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Ayesha, an Indian citizen, was born and brought up in the United Kingdom until the age of 16 when her family decided to shift back to India this year. It’s been two weeks since the family has returned to the capital, Delhi, and Ayesha has been continuously sick. Unable to breathe and having contracted a respiratory infection, the 16-year-old is suffering. This is just one of the thousands of cases of respiratory issues faced by the residents of the capital of the largest democracy in the world. But why? Isn’t falling sick due to pollution more of an immunity issue that should be dealt with by following a healthier lifestyle? Isn't this generation to be blamed for their incessant consumption of fast food and the unhealthy lifestyle of sleep deprivation? We could’ve considered this possibility had the problem been associated with obesity or any other health related issue. Unfortunately, it is not. There are too many Ayeshas in Delhi who are having problems living a healthy life, due to the excessive air pollution in the city. We have been taught about pollution since we were in elementary school. How big a problem it is, how every 1 km car ride adds to it, how the ozone layer is depleting due to our overuse of air conditioners which release Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Born into privilege, we don’t understand the consequences of our actions until our loved ones, or we face the effects of the same. From walking to the nearby market to switching off the air conditioner when it is not needed, we always have excuses to avoid doing the right thing. Hence, here we are, in the pollution capital of the world.

What do the facts say?

A simple Google search on Air pollution in Delhi opens up hundreds of news articles relating to various studies conducted on the issue, on the number of people died during a particular period due to pollution, the causes, consequences, prevention of air pollution indicating that there has been extensive research on the issue. But has this research helped anyone but the air purifier industry? We all have been instrumental in the damage caused to our city, we research about it, and we read it in the news, discuss it for a few days and then go on with our lives. We need to know the consequences of the damage caused and how our home will soon be unable to sustain regular life. Air quality in an area is measured by the annual mean concentration of Particulate Matter (PM), i.e. PM10 and PM2.5. The safe level of PM in 10 particles in the air is considered to be 50 micrograms per cubic meter. However, according to Economics Times reports in June 2018, the levels of PM10 have risen to an alarming 1,263 micrograms per cubic meters. This level of air pollution is sufficient to trigger an emergency health warning for respiratory issues. PM 25 is smaller and more dangerous; its levels in Delhi air are lower than those of PM10, although still harmfully high. Air quality in Delhi and NCR during the current period is the worst this year compared to the past four years. Between March and May 2018, Delhi experienced 0 days of ‘good’ air quality according to according to data compiled by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

According to reports on Vox.com, Delhi became the most polluted city on Earth in November 2017. The air quality index surged to 999 implying that the air in Delhi is hazardous. Visibility reduced to a bare minimum leading to several car crashes, cancellations and delays of flights and trains. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal declared that the city is a gas chamber. The smog that spread across the city, comprised of airborne particles and toxic chemicals, damaging the health of millions of residents of the city and was compared to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. The November 2017 smog was a hot topic for discussion in every social gathering for an extended period of time; it affected all of us. We then welcomed summer with open arms and forgot all our woes, took off the masks and started the engines of our cars. But winter is coming, and it’s coming for all of us.

What is polluting Delhi?

There are several causes of the increasing air pollution levels in the national capital. They affect the environment in various ways and have varying impact on the health of the residents of the country. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), the vehicular emission is one of the major causes of air pollution in Delhi. High amounts of vehicular pollution are directly linked to the absence of adequate infrastructure in Delhi. The public transport system is not equipped adequately to provide for the overwhelming population of the city. Although the metro is developing in various areas, the recent fare hike makes it inaccessible to a significant proportion of the population.

Moreover, buses on the road are much less than the required number of buses directly leading to an increase in the number of private automobile users. The problems caused by the absence of adequate infrastructure further get aggravated by overpopulation in the city. Firecrackers were banned in 2017, despite that their usage has not been eliminated. Various regions still use these crackers as a symbol of celebration and joy, indicating that the ban has not been 100% effective. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee which has a mandate to enforce and ensure compliance of air pollution rules suffers from a severe shortage of workforce.

Delhi’s air pollution is more a regional problem than a city-specific issue. Air quality in the city is affected by activities in the neighbouring states such as Haryana and Punjab. Coordination and cooperation with regional agencies need to be established to combat the pollution problem in the city. Crop burning during January- February adds to the already deteriorating air quality during that period of the year. Approximately 35 million tons of crops are set to fire by these states. The pollutants and dust particles get locked in the air are then carried by the wind within the city. What worsens the situation is the smog that settles in the city during the winter season. This causes the air to become heavier thereby allowing dust and smoke to settle on it.

What has been done?

The government and various NGOs have made considerable effort to reduce air pollution in the city. A primary example of this is the odd-even system initiated by the Delhi Government which allocated specific days to vehicles with odd and even number plates. This made a significant difference to both the traffic congestion in the city and the levels of pollution during the winter months. The Supreme Court put a restriction on the registration and sale of diesel cars. The traffic police have been advised to wear masks, and commercial vehicles and taxis are also under the radar. Added to this are the directions issued by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which has laid down a set of guidelines to be followed to combat air pollution in the city. These include a ban on burning of waste and fines on the emission of construction dust. The Government budget announced in March 2018 lays focus on several anti-pollution measures and intends to use scientific methods to resolve the pollution issue. The Delhi government has also announced collaborations with several international organisations such as the World Bank, the University of Washington, MIT and the C-40 cities Climate Leadership Group with the intention to boost the capacity of institutions that are responsible for managing the air quality of the city. Along with this various energy efficiency and renewable energy, measures have been undertaken to combat the issue.

A lot has been done to deal with air pollution in Delhi; however, there is scope for much more. Air pollution in Delhi is a state of mind. The problem exists because we as residents allow it to because we are okay with it. Every once in a while, a group of enlightened people collects and creates a stir in our minds about how toxic the air in our city is. It is discussed on all social media platforms, and we think about it for a while. But what happens then? We let it go; we move on with our fast-paced lives and continue to exploit our city for our comfort. A discussion is not enough to fix Delhi anymore; our city needs us, and we need to step it up. Constructive solutions need to be thought of and implemented. The magnitude of the damage is significant, but it is still reversible. The primary focus of most pollution control measures has been vehicular pollution and pollution from other sources is mostly neglected. This neglect is now catching up, and the environment is increasingly becoming unsustainable for people to survive in. The Delhi government needs to cooperate with the governments of neighbouring states and come to a collective solution to burning of crops and their subsequent emissions. The public needs to be sensitised to the urgency of the problem. More public awareness programs are a key in the process, and mass media can be used as a channel for distribution of information. The public needs to move beyond discussion and follow the air pollution rules set in the city. Pollution checks for all vehicles and a complete ban on the registration and sale of all diesel vehicles are the way to go. The faster we act, the higher is the possibility of reversing the damage that has already been done.



Chandra, S. (June 20, 2018) Why Delhi’s air pollution problem never gets solved. LiveMint. Retrieved from https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/Cq1XFnxfqjkKyA8mRIsg2M/Why-Delhis-air-pollution-problem-never-gets-solved.html

Irfan, U. (November 25, 2017) How Delhi became the most polluted city on Earth.Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/11/22/16666808/india-air-pollution-new-delhi

Saluja, N. & Bhosale, J. (June 15,2018) Air Pollution in Delhi,NCR worst in four years. Economic Times. Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/air-pollution-in-delhi-ncr-worst-in-four-years/articleshow/64593084.cms

Top 8 main causes of air pollution in Delhi. (November 15, 2017) .The Times of India. Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/top-8-main-causes-for-air-pollution-in-delhi/articleshow/61626744.cms

The 10 steps aimed at curbing rising air pollution levels in Delhi (December 16, 2015). The Indian Express. Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/the-steps-aimed-at-curbing-rising-air-pollution-levels-in-delhi/ 

Image Credit: Financial Express 


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Written By Shazia Azmat Fatima Rehman

Economics student at Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University.

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