289 in 2019, Delhi witnessed a 70 per cent decline in the four-year period. However, 1,276 stubble-burning incidents, mostly in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, were recorded a day before Diwali. Alas, many areas of Delhi recorded an Air Quality Index of 999 on the night of Diwali. As a result, curative measures to reduce the risk of air pollution are required, and the Delhi government is undertaking one such measure through the distribution of 50 lakh masks among school students.
Prevention has always been, and continues to remain, the best cure. Cognisant of this, the Delhi government undertook various steps in the last four years, including making diesel generator sets redundant through the provision of 24×7 electricity, closure of coal-based power plants (thereby becoming a model state), controlling vehicular pollution through the Odd-Even Scheme, and banning a large number of dirty fuels. The Supreme Court’s ban on conventional firecrackers in 2018 added to the drive for clean air. Nonetheless, stubble burning in the neighbouring states has negated somewhat the effectiveness of our preventive initiatives.
In previous years, it was noted that face masks were not a successful solution to the air pollution problem in Delhi because the most effective N95 and N99 masks were unaffordable for lower-income groups. There was a lack of awareness and access to good quality masks. Research conducted at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in India (EPIC India) last year showed that even at a 50 per cent discount, less than one in 10 residents of Delhi stated that they will purchase a mask.