Winter is upon us and so is the threat of air pollution. This is becoming an annual woe in several cities of India, but nowhere is this threat more severe than in Delhi. People in India’s capital city are already donning masks to fight the menace of air pollution. While many had developed the habit of wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and continued putting them on even after the infection was tamed, a large number of people have started using the face covering now to keep the dust particles away.
According to one study, around 1.67 million deaths in India in 2019 were caused by air pollution and this accounted for 17.8% of total deaths in the country. The study says that while deaths due to household air pollution have reduced by 64.2% between 1990 and 2019, the fatalities caused by ambient air pollution have increased by 115.3%.
The air quality of Delhi and cities in the National Capital Region (NCR) is being categorized as “poor” and “very poor” by experts. According to one study, Delhi, Noida and Gurugram’s air quality index on October 29, 2023 was 322, 324, and 314, respectively. According to the Air Quality Index (AQI) criteria, air quality level of 0 to 50 is good, 51 to 100 is satisfactory, 101-200 is moderate, 201 to 300 is poor, 301 to 400 is very poor and 401 to 500 is severe.
In view of the poor air quality, the Delhi Municipal Corporation authorities announced a detailed plan to control air pollution in Delhi for 2023-24. According to this plan, seven mechanical sweepers and eight smog guns will be arranged to keep pollution in check.
The environment minister of Delhi has also demanded that the central government strictly prohibit low-quality diesel-powered buses in cities in the NCR states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Such demands are made by Delhi government and environment ministry officials almost every year because at the beginning of winter when the night temperature starts to drop suddenly, the amount of smoke, dust and other pollutants present in the air are converted into smog which engulfs the capital in severe air pollution.
Experts say that geographical and local factors are primarily responsible for Delhi’s severe air pollution. Even the India Meteorological Department (IMD) says that, because of the calm winds, the polluted gases, smoke and dust particles in the local environment fail to get diffused or scattered and spoil the local air quality. The main sources of local air pollution are an increasing number of vehicles, industrial units, construction activities and garbage dumps burning round the clock. Diesel engines, air conditioners and thermal plants make the situation worse.
The number of registered vehicles in Delhi was only 3.4 million in 2000 but it increased to 12.25 million in 2021-2022. Even though 15-year-old vehicles have been banned, around eight million vehicles ply on the roads of Delhi every day and emit gases like carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and ozone.
The severity of air pollution in Delhi has a lesson for other cities in the country. They must raise their guard before pollution chokes them.