*Gurugram and bad air go together like guru and gram. According to a Greenpeace report published in February 2020, there are annually 669,000 premature deaths in India on account of bad air. If you think that is bad, just look at the global figure — 4.5 million lives lost, annually. The primary accused, in particular, is particulate matter 2.5 (pm 2.5), a by-product of burnt fossil fuels which, after being spent, rises above to join forces with other rejects.
By comparison, 242 lives have been lost due to Coronavirus in India, and globally 110,000. (as of 12 April 2020)
Ironically, the world is shut to flatten the curve, to avoid overwhelming medical networks and therefore run the risk of losing lives which otherwise need not be lost. In other words, the goal is to avoid unnecessary, premature deaths. As the curve flattens, and lives are saved, those in India will return to a predisposed life of premature death.
In 2019, the year the above photo was taken, Gurugram was among the world’s 10 most polluted cities. Surely, 2020 is different, right? With India in lockdown, construction sites empty, cars off the road, and flights grounded, surely Gurugram is finding a new groove? Well, kind of. March 2020 has been better than March 2019.
Pm 2.5 has dropped by 50% from the previous year, which is a breath of fresh air. But there is a catch. Pm2.5 yesterday (11 April 2020) was 40 micrograms per cubic meter, four times higher than the World Health Organisation guideline. Even at her best, Gurugram is among the worst.
Naturally, this begs the question — why is Gurugram’s air yet polluted? Cars are off the road, flights are grounded, and construction has ground to a halt. The answer may lie in our own backyard, literally. The DG set — the diesel generator.
According to the Center for Science and Environment in Delhi, there are approximately 10,000 diesel generators in Gurugram. A DG set is like a social distancing tactic in the world of electricity supply. If one is fully connected with the rest of the network, and the system crashes, you go down with it. A DG set allows one to break off from the system, to survive a crash, to isolate. And this is a core selling point for many new residential developments in Gurugram. Towers that dot the formerly rural landscape are gated communities, seemingly stable islands in a sea of electrical instability. In a region known for power cuts that go on for 12 hours at a stretch, the DG set is seen as a necessity of life, albeit one that expedites death.
Herein lies the tension, both high and low. Of course nobody wants their life and lifestyle to contribute to 669,000 premature deaths. But nobody wants to rely on inconsistent infrastructure, which is also understandable. So the need is clearly twofold: for the powers that be to provide consistent power supply, and in parallel, to make that infrastructure as free of fossil fuel consumption as possible.
Thanks to the Coronavirus, we have been able to clear the air a bit on Gurugram’s pollution.
*Formerly known as Gurgaon, a city of 1 million people on the southern edge of Delhi.