Skip to main content

World News | India Pollution: India’s losing battle against pollution: Delhi air quality reaches toxic levels, again

By Niha Masih closeNiha MasihForeign correspondent 

NEW DELHI — A thick, gray pall of smog settled over India’s capital in recent days, prompting the government to ban millions of private vehicles from the streets on Monday, a day after the city recorded its worst air quality in three years.
Delhi is the most polluted major metropolis in the world, a condition that intensifies every year starting in October as temperatures cool and wind speeds drop. The pungent-smelling air makes eyes water and can induce coughing and breathlessness even for those without respiratory illnesses. Last week, the city declared a public health emergency, and schools have been shut down.
The smog is a cocktail of vehicular emissions, industrial pollution, construction dust and crop burning in neighboring states. Efforts by local and federal agencies to combat the annual scourge have done little to bring relief to the capital: On Sunday, Delhi recorded its worst overall air quality since 2016, according to figures from the Central Pollution Control Board.
The level of particulate matter considered most harmful to human health skyrocketed to more than 25 times the safe limit prescribed by the World Health Organization before receding somewhat.
Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of the state of Delhi, has repeatedly referred to the region as a “gas chamber.” Last week, the city declared a public health emergency, and schools have been shut down.
On days when pollution is severe, an emergency action plan comes into force. Trucks are banned from entering the city, diesel generators are prohibited and certain types of polluting industries are shut down. The local government is also distributing pollution masks to millions of students and temporarily limiting the number of cars on the road: Only vehicles with even-numbered license plates are allowed on even-numbered days.
Other efforts to combat the smog include a more concentrated campaign — 62 teams of two officers from the state and central pollution authorities fan out across the city, a metropolitan area of 29 million people that is almost the size of West Virginia, to seek out potential violations of anti-pollution regulations.
Anwar Ali Khan, a senior engineer at Delhi’s state pollution control authority, and a partner are responsible for ensuring that more than 50 major construction projects are up to code.
“We’re on the job day and night,” said Khan, 49.
Other teams watch out for garbage burning, plastic dumping, projects that generate road dust and illegal encroachments on roads that can cause traffic snarls.
For the first time this year, inspectors like Khan are doing patrols at night and have been given the power to fine violators on the spot.
On Friday afternoon, Khan and his partner, Pankaj Kapil, arrived at a large residential construction project owned by the central government in the heart of south Delhi. They had a list of 10 measures to control dust emissions that all construction sites must follow.
They walked around the site through slushy mud and over gravel, armed only with a thick sheaf of papers and their smartphones to take photos of violations. Their office had not provided them with pollution masks. Khan, who bought his own cheap mask recently, said he had accidentally left it behind in his office. Kapil doesn’t have one.
Khan and Kapil find that the construction material at the site was not adequately covered, and there was not sufficient barricading around the periphery to prevent the spread of dust. They levy a fine of $7,000, despite the protests of the site manager.
“It’s an emergency situation,” Khan told the manager. “There is zero tolerance this time.”
The pair filed their report to a WhatsApp group, then rushed back to headquarters for a daily monitoring meeting. Since the end of September, Khan and Kapil have levied over $85,000 in penalties during their inspections.
But given the size and complexity of Delhi’s pollution issue, experts say that such inspection efforts are a small piece of the puzzle.
“The problem is so large that these little things will have no visible impact,” said Siddharth Singh, the author of a recent book on India’s pollution crisis.
Singh said that Delhi is losing the battle against pollution because it lacks a central agency to coordinate efforts across states and industries. “The aspects of the economy that impact air pollution are fragmented across sectors — agriculture, transport, construction, industries,” he said.
This week, Delhi government blamed the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana for failing to stop the annual practice of farmers setting fire to their recently harvested fields to prepare them for the next crop. On Sunday, the central government belatedly set up a high-level task force to monitor the situation.
Hospitals have seen a spike in patients with respiratory problems, and doctors have called air pollution a silent killer. One recent study estimated that air pollution kills more than 1 million Indians a year, more than tobacco use.
For Delhiites, the annual battle with pollution — which is at its most intense from October through February but present year-round — has become a dispiriting ritual. Many residents talk of leaving the city for good.
Sonam Arora, a banker, said she is looking for opportunities in cities with better air to bring her up child. “As a new mother of a 3-month-old baby, I have not stepped out of the house for over 10 days,” she said.
Akhilesh Kumar, a civil engineer, was pessimistic as he shopped for groceries over the weekend. “Delhi is not a place to live anymore,” he said.
Joanna Slater and Tania Dutta contributed to this report.


Popular posts from this blog

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: How the shutdown could make it harder for the government to retain cybersecurity talent

By Joseph Marks 13-17 minutes THE KEY President Trump delivers an address about border security amid a partial government shutdown on Jan. 8. (Carolyn Kaster/AP) The partial government shutdown that's now in its 18th day is putting key cyber policy priorities on hold and leaving vital operations to a bare bones staff. But the far greater long-term danger may be the blow to government cyber defenders' morale, former officials warn. With the prospect of better pay and greater job security in the private sector, more government cyber operators are likely to decamp to industry, those former officials tell me, and the smartest cybersecurity graduates will look to industry rather than government to hone their skills. That’s especially dangerous, they say, considering the government’s struggle to recruit and retain skilled workers amid a nationwide shortage of cybersecurity talent. About 20 percent of staffers are furloughed at the De

Democrats call for investigation into Trump’s iPhone use after a report that China is listening:Analysis | The Daily 202 I The Washington Post. By James Hohmann _________________________________________________________________________________ President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping visit the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last November. (Andrew Harnik/AP) With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve THE BIG IDEA: If Democrats win the House in two weeks, it’s a safe bet that one of the oversight hearings they schedule for early next year would focus on President Trump’s use of unsecured cellphones. The matter would not likely be pursued with anywhere near the gusto that congressional Republicans investigated Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. Leaders of the minority party have higher priorities . But Democratic lawmakers made clear Thursday morning that they will not ignore a New York Times report that Trump has refused to stop using iPhones in the White House, despite repeated warnings from U.S. intelligence offici

RTTNews: Morning Market Briefing.-Weekly Jobless Claims Edge Down To 444,000. May 13th 2010

Morning Market Briefing Thu May 13 09:01 2010   Commentary May 13, 2010 Stocks Poised For Lackluster Open Amid Mixed Market Sentiment - U.S. Commentary Stocks are on pace for a mixed start to Thursday's session, as a mostly upbeat jobs report continued to relieve the markets while some consternation regarding the European debt crisis remained on traders' minds. The major index futures are little changed, with the Dow futures down by 4 points. Full Article Economic News May 13, 2010 Weekly Jobless Claims Edge Down To 444,000 First-time claims for unemployment benefits showed another modest decrease in the week ended May 8th, according to a report released by the Labor Department on Thursday, although the number of claims exceeded estimates due to an upward revision to the previous week's data. Full Article May 13, 2010 Malaysia's Decade High Growth Triggers Policy Tightening Malaysia's economy grew at the fastest pace in a decade in