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Pollution in Delhi Case Study – Why there is so much smog in National Capital?

Pollution in Delhi Case Study – Why there is so much smog in National Capital?


  • GS3 || Environment|| Environment & Ecology || Pollution

Why in the news?

The Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change recently stated that air pollution is not solely a problem in Delhi and its corporations, but rather a problem that affects a large airshed that covers the National Capital Region (NCR).


  • India is one of the world’s most polluted countries, and Delhi is undoubtedly one of the most polluted capital cities. According to a variety of criteria, Indian cities rank in the top 50 most polluted in the world.
  • However, the situation is most serious in the capital Delhi and its surrounding suburbs, known as Delhi – NCR.
  • India is ranked 169th in the world by the Environment Performance Index 2020.
  • Air pollution (both indoors and outdoors) is the country’s second-most serious public health risk factor (the first being hunger), contributing to an estimated 2.5 million fatalities each year.

Reasons of Pollution in Delhi:

  • In addition to other pollution from overpopulation, automobile emissions and factories, the factors that make winter pollution extreme are as follows:
    • Stubble Burning: Cleaning off the rice chaff to prepare the fields for winter sowing is a common practise in Punjab and Haryana.
    • Jet Stream Shifting: The subtropical jet stream’s southward change creates a westward wind pattern in the northern part of India and thus spreads contaminants..
    • Stagnant Lower Level Winds: As the winter season sets in, dust particles and pollutants in the air become unable to move. Due to stagnant lower level winds, pollutants get locked in the air and affect weather conditions, resulting in smog.
    • Fire cracking: Fire crackers bursting during festive season specially on the diwali also add pollution in the air.

Air Pollution in India:

  • India is one of the world’s most polluted countries, with most areas far surpassing WHO-established safe air quality thresholds.
  • India is home to over half of the world’s 50 most polluted cities. Since India’s independence, technological innovation and rapid growth have come at a high cost to the environment. According to the Global Environment Performance Index (EPI) 2018, India ranks 177th with an EPI of 30,577.
  • Air pollution, which is currently the country’s second most important public health risk factor after hunger, is responsible for an estimated 1.2 million deaths in India, accounting for 6.4 percent of all safe years of life lost in 2016..
  • It’s depressing to learn that Delhi, the country’s capital, has been ranked one of the most polluted capital cities in the world. It is the world’s most polluted city, having an unhealthy air quality index for the vast majority of the year.

Reasons of air pollution in India:

  • Poor governance: The issue of pollution and the environment has yet to receive the policy attention it needs. While agencies such as the CPCB and SPCBs continue to be underfunded and understaffed, the plurality of state authorities on the ground leads to poor coordination, inadequate enforcement of rules, and a lack of accountability, as witnessed in Delhi. The lack of environmental governance remains a significant concern.
  • High levels of poverty
    • Because of the reliance on fuelwood and kerosene for lighting and cooking, substantial levels of pollutants are emitted in rural and urban areas.
    • The natural capacity to absorb pollutants is reduced by overexploitation of commons such as forests, grazing lands, and irresponsible deforestation.
  • High dependence on coal for power: Coal continues to account for roughly 80% of India’s electricity generation. Power plants with inefficient technology and efficiency continue to be a major source of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulphur dioxide.
  • Access to technology: MSMEs, which lack access to cleaner technologies, continue to dominate India’s industrial scene. Burning of agricultural waste is partly a result of a lack of access to farm technologies.
  • Continentally: During the winter, the problem of pollution in the landlocked northern states is compounded by adverse winds and the phenomena of temperature inversion.
  • Unplanned urbanisation: unplanned urbanisation has resulted in the expansion of slums, and bad public transportation has increased the use of personal vehicles on the road. Landfills, which are used to dispose of trash, emit pollutants into the atmosphere. If the problem is not addressed, the growing urbanisation of recent years will intensify it.

Impacts of air pollution:

  • Health: The direct result of increased air pollution is an increase in the burden of noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease, COPD, and so on. According to the Lancet, 2.51 million people died in India as a result of pollution in 2015. It lowers the country’s total productivity and increases the cost of healthcare, particularly for the poor.
  • Environment: Pollution has an impact not just on human health but also on the environment. Air pollution, as well as related phenomena such as urban heat islands, have an impact on birds and plants.
  • Costs to the economy: Greater healthcare consequences, lower productivity, and resources diverted to combating air pollution are just a few of the costs.
  • Politics: Air pollution has created substantial political strife in the previous few years, the most prominent of which being the ongoing struggle between Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi, according to a World Bank estimate.

Initiatives by governments to curb pollution:

  • Electric vehicle: the govt is pushing for EVs as a cleaner alternative to vehicles run on fossil fuels with schemes like FAME to incentivizing purchase of EVs
  • Green India mission: part of NAPCC, it aims to protect, restore, and enhance India’s diminishing forest cover, which is critical to reduce pollution.
  • Diesel vehicle and cracker ban: Courts have recently cracked down on diesel vehicles and crackers to reduce pollutant emissions.
  • UJJWALA Yojana: This initiative would reduce emissions by giving subsidised LPG connections to BPL families. Subsidized LPG connections to BPL families will curb emissions from fuelwood used for cooking.
  • GRAP Delhi: The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for Delhi NCR, as directed by the Supreme Court, attempts to institutionalise cooperation among all interested authorities to respond according to the severity of pollution.
  • Odd even policy: By restricting the number of personal vehicles on the road, the programme has resulted in a modest drop in PM levels in Delhi.
  • AMRUT Smart City: The urban development strategy will reduce emissions from urban areas by ensuring planned urban growth, including public transportation and waste management. The National Air Quality Index measures and tracks the concentrations of eight contaminants (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3, and Pb).
  • Renewable energy plans: the aim of government to increase RE capacity by 175GW by 2022 and share of RE in total power generation to 40% by 2030 will be crucial in reducing pollution from power generation

Solution for the problem of pollution:

  • Urban governance: Improved urban planning based on principles such as transit-oriented development (TOD), centralised and responsible transportation authority, elected local councils, and scientific waste management, among others, would help minimise the carbon footprints of urban areas.
  • Green cover: Increasing green cover, especially in urban areas, must be a part of urban planning. Other projects, such as afforestation and road greening, must also be pursued.
  • Push for renewables: Addressing intermittency by introducing smart grid technologies, biogas incentives for decentralised power generation, solar rooftops, and EV pushes, as Norway has done (exemptions on tax, toll, parking fee, environment tax on other vehicles, charging stations powered by renewable).
  • Agricultural waste market: The only way to alleviate the problem of crop burning is to provide farmers with financial, technical, and incentive help. Farmers will be pushed to a cleaner waste disposal technique through access to technologies such as superseeder machines and the development of a market for crop stubble.
  • Coherent environmental policies: since air pollution knows no boundaries, states and center have to harmonize their strategy to deal with it. Platforms like inter-state council apart from serving this objective can also help resolve pollution related disputes among states
  • Healthcare for pollution related diseases: pollution and its health burden are inevitable in the near future. Therefore it is necessary to equip public healthcare systems with adequate resources for facing this emerging challenge and shield poor from catastrophic healthcare expenditures

Way forward:

  • Because the economy is still reeling from the shutdown, the joint initiative aims to prevent further disruption.
  • “Pollution would make Covid-19″ more hazardous, hence there must be zero tolerance for air pollution during this time, as it will come at a huge human health cost.”

Mains oriented question:

Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata are the country’s three megacities; however air pollution in Delhi is significantly worse than in the other two. What causes this?? (200 words)