Air purifiers to fight Delhi pollution: When the state abandons public good

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What is the connection between the air that we breathe, the on-going massive advertising campaigns for indoor air purifiers and relationships between citizens and the state? It is a history of the present that tells us a great deal about some of the most fundamental aspects of our lives and the choices we might make for a decent future.

 

In the period since 1991, the most significant aspect of our national life has been the changing nature of the state. In all post-colonial societies, the state apparatus has – till recently – enjoyed almost sacred status as the progenitor of the public good. Usually, the post-colonial nation-state was closely identified with a specific political party – the Congress in India, ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, for example – and the latter’s moral legitimacy was closely linked to its role in creating a welfare state. In the immediate post-colonial period – the Nehruvian years of high nationalism – though various forms of private capital plied their trade, the determinative role of the state in realms as diverse as culture, economy, family life, urbanization and infrastructure provision remained largely unquestioned. The state enjoyed a state-ness that was next to godliness and attempts to interrogate the role of the state in the life of the nation – such as that by the right-of-centre, Swantantra Party – died a lingering death. It was a period that required stateliness to hold together a society economically and socially ravaged by extractive colonial machinery. Nehru was not a statist as much as a visionary pragmatist.

 

Unfortunately, the idea of the state as the purveyor of the public good became thoroughly corrupted in the decades that followed the end of colonial rule. Bureaucratic and political elites granted themselves extravagant privileges and access to national resources while they exhorted the rest of the citizenry to sacrifice for the national good. Newly established public institutions and utilities became sites of private enrichment by a tiny group. Slowly, but palpably, the goodwill enjoyed by the post-colonial state began to be eroded. Popular culture – a reliable barometer of the public mood – began increasingly to represent the state as both corrupt and anti-people. From the 1980s, for example, the character of the filmic hero changed from the sacrificing ‘Five-Year Plan Hero’ – the doctor, the engineer – to the unabashed consumer who would much rather honeymoon in Switzerland than invest in postal savings accounts.

 

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From smog cutters to diet tips: Vadra, Kohli and other celebs on Delhi smog

 

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Ordinary mortals are not the only people concerned about Delhi’s abysmal air quality and its blanket of Delhi smog. celebrities and well-known individuals are voicing their concerns, and possible solutions, too.

 

In a bipartisan appeal on Facebook for tackling the menace, Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra says,”Poisoned air doesn’t care which caste or religion you belong to. It is an undiscriminating killer. The time to lay down a road-map is now. The road to a solution starts with us.”

 

Calling on the Centre and the Delhi state government to set aside their “political slug fest” and focus on “the safety and well being of Delhi’s citizens”, Vadra points at China’s success at “drastically” reducing its smog levels by “employing such techniques as massive windmill style fans (to dissipate smog cover)”.

 

Calling for long-term sustainable solutions, Vadra goes on to list out some himself: “The previous Government imposed energy efficiency standards on air conditioners, fridges and other electronic appliances. This in turn led to a drastic cut in electricity consumption. We need more electric cars and buses. We need better solutions for our farmers. It is a one time cost for the Government to purchase the machines which can turn husk into safe and non-toxic refuse.”

 

He also highlighted that in the wake of reports that the Delhi government was sitting on a Rs 787-cr green fund, it was time to deploy “imaginative solutions”.

 

As reported earlier, while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Wednesday blamed the Centre for blocking projects, an RTI query revealed that the Arvind Kejriwal-led government did not spend even a paisa out of the Rs 787 crore it collected as environment cess since January 1 this year.

 

As the capital city grappled with dangerously high pollution levels, the Right to Information (RTI) query on Wednesday found the Delhi government was unable to specify its utilisation of the Rs 787 crore green cess collected during 2017. The government said it spent Rs 93 lakh of the cess in 2016, but there was “no mention of any expenditure” in 2017.

 

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