A satellite image shows how a poisonous smog envelops north and eastern India during winter. Photo: Courtesy Twitter

India’s northern states resemble a chemical-warfare zone these days. The killer smog, laden with particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) microns are touching levels usually associated with cancer and other diseases, has gripped large parts of north and east India.

But while citizens have resigned themselves to the poisonous air, it is a monumental symbol of India’s governance failure. This is a time when CEOs postpone business meetings to avoid Delhi. Schools are closed and sales of air purifiers spike. These are desperate individual measures that are equal to carrying a knife into a gunfight.

The smog usually starts around the festival of Diwali, when thousands of fireworks are set off. As winter begins to set in, the pollutants are unable to rise in the absence of hot air. The pollutants remain trapped, creating a toxic atmosphere that is off the charts.

Since the beginning of November, the Indian government’s official System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) has been registering an average Air Quality Index over 400. An AQI over 100 is considered above a “moderate” risk and indicates a threat to those with respiratory problems. Anything above 400 is marked as “hazardous.” This is what most of north India has been breathing for nearly two weeks, forcing the federal government’s Central Pollution Control Board to declare a public health emergency on some days, and shut schools across north India on others.

But the fact remains that for nearly a decade, no one in the government has made an effort to tackle the poisonous smog. Ironically, a life-and-death issue does not affect electoral support.

A meme draws on an image from the popular miniseries ‘Chernobyl’ to show Delhi’s air quality. Photo: Twitter

A failure of governance

For years, the dominant debates around pollution were either political or religious.

For many Hindus, the alarm over the pollution being associated with their biggest festival, Diwali, is seen as a deliberate affront to their faith. For politicians, the issue is seen as an opportunity to blame political rivals. Meanwhile, the economy takes a hit, as major business meetings are canceled because of the prevailing smog.

The federal government that is run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has spent its energies blaming the state governments where it is not in power. Its federal minister for the environment, Prakash Javadekar, even prescribed listening to Hindustani classical music as an antidote to the pollution. Ironically, he has now waived mandatory certification that shows that industries in and around Delhi are not emitting toxic pollutants.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, a doctor by profession, suggested eating carrots as the best protection against the off-the-charts smog. Other federal ministers and BJP members of Parliament (MPs) blamed the Delhi state government, run by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, for the mess.

The fact the the Prime Minster’s Office purchased 140 air purifiers last year along with six other departments is eloquent testimony to the disconnect between the government and the masses.

Those in the BJP blaming Kejriwal conveniently miss the fact that the national capital of India is not run by the elected state government. Instead, it is largely run by the federal government through a non-elected official known as the lieutenant governor. In fact, the state and the federal governments have been locked in a dispute that is in the Supreme Court over getting more powers to run the city-state.

But Delhi is only one example, though perhaps the most visible one. The neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are equally trapped by the poisonous smog that descends from the skies every year. Part of the problem is the burning of waste that remains from the cultivation of rice in large parts of Punjab and Haryana. The rice is procured by the federal government through a minimum support price. This attracts farmers to cultivate far more rice than what is actually consumed.

The waste that is left behind, usually saturated with pesticides, is burned off as the least expensive method of disposal. Added to this are the coal-fired thermal power plants, traffic and dust from massive construction projects making north India as a poisonous gas chamber every year.

This leaves citizens either to accept the inevitable, or those with means to take woefully inadequate measures to protect themselves. The sale of of air purifiers skyrocket during this season, as does the sale of personal masks. Those with means, who live in gated colonies with their personal power backups, private security, and at times even a private water supply, hope that these personal air purifiers will offer some protection against the smog.

But what most fail to recognize is the fact that the government they elect to power every five years has given up its mandate to govern, leaving them at the mercy of the smog.

Not an election issue

Gautam Gambhir, a former cricket player, joined the BJP just before the general election in May this year from the East Delhi constituency. He won a handsome majority in the elections that gave Prime Minister Modi a landslide victory. Gambhir was the richest candidate from Delhi to contest the elections.

His personal affidavit filed with the Election Commission of India reveals that his worth is 1.47 billion rupees (US$20.5 million). Soon after he was elected, he was made a member of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Urban Development. Last week the standing committee, with 27 members drawn from the upper and lower houses of Parliament, was scheduled to discuss the pollution issue ahead of the winter session that commenced this Monday, November 18.

Of the 27 members, only four showed up. Even the key officials who were supposed to brief the standing committee on emergency measures that need to be taken to tackle the pollution did not show up. But among those absent, Gambhir stood out. His constituency is one of the most affected. But he was in another city, Indore, where the Indian cricket team was facing Bangladesh in a test match series. Gambhir was contracted as one of the commentators who are paid hefty fees for the job.

One of Gambhir’s colleagues posted pictures of him posing in the city before the match, eating sweets and other savories on a day he should have been in Parliament attending the meeting to discuss pollution. Social media erupted to condemn his behavior. Gambhir immediately blamed the local government for his absence and also pleaded that he needed these commenting contracts to “support” his family. The fact that he was one of the richest candidates, who now draws a hefty salary and a slew of benefits as an MP, added to the angst as people attacked him on Twitter relentlessly for not showing up.

But Gambhir’s absence shows a deeper malaise in India’s parliamentary system and governance.

A prevailing law known as the Anti-Defection Act prevents elected members from taking positions that are contrary to the political parties they belong to. This ensures that what is not a priority for the party is rarely a priority for the individual MP. India’s form of parliamentary governance, borrowed from the departing colonial British, also ensures that the prime minister and his cabinet hold primacy over all policy decisions. The standing committees and the MPs become rubber stamps who rarely reflect the needs of their constituents.

As a result, while spontaneous protests broke out against the pollution, none of the elected MPs showed up, even as a gesture of solidarity with their constituents. Even the prime minister, who is one of the most active politicians on Twitter and hosts a regular radio show, has never made a statement on the public health emergency that large parts of India face from the hazardous air pollution. This, most political parties privately acknowledge, is not an issue that will win them votes.

Indian citizens have been abandoned to deal with the issue on their own.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Join the Conversation

43 Comments

  1. Fantastic beat ! I wish to apprentice at the same time as you amend your web site, how can i
    subscribe for a weblog web site? The account helped
    me a appropriate deal. I have been a little bit
    familiar of this your broadcast provided brilliant transparent idea

  2. Thanks for your marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed
    reading it, you happen to be a great author.I will make
    certain to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back later in life.
    I want to encourage one to continue your
    great work, have a nice morning!

  3. Its like you read my thoughts! You seem to grasp a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the e-book in it or something.
    I believe that you simply can do with some p.c. to power the message home a bit, however
    instead of that, that is great blog. A fantastic read.
    I will definitely be back.

  4. Hey very cool site!! Guy .. Excellent .. Superb ..

    I will bookmark your website and take the feeds additionally?
    I’m satisfied to seek out numerous useful info right here within the post, we
    need develop extra strategies in this regard,
    thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  5. I’ve been surfing on-line greater than three hours nowadays, yet
    I never discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours.
    It is pretty value sufficient for me. In my view,
    if all webmasters and bloggers made just right content material as you probably did, the web
    shall be much more useful than ever before.

  6. Hello, Neat post. There is an issue together with your web site in web explorer, may check this?
    IE still is the marketplace leader and a big part of folks will
    omit your fantastic writing due to this problem.

  7. Whats up this is kinda of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors
    or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but
    have no coding know-how so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  8. Hey there this is kinda of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors
    or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding
    know-how so I wanted to get guidance from someone
    with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

  9. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate to this fantastic blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will share this blog with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

  10. [url=https://furosemidelab.com/]furosemide 40 mg tablet[/url] [url=https://arimidexsale.com/]buying arimidex uk[/url] [url=https://metformin360.com/]metformin 1000 mg tablet[/url] [url=https://prednisonester.com/]prednisone 1 mg[/url] [url=https://vardenafill.com/]vardenafil over the counter[/url]

  11. [url=http://ventolin911.com/]buy ventolin online[/url] [url=http://levitramed.com/]levitra generic[/url] [url=http://sildenafilgen.com/]buy sildenafil generic canada[/url] [url=http://metformin360.com/]metformin 500 mg[/url] [url=http://amoxicillincaps.com/]amoxicillin 125mg[/url]

  12. [url=https://doxycycline20.com/]buy doxycycline uk[/url] [url=https://sildenafilvg.com/]sildenafil 20 mg[/url] [url=https://furosemidelab.com/]furosemide 40mg tabs[/url]

  13. [url=https://lisinoprilhcz.com/]buy lisinopril[/url] [url=https://doxycycline20.com/]doxycycline 40 mg[/url] [url=https://amoxicillincaps.com/]amoxicillin 500 mg where to buy[/url] [url=https://zoloft24.com/]zoloft 50 mg[/url] [url=https://celebrexotc.com/]celebrex cost[/url]

  14. [url=https://avodart24.com/]avodart[/url] [url=https://metformin360.com/]metformin 500 mg pill[/url] [url=https://vardenafill.com/]vardenafil generic[/url] [url=https://sildenafilgen.com/]buy sildenafil online[/url] [url=https://lisinoprilhcz.com/]lisinopril 2.5 mg cost[/url]

  15. [url=https://furosemidelab.com/]medication furosemide 40 mg[/url] [url=https://diflucan5.com/]diflucan over the counter uk[/url] [url=https://clomid150.com/]buy clomid fast[/url] [url=https://amoxicillincaps.com/]buy amoxicillin uk[/url] [url=https://vardenafill.com/]buy vardenafil online[/url] [url=https://sildenafilvg.com/]sildenafil 10 mg tablet[/url]

  16. [url=https://levitramed.com/]levitra generic[/url] [url=https://lisinoprilmd.com/]lisinopril[/url] [url=https://albendazole365.com/]albendazole buy online canada[/url] [url=https://furosemide1.com/]medicine furosemide 20 mg[/url] [url=https://celebrexotc.com/]buy brand name celebrex[/url] [url=https://accutanrx.com/]accutane 20 mg[/url] [url=https://amoxicillincaps.com/]amoxicillin 500 mg[/url] [url=https://ventolin911.com/]can i buy ventolin online[/url] [url=https://diflucan10.com/]diflucan cream[/url] [url=https://doxycycline20.com/]doxycycline 50mg tablets[/url] [url=https://metformin360.com/]metformin 500 mg[/url] [url=https://prednisonester.com/]prednisone 20 mg[/url] [url=https://vardenafill.com/]buy vardenafil online cheap[/url] [url=https://fluoxetine1000.com/]fluoxetine oral[/url] [url=https://zoloft24.com/]zoloft 50 mg[/url] [url=https://valtrex24.com/]buy valtrex online[/url] [url=https://prednisonetl.com/]generic prednisone[/url] [url=https://furosemidetab.com/]buy furosemide tablets uk[/url] [url=https://albuterol365.com/]cheap albuterol online[/url] [url=https://avodartgen.com/]avodart price comparison[/url]

  17. [url=https://sildenafilgen.com/]how to buy sildenafil[/url] [url=https://vardenafill.com/]vardenafil generic[/url] [url=https://furosemide1.com/]furosemide 12.5 mg without prescription[/url] [url=https://doxycyclinehycl.com/]doxycycline buy canada[/url] [url=https://zoloft24.com/]zoloft generic tablet price[/url]

  18. [url=https://lisinopriltabs.com/]buy lisinopril 10 mg online[/url] [url=https://levitra360.com/]buy levitra[/url] [url=https://ventolin24.com/]ventolin generic brand[/url] [url=https://allopurinol365.com/]buy allopurinol 300 mg uk[/url] [url=https://zithromax360.com/]average cost of generic zithromax[/url] [url=https://sildenafilrem.com/]sildenafil online[/url] [url=https://colchicine365.com/]colchicine cost uk[/url] [url=https://prednisonexr.com/]prednisone 60 mg[/url] [url=https://retinarem.com/]retin a 05[/url] [url=https://propecia2020.com/]buy propecia[/url]

  19. [url=https://levitravard.com/]buy levitra[/url] [url=https://prednisonexr.com/]prednisone canadian pharmacy[/url] [url=https://propecia1000.com/]cost for propecia[/url] [url=https://allopurinol365.com/]allopurinol 300 mg for sale[/url] [url=https://metformin2.com/]metformin 500 for sale[/url]

  20. [url=https://colchicine365.com/]colchicine 0.6 mg coupon[/url] [url=https://propecia2020.com/]buy cheap propecia uk[/url] [url=https://lisinopriltabs.com/]lisinopril price in india[/url] [url=https://allopurinolzyl.com/]allopurinol medication[/url] [url=https://cafergotmed.com/]cafergot medication[/url]

  21. [url=http://lisinopriltabs.com/]lisinopril 2.5 mg[/url] [url=http://lexapre.com/]how to get cipralex[/url] [url=http://ventolin2020.com/]ventolin 90 mcg[/url] [url=http://sildenafilrem.com/]sildenafil 20 mg[/url] [url=http://propecia2020.com/]propecia cheapest price[/url]

  22. [url=https://cafergotmed.com/]cafergot price[/url] [url=https://ventolin2020.com/]can i buy ventolin over the counter uk[/url] [url=https://lisinopriltbf.com/]lisinopril 10 mg[/url] [url=https://allopurinolzyl.com/]buy allopurinol[/url] [url=https://levitravard.com/]canadian pharmacy levitra 20 mg[/url] [url=https://allopurinol365.com/]generic allopurinol cost[/url] [url=https://metformin2.com/]metformin 500 mg pill[/url]

  23. [url=https://levitra360.com/]levitra 20mg buy[/url] [url=https://sildenafilrem.com/]sildenafil 20 mg[/url] [url=https://zithromax360.com/]average price of zithromax[/url]

  24. [url=http://albuterolgen.com/]albuterol over the counter usa[/url] [url=http://tetracyclinecaps.com/]tetracycline 500mg cost[/url] [url=http://metformin2.com/]metformin[/url] [url=http://propecia2020.com/]buy brand propecia online[/url] [url=http://prednisonexr.com/]prednisone 20mg[/url]

  25. [url=http://retinarem.com/]where can i buy retin a cream[/url] [url=http://colchicine365.com/]colchicine 6 mg cost[/url] [url=http://propecia2020.com/]where can you buy propecia[/url] [url=http://allopurinolzyl.com/]buy allopurinol[/url] [url=http://allopurinol365.com/]allopurinol 100 mg tabs[/url] [url=http://prednisonexr.com/]prednisone 60 mg[/url] [url=http://levitra360.com/]buy levitra online[/url] [url=http://clomidgen.com/]buy clomid online cheap uk[/url]

  26. [url=http://prednisonexr.com/]prednisone tablets india[/url] [url=http://ventolin24.com/]ventolin generic[/url] [url=http://allopurinol365.com/]generic allopurinol 100mg[/url] [url=http://lisinopriltbf.com/]lisinopril 10 mg[/url] [url=http://stromectoltab.com/]stromectol in canada[/url]

  27. [url=https://colchicine365.com/]buy colchicine india[/url] [url=https://ventolin2020.com/]buy ventolin over the counter australia[/url] [url=https://levitravard.com/]brand levitra canada[/url] [url=https://cafergotmed.com/]cafergot price[/url] [url=https://sildenafilrem.com/]sildenafil canada prescription[/url] [url=https://albuterolgen.com/]buy albuterol[/url]

  28. [url=https://stromectoltab.com/]buy stromectol canada[/url] [url=https://prednisonexr.com/]prednisone 60 mg cost[/url] [url=https://retinarem.com/]retin-a purchase[/url] [url=https://tetracyclinecaps.com/]tetracycline price canada[/url] [url=https://doxycycline1000.com/]can you buy doxycycline over the counter usa[/url] [url=https://lexapre.com/]lexapro 10 mg[/url] [url=https://allopurinolzyl.com/]allopurinol 100mg tablets price[/url]

  29. [url=https://tetracyclinecaps.com/]price of tetracycline tablets in india[/url] [url=https://levitra360.com/]levitra 20 mg tablet[/url] [url=https://prednisolonester.com/]prednisolone 25mg price[/url]

  30. [url=https://ventolinalb.com/]ventolin inhaler[/url] [url=https://amoxicillinbio.com/]amoxicillin 500mg online[/url] [url=https://suhagra2020.com/]suhagra online order[/url] [url=https://synthroid20.com/]synthroid generic[/url] [url=https://propecialab.com/]how to buy finasteride[/url]

  31. [url=http://cephalexin24.com/]cephalexin otc[/url] [url=http://azithromycin911.com/]buy azithromycin nz[/url] [url=http://atenolol911.com/]atenolol 50 mg price in india[/url] [url=http://tadalafil8.com/]tadalafil 5 coupon[/url] [url=http://seroquel1.com/]can you buy seroquel over the counter[/url] [url=http://buspar1.com/]buspar 5 mg tablets[/url] [url=http://retina100.com/]retin a 025[/url] [url=http://tadalafil150.com/]tadalafil online[/url] [url=http://cialis500.com/]discount coupon cialis[/url] [url=http://motilium2019.com/]motilium[/url]

  32. [url=https://celebrexcap.com/]celebrex generic india[/url] [url=https://diflucanmed.com/]diflucan 150 mg tablets[/url] [url=https://wellbutrinlab.com/]wellbutrin xl 300 mg generic[/url] [url=https://metformingluc.com/]buy metformin on line[/url] [url=https://suhagra2020.com/]suhagra 100mg price in india[/url]

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *