02 June 2019

It was the winter of 2017 when Utsav, then only two years old, was first diagnosed with asthma, a respiratory disease that affects the lungs. Since then, he  has been forced to cover his nose or wear a mask to protect himself from the dust and smog, as India’s capital continues to battle a pollution crisis. On the days that he feels worse, Utsav has to use the nebuliser with the help of his parents. “Whenever the air quality depletes, Utsav’s condition worsens. He is quite young but he starts asking for medicines and nebuliser whenever he starts feeling uneasy,” said his mother Priya as they waited to see the doctor in a state-run hospital specialising in chest ailments in North Delhi. “We cannot even afford good quality masks,” said the 33-year-old mother, an accountant in a local consultancy firm. Her husband Kamal, also 33, is a data entry operator with a food company.

During the winter months of November and December, when air quality is at its worst in New Delhi, the average poisonous atmospheric particulate matter that has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometer (or PM2.5), often hits the emergency figure of nearly 440, more than 12 times the US government’s recommended limit. The city’s average PM2.5 level is around 114……

Fatal air

India, the world’s fastest growing economy, is currently holding its seven-phase general elections. Over 900 million eligible voters are expected to cast their votes in the elections, which end on May 19. While a number of national issues, including issues of national security and economy, have been in the headlines throughout the ongoing elections, there is barely any discussion over the country’s pollution crisis in the campaigns.

India has the world’s worst air pollution

India’s toxic air claimed 1.24 million lives in 2017 - 12.5 percent of total deaths recorded that year in the country, according to a study published in Lancet Planetary Health. The study said more Indians died due to pollution than cancer, tuberculosis, AIDS and diabetes put together.The 2018 Global Environmental Performance Index placed India at 177 out of 180 countries, down more than 20 spots from 155 in 2014. In March this year, another study showed that India is home to 15 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities. All four satellite cities surrounding New Delhi - Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Noida - figured in the top six while the national capital itself, home to nearly 30 million people, was placed at 11 out of 20.

Gap in air quality between rich and poorer countries increases

Yet, Indian politicians seeking a place in India’s 543-member lower house of parliament hardly ever talk about the deadly pollution around them in their campaign speeches. “Pollution is not an issue for political parties because these leaders are not affected by it. The prime minister’s residence is spread across hectares and is full of greenery. What problem is he facing due to air pollution?

Nadim Asrar 

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Kabeer Katlat


The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.