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In New Delhi, winters are here and there’s smog on the horizon

By: Abhiir Bhalla

As lockdown measures continue to be eased, air pollution levels in Delhi have risen once again. The Air Quality Index (AQI) has slipped into the ‘very poor’ category in parts of Delhi and the NCR region.

visible smog on the streets
Representational Image/Gerben of the lake

During the prolonged lockdown that started on March 25th in wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, Delhi witnessed a dramatic 54% drop in air pollution levels. For the first time in years, several ‘good’ (AQI < 50) air days were recorded – in 2017 and 2019, such an occurrence happened only on two days each year. A UK based study even revealed that lower levels of air pollution may have saved 630 people across the country from premature death and $690 million in health costs.

During Unlock 1.0 and 2.0, the air quality remained fairly good due to weather conditions. Widespread monsoon winds brought rains from the Bay of Bengal and washed away particulate pollutants in Northern regions of the country. In an interview, SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research) officials said, “Under such background, the high surface wind speed mainly from South-easterly to easterly direction acted like a continuous “reset” button significantly helping to flush out whatever is getting accumulated even in present time.”

As Delhi approaches the turn of the season towards end-September, the question arises whether Delhi will have to experience the much dreaded ‘smog season’ yet again. Deteriorating air quality levels and increasing vehicular traffic paint a gloomy picture indeed.

In an interview to The Hindustan Times, Trilochan Mohapatra, director-general, Indian Council of Agricultural Research said, “We have disbursed the money this year also to states to ensure farmers get subsidized straw management machinery. We are expecting a reduction in stubble burning cases.”

The poor economic situation, however, indicates the contrary, with farmers unlikely to invest in tractors and equipment amidst the pandemic induced cash crunch. Meanwhile, Delhi’s sulphur dioxide spewing thermal power plants are far from conforming to the air pollution norms. The Environment Ministry is presently considering the Power Ministry’s multiple behests to grant a further extension till 2022

The city once again experiencing a smoggy winter. Akshar Prakash Singhal, senior environmentalist and sustainability consultant said, “The Government is being overly optimistic and no concrete measures have been taken. Year after year, we see the same problem and the same political blame game amidst the air pollution crisis – and then, all is forgotten again.”

Although Mr. Singhal’s words would resonate with the citizens of Delhi, it must be remembered that the Government is not the only stakeholder. The lockdown demonstrated the unprecedented power of collective action – with the right solutions and the willpower of the masses, Delhi can wash away it’s polluted air. 

(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.) 

Abhiir Bhalla

Abhiir is a youth environmentalist and sustainability consultant. Presently a Sophomore at Ashoka University, he is pursuing a degree in Political Science and International Relations. Working in the field of environmental conservation and protection since over 7 years, some of Abhiir's key projects have included working at the International and National level with organisations such as the UN Environment Programme, Delhi Metro Railway Corporation, WWF and CSE. As a Care for Air Student Ambassador, he has a keen interest and experience in environmental issues pertaining to air pollution and waste segregation.

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