THE STORY BEHIND THE SMOG

Born and brought up in Delhi, I always took pride in how I lived in the capital of India. But, recently I saw something that seems so unreal, it is almost ridiculous. The air pollution detecting machines in Delhi have reached its highest possible reading of 999, which means that it may be even higher. It worries me that my family and friends back home have to deal with this dire situation .

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Pollution level of PM 2.5 nearest to my home (Source: AQICN)

Just to put things in perspective, this is the air pollution level in Sweden, where I reside currently.

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Pollution level in Stockholm (Source: AQICN)

The situation is getting out of hand all over Delhi. With visibility levels touching nearly zero, it does not look good for Delhi in the near future. The map of place makes one worry about the people living there, working day in and day out, taking in the toxic air without any choice. There is an utmost need to educate oneself about the issue as it directly attacks the basic right of a human being, fresh air to breathe!

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The Pollution Map of Delhi (Source: AQICN)

REASONS FOR THE POOR AIR QUALITY

Even though fireworks seem to be an easy scapegoat to blame for the increased pollution levels, the reasons seem to be more complex than just fireworks.

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) points out high moisture as a major reason for the sudden deterioration in the air quality. The wind speed was also negligent, making the situation worse.

According to the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), the uncontrolled stubble burning (agricultural residues) in the nearby regions of Haryana and Punjab is the major cause of the current state of affairs. The NASA Firemapper shows the real picture. As seen in the figure, it shows fires for 4th and 5th November. Why wouldn’t there be subsequent smog?

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The uncontrolled stubble burning in North India on 4th and 5th November. (Source: NASA)

Adding to the sad turn of events, there is a sudden change in winds. The south easternly winds have changed to north westernly winds and will add to the already worse air quality.

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India Gate barely visible due to smog. (Source: TOI)

Apart from these factors, there are other contributors to the ever increasing pollution in Delhi. According to the Delhi Government, the major contributors to the poor air quality include MSW Burning, construction dust, vehicular emissions, soil and road dust and biomass burning.

SOLUTIONS TO THE INCREASED POLLUTION

The Environmental Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) has announced a few measures for short term relief from the problem.

  1. A four fold increase in the parking tickets.
  2. Introduction of more coaches in Delhi Metro and fares to be reduced for the next 10 days.
  3. A 50,000 Rs (750$) fine on road construction industries violating the dust pollution norms.
  4. Starting the Odd- Even rule in the light of recent events.

There is a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) devised by the EPCA learning from the cities like Beijing and London and implementing them accordingly after an order from the Supreme Court. But the situation is still not favorable as is evident. The problem is due to the lack of strict actions implementation between the central and state government and the lack of inter state conversation. Even though, biomass burning is illegal in Delhi, the humongous burning of crop residues from nearby states always lead to smog filled days every winter.

The biomass residue can be easily used as a feedstock for producing energy. A healthy infrasturcture, proper education as well a subsidized facility will definitely deviate the farmers from burning the crops towards putting it to better use. There are various programs and fiscal assistance from the Indian Government.

The MSW open burning needs to be stopped with immediate effect. Even though new MSW incineration plants have been opening up in Delhi, there is a need of more of such installations. It is being successfully used all over the world, where countries like Sweden and Finland have been converting majority of their waste into energy, and in turn have literally been turning waste into money. This could be a great step forward in a positive direction.

The Delhi government had announced around 20+ measures around 2 years back along with the famous odd-even verdict. If implementation of all of the measures takes place, the situation could be controlled in a major way. The capital seriously needs a better vacuuming system for all the loose dust that contributes to the PM 2.5 and increased green cover for binding the soil.

Residents of Delhi need to be cautious during these days, especially older people and children. Avoid outdoors at any cost. But in case you have to go out, use a good air pollution mask before leaving the home.

In conclusion, support from the central government, dedicated participation from the state government, an active dialogue between the neighbouring states, stricter regulations and proper implementation is the need of the hour. Let Delhi breathe again!

 

 

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