Air Clean Up

  • Why India's Quick-Fix Approach to Pollution Isn't Sustainable

Why India's Quick-Fix Approach to Pollution Isn't Sustainable

Feb 04 2019 Read 948 Times

Over recent years, India has overtaken China as the most polluted country in the world, with the former now hosting the ten dirtiest cities worldwide in terms of air quality. The government has been slowly waking up to the seriousness and urgency of the issue, and over recent years have implemented a series of measures aimed at curbing emissions of harmful contaminants.

The latest of these is the planned shutdown of over 50,000 factories in New Delhi alone. While the closure of these pollution hotspots may go some way to alleviating the air quality crisis from which many residents of the Indian capital suffer, it also leaves a multitude of them without means of sustaining themselves. The short-sightedness of this viewpoint has been called into question by human rights groups and workers themselves, who claim they are being treated like mere “gutter worms”.

Nowhere to go

In August of this year, the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) identified 51,837 factories operating in the capital without the requisite permits. As a result, the DSIIDC contacted the relevant local authorities and requested they enforce their shutdown over the following weeks and months.

While the industries in question are undoubtedly operating illegally and should be held accountable for the harmful emissions that their activities engender, the directive gives little thought to the hundreds of thousands of workers who depend upon the factories for their livelihood. The fact that the majority of those workers live in close proximity to the buildings in question - and are therefore those who suffer the ill-effects of their pollution the most - simply adds insult to injury.

Communication breakdown

The circumstances of the shutdowns are exacerbated by the fact that factory owners are not communicating the specifics of the situation to their employees clearly. Already exploited through their meagre wagers, unreliable hours and complete lack of social security or incentives, the workers are now being kept in the dark about the paltry pay packet they are able to take home.

The government’s approach, while well-intentioned in terms of environmentalism, is not doing much to help these poor unfortunates. It’s encouraging that India as a whole is becoming more cognisant of the significant environmental challenges it is facing (as evidenced by the major success of a recent emissions monitoring conference), but the poorest and most vulnerable members of society are being left behind while those in charge seek a quick fix to the problem.

Industry only half the battle

Concentrating solely on industrial emitters of contamination neglects other significant contributors to the problem. For example, vehicular traffic remains one of the biggest sources of pollution in the capital, while use of improper fuel sources in home cooking, heating and lighting also causes substantial amounts of contamination.

If India is to pull itself out of the air quality quagmire in which it is currently entrenched, it will take long-term change across a number of sectors and widespread education of the population on the need for reform. Looking for shortcuts and quick fixes might improve the air quality situation incrementally, but it risks leaving countless citizens without even the ability to feed and clothe themselves.

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