Delhi Air Pollution: All About National Capital’s Toxic Smog

The Delhi government, on Saturday, November 13, announced a one-week shutdown of schools and institutions due to the severe air pollution in the national capital. AQI (24-hour average) rose up to 471, on Saturday. 471 falls under the severe category and pertains to severe health hazards. To curb the pollution impact on the citizens, construction activities have also been suspended for the next week.

Air pollution in Delhi has been an issue every year during the months of October and November, following multiple reasons. Primarily, the sudden surge in AQI has been touted to stubble burning, the increasing smog and firecrackers during Diwali.

Why Is Delhi Severely Polluted Every Year?

October is met with the start of winters and the withdrawal of monsoon. With monsoons gone, the direction of the wind also changes to Northwesterly, from easterly that was bringing monsoon from the Bay of Bengal. The lowering temperatures make it harder for the pollutants that are generated and that also flow in from neighbouring plains to disperse into the upper layer of the atmosphere. During winters, the speed of the winds is also low, leading to no dispersion of the pollutants from the air. Thus, the pollution level is already high due to industrial and transportation activities. When farm fires and dust storms are added to this, the air quality becomes worse making it impossible to breathe in it.

However, stubble burning also remains a major factor in the increase in pollution levels. A study by IIT-Kharagpur in 2015, established that 17-26% of the pollution is attributed to biomass burning. The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research has found that in 2019 the pollution rose up to 40%.

But, pollution levels stay high even after the stubble season gets over. Once the damage is done, pollution remains for almost the entire winter season in Delhi.

What Is Happening This Year?

This year as well the pollution levels reached sky-high after Diwali. The pollution levels have forced the Supreme Court to intervene and condemn the governments to bring up measures to tackle the air pollution in the city. CJI Ramana has asked the Centre to come up with emergency plans to curb the effects of pollution and its impact on the citizens. He remarked, ‘We have been forced to wear masks at home also, the situation is very serious.’ He also noted that blaming the farmers for this would not bring any solution, and asked why bans on firecrackers, control on vehicular transmissions were not followed. Ordering them to look beyond politics, he ordered for immediate action on the matter.

Following this, CM Arvind Kejriwal ordered a partial lockdown of schools and other high-end activities in the city. Deputy CM Manish Sisodia has asked people to prefer travelling by cycle and buses for at least one day in a month. During a cycling rally in Patparganj, he said, ‘People can ride a cycle at least once in a month to prevent pollution and save the environment for future generations.’ However, this comes across as a textbook answer rather than involving real-life practical solutions that would help change the situation.

What Are The Solutions?

As the CJI pointed out, beyond politics and the blame game, one needs to look into real solutions that would keep the AQI fine if not completely solve it. The Delhi government has tried implementing an odd-even rule to curb the pollution, however, it could not be termed as a long-term affair.

It is necessary to note that Delhi is a highly populated city and while coming up with schemes the logistics of the city need to be kept in mind. The government has also tried installing smog guns at construction sites that help in regulating the smog. Diesel generators have also been banned in the past years. But none of the measures has been effective in curbing pollution.

Solutions need to be long-term and not a short term that is only implemented during the time when pollution levels shoot up. Measures to keep industrial and vehicular transmission need to be brought in, then focussing entirely on stubble burning. In a densely populated city, pollution is an everyday affair, and not just a seasonal problem.

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