Air of ill-health and mistrust

The two raging issues of today are air pollution in Delhi-NCR and the approaching elections in many states. In the two cases, governments have either been apathetic, or religiously hyperactive. These are not normal reactions. There has to be a middle path, there has to be logic in response.

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NCR’s air pollution issues never seem to abate. Pollution improved during the extensive Covid lockdown, but now is back at its worst. Every year, as winter approaches, the governments of the states, as well as the one at the Centre promise us better air quality. And then, when they cannot maintain even the basic standards, they start passing the buck. When air quality plummets to severe and even toxic, stubble burning issues come into play, when the Diwali fallout excuse gets stale.

As constructions and repairs were allowed all over again, the dust created a deadly zone for the lungs. It stays that way, every year. There seems to be no relief.

The government apathy about protecting the lives of the people is so stark that recently the Supreme Court had to issue a warning of strict action, including a 24-hour ultimatum to the Centre, Delhi, and neighbouring states to act against industrial and vehicular pollution. These are the other main creators of pollution in cities. 

Even as the government claimed otherwise, Delhi’s air pollution worsened, and the top court was rightly miffed at the bare minimum measures taken over the last few weeks. Chief Justice NV Ramana had said during a hearing: “We feel that nothing is happening and the pollution keeps increasing. Only time is being wasted.” The court had enough reason to be aggrieved.

It was the fourth straight week of hearing about the air pollution crisis in the national capital and in nearby cities on a petition by Aditya Dubey, a 17-year-old student from Delhi who had approached the apex court, aggrieved by the deteriorating air quality in Delhi-NCR.

Then there is the issue of whether the schools are to remain open or should shut down. With the schools having been on prolonged holiday due to the long covid pandemic, it was imperative, in a way to commence proper classes, but not at the cost of children’s health. But, as the Delhi government shut down schools after the top court said that “three-year-olds and four-year-olds are going to schools but adults are working from home,” there were some adverse remarks in the media as well.

The court’s decision was not liked by a section of the press and the bench of Chief Justice Ramana and Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant said: “One thing what we observed is, whether intentional or unintentional, some sections of media portray us as the villains who want to close down the schools. On your own you (Delhi government) opened the schools. But see today’s newspapers.”

Shree Laxmi Narayan Temple

The villain in the piece is not the court, but the lackadaisical governments and a media with a short fuse. For the record, recent record of the air quality index (AQI) moved between 378 and 429. That is ‘very poor’ and worse. Understandable, that calm winds will not allow the pollution to disperse, but how was the pollution allowed to grow to such levels in the first place?

The other important trend in the pre-election atmosphere has been the return of the mandir-masjid issue. It seems that governments, especially of Uttar Pradesh, are not happy showcasing their several achievements of the state on the social and economic fronts. As it looks, the government believes that the only way to sway voters is to recreate the earlier religious frenzy.

Why else would Mathura’s Shri Laxmi Narayan Virajman become an issue now, placed before the court, demanding the Sthan Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi validation? The petition seeks to invalidate the agreement between Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi and the Shahi Masjid Idgah, over a dispute of 13.37 acres of land that is claimed by Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi. The argument is that the place where Shri Krishna’s birth place is today was Kansa prison five thousand years ago.

This is an old dispute, with the first trial between Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan and Shahi Masjid Idgah having begun in 1832. Since then, there has been much litigation on various issues, but the victory has always been for Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan. True, but is now the time to bring it all back into the limelight?

One is not contesting the veracity of the claim. That is for the courts to decide. It is strange, though, that issue has been blown up to huge proportions as the elections approach. Last time it was Ramlala, this time Lord Krishna. God is eternal. God cannot act as an election arbitrator. This should not have happened. 

Also, let us not have any election within a religiously charged atmosphere. There is risk to life and limb, there is risk to humanity. We need to appreciate this.