New Delhi is choking in its worst smog in 17 years as the little remaining clean air in the city has also waved a goodbye after the not so eco-friendly festive celebrations and the illegal crop burning in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), leading to a temporary closure of educational institutions and construction activities.
Haziness and low level of visibility in New Delhi are not indicators of arrival of the winter season, but is that of the dangerous pollution levels in the city. Since the country celebrated the festival of Diwali on October 30 this year, the Indian capital is wrapped in a dense smog that shows no sign of leaving the city anytime soon.
Apart from the fireworks around Diwali, another major reason for the worsening situation is the farmlands being set on fire across north India after harvesting, to prepare it for the next crop season.
“We are not pointing fingers at anyone but crop burning is a problem that we all have to tackle together. Delhi’s problem is that the base level pollution here was already quite high and the pollution from crop burning has made things worse. We have consulted experts and have drawn up a list of emergency measures. People should avoid going outdoors as much as possible for the time being,” said Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Burning the land for these purposes is made illegal by the government but the practice still doesn’t stop, as it is cheaper to clear the land his way.
According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) of the Union Earth Science Ministry, that studies the impact of air pollution on Health and Agriculture in major metropolitan cities in India, there has been a huge increase in concentration levels of Fine Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) in the atmosphere this year after Diwali, as compared to previous years.
Fine Particulate Matter is an air pollutant that is a concern for human health when its levels in air are high.
Public health crisis
With rising pollution levels in major Indian cities, cases of asthma, allergies and breathlessness in the city are increasing. “My father has been hospitalised after he complained of a sore throat and breathing problems. The doctors say that it is because of the impure air we are breathing and suggested precautions and staying indoors,” says Vinod Sharma, a resident of East Delhi.
Pollutants like PM 2.5 and PM 10 have increased beyond the safety limits by more than 15 times especially in southwest Delhi. The average level of PM 2.5 is 60 micrograms per cubic metre, but it touched 955 during early morning of November 6. After people already started facing the consequences, the Delhi government announced a row of emergency measures to deal with the problem.
Schools running under South Delhi Municipal corporation (SDMC) have been ordered to be closed in view of the heavy smog, till November 12, while schools under North and East Delhi Municipal Corporation will be closed until November 9.
SDMC has also started a radio campaign to make people aware about issues related to pollution, where the chairman of the standing committee gives out a message to people to inform the civic body about any case of leaf burning so that action can be taken. An app will also be launched to allow residents to make specific complaints about open burning in their vicinities.
Apart from this, construction and demolition activities across the city have been banned for five days from November 7.
The government has also imposed a five-day ban on the use of diesel generators, except for services like hospitals and network towers. Options to create an artificial rain in the city are also under evaluation along with the preparations to call another odd-even scheme.
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-profit research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi, has appealed to the Delhi government to issue health alerts and suggest that children stay indoors as there is a state of health emergency due to air pollution. It also asked Indian states to strictly implement a check on flying ashes from Delhi’s Badarpur plant and shutting down of old brick ovens.
The environment department directed Public Works Department (PWD) to water and vacuum all its roads from November 10 and also formed a special team to monitor burning of leaves and garbage.
In order to protest in opposition to the inhumane activities against the nature, hundreds of people wearing face masks at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar monument on Sunday, shared their fears and frustrations on social media using the hashtag #MyRightToBreathe.