Seeing Through the Smog: Can New Delhi Find a Way to Limit Air Pollution?

A view of India Gate, a war memorial located in New Delhi,
covered by a thick layer of smog. Credit: Malav Goswami/IPS

By Umar Manzoor Shah
NEW DELHI , Nov 19 2019 (IPS)

Ankita Gupta, a housewife from south Delhi, is anxious about
whether she should send her 4-year-old daughter to
kindergarten. Outside visibility is poor as smog
— a combination of emissions from factories, vehicle exhausts,
coal plants and chemicals reacting with sunlight — has settled
over the city, surpassing dangerous levels.

Gupta knows that sending her daughter to school is akin to
forcefully taking her inside a chemical factory and filling the
toddler’s lungs with toxic and lethal smoke.

“Why should I endanger her life by letting her travel through
the roads, which are infested with the toxic air? Everything comes
later. It is her health which for me is supreme,” she told

Last week, New Delhi, India’s capital with a population of 11
million, shut down schools for the second time in two weeks, 17
flights were diverted and several delayed due to poor visibility
and construction across the city was halted as the Air Quality
Index (AQI) measured 447. The AQI works on a scale of 0 to 500,
where 0 measures good air quality and 500 measures hazardous.

The government responded declaring a public health

Children at risk from high levels of air pollution

Gupta is not the lone parent here who has been plunged into
anxiety by the city’s worsening air quality.

Bijay Kumar, a mid-level employee in Delhi government, has
similar concerns.

Last week, Kumar’s 14-year-old daughter, Ruchi, returned home
from school with chest pains and sudden breathlessness. Her family
rushed her to hospital where they were told that the ongoing high
pollution was a cause of Ruchi’s illness. According to the World
Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution is linked to cases of
pneumonia, stroke and ischaemic heart disease (characterised by
reduced blood supply to the heart).

Courtesy: World Health Organisation (WHO)

Ruchi was admitted to hospital for two days.

“I even fret to imagine what if something bad had happened to
my daughter. This toxic smoke is killing us all silently,” Kumar
told IPS.

According to Sanjeev Verma, an environmental activist, air
pollution in Delhi is becoming a silent killer, brutally murdering
newborns, pregnant women and the elderly.

“Various studies have revealed that air pollution in Delhi is
responsible for approximately 10,000 to 30,000 annual deaths. It is
more than the people getting killed by the terror attacks on the
country evert year. We are in a dire need to take drastic measures
to put lid over the crises or else, the situation will turn
catastrophic very very soon,” Verma told IPS. 

System of Air Quality and
Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR)
, an air quality
information service in India, also issued an advisory, asking
people to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

“Take more breaks and do less intense activities. Asthmatics,
keep medicine ready if symptoms of coughing or shortness of breath
occur. Heart patients, see doctor, if get palpitations, shortness
of breath, or unusual fatigue,” it said.

Too many private cars on the roads

But the heart of the pollution problem lies with the city’s
overburdened roads, according to Samiya Noor, a research scholar in
environment studies. Noor told IPS that the lakhs of public and
private vehicles driving on Delhi roads every day contribute to
nearly 72 percent of the city’s worsening air quality.

According to a 2019 economic survey, there are more than 10
million vehicles on the city’s roads very day, emitting toxic
gases that play a major factor in worsening the air quality of
country’s capital.  

Noor told IPS that in addition to vehicular pollution, domestic
pollution, industrial emission, road dust, construction and the
burning of garbage also contributes to Delhi’s total pollution

There has also been an 18.35 percent increase in industries
operational  in Delhi in the last decade.

“In many of the industries, installed air pollution control
devices are found in idle conditions which lead to the emission of
pollutants directly into the atmosphere without any filtration.
Construction of short chimneys also restricts the polluting gases
from escaping into the upper layers of the atmosphere. This all, in
unison, is wreaking havoc,” Noor said.

  • The government is already restricting the number of vehicles on
    the roads. Known as the odd-even vehicle rule, private cars with
    old and even numbers on their licence plates are only allowed on
    the roads on alternating days.
  • It was
    first implemented in 2016
     and subsequently stopped in 2017.
    However, it was
    implemented again this month
     as smog levels rose but stopped
    last week.
  • The government has also attributed, in part, the declining air
    to the burning of crop residue in north India

Humayun’s Tomb, a UNESCO Heritage site built in 1570, in New
Delhi last week. Air pollution in New Delhi hit hazardous levels,
forcing government to shut down schools and declare a public health
emergency. Credit: Malav Goswami/IPS

A government response but is it enough?

This July, India formally joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition
, becoming the 65th country to join the partnership. The
announcement underlined the country’s commitment to combat air
pollution with a solutions-oriented approach.  

India also announced that it will work with coalition countries
to adopt cleaner energy producation and management practices to
promote clean air.

The BBC also reported that municipal authorities were also
vehicles to cleaner fuel, restricting vehicle use at specific
times, banning the use of polluting industrial fuel, prohibiting
the entry of the dirtiest vehicles into the city and closing some
power stations

But Rajesh Bhatia, a social activist based in New Delhi, said
government efforts were not enough and the active participation of
people is required to reduce the ongoing pollution in the
county’s capital.

According to Bhatia, the use of public transport needs to be
promoted and  an adequate number of feeder buses for Metro
stations had to be provided. 

“There have been various researchers who have shown how
frequent checking of Pollution Under Control Certificates [a
certificate issued after a test on a vehicle’s emission
] needs to be undertaken by the civic authorities in
order to ensure that vehicles are emitting gases within permissible
norms. People need to be educated to switch-off their vehicles when
waiting at traffic intersections,” Bhatia told IPS. 

But as the country’s parliament convenes for the second day of
its winter session in Delhi,
pollution in the capital is expected to top the agenda

Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate
told reporters outside parliament yesterday that the government was
slowly switching to electric vehicles
but urged people to use
public transport rather than their private vehicles.  

But for Sanjeev Sharma, a retired government school teacher, it
is time to bid adieu to New Delhi — where he has lived for a
quarter of a century. 

Along with his ailing wife, who is suffering from chronic
bronchitis, Sharma is moving to Bangalore a southern India state
where his son is working as a network engineer.

Sharma told IPS that in the very beginning of November, his
wife’s health began to deteriorate and suffocation became a
constant complaint. “She is on constant oxygen support but the
medicos attending attending her told us that her condition is only
worsening instead of getting any better in spite of increasing
the  daily drug dose,” Sharma told IPS. 

While the capital is currently experiencing reduced levels of
pollution, these are expected to rise dramatically by Thursday,
according to SAFAR.

“Delhi is no longer a place to live during the winters. The
air is getting thinker with toxic smoke with each passing day.

“Gone are the days when you used to find the place green and


** Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams in

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Seeing Through the Smog: Can New Delhi Find a Way to Limit Air
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Seeing Through the Smog: Can New Delhi Find a Way to Limit Air Pollution?