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Delhi’s Air – Man Made Disaster

Delhi’s Air – Man Made Disaster

By Archisman Bhattacharjee (Student, M.Sc. (Zoology), Maulana Azad College)


India still remembers the horrors of the tragic Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984, but man never seems to learn. The burning example of this is the deteriorating air quality in different Indian cities especially the national capital of Delhi. It can be easily termed as the greatest public health crisis of the decade.

What is causing this crisis?

Air pollution is the word that has become attuned to our eras over the years, which refers to the contamination of the air irrespective of indoor and outside. This manifold increase in air contamination has been due to the following reasons:

  • SO2, CO and oxides of nitrogen emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and other factory combustions and pollution emitted from vehicles in an uncontrolled fashion.
  • Ammonia a common byproduct of agricultural activities is most hazardous gas in the atmosphere, burning of the straw left over from the rice harvests by the farmers.
  • Manufacturing industries release a large amount of CO, hydrocarbons, organic compounds and chemicals into the air with the exhaust thereby depleting the quality of air.
  • Mining operations produces dust and chemicals that are released in the air causing massive air pollution.
  • Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) is particles afloat in the air, SPM usually caused by dust, combustion and dust storms are most hazardous.

Disastrous effects of air pollution

  • Air pollution creates respiratory and heart conditions along with cancer. Children exposed to air pollutants are said to commonly suffer from pneumonia and asthma.
  • Harmful gases like nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides cause acid rain.
  • Depletion of ozone layer due to presence of chlorofluorocarbons, hydro chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere.

Source: Health Effects Institute: State of Global Air 2018

To tackle this rising air pollution World Health Organization (WHO) proposed guidelines for air quality which states that
“Air quality guideline for particulate matter from the WHO stipulates that PM 2.5 not exceed 10 µg/m3 annual mean or 25µg/m3 24 hour mean and PM 10 not exceed 20 µg/m3 annual mean or 50 µg/m3 24 hour mean”.

Many countries are in clear violation of this guideline.

According to a report by James Griffith, CNN on March 5, 2019 stated India accounts for seven of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution, Gurugram, a suburb of the Indian capital New Delhi, is the most polluted city according to Greenpeace and Air Visual, which found it had an average air quality index (AQI) of 135.8 in 2018 – almost three times the level which the US Environmental Protection Agency regards as healthy. In last two months of last year, the AQI in Gurugram- PM 2.5 was above 200. The EPA regarded this as “very unhealthy”.

The problem is pronounced in South Asia, 18 out of the world’s top 20 most polluted cities are in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh owing to rapid industrialization of the region to meet the demands of the ever growing population thus leading to uncontrolled emission of gaseous pollutants particularly aerosol or particulate matter. Climate change is also making the effects of air pollution worse by changing atmospheric conditions and amplifying forest fire.

The situation of Delhi is deteriorating – thick smog completely engulfs the city and has been a major cause of an exponential increase in the respiratory and breathing related issues to its residents.

Source: Greenpeace

The emergency is eminent; the national capital is in crisis

The Government has already declared an emergency over this issue and has put to force a number of steps to combat the rising population such as:

  • All schools were shut for 3 days
  • All construction/ demolition work put to hold
  • Badarpur Thermal Power Station ordered close for the next 10 days
  • Water to be sprinkled on roads by the PWD at least once a week
  • Use of diesel generators prohibited with the exception of hospitals and healthcare clinics
  • Roads to be vacuum cleaned
  • Enforcement laws introduced against the burning of all leaves and garbage
  • Odd- Even scheme to be put in action immediately
  • Committee to be set up with the environment secretary over the possibility of artificial rains to help curb pollution levels.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has banned the plying of petrol vehicles older than 15 years and diesel vehicles older than 10 years in the National Capital Region (NCR). It also banned the parking of 15 year old vehicles in any public area. The Supreme Court of India decided to intervene and endorsed the NGT order and directed such vehicles be impounded. The Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has indicated that restrictions on private vehicles could be imposed in Delhi.

It is high time that we realize and rise to this emergency situation and do our part hand in hand with the authority and develop a better environment for survival.


  • WHO//AIR POLLUTION / How air pollution is destroying our health
  • Max Planck/ worldwide increase of air pollution
  • WHO// Air quality deteriorating in any of the world’s cities