Environment & Biodiversity

Delhi’s breathing getting WORSE

Like clockwork, Delhi’s air quality makes news every year during Deepavali. We are performing well as firefighters but poorly as planners. The environment won’t change, but emissions can be decreased. The topic of why nothing has changed after all these years, despite the fact that much has been written and said about Delhi’s air quality, still has to be addressed.

Air pollution and its impact

  • A health catastrophe is developing due to air pollution; in fact, one has already developed. Polluted air is a danger.
  • Deaths from air pollution in India: The country presently claims 2.5 million annual deaths from air pollution.
  • Air pollution is not just an external threat: Pollution is far more sneaky than just making our eyes and throats burn.
  • The bloodstreams can get contaminated: Some pollutants are so small that they can easily enter the circulation, affecting practically every organ in the body and triggering major health problems like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disorders, to mention a few.


  • Applying the same strategy without doing a thorough evaluation: One of the main reasons is that we continue to take the same steps to solve the issue year after year without attempting to determine why they are ineffective.
  • The government established the Commission for Air Quality Management, but it was ineffective and did not bring anything new to the table. With just a small modification in terminology, this entity essentially issued the same directives that the Ministry and the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority did in the past.
  • The same precautionary measures are advised every year: schools are closed, people are urged to stay inside, carpool, and work from home; the ban on firecrackers is strengthened; construction is halted; trucks and cars are not permitted to enter the city; and industries that use fuel are shut down. These actions, along with a number of others, are comparable to applying bandages to gunshot wounds.

Analysis: Is Delhi’s air pollution caused by just burning hay and stubble?

  • When stubble is not burned, Delhi experiences poor air quality; the main cause is said to be neighbouring States. Although stubble is not being burned, Delhi’s air quality is still poor.
  • Burning of biomass in and around Delhi: If properly audited, the burning of biomass in and around Delhi would be equivalent to the burning of stubble in other States. Unfortunately, neither the municipal body nor the Public Works Department of the government are willing to accept blame for this or work to address and resolve the issue.
  • Less compliance with construction activities: Delhi suffocates from its own industry and dust. There is uncertainty around how and who is monitoring adherence to the regulations governing the handling of construction and demolition trash.
  • Heavy reliance on private automobiles, another significant cause of pollution in cities: Automobiles are another source of pollution in cities. Citizens who mostly use two-wheelers have not switched to using the public transportation system, buses, and the metro despite an expanding fleet of public transportation. The lack of last-mile connectivity, the issue of crowding in buses and subways, and the difficulties to access and manoeuvre through tight roads that two-wheelers can are possible causes of this. Another factor can be how well the buses are maintained.

Steps to be taken

  • Consider alternatives to previously tested solutions: We need to be innovative and consider alternatives to previously tried solutions, which have shown to be at worst a temporary fix for a persistent, ongoing issue.
  • Establishing a coordinated and effective governing system: The governing structure is the primary issue that needs to be solved. The control of air quality must be handled by a single organisation. We cannot function in silos where one system of governance is in charge of thinking, another is in charge of issuing orders, and a third is in charge of carrying those orders out. A productive system that functions in unison is required.
  • Recognize the truth rather than just acting in times of emergency: The fact that Delhi is not the only perpetrator is another reality. In several other Indian cities, the acceptable air quality limits are frequently exceeded. We need to act more proactively all year round, not just during the first few days and weeks when it starts to make headlines.


This is not to imply that burning stubble is not an issue. Over the years, a few remedies have been tried, although not very successfully. If farmers aren’t fairly compensated, the issue won’t likely get better. A significant change in agricultural practises and a strong political resolve to make risky decisions are needed.

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