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Air Pollution Crisis in Delhi : Causes, impacts and Government initiatives

Pollution is a severe cause of concern for India. Shockingly, 14 cities of India are included in the top 20 list of the most polluted cities in the world, most cities in the list are from South Asia and Middle East Asia. Delhi being in the top 10 most polluted city  is an alarm for the country as it is the National Capital. During winter it becomes a lot worse, with smog everywhere affecting the health of the residents. Delhi experiences a decline in air quality every year, earning the city a reputation as one of the world's most polluted places.


The pollution in Delhi consistently poses a serious threat to the health of its residents, reports suggest that around 30,000 residents of Delhi die each year due to air pollution. However, some health experts believe this estimate is conservative, as it does not account for various other health impacts, including higher rates of lung cancer, diabetes, premature births, and even autism, according to recent research.


Recently, it was reported that Delhi is now experiencing hazy mornings, and the deterioration is expected to worsen in the coming days, particularly during the winter season. According to scientists at India's weather department, the air quality is expected to remain in the "very poor" category for the next few days. This has led to concerns among residents, especially during the mornings when the smog is most pronounced. Some individuals have reported feeling the effects of rising pollution levels, such as eye discomfort, over the past 10-12 days. 


To measure air quality, measurements are categorised as follows: 101 to 200 as moderate, 201 to 300 as poor, and anything exceeding 300 as "very poor." Levels exceeding 500 are considered "severe."

Why is Delhi’s air bad?

Delhi's vulnerability to severe air pollution can be attributed to a combination of factors, including its geographical location and various sources of pollution. The flat plain where Delhi is situated is surrounded by the imposing Himalayan mountains, which act as a barrier, restricting the movement of air.


In Delhi, the impact of weather conditions on air quality varies between summer and winter. During the summer, intense heat and updrafts lift smog to higher altitudes, and monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean help disperse it. This leads to improved air quality during this season.However, in the winter, a different scenario unfolds. Stagnant winds and lower temperatures trap dust particles and pollutants near the ground, leading to the formation of smog. Even without strong winds, the descending colder air from the mountains acts like a lid, causing pollutants, such as smoke and dust, to accumulate in the air. These conditions are further exacerbated by temperature inversions, where cooler air gets trapped beneath warmer air layers. This meteorological phenomenon results in adverse weather conditions, including reduced visibility, making smog a prevalent and concerning issue in Delhi during the winter months.


Vehicular emissions, along with emissions from various sources such as power plants, factories, and the use of low-quality fuels, are significant contributors to Delhi's worsening air quality and smog problem. The increasing number of vehicles on the city's roads exacerbates pollution caused by traffic, frequently pushing the air quality index to 'severe' levels. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have recognized vehicular emissions as a major factor in the city's air pollution crisis. Addressing these sources of pollution is vital to improving air quality in Delhi.


The growing air pollution levels in Delhi are significantly influenced by the practice of farmers in neighbouring states, such as Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, who burn approximately 35 million tonnes of crop residues, primarily rice stubbles. These emissions, consisting of pollutants and dust particles, are carried by the wind and get trapped in the air over Delhi. This situation further deteriorates air quality in the Delhi-NCR (National Capital Region), especially during October and November, due to a combination of climatic factors and the extensive burning of crop residues in nearby regions. Despite continuous efforts by both the central and Delhi governments, addressing this issue remains a formidable challenge in the ongoing battle against air pollution in the national capital.


Large-scale construction activities in Delhi-NCR are a significant contributor to the increase in dust and pollution in the air. In response to the declining air quality, the Delhi Government has directed the halt of work at numerous construction sites to mitigate this issue. Additionally, industrial pollution and the presence of garbage dumps further worsen air pollution and contribute to the buildup of smog in the region.


While firecrackers may not be the primary reason for the smog problem, they do contribute to its exacerbation. Despite a ban on cracker sales, the use of firecrackers during Diwali remains a common occurrence and adds to the pollution and smog levels in the city. Addressing these various sources of pollution and taking measures to reduce their impact is essential to improving air quality and combating the smog problem in Delhi.


What is the government doing?

Delhi's Government unveiled a 14-point summer action plan to combat air pollution around May. The plan includes a real-time study of 13 pollution hotspots to identify sources and find solutions. The plan also involves strategies like addressing dust pollution with mechanical road sweeping, water sprinklers, and anti-smog guns. Patrolling teams will curb pollution sources, stricter construction regulations are in place, and efforts to manage industrial waste and enhance green cover through sapling planting are underway. 


The government is taking multiple initiatives to address environmental concerns. They plan to enhance green cover by planting 5.9 million saplings, with an additional 400,000 saplings to be distributed to the public for free. Special teams have been formed to focus on the survival of transplanted trees. Seven city forests are under development, featuring eco-friendly trails, cycle tracks, bird watching decks, canopy walks, viewing decks, and interpretation signage, with the aim of controlling pollution. Urban farming will also be expanded, with 400 workshops and free training kits provided to the public


The government has suggested to neighbouring states to take measures at border areas, including increasing CNG vehicles, reducing pollution at brick kilns, and minimising pollution in thermal plants. It's also recommended that trucks not needed in Delhi use the bypass. These collective efforts aim to address environmental concerns and improve air quality.


To combat dust pollution during the summer, the government is employing 84 mechanical road sweeping machines, 609 water sprinklers, and 185 anti-smog guns in various parts of the city. Additionally, 70 more integrated mechanical road sweeping machines and 250 integrated water sprinklers will be added, particularly for PWD roads. Furthermore, the government is deploying 225 patrolling teams during the day and 159 teams at night to identify and address other sources of pollution in the national capital. To tackle industrial pollution, the government is formulating a new policy for industrial waste management and disposal 


The Delhi CM also announced that people will need to register for construction work on land exceeding 500 square metres. Around 750 such sites have registered and are being closely monitored. A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) has been drafted to prevent fires in landfills and will be put into effect.


The Government has launched the second phase of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to tackle the increasing pollution levels in Delhi. This initiative includes multiple measures, such as enhancing the frequency of public transportation services like the Delhi metro and electric buses to reduce vehicle emissions. In addition to the 13 previously identified pollution hotspots, special teams will be deployed at eight more high-pollution locations. These teams will focus on identifying and mitigating various sources of pollution, including biomass burning, dust, traffic congestion, and vehicle emissions. Delhi's pollution results from a combination of factors, including vehicular and industrial emissions, dust, and weather patterns.

Under GRAP-2 (Graded Response Action Plan 2), various steps are being taken to reduce pollution in the city,  Cleaning and water sprinkling to reduce dust and particulate matter, contributing to pollution, Increasing the frequency of buses and trains aims to encourage public transportation usage, and reducing private vehicle emissions. Raising parking fees aims to discourage private vehicle usage, thereby decreasing emissions. To address the winter exacerbation of pollution due to bonfires, Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) will be guided to provide heaters as an alternative.


In light of deteriorating air quality, government authorities have issued a cautionary advisory, urging vulnerable groups, particularly the elderly and children, to remain indoors. The advisory recommends avoiding prolonged or strenuous physical exertion, suggesting short walks instead of vigorous activities, and taking more breaks. It also advises individuals to halt any activity if they experience unusual symptoms such as coughing, chest discomfort, wheezing, breathing difficulties, or fatigue.


Ultimately, However even after all these comprehensive measures, Many speculate that the Pollution in Delhi will not disappear but will worsen in the coming years. In Delhi, the focus on air pollution typically begins with Diwali and ends with crop-residue burning in Punjab and Haryana during October-November. Most policy and public attention is concentrated during this period, creating the perception that crop-residue burning is the sole cause of Delhi's annual air quality problems. However, the city faces multiple year-round pollution sources, including a large population, numerous vehicles, dusty roads, industrial units, waste generation, open burning, and construction activities. While Diwali lasts for just a week, and crop-residue burning for a few weeks over two months, these other activities continue throughout the year. Without a comprehensive accountability agency, the situation is conducive for more blame games, avoiding local or communal responsibility. If responsibility is taken to shift the blame from only seasonal problems to the main culprits of Pollution, Delhi's situation will improve drastically, making it easier to live in Delhi and without any Respiratory disease.


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