Intolerance has somehow become a forbidden word in the “secular” country of ours. We are ready to kill, abuse, poke fun at and dismiss all this talk of intolerance. The response to this word has also changed week after week; while the country agreed with Shah Rukh Khan that this country had indeed become intolerant, this week we dismissed Aamir Khan for his views on intolerance.

Since intolerance is a fashionable word, I am tempted to use it to contribute to the debate on intolerance: I would like to state that I have become increasing intolerant to the pollution levels in Delhi. It is important to realise that we are killing ourselves if we don’t take this kind of intolerance seriously. For weeks, the pollution watch agencies in Delhi have been warning us about the heightened level of pollution in the city, the pathetic condition of drinking water and poor sanitation in the city. So far nothing has been done to address these problems. It seems that the state and Central governments have developed some kind of tolerance towards the dirty air quality in the city and seem oblivious, or rather indifferent, to the problem it is causing to children and old persons living in the city.

Apart from being bestowed with the honour of being an intolerant nation by several world and domestic news agencies, writers, politicians, journalists, we also have something else to be proud of. Delhi is officially the most polluted city in the world, but neither the court nor the government seems to care about it. What is the point of blaming the rain gods when the government has been unable to undertake any measures to improve the air quality in the city? Instead, we are bombarded with mindless figures on the level of particulate matter in the air, which has risen from 145 to 229 microgram on 24 November this year. As citizens, what do we do with these figures? To make it worse, the Indian Meteorological Department has revealed that the level of pollution this winter, a combination of smog and fog, is going to get worse. This revelation has many of us thinking what about the smog last year and the year before that. And yet, we don’t have a single statement from the state or the Central government to address the dangers arising from this situation. Instead, we are still stuck on the question on whether our country is tolerant or intolerant. In addition, the standard of debate has sunk further with some openly taking sides on social media as to which community, Hindu or Muslim, is more tolerant.

The pollution levels at the Hapur plant of Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages has also been red flagged by the Central Pollution Control Board after three of its four clean-up plants at the facility went defunct. The plant has been running without the consent to operate for a year now and the reason as to why this has come to the notice of pollution watch agencies only now, needs to be investigated. The plant, which lets out 100 KLD of sewage a day, has severely polluted the water pond near it without treating the toxic waste at the plant. The government shouldn’t fool itself into cleaning the Yamuna or Ganga if it cannot address the pollution caused by a single plant and its impact on the catchment area. The question here is, at what cost of lives is the government ready to take action on this matter? We already have the example of Punjab before us, where, as a result of groundwater pollution, several families have been destroyed, while others are battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases as a result of uranium poisoning in the districts of Bathinda, Mansa, Moga, Faridkot, Sangrur and Patiala.

The Supreme Court has issued the directive to impose green tax on polluting trucks which enter the city, but action in this regard has not come by. While we await action from the state and the Central governments, it is necessary to understand that leaving the city, like “leaving this intolerant country”, is not the solution to the problem. A number of people think that the suggestion itself is a bit absurd and will not solve the problem.

Until then, we have to amuse ourselves with the debate on tolerance or intolerance, which has the citizens of this country screaming in pain. Do we have a way forward and even a possibility of some other interesting news headline other than who is a traitor or when we are building the Ram temple?


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