“Air Pollution Crisis: A Tale of Two Capitals – Beijing’s Success and New Delhi’s Struggle”

By manish198832 Nov28,2023

Air Pollution Crisis: A Tale of Two Capitals

Air Pollution Crisis-Introduction:
Last week, more than 20 million residents of New Delhi woke up to a disturbing reality—a thick, acrid smog that prompted school closures, vehicle restrictions, and a panicked rush to purchase air purifiers. As the city’s Air Quality Index (AQI) surpassed 500, experts warned that such extreme pollution levels could potentially reduce life expectancy by over a decade. This scenario has become an annual ritual, raising the question: Why does New Delhi continue to grapple with hazardous air quality when Beijing successfully tackled a similar crisis a decade ago?

Air Pollution Crisis

Beijing’s Success Story:
Approximately ten years ago, Beijing was notorious for its dense smog, earning it the moniker “air-pocalypse.” The city’s air quality was so dire that hospitals were inundated with respiratory patients, and families, especially those with children, fled to areas with cleaner air. In response, the Chinese government initiated a bold plan in 2013, investing billions of dollars in a national air pollution action plan. This comprehensive strategy included measures such as restricting vehicle numbers, tightening environmental regulations, establishing air monitoring stations, and curbing pollution from coal and other heavy industries. The result: a significant improvement in Beijing’s air quality, with pollution levels decreasing by 42% from 2013 to 2021.

China’s Approach and Achievements:
China’s success in combating air pollution is attributed to its commitment to stringent regulations and a proactive, long-term approach. The electrification of various sectors, a shift from coal to cleaner fuels, and a nationwide effort to monitor and control emissions contributed to the remarkable turnaround. Today, Beijing, once topping the list of the world’s most polluted cities, ranks 27th in global air quality rankings. The success of China’s clean air policies has not only transformed the capital’s environment but also saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

India’s Struggle and Reactive Measures:
In contrast, New Delhi continues to grapple with air pollution, relying on reactive measures rather than a comprehensive, long-term strategy. The city’s pollution, exacerbated by factors such as crop burning, vehicular emissions, and industrial pollution, remains a persistent problem. Despite launching the Clean Air Programme in 2019, aimed at reducing particulate matter concentration by 40% by 2025-26, progress has been slow due to a lack of strict enforcement and coordination.

Band-Aid Solutions and Systemic Failures:
New Delhi’s attempts to address pollution include water sprinkling on roads, traffic restrictions based on license plate numbers, and the installation of smog towers. However, these measures have not led to a significant reduction in pollution levels. The city’s average PM2.5 concentration has remained largely unchanged from 2018 to 2022. Experts argue that these efforts are akin to “band-aid solutions” and emphasize the need to address underlying issues, such as biomass burning and the transition to cleaner fuels.

Challenges in India’s Democratic System:
Unlike China’s authoritarian system, India’s democracy presents challenges in implementing swift and decisive measures. Experts argue that a lack of national concern and systemic failures contribute to the persistent air pollution problem. While some cities in India have shown improvement, the overall lack of political will and a reduction-based approach hinder the country’s ability to emulate China’s success.

Blame Game and Political Backsliding:
Publicly, local and national leaders engage in a blame game, with accusations of inaction and insensitivity thrown at Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The political bickering between the Aam Aadmi Party and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party further complicates the issue. The Supreme Court, expressing frustration, has urged authorities to move beyond political battles and take decisive action to address the air pollution crisis.

Public Awareness and Changing Priorities:
Despite periodic spikes in public awareness, air pollution seems to take a back seat in India’s national agenda. Other pressing issues often overshadow the severity of the problem, leading to a lack of consistent focus and urgency. The recent celebration of Diwali saw widespread firecracker use, exacerbating air pollution levels and reinforcing the challenges of changing public behavior.

The tale of two capitals, Beijing and New Delhi, highlights the contrasting outcomes of proactive, sustained efforts versus reactive, inconsistent measures in combating air pollution. While Beijing’s success demonstrates the effectiveness of a centralized approach and long-term commitment, New Delhi’s struggle underscores the challenges in a democratic system with competing priorities. To truly address the air pollution crisis, India must prioritize a reduction-based approach, enforce strict regulations, and foster a collective commitment to cleaner air. The health and well-being of millions depend on swift and decisive action to ensure that the invisible killer lurking in the air is defeated.

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