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Delhi, our national capital, has earned the ignominy of being the most polluted city in the country and the second most polluted globally. Disgraceful, as this may be, the pollution indices have been rising year-on-year for many years now – the air quality has not reached such an alarming level overnight – it has taken more than two decades of negligence. I make this point just to emphasise that no ‘one’ government, individual or event is responsible for the ‘suffocating’ state of affairs – the pun is not just intended but deeply tragic. The political blame game is trash and does not interest me as a citizen. I just want to breathe healthy air – the most basic right to life.

I hang my head in shame as a citizen of a country that seems to be claiming the dawn of an ‘Amrit Kaal’ (perhaps, for good reason) but is unable to provide clean air to its people. To the extent that closure of schools has become routine, prevalence of respiratory disorders has increased manifold and daily life has been impacted in several ways that has endangered our most basic right to life.

The reasons may be many – industrial effluents, vehicular pollution, indiscriminate construction activity, rapid reduction of green cover in urban areas, stubble burning in farmlands, general apathy of the authorities, poor enforcement of regulatory mechanisms, clout of mafias and perhaps several others. There are solutions for everything but none has been attempted seriously for reasons that do not require any specialist to identify. The basic driver for this state of affairs is greed of different kinds that have trumped the ‘right to life’ hands down, several times over.

Drastic situations demand drastic measures. There is no more time to be lost. Cancel licences of polluting industries, ban polluting vehicles of all kinds, limit purchases of new vehicles, put a cap on numbers that can ply on the roads, make mass transit systems non-polluting, cheap and efficient, impose an indefinite moratorium on construction activity, criminalise stubble burning, ban use of firecrackers, enforce regulations, undertake punitive policing, seek accountability from governments, civic organisations, industry and individuals – whatever is necessary to reverse the nosedive. Why else do we have leaders, governments, regulatory bodies and enforcement agencies?

The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, recognises our right to life as laid down in International Covenants, which are enforceable by Indian courts. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Our National Human Rights Commission is empowered to inquire ‘suo motu’ into any human rights violation, abetment to such violation or negligence to prevent violation of human rights by any public servant. What could be a more serious transgression of human rights against our own people than the poisoning of the air that we breathe?

We are well past the stage of remaining mute bystanders to this marauding of our national capital. ‘Greed’ is one of the most powerful drivers of everything unfair and unjust and has been the sole reason for everything inhuman and destructive on this planet. Our resolve to overcome greed and secure the basic human rights of our people will determine whether we survive to realise our collective vision of an ‘Amrit Kaal’.

Now is the time to put lasting mechanisms in place to reverse a ‘near hopeless’ situation. Now is the time to display vision and leadership. Is anyone listening???


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