New Delhi Raises Ambitions To Fight Air Pollution

Smog at New Delhi Rail Station Image: Sumita Roy Dutta, Wikimedia CC

by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

New Delhi officials have “introduced an antipollution campaign in an attempt to curb air pollution ahead of winter, when the city is regularly covered in toxic haze,” the Associated Press reported this week. The city of 21 million people New Delhi has some of the worst air quality in the world as a high level of air pollution, with winters as “time of health woes, when the city is covered with a toxic haze that obscures the sky and blocks sunlight.”

Why This Matters: Already, as AP reported, “More than a million Indians are estimated to die every year because of air pollution-related diseases.” But this year isn’t the same as last. As Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal noted, “Polluted air can be life-threatening in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.”  With plans to “start an anti-dust campaign, reduce smoke caused by agricultural burning and introduce a mobile app to allow citizens to lodge photo-linked complaints against people suspected of polluting,” hopefully New Delhi can prevent additional deaths exacerbated by COVID-19.

Winter Woes: Why is winter the worst time for pollution in New Delhi? As AP writes, “Pollution levels soar as farmers in neighboring agricultural regions set fires to clear their land after harvests and to prepare for the next crop season.” Other reasons for the wintertime rise in pollution include emissions, firecrackers, and construction dust.

Next Steps?

According to the AP, this isn’t New Delhi’s first rodeo. Indeed, it has “experimented with limiting the number of cars on the road, deployed large anti-smog guns and halted construction activity.” But these efforts have largely failed given the lack of cooperation from adjacent states.

The current plan has already been criticized by some, including an editorial in the Hindustan Times. As the Times wrote, “The Delhi government’s steps are much needed…However, promises are not enough. Delhi and other states need to implement their policies and strengthen monitoring systems.”

This isn’t the only step India is taking as its “green focus grows.” As Rajesh Kumar Singh reported for Bloomberg, the country is “considering a proposal that may force some of its dirtiest coal plants to close.”

This plan would cap the heat-rate of coal plants, which is a “measure of how much coal energy is needed to produce each unit of electricity.” However, this plan may face “some resistance,” as Singh wrote, particularly from “state distribution firms that rely on cheaper power from some of the targeted plants.”

Exacerbating the Pandemic: This wintertime pollution could potentially further the already devastating effects of the global pandemic in India. As Channel News Asia reported, New Delhi has “285,103 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 5,510 deaths.” As a disease that effects, in part, the respiratory system, COVID-19 impacts are also linked to air pollution.


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