Lucknow, Oct 22 (IANS): In Uttar Pradesh, 'hawa' (air) is invariably linked to the political climate rather than any actual climate change.
'Hawa kharab hai' means the dwindling fortunes of a political party, 'Hawa tight hai' denotes that a political party is in trouble and 'Hawa nikal gayi' means that a party has lost ground.
Naturally, the people of this most populous state worry little about actual air pollution and its consequences.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Uttar Pradesh swings between the poor and satisfactory category and moves into the severe category during the festival season when crackers are burst.
According to environmentalist R K Bhatnagar, nearly 73 per cent of the air pollution in major cities can be attributed to vehicular emission.
"Try going on a rickshaw scooter behind an auto or bus and you will breathe in enough emission to make you sick. The state transport department has no checks on control of emission from vehicles," he said.
Another factor is the rampant use of generators in commercial establishments.
"With frequent power cuts, almost every shop and office uses generators which emit fumes and pollute the air. Besides, there is industrial waste, biomass combustion for cooking, the construction sector and events like crop burning that can be listed as the key factors," he said.
A former chief of the UP Pollution Control Board, who did not wish to be named, said that it was the implementation - and not the intention - of government rules that nullified pollution norms.
"People owning factories, real estate builders, transport owners happily violate pollution norms and all these stake holders are politically well connected which means action cannot be taken against them. If air pollution reduced drastically in UP during the lockdown, it was mainly because transport and construction activity had been shut down. In fat, construction activity is also a major contributor to air pollution," he said.
In the past one week, the AQI in Kanpur has been recorded at 205 which is considered 'poor'.
The data released by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) reveals Meerut had the highest AQI index among 164 cities across the country at 333.
This was followed by Muzaffarnagar with 314, putting both cities in the "Very Poor" category.
The CPCB data, in all districts including Noida, Ghaziabad, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Baghpat, shows AQI levels are hovering between 200 and 300.
Cities like Moradabad, Agra, Bareilly, and many more exhibited moderate levels of AQI index (between 100 and 200). A few strict steps are being taken by the district administrations of the pollution-prone districts.
In the rural areas, stubble burning remains a major cause for air pollution.
The government has warned against stubble burning and some districts like Shamli have adopted a carrot and stick approach to keep the pollution levels under check by calling for FIRs against village pradhans, besides farmers, if stubble burning is detected.
Besides the provision of free 15,000 bottles of bio-decomposers, the farmers are advised to move the bio waste after the paddy harvest to the cow shelters.
In the rural interiors, despite many households being the beneficiaries of free gas connections under the Ujjwala scheme, women still resort to cooking with firewood. They blame it on the high price of LPG cylinders.
"As winter approaches, it is common for people in villages to light bonfires which, again, contribute to air pollution," said the former chief of the Pollution Control Board.
Dr R K Prasad, a pulmonary specialist, said that air pollution directly impacts one's health.
"People dismiss the respiratory problems as 'seasonal' and resort to over-the-counter treatment. Post Covid, people are becoming more vulnerable to respiratory and cardiac problems. Patients come to us only when things get out of control," he said.
R K Bhatnagar, meanwhile, said that the biggest problem with the people in UP was lack of awareness and awakening on the issues.
"Garbage is burnt in the open. It is carried around in open trucks. Vehicles are not checked and serviced at regular intervals. People here think that air pollution is not even an issue. In such a situation, no amount of government rules can bring in a change. You can see that people wear masks only when it is made compulsory," he said.