Delhi air pollution: From shutting schools to banning construction, a look at the Capital's yearly 'unbreathable' problem

As Delhi struggles to breathe with air pollution levels in the severe category, measures such as shutting schools and construction activity ...

As Delhi struggles to breathe with air pollution levels in the severe category, measures such as shutting schools and construction activity were put into place in the National Capital Region. Delhi is ranked one of the world's most polluted cities, with a hazardous melange of factory and vehicle emissions, and smoke from agricultural fires, settling in the skies over its 20 million people each winter.

Delhi and its neighbouring areas have been shrouded in toxic smog since Diwali. The pollution level has gone up in the past few days. Data shows the air was clean with the air quality index below 100 till 30 September, but it has been increasing afterwards continuously due to crop residue burning in neighbouring states, said Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Delhi-NCR recorded its air quality in the very poor category on Wednesday morning and no major improvement is likely until Sunday, authorities said. The city recorded its air quality index at 389 at 9 am. It had slipped into the severe zone on Tuesday and was recorded at 403 at 4 pm. Faridabad (350), Ghaziabad (368), Greater Noida (358), Gurugram (354) and Noida (369) also recorded their air quality as very poor category.

VK Soni of the IMD on Tuesday told the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) that a lower ventilation index due to low temperatures and calm wind conditions is predicted between Wednesday and Sunday, which is unfavourable for dispersion of pollutants. The air quality is likely to improve Sunday onwards due to relatively strong winds, he said.

On Saturday, the Supreme Court suggested imposing a lockdown on Delhi to combat the air quality crisis. "How will we live otherwise?" Chief Justice NV Ramana said. Kejriwal said his government would consider the court's suggestion after consulting with stakeholders. "Pollution lockdown has never happened before. It will be an extreme step," he said.

Also read: 'Stop passing the buck': SC slams Delhi govt on pollution

What is the govt doing to reduce pollution?

Schools and colleges shut

The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) late Tuesday night directed that schools, colleges and educational institutions in NCR will remain closed until further orders, allowing only online mode of education.

NCR state governments have been directed to allow work from home (WFH) for at least 50 percent of their staff in offices in NCR till Sunday and encourage private establishments to follow suit.

It also said that only five of the 11 thermal power plants located within a 300 km radius of Delhi NTPC, Jhajjar; Mahatma Gandhi TPS, CLP Jhajjar; Panipat TPS, HPGCL; Nabha Power Ltd. TPS, Rajpura and Talwandi Sabo TPS, Mansa will remain operational till 30 November.

The commission directed Delhi and the NCR states to stop construction and demolition activities in the region till 21 November, barring railway services/railway stations, metro rail corporation services, including stations, airports and inter-state bus terminals (ISBTS) and national security/defence-related activities/ projects of national importance subject to strict compliance of the C&D Waste Management Rules and dust control norms.

Trucks carrying non-essential items have been banned from entering Delhi till Sunday in a bid to contain the spiralling air pollution levels.

Lockdown

The Delhi government on 15 November told the Supreme Court it was ready to impose a lockdown in the national capital to combat air pollution but for it to be effective, the neighbouring states, too, should impose similar restrictions.

GRAP plan

Around the onset of the winter season — when the air quality deteriorates — the government implements its Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for immediate relief from the dropping air quality.

The GRAP was notified by the Union Environment Ministry in 2017 to fight air pollution. It works only as an emergency measure. Instead of mentioning steps that are to be taken to combat air pollution all through the year, the plan details specific measures that will come into effect as and when the air quality deteriorates and enters a specific

As per Indian Express, the biggest success of GRAP has been in fixing accountability and deadlines. For each action to be taken under a particular air quality category, executing agencies are clearly marked.

Smog Tower

Earlier this year, the Delhi government opened its first "smog tower" containing 40 giant fans that pump 1,000 cubic metres of air per second through filters.

The $2 million installation halves the number of harmful particulates in the air but only within a radius of one square kilometre (0.4 square miles), according to engineers.

Water tankers

Last week, the Delhi government deployed 114 water tankers to sprinkle water on roads to settle dust, one of major contributors to air pollution. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee also shut down 92 construction and demolition projects across the city for flouting dust control norms.

Firecracker ban

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has put a blanket ban on the sale or use of all kinds of firecrackers in the National Capital Region (NCR) from midnight of 9 November to midnight of 30 November.

Steps taken to curb vehicular pollution

Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot Tuesday said the Delhi government was in the process of hiring 1,000 private buses for a period of one month to “curb vehicular pollution”.

In an effort to augment public transport in view of severe air pollution, the government is hiring around 1,000 private buses and has sought the DDMA's permission for standing passengers in Metro trains and buses in the city.

In 2019, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) in a report to the Supreme Court, highlighted that air quality targets cannot be met unless public transport supply is urgently increased. This includes approving Phase IV of the Delhi Metro as well as expediting the process for augmenting the bus supply, reports DownToEarth. 

As per this Scroll.in report, streets and public transport systems are not only Delhi's backbone but its most visible form of urban governance and can demonstrate commitment to equitable low-carbon pathways.

At present, buses and Metro trains in Delhi are permitted to ply with 100 percent seating capacity, but no standing passengers are allowed, a restriction imposed by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) due to COVID-19. The transport department has sought permission from the DDMA to allow standing passengers in buses

Last month, the Delhi government kicked started its month-long 'Red Light On, Gaadi Off' campaign across 100 crossings in the city to reduce vehicular emissions. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had appealed to people to "contribute" in the fight against pollution and make the campaign successful.

Why is Delhi's air quality so bad? 

Delhi's government has been vowing for years to clean up the city's air. The burning of agricultural waste in Delhi's neighbouring states — a major contributor to the city's pollution levels every winter — has continued despite a Supreme Court ban.

Tens of thousands of farmers around the capital burn their stubble — or crop residue — at the start of every winter, clearing fields from recently harvested paddies to make way for wheat.

The number of farm fires this season has been the highest in the past four years, according to government data.

Also read: Delhi’s air pollution is a perennial problem; singling out Diwali firecrackers and stubble burning won’t help much

A 2020 report by Swiss organisation IQAir found that 22 of the world's 30 most polluted cities were in India, with Delhi ranked the most polluted capital globally. The same year, the Lancet said 1.67 million deaths were attributable to air pollution in India in 2019, including almost 17,500 in the capital.

In recent days the river flowing through Delhi, the Yamuna, was also choked with sickly white foam. The city government has blamed the blight on "heavy sewage and industrial waste" discharged into the river from further upstream.

How is air pollution affecting people?

Although the number of people visiting hospitals for air pollution-related ailment in Delhi-NCR increased to 44 percent within a week, a survey by LocalCircles has revealed, doubling the 22 percent figure registered in another survey last week by the same community platform.

The survey found that the impact of air pollution on people has worsened in the second week with 86 percent of families in Delhi-NCR now having someone experiencing one or more ailments due to toxic air.

About 59 percent of families have one or more members were facing multiple conditions like sore throat, cough, congestion, and burning eyes due to polluted air, it said.

With inputs from agencies

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India World News: Delhi air pollution: From shutting schools to banning construction, a look at the Capital's yearly 'unbreathable' problem
Delhi air pollution: From shutting schools to banning construction, a look at the Capital's yearly 'unbreathable' problem
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