Air pollution is one of the most serious public health concerns faced by the citizens of Delhi. Rising pollution levels, especially in the winter months, affects the health of all citizens but especially that of children and senior citizens. There has been a concerted effort by all agencies and governments at different levels to bring down pollution in Delhi – be it reduction in use of generators due to 24×7 electricity, reduction of vehicular traffic due to the eastern-western peripheral highways, closure of thermal power plants, strict enforcement of dust control norms, etc. This has resulted in 25% reduction of pollution in Delhi. This is a major achievement as Delhi is the only metro city in India where pollution levels have been decreasing, rather than increasing.
While there has been a 25% reduction in pollution in Delhi, the winter months see a major spike in pollution levels. One of the major reasons behind this increase in pollution levels is the stubble burning that happens in the neighbouring states of Delhi, something over which the Government of NCT of Delhi has no control. Therefore, the only option available to the people of Delhi are emergency measures to severely cut down on any sources of pollution emanating from Delhi, as well as to find mechanisms by which people can cope with the rising pollution levels. The various measures being taken by the Government of NCT of Delhi include Odd-Even rule from 4th-15th November, distribution of free masks to citizens of Delhi via school children, as well as encouraging a cracker-free Diwali by organising a laser show as a community Diwali celebration in Central Park.
One of the challenges faced by any government in such a situation is regarding compliance and participation of the citizens in such emergency measures as these often intrude upon the regular day-to-day life of people. This is the reason why a massive public awareness campaign is necessary, not merely to inform the citizens about the specific modalities, but also to build the confidence of citizens to participate in such measures.
One of the measures being taken by the Government of NCT of Delhi is to distribute masks to the citizens, via children studying in schools. Research by Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chicago (EPIC) in slums of Delhi has shown that mask usage goes up substantially if masks are distributed free of cost. However, their usage is often low – despite free distribution – because of lack of awareness about masks. The EPIC study showed that mask usage went up substantially when accompanied by an awareness campaign that de-stigmatised the use of masks. So even when it comes to taking measures for health and safety of citizens, it is essential to build an active public awareness campaign.
The Government of NCT of Delhi is committed to not just reducing pollution further in the months to come, but also to protect citizens from the health hazards posed by the sudden spike in air pollution. The Cabinet has approved an expenditure of Rs 36 crore from the Budget of the Directorate of Information and Publicity (DIP) towards the mass awareness campaigns mentioned above.