Recently, the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change has highlighted that the air pollution is not a problem of Delhi and its corporations alone but that of a big airshed around it that includes the National Capital Region (NCR).
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There are several factors on which Delhi air pollution is dependent- Change in Wind Direction- October usually marks the withdrawal of monsoons in Northwest India and during this time, the predominant direction of winds is northwesterly.The direction of the wind is northwesterly in summers as well due to which it brings the dust from northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Reduced Wind Speed- High-speed winds are very effective at dispersing pollutants, but winters bring a dip in wind speed overall as compared to in summers which makes the region prone to pollution.Also, Delhi lies in a landlocked region which does not have a geographical advantage that eastern, western or southern parts of the country enjoy where the sea breeze disperses the concentrated pollutants.
Stubble Burning- Stubble burning in Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana is blamed for causing a thick blanket of smog in Delhi during winters.It emits large amounts of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere which contain harmful gases like methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Vehicular Pollution- It is one of the biggest causes of dipping air quality in Delhi in winters and around 20% of PM2.5 in winters comes from it. Dust Storms- Dust storms from Gulf countries enhance the already worse condition. Dry cold weather means dust is prevalent in the entire region, which does not see many rainy days between October and June.Dust pollution contributes to around 56% of PM10 and the PM2.5 load. Fall in Temperatures- As temperature dips, the inversion height is lowered and the concentration of pollutants in the air increases when this happens. Firecrackers- Despite the ban on cracker sales, firecrackers are a common sight on Diwali. It may not be the top reason for air pollution, but it definitely contributed to its build-up. Construction Activities and Open Waste Burning- Large-scale construction in Delhi-NCR is another culprit that is increasing dust and pollution in the air. Delhi also has landfill sites for the dumping of waste and burning of waste in these sites also contributes to air pollution.
Anti-pollution Campaign in Delhi:
The Delhi Government has recently launched a major anti-pollution campaign, Yuddh Pradushan Ke Viruddh, which includes a tree transplantation policy, construction of a smog tower at Connaught Place (Delhi), promoting Electric vehicles and preventing stubble burning.
This will help in combating the poor air quality of Delhi which deteriorates even more in the winter season.
The campaign is rightly focused on cutting the deadly smoke from thermal plants and brick kilns in the National Capital Region as well as on chemical treatment of stubble burning from nearby States.
Air pollution before COVID-19 was dire. Particulate matter, PM2.5 and PM10, exceed national standards and the more stringent World Health Organization limits.
Delhi’s toxic air also contains high doses of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. The lack of wind worsens the pollutant concentration.
Delhi needs a 65% reduction to meet the national standards for PM2.5.
Vehicles, including trucks and two-wheelers, contribute 20%-40% of the PM2.5 concentrations. Tackling vehicle emissions would be one part of the agenda, as in comparable situations in Bangkok, Beijing, and Mexico City.
What are the other steps taken by the government to address the pollution?
The effort to reduce vehicular pollution, which experts say is more harmful as it is released at breathing level, the following has been done:
Implementation of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP)
introduction of BS-VI vehicles, push for electric vehicles (EVs), Odd-Even as an emergency measure and construction of the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways
Development of the National AQI for public information under the aegis of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
Subsidy to farmers for buying Turbo Happy Seeder (THS)
Appropriate political will and aware citizenry is a prerequisite to tackle the menace, otherwise, all the measures will remain on paper only and greater public transparency is essential to the success of winning the war on air pollution.
There is no better watchdog than active citizens, which is why the pollution targets must be made public every year for their perusal and to be evaluated at the end of the year.
Breathing clean air is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. Therefore, human health must become a priority when it comes to tackling air pollution.