Last year in Delhi, as the air quality index hit a high three-figure mark, life assumed its normal winter course; nursery school children ran around the playground in masks; ghostly cricketers moved about the pitch at Feroz Shah Kotla unable to sight the ball; and people with watery eyes knelt down in the lethal gray haze to admire the entries at the annual chrysanthemum flower show. It was difficult to tell if city life was real or morbid satire.
Why are Indian cities so ineffective in solving their pollution problems? Two reasons come to mind. First, in environment, construction parameters, transport and domestic energy requirements, the Indian situation is so dire it is unique. It follows none of the dictates of first-world conditions. Second, every approach either relies on foreign solutions or Indian make-shift ones. The problem is neither adequately defined nor properly addressed.