A burning issueThe violence on the environment is a transnational problem and we need a collective resolve to tackle it.
In a recent interview with the Post, former Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon assured India's neighbours that it does not export its politics. There is much that can be said either in agreement or disagreement with the veteran diplomat’s statement. But there is something more lethal than politics that India is currently exporting to Nepal—the air pollution that is already leaving us with itchy eyes and aching heads. One can easily blame the paddy stubble-burning farmers of Punjab and Haryana, or even the Diwali revellers of Delhi, for the sudden decline in Kathmandu's (or much of Nepal’s and north India’s) air quality. Yet this is a complicated problem that spans borders, politics, economics and environment, and which as such has no easy solutions—and which is precisely why it calls for a multinational, coordinated approach.
As Dhruv Khullar’s recent New Yorker reportage put it, “India has among the world's highest rates of chronic respiratory disease; on the worst days, breathing the Delhi air is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes." Being a close neighbour, Kathmandu cannot but be affected by the worsening air quality in Delhi. On Thursday, Kathmandu reported an Air Quality Index (AQI) score of 137—well above the accepted level of 100—while Tulsipur in Dang recorded 169. As winter deepens, the AQI level is only going to get worse. Again, the violence on the environment is a transnational problem and we need a collective resolve to tackle it. The inability of the government next door to solve the problem on time is causing us health problems today, but what is happening in India is only half the story. There are skeletons in our closets too, for Nepal too has witnessed increased incidents of winter-time forest fires, many of which can be attributed to human negligence. In any case, if the situation persists, we might as well show on our television screens a Nepali version of the Indian anti-smoking advertisement which says, “What has happened to this city? There is ash and smoke everywhere. Why doesn’t anyone say anything?”
Our own politicians have for far too long gotten away with lies, even total incognisance, on air pollution. This life-and-death issue is almost non-existent in the manifestos of political parties contesting the upcoming parliamentary polls. The pollution that is an everyday problem for common citizens is, apparently, what Russian journalist Svetlana Alexievich calls, in the context of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, the "missing history…the invisible imprint of our stay on earth and in time". The invisibility, obviously, is a performative act of ignorance, for it is easier to feign ignorance than recognise and act. We have contaminated our arable lands with chemical fertilisers, polluted our waters with plastic, and poisoned our air with carbon monoxide. Every country in the world is complicit in the depredation of Planet Earth, and we are already paying the price for our actions. But when are we going to start a change for the better? When are we going to realise that individually we all fail but collectively we all triumph in this battle for our very existence?