Air Pollution in Delhi

Air pollution is responsible for many health problems in urban areas. Delhi, the capital of India, has been declared as the most polluted city in the world. The situation worsens every year during winter when fog and smoke combine. The airborne particles and toxic chemicals that make up the smog have choked 19 million residents of this metropolitan area, where merely breathing the air is like smoking 50 cigarettes in a day.

Effects of air pollution –

In 2015, more than 2.5 million people died in India because of pollution. To put the numbers in perspective, pollution is responsible for more deaths than road accidents, alcohol, or child malnutrition. It’s also responsible for three times as many deaths as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Deaths from air pollution are a result of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Doctors have declared this as a public health emergency.

In November 2017, in an event known as the ‘Great smog of Delhi’, the air pollution spiked far beyond acceptable levels. PM 2.5 particulate matter was at 955 micrograms per cubic meter, more than 16 times the safe limit, and PM10 particulate matter was at 1,333 micrograms per cubic meter as against the maximum limit of 100.

Delhi experienced the highest level of pollution on November 8.

The air is already having long-term effects on children in the Indian capital, 2.2 million of whom already have irreversible lung damage. Higher levels of non-respiratory effects like hypertension, chronic headache, eye irritation and skin irritation have also been observed.

Causes of poor air quality –

  • Vehicular pollution is an important contributor to air pollution in Delhi. From 2002 to 2012, vehicle numbers have increased by as much as 97%.
  • The Badarpur Thermal Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built in 1973, is another major source of air pollution. It produces less than 8% of the city’s electric power, however 80 to 90% of the particulate matter pollution comes from this electric power sector in Delhi.
  • Environmental issues like deforestation also add up to the poor air quality. According to a research carried out by Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Delhi lost 99,850 hectares of forest between 2007 and 2009.
  • Millions of citizens burning firecrackers on Diwali is yet another cause of air pollution. A day after Diwali in 2014, Delhi’s pollution level reached nine times higher than the normal level
  • Other causes include fires on agricultural land, dust from construction sites, burning garbage and illegal industrial activities. 
  • Lastly, lack of planning and poor response from the government authorities delay the formation of new, improved laws.


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Measures and solutions –

  • The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) provides “lung spaces.” Of the city’s 44,777 hectares, 8,422 hectares are reserved for “the Greens”.
  • Conversion of all Delhi’s commercial passenger vehicles – buses, three-wheelers, and taxis – to compressed natural gas (CNG).
  • Odd-Even Traffic Scheme: According to the notification issued by the Delhi government, from 8 am to 8 pm, vehicles with odd registration numbers will be allowed to ply on odd dates and those with even registration numbers would be plying on even dates. There was no restriction on any vehicle on Sundays. 
  • Since air pollution spikes in Delhi during festivities for Diwali, the Supreme Court of India banned the sale of fireworks. 
  • Catalytic converters for new cars, reduction of sulphur content in diesel, and reduction of benzene content in fuels.
  • Others include construction of flyovers and subways for smooth traffic flow, and introduction of Metro rail.

The Government of  of Delhi has taken several steps to reduce the level of air pollution in the city during the last 10 years. However, more still needs to be done to further reduce the levels of air pollution. The already existing measures need to be strengthened and magnified to a larger scale. The efforts of the government alone are not enough. Hence, participation of the community is crucial. The use of public transport needs to be promoted and people must switch-off their vehicles when waiting at traffic intersections. More people should actively participate in raising awareness about this issue.

For my spacial dynamics class final, I made a sculpture by laser-cutting wood in the shape of Delhi’s map. From 1999, the year I was born, to 2017 – I showed my personal observation of how the air degraded. Using gouache paints, I showed the contamination of air which expanded throughout the city.

I used a QR code to title my work, which when scanned opened this page to provide stats and figures on the extreme situation.