Air Pollution Emergency in Delhi – #DelhiSmog

Air pollution in New Delhi's Connaught Place
Credit: NRDC

Co-Authored by Sayantan Sarkar

Air pollution levels are at a crisis level in New Delhi over the past 36 hours. The government has called a public health emergency. Government and key leaders are taking action but more is needed. In sister cities, such as Ahmedabad air quality continues to be poor. The recent Lancet Report underscores the need for greater action to protect human health.

Delhi's Air Pollution Crisis

  • The air quality index (AQI) levels in Delhi National Capital Region(NCR) are hovering in the “severe” zone over the past 48 hours, with most stations reporting levels of 470 to 500 (maximum), while others are over 999 at PanjabBagh this season.
  • Fueled by crop stubble burning in neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana, coupled with low wind speeds and high moisture context in the air, air pollution levels in Delhi causing a public health disaster.
  • Pollutants that lodge deep in the lungs, particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10) are the most dominant pollutants.
  • With Delhi’s inversion layer and calm atmospheric conditions projected, forecasts suggest that extremely poor air quality likely to prevail over the next two days.
  • The prevailing blanket of smog have also led to poor visibility, leading to cancellation of number of flights, and a reported 24 car pile-up on an expressway.
Air pollution in New Delhi
Credit: NRDC

Government Response

  • The India Medical Association declared a public health emergency.
  • The National Green Tribunal banned crop burning during the health emergency, but implementation is limited.
  • The Delhi government ordered closure of all schools until Sunday.
  • The Delhi government is considering implementing the Graded Response Action Plan, a set of emergency measures meant to bring down the levels of pollution. Three key steps that could be brought in are: putting freeze on all construction activity in the Delhi-NCR region; activating an odd-even vehicle rationing system and banning entry of all trucks into Delhi.
  • Delhi is considering temporarily shutting down the local Badarpur Thermal Power Plant, brick kilns and other industrial units in Delhi NCR.
  • Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Dr Harsh Vardhan, who is currently in Bonn, urged the Delhi government to explore the possibility of aerial sprinting of water to bring down levels of pollution
  • Delhi's Chief Minister asked for meetings with Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana, but solutions to the crop stubble burning remain a problem.

As the landmark Lancet Study highlights air pollution is the greatest contributor for pollution-related deaths globally. The study finds that globally pollution for multiple sources contributes to nearly 9 million deaths every year—about 16% of deaths worldwide. Delhi and cities across India are experiencing alarming air pollution levels. Stronger action is clearly needed now.

Air pollution in the streets of Delhi
Credit: NRDC