Friday, December 21, 2018

The Great Smog of India by Siddharth Singh

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book in return for an honest review. 

Siddharth Singh's The Great Smog of India manages to both scare the hell out of the reader and give hope where none used to exist.

We all read the newspaper reports about the pollution levels in Delhi of course, but the consequences of those pollution levels on individual health (and therefore on India's health systems and its productivity as an economy) aren't quite so evident on a day-to-day basis.

This is what TGSoI does well. It begins by summarizing the impact of the pollution levels. Then it delves deep into each of the causes of the rise in pollution each winter, whether it's industrial pollution or vehicular emissions or the burning of agricultural residue or Delhi's geographical situation or the unique administrative hassles of Delhi as a city, state and capital.

The chapter on crop burning is done particularly well; it makes it crystal clear why the farmers of Punjab and Haryana have no option but to burn the crop residue every year, and why it's a comparatively recent phenomenon. I was surprised to learn that solutions to the crop burning issue do actually exist. The reason they are not being implemented is lack of finances, combined of course with lack of political focus.

The book makes for grim reading. The problem seems insurmountable, its causes so numerous and varied and its consequences impacting so many people. Most importantly, the solution would require many widely different sections of people, not necessarily in political alignment with each other, to act in concert.

Despite this, the author manages to end on a hopeful note. If London can escape the pollution-linked smog caused by coal, and if China can reduce its deadly pollution levels by switching from coal to cleaner fuels, surely there's no reason we can't either.

This book is essential reading for anybody living in Delhi or its surrounding areas. The only problem is that you'll want to run away from home after reading the very first chapter!
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