James K Boyce , economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Aseem Shrivastava, Delhi-based writer and co-author of Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India write about how “India’s new tax on car sales is a step in the right direction, but can the country address the wealth and power imbalance driving the health disaster?”
Excerpts from their column follow:
“The news that India is introducing a new tax on car sales to help combat severe air pollution and congestion problems has unsurprisingly been decried by the country’s car industry. The chair of India’s largest car manufacturer, Maruti Suzuki, says the tax “is going to hurt the industry, and will impact growth and affect job creation”. Following the announcement, shares in Maruti Suzuki traded more than 5% lower. But others have celebrated the move, recognising that business as usual cannot continue in a country home to the four most polluted cities in the world. “Once Indians owning cars was seen as a sign of economic success. Now this sort of tax is seen as Indians being responsible,” a senior research fellow at Delhi-based thinktank told the Guardian.
“…Delhi’s low-income residents – who don’t travel by car – bear the brunt of the city’s toxic air. This is partly because of where they live. A 2011 study found levels of suspended particulates to be generally higher in the city’s poorer neighbourhoods. The poor also spend more time outdoors, where pollution is most intense. A study in the scientific journal Atmospheric Environment reports that men from low-income households spend on average about seven hours outdoors daily, compared to virtually zero for those at the top of the income scale. What’s more, affluent households can afford air conditioning, better nutrition and better healthcare, all of which insulate them, to some extent, from dirty air.
“…Beneath the headlines, Delhi’s air pollution is not only a public health disaster; it is a classic case of environmental injustice. The city’s affluent classes reap the lion’s share of the benefits from the activities that poison the air, while less privileged residents bear most of the human health costs. This fateful disjuncture – and the inequalities of wealth and power that lie behind it – has posed the single biggest impediment to addressing the problem.
“It remains to be seen whether the authorities in Delhi can muster the political will to go beyond stopgap emergency measures and launch the policies that are desperately needed to safeguard the public interest in a clean environment against the private interests of the polluting classes. Will India, often hailed as the world’s largest democracy, be able to overcome the oligarchy that rules its air? The poor who bear the heaviest air pollution burdens wish they could hold their breath long enough to find out.” The Guardian. Read it on delhiair.org.
Delhi’s air pollution is a classic case of environmental injustice