Toxic Smog Thickens in New Delhi

This week, New Delhi faced a terrible problem in what concerns the air quality. Since Tuesday, the capital city has faced record levels of toxic smog. In the context where the World Health Organization considers any level higher than 25 to be unsafe, New Delhi registered a level of 969 in some areas of the city.

The levels reflect the concentration of fine particulate matter. The microscopic particles measure less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. They are especially dangerous since because of their size, they can stay in people’s lungs. From there, they can circulate to other organs. All this means that people living there are subjected to serious health risks.

The Authorities’ Response

The official’s response wasn’t quite a satisfying one. TV stations have been continuously showing images of people reading the pollution levels. People the street tried to protect themselves from the health risk by tying scarves across their faces.

On Wednesday, the government declared they will close all the schools until Sunday. However, up until now, they did not declare a public health emergency, despite pressures from the Indian Medical Association. The government hasn’t banned cars on the roads for the moment either.

You might also want to read: Heavy Smog in China Highly Influenced by Climate Change

More Serious Consequences

But this isn’t the only consequence of the toxic smog. The blanket that was set in the city in the recent days has reduced visibility on the roads a lot. Thus, there was a huge array of traffic restrictions. The air quality affected the flying traffic as well, with hundreds of people facing delayed flights.

According to Mahesh Sharma, who works as a government minister (the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change), said that the cause of all this is a change in the humidity levels, paired with a lack of wind.

toxic smog in the air of New Delhi

New Delhi pollution levels. Image courtesy of New York Times

A Continuous Rise

However, the high levels of pollution in New Delhi are no surprise. Every winter, the capital, as well as its neighboring cities, face a rise in these levels. Back in 2014, the WHO (World Health Organization) called Delhi the most polluted city in the world. But instead of improving the situation, other Indian cities rose in the top of polluted areas, leaving Delhi on number 14.

Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, tweeted that the situation is “a gas chamber”. According to him, every year they face the same situation in this period. He added that they must find a solution for the crop burning process that takes place in neighboring states.

You might also want to read: Smog Solutions: What are we doing?

Other Causes

Many politicians and officials claim that this is the cause of the dangerous situation: many farmers in the neighboring Indian states in the north clear their field by burning crops. Currently, the capital is found in a sort of natural bowl. It’s surrounded by plenty of agricultural and industrial hubs. Without having any breeze (such as Chennai or Mumbai do), the pollution that arrives in the city settles down.

Year after year, farmers in the fertile areas around Delhi set their fields on fire. They do this with the purpose of clearing them for the next season. Also called stubble burning, this practice releases huge quantities of particulate matter into the air. They appear as the result of burning millions of tons of crop residues.

Another cause is represented by the industrial emissions and the vehicle exhaust triggered by cars. Santosh Harish, who is an assistant director of research working at EPIC India, marked these two as being obvious causes of the toxic smog. The research institute representative also added biomass burning and road dust as potential factors.

Number of Cars, on the Rise

Back in 2014, the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur reported that the vehicle omissions represented 20% of the annual PM2.5 levels in Delhi. Despite this alarming number, the number of cars circulating on Indian roads continues to grow. Government statistics have shown that the total number surpassed the 10 million milestone in 2016.

But the problem extends beyond the city of Delhi. There are issues in the NCR (Delhi-National Capital Region) as well, which includes satellite districts such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana. Around 46 million people live in this area, and they enjoy no effective public transportation. This means that workers must drive to and from the jobs they have in the city, which only makes everything worse.

toxic smog people cycling through smog

People in New Delhi trying to protect themselves as they can. Image courtesy of Hindustan Times

What Does the Government Do?

In the meantime, local governments have tried various measures against the toxic smog that is rising in the area. They shut brick kilns in the Delhi region, as well as the power plants nearby. Moreover, they banned private electricity generators to be used during winter. Anumita Roychowdhury, the executive director at CSE (Center for Science and Environment) declared that they did all this to improve the air quality around.

Moreover, the Supreme Court of the country issued a ban against firecrackers during Diwali, which is an Indian festival of lights.

You might also want to read: Poor Air Quality in China and India Threatens People Health

What’s the Solution?

Roychowdhury declared that there are still plenty of things the authorities need to do to if they want to instate a systematic change. The emergency measures might work in the short run, but they don’t solve the underlying problem. Harish declared that a huge problem is the fact that the entire nation loses interest after the three months of winter.

As opposed to Beijing (another city famous for its pollution levels), in Delhi air pollution isn’t a political issue yet. Instead, people who live there are looking for privatized solutions, as Govindraj Ethiraj declares. The founder of data journalism site called IndiaSpend offers an example to support his theory.

He showed that most people started using water purifiers, and now they will buy air purifiers. Even though it’s a good solution for this problem, there are millions of people who can’t afford to buy high-tech solutions


Currently, New Delhi is facing a huge problem with the toxic smog that settled over the city. In the lack of any long-term solutions from the authorities, people are trying to survive according to their possibilities. The authorities closed the schools for the rest of the week to protect the children. Most citizens buy or improvise masks to avoid inhaling the toxic smog. However, this is a situation that gets worse and worse by each year and no authority seems to be willing to solve it anytime soon.

Image source: CNN

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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