The Curious Case of Delhi's Air Pollution Crisis

India Oct 05, 2020

New Delhi, pejoratively dubbed as the Gas Chamber of the country, seemed to have been reinvented as a result of the Coronavirus induced lockdowns. Social media was flooded with pictures of the cerulean skyline of the national capital city, a rare sight for its inhabitants. However, it seems like the clear skies and low AQI were short-lived bonuses for Delhiites to enjoy. As industries reopen and traffic slowly returns to the roads, the pollution in Delhi seems to be rising by the day. So what really is the curious case of Delhi’s air crisis?

The reasons behind the air crisis

Although Delhi’s AQI remains in the ‘Moderate’ category between January and September, it drastically declines during October and November. To find the air quality in the “Very Poor”, “Severe” or “Hazardous” categories is not very uncommon during these months.

The main causes behind this drastic decline in air quality are stubble burning in the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana, the onset of winter, and stagnant winds, exacerbated by local factors such as motor vehicle emissions, dust on the roads, overpopulation, and industrial pollution.

During this time, the farmers in Punjab and Haryana, after reaping their paddy harvest, burn their crop stubble pushing a massive cloud of smoke towards the city. The geography of Delhi plays a pivotal role in the city's annual pollution ordeal. The Himalayan mountains on the eastern side of the city act as a kind of barrier, directing the smoke towards Delhi. To make things worse, the cold air from the mountainous regions moves down to this region, which predominantly has warm lowland air, and creates a dome over the city that traps the toxic air, forming a noxious layer of smog that leads to the hazardous pollution.


The spike in air quality leads to hospitals getting overwhelmed with patients suffering from chronic respiratory diseases. Over 2.2 million children are exposed to the irreversible damages of the pollution which weakens the immune system and increases chances of cancer, diabetes and epilepsy. It has been found to affect even unborn children by disrupting prenatal development. Reduction in lung capacity, stinging eyes, sore throats and headaches become the norm. Things become so bad that in November 2019 the Supreme Court insinuated that Delhi has become worse than hell.

State Reactions

As soon as the AQI begins rising, a state of emergency is declared. Schools and colleges are immediately shut down, industries on the outskirts of Delhi are sealed and the Delhi Government’s traffic-rationing Odd-Even Scheme is rolled out. However, there is a need for more concrete and long term steps to alleviate the issue, such as the decision to permanently seal the Badarpur power plant in 2018. Another long term policy that should be implemented is to restrict farmers from burning the stubble and providing them with more eco-friendly alternatives. Unfortunately, the issue is exploited as a political tool by the Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana governments as a result of which Delhiites make do with the poor air.

This article has been written by Ishaan Singh for The Paradigm

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