Living in a gas chamber

Living in a gas chamber

Why can’t we fix this problem?

On 06 November 2016, it was reported that Delhi’s pollution touched a new high; tiny particulate matter, known as PM 2.5 crossed the 900 mark (15-times the permissible level), in several monitoring stations, in the city. Classes were suspended for 3 days, in 1800 schools, of the three municipal corporations. The immediate cause of the crisis, is being attributed to Diwali firecrackers, burning of paddy straw, in neighbouring states and peculiar no-wind conditions, over the city. 

How is Pollution Measured?

In India, pollution is measured by AQI (Air Quality Index). In the AQI system, Air is classified in six categories; Good, Satisfactory, Moderately Polluted, Poor, Very Poor and Severe. The system measures eight pollutants; PM10, PM2.5, NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide), SO2 (Sulphur Dioxide), CO (Carbon Monoxide), O3 (Ozone), NH3 (Ammonia) and Pb (Lead). Delhi’s AQI has been measured as ‘Severe’; capable of causing respiratory impact even on healthy people, serious impact on people with heart or lung disease and health impacts even during light physical activity. 

Delhi Government is taking emergency measures by sprinkling water using cranes. The NGT asked why helicopters were not being used, to do the same.

What are the Causes of the Crisis?

The biggest contributor to Delhi’s pollution is, ‘Road Dust’; contributing up to 38% of PM2.5 pollution. Vehicles moving on unpaved surfaces (berms) and un-swept roads, throw up dust. Delhi’s three industrial estates, of Nagloi, Bawana and Mundka, contribute up to 52% of NO2 pollution.

In October, farmers in Punjab, Haryana and UP, burn paddy straw, in preparation for the next Wheat crop. This along with Diwali firecrackers, took Delhi’s fragile ecology, beyond the tipping point.

Delhi is also experiencing peculiar weather conditions. Low wind speeds, lack of vertical circulation and lowering of temperatures have prevented the pollutants, from being carried away from the city

 Automobiles contribute a significant 25% to PM2.5 pollution but too much emphasis (like the odd-even experiment) has perhaps diverted attention, from more serious causes.

Why do farmers burn crops? Earlier when harvesting was done manually, there were no stumps left to burn. But now when  machines are being used, due to the lack of labour, stumps remain in the soil and ar removed through burning.


The causes of Delhi’s pollution have been identified by experts but implementation of solutions, suffer from overlapping responsibilities. Delhi’s NCR has grown into one 28 Million-strong metropolis but administration remains divided; Gurgaon & Sonepet with Haryana and Noida, Gaziabad & Faridabad with UP. In 1998, similar smoggy conditions prompted the Supreme Court, to compulsorily introduce CNG engines, for public transport. Perhaps, Delhi’s administration, could benefit from some Judicial activism, now.