As pollution level climbed to 12 times above the recommended limit this week in India’s capital, government officials said they knew what needed to control the smoky haze was, but nothing would be done, at least in 2017.
A major source of the smog at this time of year across northern India, including New Delhi, is farmers burning the stubble of the previous crop to prepare for new plantings in November.
An estimated 600 million dollars is needed to provide farmers with alternatives, but the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and opposition parties in power in New Delhi and nearby Punjab states are squabbling over who will pay, said three federal government officials who have been briefed on the situation.
“Nothing more is likely to happen this year,” said one of them. “We’re now praying. Only God can save us.”
The official said he had bought pollution masks for his family and installed air purifiers at his home in New Delhi, now the most polluted city in the world, according to the Brookings Institute. The city is home to more than 20 million people.
A spokesman of the federal environment ministry declined comment on federal and state governments bickering over funds to tackle the problem of stubble burning.
The provincial leaders of New Delhi and neighbouring Haryana states, after exchanging barbs on Twitter for days, agreed on Wednesday on measures to control the smog in 2018.
As a thick blanket of haze settled over parts of northern India, including the capital, over the past few days, the official response to what has become an annual phenomenon has been marked by paralysis and lack of ownership, interviews with government official’s show.
It’s not just the crop burning a combination of industrial smog, vehicle exhaust and dust envelop the region every year as winter approaches and wind speeds drop.
It’s been particularly bad in 2017 with levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that reaches deep into the lungs, climbing to over 600 last week, according to a United States Embassy measure.
The upper limit for healthy air is 50, the government has said.
Respiratory diseases killed about 10 people a day in the year to March 2017 in the national capital region, according to the health ministry.
The World Bank estimates pollution cost the country as much as 7.7 % of the GDP in 2013.
In 2015, Modi launched the first national air quality index in New Delhi and promised to take steps to clean the air.