1. News

Rising air pollution challenge in Delhi-NCR during COVID-19 period

Pritam Kashyap
Pritam Kashyap
National capital turned yellow and hazy due to stubble burning from the state of Punjab & Haryana on October 29

The air quality in Delhi NCR is the worst of any major city in the world and the poor quality of air has caused irreversible damages to the lungs of 2.2 million or 50 per cent of all children. According to the WHO, India has the world's highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases and asthma. Certain experts say that this is the equivalent of smoking 45 to 50 cigarettes a day.

But how does it happen in Delhi-NCR? The contribution of stubble burning to Delhi's air pollution today rose to 36 per cent on October 29, 2020, which is the maximum this season so far as skies in the national capital turned yellow and hazy.

As per the data shared by System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting & Research, (SAFAR), stubble burning contribution to Delhi's air pollution has doubled within a day. It rose from 18 per cent on October 28 to 36 per cent by the end of the month as per the NASA's satellite imagery showed a large, dense cluster of fires that covered most parts of Punjab and some regions of Haryana, indicating little relief from toxic air in the days to come.

New Delhi in Very Poor Categories as per System of Air Quality & Weather Forecasting and Research, (SAFAR)

The winter air pollution which is considered a mix of local factors and stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, has been a matter of great concern this year, with experts saying it could not only lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases but add to the severity of symptoms.

Share of Stubble burning in total PM2.5 of Delhi NCT (%), SAFAR@MoES

The Air Quality Index (AQI) on Thursday ranged from hazardous to very poor category in Delhi such as AQI was at 754 in Jahangirpuri, in the ‘Hazardous’ category, as per Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. Other places AQI was 462 in RK Puram, 384 in ITO, 311 in Lodhi Road, and 387 in Punjabi Bagh, all four in the ‘Hazardous to Very Poor’ category.

Air Quality Index of R.K. Puram and Jahangirpuri, Source Air Quality Data provided by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, aqicn.org

To address the problem of rising pollution in the national capital, Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal on October 29 launched the ‘Green Delhi’ mobile app to increase citizen participation in our fight against pollution and ensure timely action against pollution sources in the city.

Green Delhi App by Department of Environment and Forest, Govt. of NCT Delhi

Farmers have to change the crop now as they have a very small window. Since the environmental concern over depleting groundwater levels in Punjab delays the sowing period for paddy and that also delays the harvesting and when they harvest, they have little time left to sow the new crop. Therefore, for them, the fastest and easiest way to get rid of the stubble is to burn it.

A farmer in a field of Punjab burning to sow new crop (Pic Credit: Hindustan times)

Due to intense burning happening in Punjab and Haryana and Delhi’s air quality becomes bad.  This can only be stopped when the farmers need to be made aware about what burning of crop residue is doing to the air, to their soil because it burns and destroys the micronutrients and reduces soil fertility.

Other common air pollution causes in Delhi are:

  • Industrial Emission from factories
  • Indoor Air Pollution
  • Transportation
  • Open Burning of Garbage Waste
  • Construction and Demolition

To curb all this central government has issued an ordinance, making pollution an offence with a jail term, which can go up to 5 years and a penalty up to Rs 1 crore. The ordinance was issued on October 28 after the approval of President Ram Nath Kovind.

According to the ordinance, a Commission for Air Quality Management will be set up for the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

"Any non-compliance of this Ordinance, rules made thereunder or any other order or direction issued by the Commission shall be an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to five years or with fine which may extend up to one crore rupees or with both", said the ordinance.

Ordinance published in the Gazette of India Part 2, Section 1 on October 28, 2020

The estimates produced by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's Global Burden of Disease project said, “1.16 lakh infants died from air pollution in India in 2019.”

The key to improving air pollution is reducing emissions and stop of stubble burning. The central government has also launched the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) earlier which aims to cut pollution in 102 of the most polluted cities by 20-30% by 2024. Under the NCAP, the government plans to cut industrial and transport emissions, reduces dust pollution, and imposes stricter rules on biomass burning and there are also plans to upgrade and increase air monitoring systems.

Individuals can take steps in their daily life to reduce personal emissions by carpooling or taking public transport, switching to greener fuel alternatives, cycling and much more. Arvind Kejriwal has also launched a campaign to tackle air pollution in the national capital and urged people to switch off the engines of their vehicles while waiting at traffic signals "Red light on, Gaadi off.

Like this article?

Hey! I am Pritam Kashyap. Did you liked this article and have suggestions to improve this article? Mail me your suggestions and feedback.

Share your comments

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters