India Shining

India Shining. Can India be the world’s shining star? Proclaim large life size posters in New Delhi – boasting Prime Minister Modi and other notable Indians as well as foreign brand names.

These words are read, not through shining streetlights, but through a dull haze that pervades all of New Delhi. The haze is actually poison gas – euphemistically labeled ‘air pollution’. Delhi see-saws with Beijing for the coveted ‘most polluted city in the world’ standing.  Delhi is not alone – 13 of the top 20 polluted cities in the world are in India.

Is this what is meant by India Shining? Is this something they even plan to discuss at the forthcoming ‘leadership summit’ trying to label India as shining?

PM Modi’s banner – Can India be the world’s bright spot? The haze through which one is meant to read such posters
modi_summit darksmog_delhi
smog_delhi2 smog_delhi1

The Urgency

Some extracts from recent articles on – Delhi’s air pollution

  • No less than three thousand children and infants die every year in Delhi because of pollution.  Delhi’s children have the lungs of heavy smokers!
  • Air pollution in India is responsible for nearly one lakh (100,000) premature deaths annually .
  • Delhi’s concentration of particulate matters exceeds national standards as well as WHO guidelines.  Delhi’s school children breathe air (air INSIDE school buildings) that is 4 times more toxic than the safety limit.
  • 30 million people in India suffer from Asthma and related respiratory illnesses. Most Delhi doctors feel quite helpless. “In the last decade, from about 10 cases a day the number has increased to over 25 per day”. Ultimately, this affects the care they can provide to other diseases as well.
  • On November 27th, 2015 one of the US Embassy’s pollution-monitoring stations in New Delhi recorded a chart-breaking reading of 999 on its custom-developed Air Quality Index. To put that in perspective, any reading above 150 is considered unhealthy, with the range 351-500 classified as ‘hazardous’.

Avoidance of the problem

In a country facing mass unemployment, poverty, mass illiteracy along with a crumbling infrastructure, air pollution seems to be a ‘low priority’ issue.  Except that it affects EVERYONE. Including the unemployed, the poor, the rich, the illiterate and the highly educated . There is over a 50% incident rate of respiratory issues in Delhi kids and elderly !  Several thousands of people are being choked to death – and somehow this issue seems to take a backseat.

Public and Media Awareness

A decade ago, I started wearing a (breathing) mask whenever traveling anywhere within India. Even from my house to the grocery store.

Several people looked at me strange – wondering who this weirdo was – and why he needed a mask on a seemingly normal day. Today, 10 years later, no one questions me – or anyone else wearing a mask. It is a common sight – and everyone gets why I am wearing one. The awareness that their city is slowly choking them has dawned upon most urban dwellers in India. The media has started to stay on top of this crucial issue – which is a promising sign.


The Solution (s)

Vehicular Traffic Solutions

Eliminating or reducing vehicular traffic would have the largest effect on the air pollution index. To reduce the number of cars on the road, Delhi could introduce a ‘lottery system’ – only the winners would be allowed to drive on the roads (Singapore implements something similar with a very successful outcome).

Alternatively, only CNG (compressed natural gas) cars could be allowed to drive freely. Any petrol or diesel based car would need to be phased out – and replaced with a CNG vehicle.

Industrial and Farmland Pollution Solutions

Surrounding Delhi are several industrial towns – which freely expel tons and tons of harmful pollutants in the atmosphere – every single day.  Large farm lands surrounding Delhi practice a ‘razing to the ground’ (paddy stubble fires) practice – which also lifts various pollutants and sends them into neighboring cities. The solutions for these are obvious – simply outlaw these practices – and impose strong fines/disciplinary action against violators.

Giant (Large Scale) Air-Cleaning Machines 

Two decades ago, I remember researching ‘large scale air purification systems’….mammoth machines that would suck the pollutants out of an entire neighborhood – or a few blocks of city street. My search was not wholly unproductive – I came across several patents that accomplished something similar. I concluded (somewhat naively) that India would figure out a workaround.  Invention being the mother of necessity, there would be a slew of innovative, pollution fighting products. No such wave of innovation appeared. The problem remained buried – much as it does today.

The upcoming Leadership Summit

An upcoming leadership summit in Delhi (Can India be the world’s bright spot ? ) has invited over 40 world brand names – as part of a think tank.

The agenda ? No less than to solve the world’s economic crisis !

It would be great if these think tank leaders could solve the entire world’s financial problems – while also allowing citizens to breathe normally.  Unfortunately, breathing normally is not on the meeting agenda.

To me, such summits are only retreats that avoid actual issues.  They are a waste of everyone’s time and energy – the only positive outcome being that the corrupt leaders of this country are kept inside a conference room – under observation – where they can only do limited damage.  Far from finding any solutions, these summits are part of the problem.  They are, in effect, AVOIDANCE in Action ! This is exactly how this problem has been avoided for as long as it has.


It will take real leadership to solve this problem – and there are MANY, MANY solutions to the crisis (which are obvious without getting a think-tank together). In any other country, this pollution index would be considered a medical emergency – and people EVACUATED from the cities with these pollution levels.  Hopefully, India will see it as such and take action (already MUCH MUCH too late) before too many lives are lost.  

India’s new (not so new anymore) Prime Minister has displayed a shocking lack of awareness about global warming – stating that just because someone ‘feels’ colder in their old age doesn’t really mean it IS colder. He was implying that just because we feel temperatures rising everywhere, doesn’t mean that temperatures are necessarily rising (maybe the entire human race has just started feeling hotter, just like an old person feels colder…).

I wouldn’t place my faith in him to solve this critical problem (though, by providing the correct incentives, he can bring about the greatest transformation in the shortest possible time). And while the newfound public awareness is encouraging, there is still, however, some of that old complacency – that things aren’t really that bad.  That if we ignore it long enough, the problem will go away.    

Unfortunately, the only thing that goes away are the lives of thousands of children and elderly all across India.

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