The Blame Game around Delhi’s smog crisis would be hilarious if it wasn’t also killing us

Social Commentary

The Blame Game around Delhi’s smog crisis would be hilarious if it wasn’t also killing us

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

If your breathing has become heavy, your eyes watery and you often look outside your window wistfully while your heart is choked with emotions, you must be in the midst of the dreaded smog season in Delhi. It’s a ritual that repeats itself every year with clockwork precision. Come October, the city starts resembling a dystopia. The air hangs heavy and turns the colour of a decaying corpse. Our hair starts smelling like a tandoor at a dhaba. We wallow in self-pity as we drive down to the veggie store barely 500 metres away to buy moolis for paranthas. If you didn’t see this coming, then you’re probably living in some wonderland of denial where I might as well rent my house next.

If we can pretend Covid doesn’t exist as we trawl crowded markets, our masks firmly on our chin to hunt for the best Diwali deals, and hop from one taash party to another, why can’t we light up a gazillion crackers and then run off to the hills? This is not even rhetorical anymore, I’m actually asking, if this can be turned into a welfare initiative. As such our governments are yet to make up their minds who to blame for this annual toxic fest. Close to 30 million are exposed to hazardous levels of pollution, making us susceptible to lung complications, asthma, and worsening of heart conditions. Yet our powers that be think the only way to address this health emergency is by trading blame!

Come October, the city starts resembling a dystopia.

While the blame game goes round and round in circles, farmers continue to burn stubble to make way for the sowing of wheat crops. Delhi points fingers at Punjab and its farmers. The farmers blame Monsanto and the government’s groundwater preservation laws. Punjab claims stubble burning contributes to only 4% of the pollution load. 96% of contributing factors, it claims, are from local factors such as biomass burning, unpaved roads, dust, construction and demolition waste.

At 1.3 crores, Delhi has the country’s highest vehicular traffic, another major factor in contaminating the air. Yet when measures like the odd-even scheme is taken to reduce the vehicular load, everyone is up in arms, pulling out figures out of their behinds to claim the impact will be minimal – these geniuses apparently did not witness the clear skies during the lockdown.  Meanwhile, the Yamuna continues to froth like a mug of beer as the neighbouring states continue to dump untreated sewage into the river like it’s their mohalle ka phichwada. But does that stop anyone from all the finger-pointing? Of course not. It’s a national sport.

Meanwhile, the Yamuna continues to froth like a mug of beer as the neighbouring states continue to dump untreated sewage into the river like it’s their mohalle ka phichwada.

This blame game that gets passed on like a box of Soan Papdi during Diwali would be hilarious had it not been at the cost of our lives. It makes you wonder if the cacophony is a ploy to cover up lack of intent to clean up the air that’s slowly poisoning us or just blatant, undressed incompetence. Temporary measures like shutting schools for two days, installing two smog towers and making lofty proclamations is sheer optics.

When the Delhi Jal board sprayed water on the Yamuna to dissipate toxic foam, it gave me hope that I can make Delhi less of a Chernobyl if I stand on my balcony with my neighbours and do phoo phoo. Or maybe just unload buckets of water on passers-by. Yes, Delhi has banned dirty fuel, old vehicles, closed local coal plants, but it’s still a city forever under construction with a poor waste management system. It’s kind of broken through the middle, even if these steps on the fringe seem redeeming.

We’d rather migrate to other cities or countries than do our little bit for clean air.

We’d rather migrate to other cities or countries than do our little bit for clean air.  Why bother altering our lifestyle when we can hone our whataboutery skills and point fingers at Bakri-Eid, Christmas, and 70 years of misrule. Why walk when you can take your car to the market barely five minutes away?

Meanwhile, government bodies are doing a commendable job of blaming each other and the rest of us are doing our bit by nursing the belief that clean air is somebody else’s migraine. Thankfully, the Supreme Court does not buy into this bullshit – because let’s be honest they got to breathe too. That said, right now I have more faith in Uber drivers, who are doing the most for the environment by cancelling my rides again and again, making sure I don’t step out of the house. Everyone else is making a mockery of this living, and soon to be, fatal nightmare.

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