May 31, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

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The Indian capital cannot breathe

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New Delhi (AFP) – For 30 years, he has been riding a motorcycle taxi on the streets of New Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world. Panchan Lal, with a bad cough, is suffering from chronic lung disease due to toxic air in the Indian capital.

“I do not know where the solution to this pollution that is killing us is coming from,” Vijay Sadokar told AFP. For those living in the capital, Delhi looks like a “gas chamber”.

The Indian capital tops the world rankings for capitals with poor air quality.

The levels of microscopic PM2.5 particles – less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and particularly harmful to health – are 30 times higher than the maximum daily limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week.

“Overall lack of oxygen”

“Pollution causes me a lot of problems, (especially) in my throat,” Panchan Lal, sitting in his motorcycle taxi, told AFP.

“My eyes are burning (…) my lungs are damaged and I have difficulty breathing,” says the 58-year-old man, still coughing.

On November 19, 2021, a dense cloud of pollution spread over New Delhi Prakash Singh AFP

Lal roams Delhi every day in severe traffic jams, during winters, when pollution is high and the city of 20 million people is engulfed in dense toxic fog.

Exhaust fumes from factories, car smoke and smoke from agricultural fires in nearby states create yellow fog.

Went with AFP for his visit to the doctor treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive disease that blocks the circulation of oxygen.

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According to Dr. Vivek Nangia, the first symptoms are “cough, runny nose, shortness of breath, chest tightness.” But it develops until a person “has an overall lack of oxygen” and needs a respirator.

Lal “If he does not continue his treatment, his airways will narrow and his condition will gradually worsen.”

Some measures by the authorities to control pollution, such as the campaign recommending that drivers turn off their machines at traffic lights, have no effect.

Panchan Lal, November 17, 2021 at his doctor's office
Panchan Lal, November 17, 2021 at his doctor’s office Sajjad Hussain AFP

Lal has also seen how his activity has repercussions: sometimes he wanders around the city for hours without finding customers because many people prefer to go by taxi and do not expose themselves too much in polluted air.

– Anti-pollution locking? –

This week, the local government took drastic action by ordering the temporary closure of six of the eleven coal mines around Delhi.

It closed schools until further notice, asked officials to work from home and banned trucks carrying essential items from circulating in the capital until next week.

Authorities, however, rejected the Supreme Court’s advice to order “imprisonment for pollution.”

Pollution is responsible for more than one million deaths a year in this country, and according to a recent study by the University of Chicago, air pollution will reduce the life expectancy of four out of ten Indians by more than nine years.

But in an environment where national coal consumption has almost doubled in the last decade, public officials are avoiding facing fundamental problems.

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At the recent COP26 climate conference in the Scottish city of Glasgow, India opposed highly ambitious restrictions on the use of fossil fuels and coal to boost its economy.