A thick and dangerous layer of pollution looms over the landmarks and tall buildings of New Delhi. Orders have been issued to close schools and halt construction. Residents have resumed wearing masks.
It is once again the season of severe air pollution in the Indian capital, causing concern for authorities as they attempt to control the recurring and ongoing health crisis that affects the daily lives of more than 20 million residents.
According to SAFAR, India’s primary environmental monitoring agency, on Tuesday the air quality index reached nearly 400 for small particulate matter, which is considered dangerous and over 10 times the international safety limit. This marks the fifth day in a row of poor air quality in the area.
Srinivas Rao, a visitor from Andhra Pradesh state, expressed concern about the abundance of smog in the air. He was monitoring the air quality index and felt fearful about the impact on the climate. While taking a morning walk near the India Gate monument, he wore a mask for protection.
Officials have utilized water sprinklers and anti-smog guns in an effort to manage the haze. They have also declared a penalty of 20,000 rupees ($240) for individuals caught driving gasoline or diesel vehicles, as well as buses and trucks, which contribute to smog. In the meantime, doctors are recommending that residents wear masks and limit their time outdoors to prevent potential respiratory infections, flu, and asthma flare-ups caused by the smog.
The contamination also poses a risk to the ongoing Cricket World Cup, held in India, as the Sri Lankan team was unable to practice in New Delhi over the weekend before their match against Bangladesh on Monday at the Arun Jaitley Stadium.
According to local media, there has been an increase in demand for air purifiers in the last week.
Renu Aggarwal, aged 55, and other residents are concerned about the potential exacerbation of smog as Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights known for the use of firecrackers, draws near this weekend. Aggarwal’s daughter suffers from a pollen allergy that is aggravated by pollution.
“She is struggling to breathe. Despite our efforts to keep the doors and windows closed in our house, the pollution continues to greatly impact her. Simple tasks like using the restroom are challenging for her and she experiences shortness of breath,” she explained.
New Delhi tops the list almost every year of many Indian cities with poor air quality, particularly in the winter, when the burning of crop residues in neighboring states coincides with cooler temperatures that trap hazardous smoke.
Burning leftover crops at the beginning of the winter wheat planting season is a major source of pollution in northern India. Government officials have attempted to dissuade farmers by providing financial incentives for them to purchase machinery to handle the task. However, according to the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, smoke from crop burning is still responsible for 25% of the pollution in New Delhi.
According to Respirer Living Sciences, an organization that tracks air quality and other environmental factors, there was a significant increase of 32% in small particles in the air in New Delhi from 2019 to 2020. However, there was a decrease of 43.7% in 2021, followed by a gradual increase in 2022 and 2023.
The city’s severe air pollution crisis impacts all residents, but those who work outdoors are at an even higher risk.
The auto rickshaw driver, Gulshan Kumar, shared that he frequently experiences congestion in his nose, throat, and eyes due to the polluted air.
His kids begged him to go back to his native village in Bihar. He shared, “They question why I chose to work in this contaminated and unhealthy city. If I had job opportunities in my hometown, I wouldn’t have had to come to Delhi for work.”