Smoggy-pat Skies

             

           Ah, November! The nights are getting longer, but the #SonepatSkies are as beautiful as ever. Come sunset, you see a hundred phones go up trying to capture the golden fading into a soft orange with hues of red weaving in and out of the clouds. What can I say, #SonepatSkies are to die for; right about now, quite literally. That’s right folks, it’s that time of the year again. Bust out your masks and air purifiers, because you can (#privilege), as we head into SMOG SEASON. Because I’m from Delhi, where smog is an inevitable part of winter, the smog in Sonipat seems trivial to me; what is an Air Quality Index of 241(very poor) when one has grown up in that of 428 (very hazardous). However, for many other residents of Ashoka, smog is a serious issue.

 

          Smog season starts in October; but for mask wearers it starts the day after Diwali. Diwali is often blamed for the smog problem; while it’s true that burning crackers on Diwali makes the problem worse, the real reason behind the smog is crop burning. Farmers in Haryana and Punjab have a window of only 15 days after harvest to plant the next crop. In order to quickly get rid of the stubble of the previous crop, farmers set fire to their fields. This quick fix not only damages soil, but also releases pollutants. Due to northwesterly winds, the smoke is pushed over NCR, including Sonipat. Add to that vehicular pollutants, industrial emission, and smoke from burning firewood and cow dung. All that leads to coughing and burning eyes for the average Ashokan.

 

          Considering the gravity of the issue, the admin has taken measures to address the smog problem. An advisory was sent by out to the student body with measures that one could take to deal with smog on an individual level. Moreover, each floor of the residences had a floor meeting to discuss the situation with their respective Resident Assistants. Adding to the several reasons for smog, the ongoing construction on campus is a cause for concern in terms of micro particles released as well. The admin was quick to assure students that the construction work would not add to air pollution at the University; water is sprinkled to settle dust and loose construction material is covered. Besides that, the mess has started serving Vitamin C rich fruits, lemon water, gooseberries, and jaggery. The infirmary sells air-masks and has oxygen cylinders and nebulisers for emergencies. The tuck shop has been advised to stock up on steam inhalers and fruits. The dust suppression machine has started operating. No comment was given by the Environment Ministry on the situation; however, minutes from House meetings suggest they took the initiative to provide masks to the staff on campus.

 

          Students are divided on the adequacy of the measures taken by the admin. Aratrika Sengupta, a first year, believes, given the exuberant fees students are paying, the admin can do more to combat the situation, such as installing air purifiers in residences and classes; this is a popular opinion in some circles of the student body. Aratrika also mentions that the Office of Academic Affairs does not consider illness due to smog a valid reason for class absence. Another first year, Anamika Singh (name changed), believes that air purifiers and masks are not the solution and demanding air purifiers is a very classist stance. She believes that students should take more proactive measures to cut down air pollution, such as not using ACs or growing air purifying plants. On being asked about the measures taken by the admin, Anamika feels that they are adequate. However, unlike Aratrika, who had developed severe cough and headaches due to air pollution, Anamika faced no disruption in her day to day life.

           These are, of course, two sides of a spectrum. The most common response to air pollution on campus seems to be apathy, and as we head towards December, concern is shifting to end of term papers and lowering temperatures. The admin is doing its best to combat a problem that has its source in bigger institutional issues. But the problem of air pollution and smog will not be going away soon; the lack of response or interest in the student body, or even the residents of Delhi, regarding a matter that concerns public health is concerning. At least we have the skies to console us.

Edited by Arpita Wadhwa