The air quality of India’s capital city, Delhi, has always been in the news for its continuous deterioration. With the approach of winter haze and fog, all inhabitants were expecting a significant fall in the quality. However, the Diwali crackers and constant crop burning covered the entire city with smog, a bit too early. As people woke up on the Monday morning of 28th October 2019, the skies were grey. Everyone struggled to see through the smoke, which had settled all around them, both indoors and outdoors. The Delhi air pollution had slipped to the ‘severe’ category once again, in most of the areas.
The government announced an emergency in public health concern, and most hospitals saw an increase in the number of patients. The schools were closed, keeping the health of children in mind. In this situation, the entire country asks why Delhi is so polluted? In a comprehensive voice, major factors which contribute towards making the air so toxic in the capital city are:
About 41% of the pollution load of the city is shared by the vehicular emission here. There are approximately 10.3 million registered vehicles that actively run on the streets, leading to the excessive release of Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide. According to air pollution in Delhi reports and case studies, vehicles also account for significant PM2.5 emissions. These are extremely hazardous pollutants with long term adverse effects on human health.
Comprising the NCR region, Delhi has about 3,182 industries located all around the city. The state government has taken strict actions and has shut down all the coal and fuel-based industries. But still, the release of all the remaining enterprises lead to 18.6% of intense pollution in Delhi. In an estimate, about 200 to 1000 tonnes of industrial emissions are released within a year.
The quality of Delhi air has been poor for a long time now. The primary role in this epidemic was of the four power plants of the city — two gas-based and two coal-based. In its drastic decision to control pollution, the government closed down one of the coal-based power plants, Badarpur Power Plant, last October. The smoke from these power plants left dense disposal of air pollutants, thus degrading the air quality.
The peak business months of brick kilns are from December to June. During this time, emission from these plants in Ghaziabad, Faridabad, and Jhajjar region increases greatly. There are approximately 360 brick kilns situated in the area, which contribute towards a major hike in pollution. This is why the government prohibits construction work along with feasible vehicular regulations, in an attempt to control the aftermath of Delhi air pollution.
Municipal solid waste
With a large population settled in Delhi, their daily solid waste generation is about 8370 tonnes. Out of this, nearly 40% is incinerated to have a minimum impact on the environment. However, the waste management plants and thermal power stations release about 3.9% of the total pollutants of Delhi air. To deal with municipal solid waste and maintain hygiene in our surroundings, we end up adding to the pollution, making this process hazardous in both ways.
In terms of geographical location, Delhi is landlocked, and this does not come favorable when it comes to tackling the pollution in the city. The Himalayan range and the central plains cover the north and south parts of the city, leading to the accumulation of pollutants. Windblown dust is even said to encompass about 21.5% of the total pollution level here. The direction of winds also alters after retreating monsoons, and there are frequent drops in intensity, trapping all the pollutants in the land. Such topography adds to the poor management of Delhi’s environment, and thus, leads to a natural condition that is utterly hazardous.
Towards the end of October, the Rabi crops are sown, and preparation starts for Kharif crops. In the agricultural lands around Delhi, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, farmers practice stubble burning. This coincides with the festival of Diwali when the rate of burning crackers escalates highly in the city. Both these kinds of smoke merge and start mixing at the eye level, leading to heavy smog. This stubble burning only exacerbates the current issue of pollution and smog.
Lastly, the climate of Delhi is such that it contributes to haze and smog. As the temperature starts falling November onwards, the winds start retreating. Therefore, the mixing height of the pollutants decreases, and they start appearing at the ground level. The late withdrawal of rains degrades the situation further, leaving an entire city covered in smog.
The far-fledged reality of carrying Oxygen tanks in the backpack doesn’t seem too distant when you look at what the capital is going through. The stats are already heading a terrible path, and the upcoming years might turn the city into a gas chamber. Will Delhi air pollution attain a cure or only get worsened due to continuous blame games is what it comes down to in the end.