I used to believe that I had a right to breathe fresh air because it was freely provided by nature. However, having been born and raised in Delhi, I now consider fresh air to be a luxury that I can only enjoy for a few days each year. For the rest, I have to take deep breaths. According to specialists, the contaminated air has already decreased my lifetime by roughly three years, and if things continue as they are, millions of people in the National Capital Region (NCR) will be choking in the “gas chamber” that Delhi has become.
Judges of the Supreme Court (SC) have properly chastised the Delhi and central governments for failing to do enough to address this dreadful situation. They also commented on the message we’re giving to the rest of the globe. According to the World Air Quality Index Project, Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) on November 1-15 was by far the worst, at 312, among the capitals of G20 countries. Compare this to Beijing (China) at 91, Buenos Aires (Argentina) at 26, Canberra (Australia) at 20, Sao Paulo (in place of Brasilia) at 18, Ottawa (Canada) at 25, and so on, with the most of them falling below 50 and others falling between 50 and 100. India stands out as a distinct anomaly. India’s distinction, however, extends beyond Delhi. According to the IQAir (a Swiss organisation) World Air Quality Report for 2020, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. As a result, the issue is considerably more serious, raising concerns about the quality of our urbanisation.
The correct diagnosis is required before a cure may be achieved. According to a report submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change, energy generation (primarily coal-based thermal power) is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 44% of total emissions, followed by manufacturing and construction (18%), agriculture (14%), transportation (13%), industrial processes and product use (8%), and waste burning (2%). (3 per cent).
At the national level, solar and wind are the way to go to replace coal in energy generation. In this sense, the Prime Minister did a wonderful job in Glasgow when he pledged that by 2030, 50% of India’s energy will come from renewable sources. However, the existing solar energy model is strongly skewed in favour of corporations. Large solar farms are being built on degraded or less productive ground. However, that site will be used exclusively for solar energy for the next 25 years. On those corporate solar farms, nothing else can be planted. Minimizing the cost of energy generation, which is currently even less than the cost of thermal energy, is desirable from an efficiency aspect. This model does not bother me. But what if we add to that model by building solar farms on farmers’ land? This would necessitate solar panels being installed at a height of 10 feet with adequate spacing to allow enough sunshine to reach the plants for photosynthesis. If the law allows them to sell this power to the national grid, these “solar trees” can become the farmers’ “third crop,” providing them with a steady income throughout the year. Farmers can earn up to Rs 1 lakh per acre per year from this “solar farming,” according to a Delhi government pilot in Ujwa KVK land. This is in addition to the two crops they can continue to cultivate under the solar trees. Within a year, the income of farmers will have doubled. Companies continue to invest in the planting of “solar trees” in farmers’ fields. Farmers merely have to sign a form of bond promising not to uproot the solar trees for the next 25 years, which is the life span of such solar projects. Prime Minister Modi has set a goal of doubling farmers’ income by 2022-23, and now is the time to make that goal a reality.
But let me return to Delhi’s pollution, as Delhiites are currently starving for air. The reasons for bad AQI vary from day to day, according to the System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR). For example, between November 9 and 13, 30% of Delhi’s pollution was caused by stubble burning, another 22% by transportation, 18% by external (other than stubble burning), 12% by industries, 4% by bio-fuels, dust 8%, and the rest by local sources (6 per cent). However, if the study period is October 30 to November 3, the contribution of stubble burning shrinks to just 8%. On a given day, such as November 7, stubble burning produced 48% of Delhi’s air pollution, which dropped to just 2% on November 18. Even on a day when the AQI is above 350 and Delhiites are already gasping for air, this stubble burning can be the final straw on the proverbial camel’s back. The Centre must sit down with neighbouring states and devise a plan to reduce rice farming in this belt, which is already depleting the water table and emitting methane and nitrous oxide, in order to encourage farmers to convert to other crops with higher returns than rice cultivation.
To combat vehicular pollution, a big push toward electric cars (EVs) is required, followed by a shift to green hydrogen when it becomes cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Scaling up electric vehicles swiftly necessitates building charging stations on a war footing, same to how we created vaccinations for Covid-19 and increased hospital beds during the pandemic’s second wave. Fast charging outlets are required in parking lots of offices, housing societies, hotels, hospitals, shopping malls, and gas stations, among other places. This is a business opportunity, but policymakers may speed things up by altering the rules of the game and, if necessary, offering upfront incentives on EVs equal to the levies on diesel and gasoline vehicles. The fear of buying an electric vehicle because of a lack of charging outlets must vanish.
A good carbon sink is also required in Delhi. It may be possible to aid by reviving the Ridge area with dense woods and growing thick woodlands on both banks of the Yamuna.
Aryan Jakhar is pursuing Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is a passionate blogger, who understands the power of words.
Aryan is currently working as editor-in-chief at TheShiningMedia.in and he is reachable on [email protected]