Delhi’s Air Pollution and its Solutions

*Dr Gurinder Kaur

A World Health Organization (WHO) report, 2012, states 13 of the world’s top 20 most polluted cities are in India. In 2014, researchers of Yale University, USA and WHO declared Delhi as the world’s most polluted city. In 2019, World Air Quality Report by Air Visual Institute reveals that 21 of the top 30 most polluted cities of the world are in India. Delhi’s Air pollution has been occurring perennially for more than two decades but gets worse in winters.

Delhi blames farmers instead of its vehicles: Dr Gurinder Kaur

“Delhi, as usual, is engulfed into smog with onset of winter. The Delhi Government immediately started blaming other states for air pollution in Delhi. The Central Government was already not in line with farmers’ interest, issued a new ordinance on 29th October, 2020, stating farmers are responsible for Delhi’s smog.” Said Dr Gurinder Kaur in a webinar organized by Center for Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) and India Water Portal on Delhi’s Air Pollution and its Solution.

Every year in the beginning of winter, not only Delhi, but whole of the Northern India is enveloped in ‘Smog’. ‘Smog’ is a combination of ‘Fog’ and ‘Smoke’. Fog is a natural phenomenon during winters, and it disappears soon after sunrise. Smog is formed when the air is contaminated with huge amount of pollutants and it gets thicker after sunrise.  In 1990-2000, when air in Delhi was heavily polluted, the then Central Government was impartial, saved Delhi’s air from being polluted by diesel-driven motor vehicles by using CNG in place of diesel.

From last decade air pollution has been causing havoc in Delhi and the Nation Capital Region. Dr Kaur said, “the actual reason of increasing air pollution in Delhi is its increasing number of vehicles, industries, rapid increase in construction activities, thermal power plants, bricklins, burning of garbage dumps, indiscriminate cutting of trees and air flights.”

She evidenced this with facts and figures which says in the recent years, the number of cars increased from 24 lakh (2000) to 1 crore(2018), releasing carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), Sulphur dioxide, ozone and other gases which pollute Delhi’s environment. According to the Meteorological Department of Delhi and the Center for Science and Environment in 2012, 70 per cent of air pollution in Delhi is caused by vehicles only. A research by IIT Kanpur highlighted industrial units release 98 per cent of Nitrogen oxide, 60 per cent of sulphur dioxide, 14 per cent of PM I0 and 10 per cent of PM 2.5.

No doubt burning of paddy and wheat residues pollute the air, but it only lasts for 20-25 days in a year contributes only 4-6 per cent in the already existing pollution. Besides, paddy was not the crop of Punjab and Haryana it was imposed on these states for meeting the requirements of the central pool of food grains through favorable MSP and assured procurement.

Paddy plantation season in Punjab was pushed from May to June to coincide with India’s monsoons. This has shortened the time between harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat. Farmers are forced to burn paddy and wheat residues due to their economic hardship. APAU, Ludhiana research highlighted that in 2017, 2018 and 2019, wind speed was below five kilometers per hour which couldn’t have drifted localized smog from Punjab to Delhi and the National Capital Region.

Neither the Central Government nor the State Government refutes that these internal activities of Delhi are responsible for pollution in Delhi because during the COVID-19 lockdown, the skies had cleared up. At the same time farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were harvesting wheat crop and burning wheat straws.

The Central Government should not deny national and international reports of air pollution or find a scapegoat to blame it on rather should have a solid strategy to mitigate the existing issues and tackle future risks related to air pollution.  Air pollution is on rise not only in Delhi and the National Capital Region but also in the other states of the country.

According to a report of Greenpeace Organization, India, released on 21st January, 2020, 80 per cent cities have polluted air according to national air quality standard. So, both the Delhi and Central Governments should take initiatives like they did in 2000 to mitigate the grave problem of air pollution but not punish the poor farmers. The Central Government instead of punishing farmers should co-operate with them, understanding their problems, provide helpful solutions and hand in hand save the nation’s air from getting polluted. 

It is imperative for the government to take steps to control air pollution else our future looks grim if serious measures are not taken. The Indian Government needs to streamline public transport services to decrease use of private vehicles. Pedestrian walkway and bicycle lanes should be constructed on the roads. Purification devices should be installed in industrial units so that the hazardous gases emitted from the industries don’t endanger the health of people.

Replace diesel engines with energy from natural sources. Pollution from soil, sand and gravel etc. during construction work should be reduced. Airports both domestic and international should be facilitated in every state to distribute air traffic more uniformly across the states which will help to reduce extreme buildup of air pollution in Delhi. Initiatives such as National Clean Air program should be implemented. Appropriate fines on any polluting industrial units, vehicles, construction unit should be imposed.

Instead of playing blame game we must take immediate steps to ensure that our delays don’t lead innocent people fell victim of air pollution. Besides the central government, it is the duty of all citizens to keep their surroundings clean and protect our environment.

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