Promises to fight the world’s most toxic air have made it to the manifestos of major political parties for the first time in Indian elections.
Major political parties such as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the opposition Indian National Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have pledged to combat the crisis by taking measures ranging from setting deadlines, introducing new emission standards to promoting electric vehicles in a bid to fight toxic air. That is a change from the 2014 elections when none of the party manifestos had any mention of clean air or pollution.
India, home to world’s top ten cities with the worst air quality, has been struggling to contain a deadly haze that killed an estimated 1.24 million citizens in 2017. In the past, governments have pledged millions of dollars and deployed extra teams to enforce existing environmental laws that include banning farmers from burning their fields. But the sheer scale of India’s toxic skies has made progress difficult.
Air pollution on the agenda
The ruling BJP’s election manifesto promises to focus on 102 most polluted cities in the country. “We will reduce the level of pollution in each of the mission cities by at least 35 percent over the next five years,” it says, lauding itself for “effective steps” taken to reduce the level of pollution. The Congress party manifesto calls air pollution a national public health emergency. It promises to strengthen the National Clean Air Program to tackle pollution.
“All major sources of emission will be targeted, mitigated and reduced to acceptable levels,” it says. The manifesto of the Aam Aadmi Party, which runs the government in the national capital of New Delhi, promises induction of electric buses and vacuum cleaning of roads, among other measures to address the pollution problem. In order to control smog in Delhi, the AAP implemented a program in 2015 to arrest vehicular emissions through traffic controls.
It is a ‘‘good sign’’ that political parties haven’t ignored air pollution, according to Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director of research at advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment. “The intent and the purpose have to get much clearer and sharper through strong political mandate for real action afterwards,” she said in a phone interview.
A recent study by The Lancet found 77 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people exposed to air far dirtier than recommended limits. The poor are the worst hit by pollution, according to The Lancet.
The bigger political parties’ focus on pollution should eventually trickle down to manifestos and agendas of regional parties, according to Hem Himanshu Dholakia, senior research associate at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water. “Air pollution can be solved through action by both the center and states in terms of tackling local sources, for example, waste burning, which will require more action from local bodies,” Dholakia said.
The South Asian nation’s deadly air, especially in winter, is caused due to a combination of farm stubble burning, firecrackers, vehicular emissions and weather conditions.