We Asked: Do you think it is about time the authorities took the matter of garbage burning and other environment-polluting issues into their hands and took active action against the culprits instead of passing the buck or turning a blind eye? Many know but won't comply with the anti-pollution norms like garbage burning including plastic (even safai workers can be seen doing that, as well as workers of many institutions and shopping places) and other air pollution-causing activities. With winters setting in, the government shouldn’t leave us to our ‘destiny’, but must take stern action against defaulters.
Absolutely! It is high time the authorities tackle the pressing issue of waste burning and other environmental hazards head-on, rather than evading responsibility or ignoring the problem. Non-compliance with anti-pollution norms, including burning of garbage—especially plastics—persists among various sectors, from sanitation workers to employees in institutions and commercial establishments. As winter approaches, the government cannot afford to overlook this issue but must enforce stringent measures against those who violate environmental regulations. Open burning of waste has sadly become a common sight across India, despite being a highly discouraged method of waste disposal. This practice significantly contributes to air pollution, a factor often overshadowed by industrial emissions and vehicular exhaust. The incomplete combustion during waste burning releases various harmful toxins into the air, particularly from substances like plastic, glass, metal, and rubber. These toxic emissions, including carbon monoxide, carcinogenic compounds, and formaldehyde, have been linked to increased health risks such as cardiac issues and asthma, contributing to premature deaths in cities. Recent studies focusing on cities like Patna, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Punjab highlight waste burning as a major source of particulate matter pollution, following closely behind industrial and vehicular emissions. While waste burning remains prevalent in many Indian cities, its precise impact across the country hasn't been comprehensively quantified. To curb this hazardous practice, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed a ban on open waste burning, levying fines ranging from Rs 5,000 for backyard burning to Rs 25,000 for bulk waste burning. The NGT also directed every state and union territory to implement the Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016 promptly. However, issuing orders alone won’t solve the problem; implementation is crucial. State governments must prioritize enforcing these regulations to combat air pollution effectively. While waste burning might seem like a quick fix, it pollutes the air, water, and land, besides squandering potential resources. Embracing the waste management hierarchy—reduce, recover, reuse, recycle, and dispose of—offers a sustainable solution to this environmental challenge. - Ada Riyaz, M.Sc, Biodiversity Studies and Management, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh
Plastic pollution is quite a serious concern. The government has already provided for various actions including a ban on single-use plastic. NGT has banned unregulated open burning of plastics, and rubber across the country. Still, the culprits don't bother. That indicates that there is a strong need to act following the legal provisions against such acts. It is quite hazardous not only to the environment but also to the health of people in the surrounding area. Stern action only will set the system in order. -Shikha, Deputy General Manager, NABARD and faculty member, BIRD
I live in Mehrauli, the oldest part of Delhi, surrounded by 700 acres of green cover spread over three parks. And yet, these days, every morning I wake up to the smell of smoke and occasionally watery eyes. It’s staggering that as one of the most polluted cities in the world, New Delhi still seems to be dragging its feet on the issue of air pollution specifically that of garbage and fallen leaves. There seems to be a poor or no system of collection and disposal even at the local level. And also, a lack of coordination and overall civic responsibility at the citizens' level or the local RWAs. Delhi RWAs are empowered to create bylaws for themselves on certain issues and can drive a more environmentally conscious approach to waste disposal in their localities and specifically target the issue of waste burning. Burning seems to be the easiest way of disposal in the absence of robust and well-organised garbage handling logistics that should include not just the posh colonies but the many smaller urban villages and poorer areas of the city. At one end of the problem is the civic administration, at the other end is the citizen. Both need to act, with a sense of urgency and collective ownership to be able to improve the quality of the air we breathe in the city. Enforcement and law play a very huge role but can only do so much given our numbers. With the population densities of a city like Delhi, in the end, it has to be community-led action that will bring results. The authorities will then be able to do a much better job of ensuring enforcement and control with citizens being part of the movement. -Henri Fanthome, Principal Architect, HFOA
I am a Lucknowite, currently residing in the national capital region of Delhi, studying law. For quite a few days I’ve been observing the growth of pollution levels in Ghaziabad. Just the other day, while generally talking to a friend of mine (who is also from Lucknow) we discussed the air quality index of Delhi and Lucknow and astonishingly found the gigantic difference of over 200 AQI of one city from another. It led me to ruminate on the plausible cause of this major gap with Delhi NCR region - 355 AQI and Lucknow -131 AQI. After scrutiny, I came to realize that the fundamental causes were premised on the aspect of garbage burning, especially that of plastic, followed by the discharge of Chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. All of these, fall within the purview of artificial sources of air pollution, primarily. Acknowledging Delhi as a hub of frequent infrastructural developments, a decent amount of Radon Gas is produced into the environment from the bricks, tiles, and other soils containing radium, intrinsic to the development of infrastructure. The gas is a great contributory agent to respiratory problems and subsequently lung cancer. This is exacerbated by emissions from late evening and overnight traffic which tends to linger at ground level due to a decent amount of cooler air above it. Pollution intensifies during winter when farmers burn off husks from paddy fields upwind of Delhi. The very light wind speed and colder winter season collectively led to a stable atmospheric condition that lets pollution to at some points be there at “breathing” height. The city of Lucknow does have a great quantity of impure air due to similar factors as well, the main reason for this same is the elevated levels of suspended particulate matter (SPM) that pose a significant health risk, leading to chronic respiratory illnesses among the populace. These health issues subsequently contribute to compromised immunity, fostering secondary infections that inflict prolonged agony, financial hardship, and diminished productivity among the citizens. The exacerbation of this situation is primarily attributable to uncontrolled emission of gases by both large and small industrial facilities, compounded further by the continuous influx of vehicles onto urban thoroughfares, aggravating air quality concerns. This scenario necessitates urgent legal intervention to regulate and mitigate the emissions from industrial establishments and vehicular traffic, thereby safeguarding public health and ensuring a conducive environment for the populace to thrive. Therefore, under the law of waste management, essential policies are required to be framed by the government to ensure improved air quality, in the case of prolonged ignorance of the same, the world will reach a position from where there will be “no coming back”. The following principles must be scrutinized and used for the implementation of the steps decided by the government:
1) The principle of optimal choice of options for the environment;
2) The principle of proximity and regional approach to waste management;
3) The principle of hierarchical waste management;
4) The principle of accountability;5) The Polluter pays principle.
- SM Ayaan Rizvi, Christ University, Delhi NCR.1 B.A.L.L.B
Topic of the month: Do you think Delhi and NCR suffer from restricted air flow (circulation) because of faulty town planning with the area turning into a well of multi-story buildings without necessary (open space) respite? You may send your views (either in Hindi or English) in 300 words or more to [email protected]. Please also attach a colour photo of yourself.