By Patricia Lee Sharpe
The Chief Minister of Delhi state has asthma and a perpetual cough. Recently he received some advice from the Prime Minister of India, who belongs to a rival party. He should consult a well-known yoga therapist from PM Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Such counsel would sound good to many residents of my home state of New Mexico, where modern medicine isn’t universally appreciated and many practice one or another form of yoga.
But, having just come back from Delhi myself—coughing all the way, in fact—I have a better idea for both CM and PM: Get together and clean up the air in Delhi. It’s toxic, as you can see from the photo above. I took it from my hotel window.
I have a touch of asthma, too, so I started coughing within hours of my arrival in Delhi on February 11th, with plans to stay a month. After ten miserable days (complicated by catching a very nasty virus, though not the deadly dreadful H1N1, which was also floating around), I paid a disgusting flight change penalty to Air France and came home early. Came home to Santa Fe, the clean air capital of the USA. Among cities, anyway. My coughing stopped.
I didn’t need the news stories that appeared in the New York Times a week or so before my departure to know that Delhi has air pollution issues. As long as I’ve been traveling to (and sometimes living in) Delhi, it’s been a problem, especially in the winter, when the phenomenon that’s known as an inversion occurs. In such cases, the air over the city just sits there, getting dirtier and dirtier.
Early on, before a sleepy post-colonial city became a global megalopolis, it was mainly smoke from cow dung fires that fouled the air. As time passed, the culprit was dung plus particulate matter from the ever-multiplying, never-inspected exhaust-belching trucks and buses. At a certain point, Delhi invested in buses fueled by natural gas. The air got cleaner, for awhile. What a wonderful inerlude that was!
But road transport grew and grew and grew, a sign of economic success. Exhaust-maximizing traffic jams, naturally, multiplied. There was also another huge environmental cost to economic success: India relies on coal to feed an increasingly ravenous appetite for power. Maybe the old puff-puff, chuff-chuff trains are electrified now, but they still run on coal, with which India (like China) is all too well supplied.