No Need to Panic, says India’s Environment Minister

In a statement that could have come straight out of a comedy sketch, Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Indian Minister of the Environment, has advised the population of Northern India—in particular, Delhi—that there is no need to panic, and claimed that only routine precautions were necessary to combat the smog that local doctors have called a public health emergency.

Crisis? What Crisis? as Indian politicians go into denial. (Cover of 1975 album by Supertramp.) 
Every year, citizens of Northern India have been routinely choked by a thick blanket of smog just as winter approaches. This year, the World Health Organisation has likened the breathing of the air for a day as equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. The cause of the smog seems to be a combination of stubble burning in the fields, dirty coal-fired power stations, excessive emissions from antiquated cars, and still windless weather conditions. And it is a killer. According to a report published in the Lancet medical journal, approximately 2.5 million lives were claimed by the pollution in 2015 alone.Whilst India’s ruling elite try to downplay the smog, the world has taken notice and the likes of United Airlines has this week suspended its flights to Delhi, citing poor air quality and the safety of its employees. On top of this, the visibility is so poor around the capital that all helicopter flights have been halted. But still, Dr Harsh Vardun claims that it is too much to claim that air pollution kills. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who has carefully cultivated the image of a strong leader, has been strangely silent on this matter and thus far has not made a public comment on the crisis that has closed all local schools.Long ago, India’s elite sort of removed themselves from the public sector, with private schools and hospitals and clubs, and dedicated water and power supplies to escape the poor quality alternative that the state was offering. In India now, it would seem that even breathable air is a private luxury as the rich stay indoors with their high quality air purifiers, whilst the general public has to deal with a toxic environment. There is probably no magic wand that can stop this annual event, but perhaps a quick step would be to stop the burning of stubble in the fields and initiate a policy to upgrade energy sources. Until then, it would appear that the politicians are content to bury their heads in the sand, and pretend that there is no crisis.

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