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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 06 November 2023

CONTENTS

  1. Giving the Urban Indian a Better Life
  2. Tiding Over/ Air Quality of Delhi

Giving the Urban Indian a Better Life


Context:

The central theme of World Cities Day for this year, observed on October 31, was “Financing Sustainable Urban Future for All.” The focus is on ensuring that financial resources are directed towards addressing the flawed urbanization that is currently shortening urban futures, thereby making cities more livable and safe. It is deeply concerning that air pollution is responsible for reducing life expectancy by over 10%.

Relevance:

  • GS1- Urbanization
  • GS3- Pollution

Mains Question:

Data show that India is home to some of the most polluted cities in the world, highlighting the need for a citizen ­involved strategy of city building. Comment. (10 marks, 150 words).

Pollution in Indian cities:

  • A report from The Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC) has revealed that out of the 50 most polluted cities globally, 39 are located in India.
  • Pollution has a direct impact on public health, with the average Indian losing 5.3 years of life expectancy due to it, while residents of Delhi face a staggering 11.9-year reduction.
  • Pollution not only causes health issues such as burning eyes, respiratory problems, and cardiovascular diseases but also leads to unsatisfactory Air Quality Index levels in cities like Mumbai, earning it the moniker “Death by Breath.”
  • Poor air quality is no longer confined to the Indo-Gangetic plains, and coastal cities in India are also facing a deteriorating situation.

Causes of Pollution in Indian Cities:

  • The root cause of this acute problem in Indian cities lies in the overall development approach, which prioritizes real estate development, road expansion, and the proliferation of large fuel-consuming vehicles.
  • This has led to the squeezing of pedestrian spaces and the unchecked growth of polluting factors like road dust, concrete batching, industrial units, and vehicular emissions.
  • Motorized transport alone accounts for 60% of urban pollution.
  • While “grey” infrastructure has expanded rapidly, green spaces like urban forests, water bodies, and urban agriculture have shrunk, emphasizing the need for a shift in priorities.
  • The burning of paddy straw during North India’s winter months exacerbates the issue, but this is only a small and seasonal aspect.
  • The growing automobile market in India, expected to reach $160 billion by 2027, underscores the necessity for a new approach to urban development.

Way Forward:

  1. Controlling the usage of private vehicles: Efforts to control private vehicle usage, such as imposing congestion taxes during peak hours and implementing odd-even number plate regulations, should be considered.  Public transport must become accessible and affordable for the majority of the population in the informal sector. Encouraging the use of public transport, securing pedestrian paths and bicycle lanes, and regulating construction activities are crucial steps.
  2. Community-based efforts: Residents should actively participate in street supervision instead of relying solely on statutory bodies. Urban commons, such as ponds, water bodies, and parks, should be safeguarded and nurtured by the local community. In addition to cosmetic solutions like smog towers and road watering, empowering the public through improved city governance is crucial.
  3. Planning and Strategy Building: Our current urban development strategy needs a fundamental change. Rather than focusing on massive land use changes and handing over open spaces to real estate developers, cities should prioritize their ecology.
  4. Miscellaneous:
  • Additionally, a mechanism like Delhi’s Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) should be adopted in other cities to address air pollution.
  • Industrial pollution must be completely eliminated, and real-time monitoring should become standard.
  • Afforestation within the city, not 50 kilometers away, is essential to combat pollution.
  • Standard operating procedures and pollution guidelines should be readily available to the public and integrated into daily city life.
  • The medical community should also support public health advisories to address the issue of air pollution.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, we cannot afford to let air pollution continue to shorten our lives. The poor and marginalized, who contribute the least to pollution, are the most vulnerable and should be a central focus in efforts to improve their quality of life.


Tiding Over/ Air Quality of Delhi


Context:

Every year, Delhi and parts of the surrounding states, including Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, face a critical point in their annual air quality. This is the period when the southwest monsoon retreats, taking with it the atmospheric drafts that typically help disperse pollutants resulting from various human activities like construction, transportation, power generation, and the burning of agricultural residue.

Relevance:

GS3- Pollution

Mains Question:

While there is greater awareness and action to curb the sources of pollution in Delhi and surrounding areas, November, which has in recent years emerged as the critical month for pollution, remains to be tamed. Analyse. (15 marks, 250 words).

Steps taken to study this crisis:

  • Over the years, multiple studies have been conducted, and executive actions have been initiated to study, acknowledge, and mitigate this crisis.
  • The scientific understanding of the relative contributions of different pollutants and the limitations of corrective measures in the face of adverse meteorological conditions and disruptions to economic activities is quite clear. Consequently, the air pollution crisis has now reached a state of deadlock.

Data pertaining to the air pollution in Delhi:

  • The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), responsible for addressing the causes of air pollution in Delhi and neighboring states, comprises experts, but its authority is restricted to suggesting and recommending measures based on the severity of the air quality deterioration.
  • Although the CAQM noted, as recently as October 31, that the daily average air quality in Delhi from January to October of this year was the best in the last six years, it overlooks the fact that the number of days in November when air quality reaches the ‘severe’ category (over 450 AQI) has remained roughly the same.
  • In 2022, the AQI entered the severe category for three days in the first half of November, which matches the figures for 2021, 2020, and 2019.

Way Forward:

  • Despite increased awareness and action to control pollution sources, November, which has become a critical month for pollution in recent years, remains a challenge.
  • Although incidents of stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh have been about half as frequent as in previous years, it is expected that more such incidents will occur in the weeks ahead.
  • While earlier measures have established a structured response to combat air pollution, it is now necessary to adopt a more comprehensive approach to address the challenges of November.
  • Beyond tackling stubble burning, this involves addressing the more formidable issues of vehicular pollution and construction dust.

Conclusion:

While in the past, urban Delhi could have attributed its pollution crisis to distant farm fires, addressing November’s pollution challenges may require more stringent measures and greater inconveniences. Bodies like the CAQM need to assert their independence and ensure better coordination and compliance within Delhi and the surrounding states to address this challenge effectively.


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