As if having more than 10 Indian cities in the list of the top 20 most polluted cities wasn’t enough, the last few days have been disastrous for people living in many parts of the country.
While people generally have to contend with pollution from all kinds of vehicles, construction, factories, tanneries, power plants, noise and more on most days, this time it’s the farmers of Punjab and some parts of Pakistan who are burning 30 billion kgs of leftover straw. This started a week or two week back and slowly the toxic smoke consisting of a variety of dangerous gases has moved through to Delhi, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur, Chandigarh and most other parts of North India creating an apocalyptic situation.
The pollution and air quality levels have consistently broken records in the past few days with the particulate matter in most North Indian cities at least 10 or 15 times more than what is permissible as per WHO standards. People (me included) have started flocking to clinics and hospitals with complaints about a variety of ailments like allergies, breathing problems, coughing, irritation to the throat, nose and lungs, asthma and more.
Many will be going through the same problem like me – Open the windows of the car while driving and expose yourself to the dangers of the smog or close the windows of the car and switch on the AC to further spoil your health since you are suffering from fever or a throat infection.
Ironically, it’s not that the burning cannot stop as many of the farmers are aware of a seeder which the government is promoting for planting the wheat crop without having to burn the straw. But the expense ($1900) is a huge disappointment as many farmers don’t even earn that much and instead have huge loans to pay off. While the government is subsidizing the cost by agreeing to pay at least $950, this scheme is only currently available for a small section of farmers.
While the Delhi government has stopped construction work, shut schools, advised people to work from home for sometime, it hasn’t really done anything on the crop burning front which NASA has regarded as the main source of the current smog frenzy. With elections about to happen soon and a stronger farmers lobby around, sadly nothing will change on that front anytime soon.
Until some drastic changes happen sooner rather than later, we Indians will soon need to start breathing bottled air and as I write this, ‘Vitality Air’, a Canadian startup which aims to provide clean air to breathe to its customers is already planning to ship packaged air to India at Rs 12.5 a breath. Interestingly, as the pollution across the world worsens, a variety of startups including Vitality Air have sprung up to provide ‘clean air’ to breathe.
Did you ever think that a day would come when you have to pay to breathe? I surely think even the makers of ‘2012’ or ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ wouldn’t have imagined that.
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