New Delhi is world’s most polluted capital: Report

Ghaziabad is the second-most polluted city in the world, after Hotan in China

In what may look like another grim reality check for Indian cities, a recent report on air pollution has ranked New Delhi as the world’s most polluted capital for the third time in a row. The report also lists 22 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world, in India. According to a report released by a Swiss organisation, IQAir, Ghaziabad is the second-most polluted city in the world, after Hotan in China.

However, the report also quoted that every city in India observed improvement in air quality as compared to 2018 and 2019 due to the COVID-19-induced lockdown. Last year, Delhi’s 20 million residents, who breathed some of the cleanest air on record during the summer months, due to the lockdown curbs, battled toxic air in winter, following a sharp increase in farm fire incidents in the neighbouring state of Punjab.

In spite of a 11% reduction in the annual average of PM2.5 levels due to the nationwide Coronavirus lockdown curbs imposed last year, India emerged as the world’s third-most polluted country after Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Other Indian cities on the list are  Bulandshahr, Bisrakh Jalalpur (both in Uttar Pradesh), Bhiwadi (Rajasthan), Noida, Greater Noida, Kanpur, Lucknow (all in UP), Delhi, Faridabad (Haryana), Meerut (UP), Jind, Hisar (both in Haryana), Agra, Muzaffarnagar (both in UP), Fatehabad, Bandhwari , Gurugram , Yamuna Nagar, Rohtak (all in Haryana), Muzaffarpur (UP) and Dharuhera (Haryana).


Delhi pollution: Air quality ‘very poor’, likely to worsen further

Delhiites would need to wait longer for clean air, as the air quality in the city has again dropped to a ‘very poor’ level. The government authorities have said that Delhi’s air quality is expected to worsen in the coming days due to slow winds. Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) was recorded at 304 on November 24, 2020, morning, while some areas in the national capital showed the AQI as high as 400. Patparganj in east Delhi recorded AQI of 400, as per the Central Pollution Control Board data.

The national capital’s AQI was in the ‘severe’ category on November 15, a day after Diwali but later improved and remained in either the ‘poor’ or ‘moderate’ category, until November 22, 2020.

It was on October 13, 2020, when the the Delhi’s air quality had dropped to its lowest level for the first time after February 2020. The AQI was recorded in the ‘very poor’ category but improved slightly as it moved to ‘poor category’ on October 14, 2020. Delhi’s AQI is worse than what it was at the same time last year. The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) came into play on October 15, to counter the rise in Delhi pollution. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) flung into action, banning fuel-powered generators from October 15, under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), until further notice. This means that apart from healthcare facilities, the airport, Delhi Metro and elevators, generator sets will not be allowed in Delhi and the neighbouring towns of Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurugram, Greater Noida and Faridabad.

Apart from this, the Delhi government has also launched a ‘Green War Room’ which will serve as a nerve centre, for the efforts of different agencies working to counter air pollution in Delhi and to track the status of complaints received through the ‘Green Delhi’ app, which will be launched soon.

Earlier, in October 2020, Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal announced a ‘Yuddh Pradushan ke Virudh’ campaign that will include measures such as intensive anti-dust drive, installation of anti-smog guns and a detailed action plan for the 13 pollution hotspots in Delhi.


Delhi Pollution: Measures taken by the government

The chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, announced the following six measures to tackle Delhi pollution effectively:

  1. Better coordination with states: This year Delhi will be spraying crop residue with a solution developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute that will decompose and convert it into manure. If useful, other states will be asked to implement it, to prevent stubble burning.
  2. Around 13 hotspots have been identified in Delhi where the level of pollution is higher than in other areas. The authorities will identify the source of pollution. These hotspots are: Anand Vihar, Ashok Vihar, Bawana, Dwarka, Jahangirpuri, Mundka, Narela, Okhla Phase-II, Punjabi Bagh, R K Puram, Rohini, Vivek Vihar, Wazirpur.
  3. A new ‘Tree Policy’ will be announced to increase the green cover in Delhi. Under this, it will be ensured that 80% of the trees affected by the projects are transplanted or extracted where a construction/road project is being considered and replanted elsewhere.
  4. The government is also looking to implement its electrical vehicle policy, under which the purchase of electric vehicles will be subsidised.
  5. Inspection teams will conduct spot-checks at construction sites and levy fines, if they find violations of anti-pollution guidelines.
  6. A mobile app called ‘Green Delhi’ will be launched, through which people will be able to upload photographs or the source of pollution – vehicular, industrial or otherwise and post it. The app will function under the supervision of the Delhi CM.


What accounts for Delhi’s deteriorating air quality? 

Fireworks on Diwali night played an ‘overwhelming’ role, in the rapid deterioration of air quality in Delhi-NCR, a CSE report has said

Experts from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), who analysed real-time data for Delhi-NCR in 2019, have said that the bursting of crackers ‘ushered in the season’s first severe pollution peak’. The report said the air was much cleaner before Diwali in 2019 as compared to 2018, which ‘shows the overwhelming role of firecrackers, in building the severe peak on Diwali night’. “From a very clean afternoon, the change to severe pollution levels after 10 pm at (Diwali) night was drastic. There was a 10-fold jump in PM2.5 concentrations between 5pm and 1am, due to bursting of firecrackers. The peak level during 1am to 3am, was quite similar to the peak levels observed in 2018,” the report said.

The air quality data indicates that the concentrated bursting of crackers after 10pm at night, had spiralled the pollution curve to nearly the same severe level that was observed during the previous Diwali night, it said. “This happened despite the 2019 Diwali being warmer and windier than in 2018. This temporarily undid the comparatively better air quality gains of this season due to favourable weather, on-going pollution control action and preventive emergency measures,” it said. Despite a Supreme Court-enforced two-hour window (from 8pm to 10 pm), revellers burst crackers until late on Diwali night.


Delhi pollution: Japanese tech still under study

Perturbed by the depleting air quality, the Supreme Court in November 2019, directed the centre to explore the feasibility of a hydrogen-based technology, as a permanent solution to the air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region and other parts of north India. A bench comprising chief justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and CJI designate SA Bobde said since solicitor general Tushar Mehta had brought to the court’s notice a technology, which is the outcome of a research by a university in Japan, the centre shall explore the feasibility of using it in the National Capital Region (NCR) and other parts of north India.

The solicitor general introduced to the bench a researcher from a university in Japan, Vishwanath Joshi, who apprised it about the hydrogen-based technology that has the potential to eradicate air pollution. The court directed the centre to expedite the deliberations on the issue and come before the court with its findings on December 3, 2019.


Indoor air pollution in Delhi

Staying indoors to avoid toxic outdoor air in the national capital may not serve the purpose anymore, as pollutants have now entered homes, according to a study

September 25, 2019: A new study has revealed that the air inside homes in Delhi has become unsafe, with high levels of pollutants found in it, despite keeping doors shut. “Houses in the city have very polluted air, infested with large concentrations of PM2.5, carbon dioxide and harmful gases, with long-term health implications,” said a study conducted by BreatheEasy Consultants, with real-time monitoring of air quality inside more than 400 homes in Delhi-NCR, spread across 200 large and small residential colonies. The study was conducted between April 2018 and March 2019.

The study claimed that it assessed air quality inside various types of homes, with respect to three air-borne pollutants – particulate matter 2.5, carbon dioxide (CO2), and total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) – that are emitted as gases from certain solids and liquids inside homes. “The level of carbon dioxide inside many homes was found to be as high as 3,900 parts per million (ppm) against the recommended safe limit of 750 ppm and TVOC concentration exceeded 1,000 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter air) in some cases, in contrast to the safe limit of 200 µg/m3,” the study said.

It said that even in situations where air purifiers were used, PM2.5 levels were above the safe limit as defined by the standard and CO2 and TVOC levels were many times higher than permissible limits. Barun Aggarwal, CEO, BreatheEasy Consultants, said, “Most people can recognise the health concerns associated with outdoor air pollution but they rarely consider how poor their indoor air quality is, even though an average human spends nearly 80-90 per cent of their time indoors. In our study, carbon dioxide and various harmful gases in the form of volatile organic compounds, were found to be the main pollutants inside homes in Delhi-NCR, much exceeding their safe limits. This can have serious health repercussions for inhabitants, especially children and elderly,” he said. According to the study, after eight hours, the CO2 concentration of a typical air-conditioned, closed-door bedroom, used by two people, peaked at about 3,000 ppm. “This is almost five times the permissible limit and people breathe this air all night,” it said.


AQI scale

301-400Very poor


Delhi Pollution Latest News and Findings

Air Pollution did not drop by 25% as stated by AAP government: Greenpeace

Greenpeace India has said that despite the Delhi government’s claim of a 25% reduction in air pollution, satellite data showed no statistically significant reduction in PM2.5 levels

November 8, 2019: The Delhi government’s claim of a 25% reduction in air pollution levels over the past few years is not true, Greenpeace India said, on November 7, 2019. According to a Greenpeace India analysis, “Historical ambient air quality monitoring and satellite data, coupled with increasing fossil fuel consumption in Delhi and adjoining states, contradict the government’s claims of a 25% reduction in pollution levels over past years.” Greenpeace India said that satellite data shows no statistically significant reduction in PM2.5 levels over the period from 2013 to 2018 and only shows slight reductions in the later part of 2018, compared to the past three years. Also, contrary to the claims of the AAP government that pollution has plummeted in the city, PM10 levels have augmented in 2018, as per the data at the manual air quality monitoring stations operated by pollution watchdog CPCB, i.e., Central Pollution Control Board, the NGO said.

In government advertisements, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has been claiming that levels of PM 2.5 (or particulate matters equal to smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter) reduced to an average of 115 between 2016 and 2018, from an average of 154 between 2012 and 2014, which amounted to a 25% reduction. Reacting to the Greenpeace report, AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj said they are not concerned about the analysis. “The centre, in its affidavit to the Supreme Court, has said it under oath that the pollution in Delhi has reduced and the pollution in October and November is due to stubble-burning.” Greenpeace India’s Avinash Chanchal emphasised that the trends in PM10, PM2.5 and NO2 levels, indicate that emissions from biomass burning (household and agricultural) were falling, while emissions from fossil fuel burning are increasing in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab region.


Delhi pollution: Over 99,000 challans issued, Rs 14 crores levied as penalty

Environmental compensation of around Rs 14 crores has been imposed on polluters and 99,202 challans have been issued in Delhi, for violation of pollution norms, according to official data

November 6, 2019: Three-hundred teams constituted by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd, Public Works Department, district magistrates and municipal corporations, to identify violations such as dumping of construction and demolition waste, dumping and burning of garbage and construction activities, have conducted 19,100 inspections and issued 99,202 challans. “An environmental compensation of Rs 13.99 crores has been imposed by various agencies. Under a special drive, 29,044 metric tonnes of construction and demolition waste has been lifted by municipal corporations and the Public Works Department, since October 16, 2019,” a government statement said.

The DPCC has penalised various government agencies such as the PWD, Central Public Works Department, National Buildings Construction Corporation Limited, and Delhi Development Authority, for violations of dust control norms at major construction sites. “Rs 57 lakhs has been deposited by the violators in the last 15 days,” the statement said.


New forecasting system to alert Delhiites about air pollution

Scientists have developed a new forecasting system that they say can provide the residents of Delhi and other heavily polluted areas of northern India, critical information for reducing their exposure to potentially unhealthy air

May 2, 2019: A new forecasting system, developed by the US-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune, provides 72-hour forecasts of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5. “By developing this forecasting system, we are working to provide timely and accurate information to the public, about forthcoming episodes of poor air quality,” said NCAR’s Rajesh Kumar, the lead scientist on the project. “It’s critical to inform people, so they can plan in advance to reduce their exposure to air pollutants that can affect their health,” Kumar said in a statement.

PM2.5 are tiny airborne particles, 2.5 microns or less in diameter and are a major concern, because they are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs or even the bloodstream, potentially causing significant respiratory and cardiac problems, the NCAR said in a statement. Air pollution can become so extreme under typical wintertime meteorological conditions that officials in Delhi have closed schools and restricted traffic on highly polluted days, they said. The new system uses measurements of pollutants, computer modelling and statistical techniques. It updates the forecast every 24 hours, researchers said. Preliminary results indicate that it is accurately predicting day-to-day variability in PM2.5, giving officials and residents advance warning of unusually poor air quality.

See also: Government issues show-cause notice to Okhla waste-to-energy plant, for environment rule violations

It does not always capture the precise levels of the pollutant but Kumar believes they can improve the forecasting system. The technology, which scientists will refine during a two-year research project in India, may eventually be adapted to provide air quality forecasts in other polluted areas in developing countries, as well as in the US. Delhi ranks among the world’s most polluted cities, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It suffers from particularly high levels of PM2.5, a major threat to human health and economic activity throughout much of India and many parts of the developing world. Fine particulates are emitted from numerous sources, including agricultural fires, motor vehicles, and smokestacks. On days when atmospheric concentrations of PM2.5 in Delhi soar to many times the level that is considered unhealthy, prolonged exposure to the toxic haze is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, researchers said. A recent study in Lancet found that fine particulates and other pollutants may have caused more than one million deaths in India, in 2017. Officials have turned to air quality forecasts in the past that drew on computer modelling of basic atmospheric conditions, researchers said. However, the forecasts were unreliable, because they did not include detailed atmospheric measurements or accurate inventories of emissions, nor did they correctly capture some of the atmospheric processes that produce particulates, they said. The new system attempts to address these limitations, by incorporating satellite measurements of particles in the atmosphere and near-real time emissions from major fires associated with crop-residue burning upwind of Delhi, according to the researchers. It also draws on inventories of emissions from transportation, industry and other human activities, they said. This information is fed into an advanced NCAR-based atmospheric chemistry model known as WRF-Chem (the chemistry component of the Weather Research and Forecasting model). NCAR scientists are developing a specialised statistical system, to combine the observations and WRF-Chem output, further improving the accuracy of PM2.5 predictions and enabling scientists to reliably quantify the uncertainties in the forecast.



How to reduce air pollution in Delhi?

Authorities have been trying to lessen the impact of severe pollution by encouraging the use of public transport and electric vehicles, staggering school and office timings, etc.

How does odd-even rule work in Delhi?

If the registration numbers end with an odd digit (i.e., 1, 3, 5, 7, 9), such vehicles will not be allowed on the roads on ‘even’ days such as 2, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 14 and on. Similarly, vehicles with registration numbers ending with an even digit (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) will not be allowed on the roads on ‘odd’ days such as 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15.

Is there a public health emergency in Delhi?

The Supreme Court-mandated panel, on November 1, 2019, declared a public health emergency in the Delhi-NCR and banned construction activity for a specific period.

(With inputs from PTI)


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