Diwali is fast approaching us, and the city of Delhi surely seems to be warming up to the festivities. The festival of lights is when the city is at its best, with each home decked up in lights and the joyous occasion engulfing the city’s spirit. It is the time when the people of the capital are celebrating the festival with sweets, rituals and festivities with their loved ones. Unfortunately, the month of November also signals the arrival of something less welcome, the dreaded Delhi Pollution.
In May 2014 the WHO announced New Delhi as the most polluted city in the world. The report brought to light just how grave the situation was in the National capital. Another report suggested that if the state managed to curb its pollution to admissible levels, it could end up adding as much as 9 years to the lifetime of an average Delhi citizen!
The findings set in motion a chain of events which aimed at increasing awareness about the perils of poor air quality and governments measures to curb it. Odd-even schemes, anti-smog guns to tackle dust particles and a ban on construction were some of the immediate measures taken by the Delhi government to keep the air quality within permissible limits. The continuous fall in the air quality index led to a drastic surge in the sale of drugs used to treat respiratory disorders, air purifiers and face masks across the country. The move got so rampant, that there were even cases where people were gifting pollution masks as Diwali gifts!
4 years later, as the city aims for another pollution heavy winter, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on 13th September tweeted that as a result of his government's efforts, the pollution in the city is down by a whopping 25%. He even went on to say that Delhi is the only city where the pollution level is going down instead of increasing. The CM also announced the launch of the 7 point Parali Pradushan Action Plan, which aimed at managing air pollution levels in the upcoming winter months, when the menace is at its worst.
The claim was met with widespread support from the people of Delhi, with many hailing the steadily improving pollution situation in the national capital. “I heard recently that the pollution levels are down. As such I haven’t felt any drastic change. But if you ask me, there used to be a lot of smog during the summer months also, that hasn’t happened this year.” Pallavi, a student who travels daily to the capital for college, said. “Definitely there’s been a change! Earlier I used to be coughing like a madwoman whenever I used to take a walk in the evening and even my nose used to get irritated. That’s drastically reduced for sure. Even my mom was telling me that day that her hair fall issues have become less serious after the drop in pollution.” Said Anjal.
Several measures have contributed to the positive change. One of them has been the construction of the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressway. According to Kejriwal, the increased use of the expressway along with the imposition of environmental compensation charges reduced the number of trucks entering the main city by as much as 30%. In addition to this, the closure of thermal power stations in Rajghat and Badarpur is also believed to be a contributor in bringing down the pollution levels significantly.
However, not all are taking the CM’s words at face value, with the reliability of the data being questioned. The Central Pollution Control Board’s data was used to stake the claim, and with the data not in public domain, environmentalists and pollution activists are finding it hard to believe the numbers. “Contrary to a reduction, PM2.5 levels have nearly doubled from 2012 to 2018,” says Dr Santosh Harish, Fellow, Centre of Policy Research, who researches air pollution.
The fact that in as recently as March, Delhi was being touted as the world’s most polluted capital of 2018 is another aspect that seems to contradict the government’s claims. According to the study, the city’s average yearly PM2.5 concentration was clocked at 113.5 micrograms per cubic metre. As per the Air Quality Index, that puts Delhi’s air under the “ Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” category.
The people of Delhi as well, seem to be reserving their judgement as far as this is concerned. “ It’s too early to say if there has actually been a change or not. You get to know the real deal during the winter months when it has been impossible to breathe since the last few years. You can actually feel a burning sensation in your throat. I’ve seen people burning garbage out in the open and till the time that continues to happen, there’s no way pollution levels are going down.” Said Rishabh.
The winter months are widely considered to be the most testing for the city’s population. The air quality even reaches hazardous levels during the months October- December, with various factors such as stubble burning, firecrackers during Diwali and the cold weather contributing to the poor air quality. “ I haven’t really felt anything. November has been insane for the past two years. The days are black and full of smoggy skies. The situation is so bad you can't even step out of the house without a mask. My friend has sinus problems and it was so difficult to see him struggle here and fall sick half of the time. Now that he’s in Germany he doesn't have any of those issues, which just shows you the difference a pollution-free air haves in a person’s life” said Simran.
“Nope it hasn’t changed at all, just two weeks back you could literally see the pollution in the sky. The sky was grey due to all the stubble burning and I could actually feel the dryness in my eyes because of it” said Joshita. While the Delhi Government should surely be applauded for its efforts and it's great to see air pollution being taken seriously in today’s time, the opinion of the people of Delhi clearly show that the fight for clean has only just started.