Last week I visited Tirunelveli, a town in southern Tamil Nadu. In comparison to the Chennai metro, what struck me the most were lower noise levels as well as cleaner air and water! I could actually listen to chirping of birds, rustling of leaves and gentle blow of air amidst the general quiet. Once the morning departure of school and office goers died down, silence prevailed most of the time, occasionally interrupted by the call of the vendors or a rare automobile. Most houses in the locality I stayed were surrounded by trees and flowering plants. Morning air was fresh carrying the fragrance of assorted flowers.
However, the situation in the downtown was different! New flyover and reconstructed commercial places were conspicuous; nonetheless they had not changed the heart or culture of the town. Though the magnificence of ‘Nellaiappar temple’ and the fame of ‘iruttukadai halwa’ still remain the trade mark of the town, the traffic congestion has increased. Apparently, fuel emission hadn’t affected the air quality badly as of now. Unfortunately, one can enjoy fresh air and clean water only in small towns or in country side!
Recent media accounts detail the state of the Ganges, polluted with toxins and filth, to the extent that we have our Union Minister of Water Resources is given the charge of 'Ganga cleaning project'. Our own 'Coovum River' is the most polluted river in Tamil Nadu! Several thousand crores of rupees have already been spent on cleaning these water bodies.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released urban airquality database in May, 2014. According to this database Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world today. Thirteen of the twenty most polluted cities in the world are in India! Increasing air pollution in the cities is placing the city folk at higher risk of heart disease, respiratory illness, cancer and stroke! Growing traffic congestion is considered the major contributor to this problem. According to WHO, air pollution accounted for 3.7 million deaths in 2012.
What is the way out? WHO recommends greater attention to energy efficiency, urban development, public transportation and waste management. Center for Science and Environment, New Delhi, suggests implementation of stringent and uniform emission standards for vehicles, sustainable commuting practices, and dissemination of information on air quality and health alerts.
Policy changes and implementation aside, let us introspect on citizens' contribution to pollution. How many times have we thrown the waste from a moving bus, car or train? How often do we see people dumping garbage right on the street? Smoking, spitting and urinating in public space is not uncommon. In spite of suffering water logging during rainy season, we continue to throw garbage in open drains. Do we care? Charity begins at home. Let us be conscious of our civic duty and remain as responsible citizens.
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