For the past two days, Patna’s citizens have woken up to thick and dense fog. The hazy horizon instead of the usual blue sky indicates the arrival of winter. While meteorological experts are attributing this to western disturbances, there is another side to the story. These foggy grey skies aren’t limited the general onset of winter, but are actually the cocktail of toxic pollutants!
On 29th November, Patna’s air quality plummeted to a record low air quality index of 476. The National Air Quality Index categorizes AQI 476 as severe, which affects healthy people and has a serious impact on those with existing diseases. Unsurprisingly, Patna’s thick smog and the worrying air quality index aren’t making any noise in the media. Earlier this month, the same index placed Delhi on eagle’s watch and every major media house reported it. The government finally responded and put out emergency measures in place.
While our media may turn a blind eye to this, Patna’s citizens are definitely aware and ready to do their bit to combat the issue. CEED’s volunteer group, Planet Paltan conducted an opinion poll between 31st October and 17th November, which reveals that not only were 93% of the respondents aware of the horrible air we are breathing, 87% of the respondents were ready to support the government if it came out with a Clean Air Action Plan. The volunteers spoke to more than 1000 people across age groups, gender and professions. The survey results speak volumes about the challenges being faced by the public and the lack of government and official accountability. We also received several solutions including an efficient public transport system from the people we interacted with.
One of the biggest challenges is that worsening levels of pollution are often not quantified and are denied. Sharing of real-time air quality data in Delhi and Beijing has led to Clean Air Action plans being spoken of and addressed. The transparency of data in both the cities (admittedly still quite lacking in Delhi) led to a severe public backlash and pressurized the officials to come out and acknowledge the problem and take proactive measures to address it.
The problem of air pollution requires immediate and urgent attention. The city needs an augmented network of air quality monitors. A proper policy with a provision to adopt emergency measures where vulnerable communities receive constant alerts and updates about the area’s air quality and health advisory, needs to be formulated and implemented. The policy must also aim at an efficient transport system, delinking diesel, reducing industrial emissions with special focus on clean bricks manufacturing methods, strict banning of open waste burning, encouraging clean cooking methods, and increase the green cover to control the dust pollution.
Ankita Jyoti is Programme Manager with CEED.