Delhi: India’s gas chamber
Even for a city considered one of the world’s most polluted, India’s national Capital has hit a new low this past week.
Air so dirty, you can taste and smell it; a gray haze so heavy that makes a gentle stroll a serious health hazard.
According to reports, government data shows that the smog that enveloped New Delhi was the worst in the last 17 years. The concentration of PM2.5, tiny particulate pollution that can clog lungs, averaged close to 700 micrograms per cubic meter. That’s 12 times the government norm and a whopping 70 times the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
The Delhi winter, once a glorious time of clear — crisp days that meant holidays and weekends spent picnicking in its many public parks — is now a time of annual health woes. As millions struggle with hacking coughs and burning eyes, many schools across the city have either shut down or ended all outdoor activities.
Doctors have asked people to stay indoors during the worst days. Yet many of the problems that turn Delhi’s air so toxic continue unabated. People still set off massive amounts of festival fireworks, piles of garbage burn all night and dust from the construction projects that dot the city is unchecked.
As Delhi’s pollution levels worsen by the day, the authorities are trying hard to come up with a comprehensive action plan to tackle the crisis, including stricter emission norms for cars and a tax on diesel-fuelled trucks that enter the city. But much more needs to be done and urgently.
Addressing a press conference on the issue, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Saturday: “Pollution has increased to an extent that outdoors in Delhi resembles a gas chamber.
Prima facie, the biggest reason seems to be burning of stubble in agricultural fields in Haryana and Punjab in huge quantity.”
He said vehicle restriction measures like Odd-Even will not be able to bring down smog as initial studies suggest that the “large scale” influx of pollutant-laden smoke from Punjab and Haryana has aggravated the situation.
Kejriwal added that the Delhi government has very few methods at its disposal and the Centre needs to intervene.
“The Centre can sit with the Chief Minister of these states and chalk out a solution. Few reports have put the volume of stubble being burned at around 16-20 million tonne.
“Fireworks during Diwali marginally added to the pollution. But other things inside Delhi did not drastically change. So the smog is mainly due to smoke from farm fires,” he observed. Kejriwal identified the main sources of pollution inside Delhi as vehicles, dust and waste burning, which he said could not be responsible for the pall of smog across the city.
“I saw smoke across Punjab, Haryana during my visits. We need Centre’s help. We are hiring an agency in a week or two to study the sources of pollution in Delhi afresh. The Centre needs to intervene,” he said.
With the city witnessing its worst smog in 17 years this week, Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung called a meeting to take stock of immediate measures to combat the air pollution. The meeting will be convened on Monday. Jung has also invited Kejriwal and other Delhi ministers for the meeting.
Meanwhile, at least 1,800 primary schools remained closed in Delhi on Saturday due to alarming levels of air pollution in the Capital. The air in Delhi is not suitable for breathing as the pollutant levels in the air have crossed the safe limit by 12 times.
According to the data by Delhi’s pollution monitoring agency, the concentration of particulate matter (PM) 10 was more than 1,200 micrograms per cubic metre on Saturday morning at 9 am in Anand Vihar, while the safe level is 100 micrograms per cubic metre. The data also states that PM 2.5 in the air was recorded 13 times higher than the safe limit.
Health authorities say that the elevation of the level of these harmful particles in the air can cause lung diseases if one is exposed for a long period of time.