Not just cricket
Photographs of masked Bangladeshi cricketers practising in Delhi embarrassed and alarmed us, and made the Indian cricket board (BCCI) pray that the T20I match between India and Bangladesh would pass off without a medical situation caused by the alarmingly high level of pollution. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly has said that the board will be “a little bit more practical” regarding scheduling of matches in North India in the winter, when air pollution is at its worst. BCCI schedules matches in venues across India through a system of rotation. As Ganguly said, it would make sense to be mindful of the pollution factor when scheduling international matches. But then, what about domestic cricket? Can the lower-rung cricketers go on playing in conditions in which it’s unsafe to even stir out of home across cities in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal etc? And indeed, what of the other sportspersons, professional and recreational, who practise and play while breathing in air that is practically choking them?
Clearly, the problem requires a solution much more radical than a mere practical scheduling of matches. The World Health Organisation’s data shows that nine of the 10 cities with most polluted air are in India. This results in diseases and fatalities in all age-groups, apart from problems in physical and mental development. Air quality is worst in the winters, when a dip in temperature and slow wind speed trap pollutants in the air; it becomes virtually poisonous due to the burning of stubble after harvesting in the fields across India.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) hit the 999 mark in parts of Delhi around Diwali. The epicentre of power attracts most attention, but several other cities across India are suffering equally, if not worse. India needs to tackle the menace as a matter of life and death — the Central and state governments must join hands to address issues such as farm residue fires, solid fuel use, waste disposal and emissions from vehicles and industries. Ganguly was a great player and captain, but this problem is much larger than his domain.