Why is Pollution in Delhi Rising

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What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Why in News?
  • Situation in Delhi - Comparing with Previous Years
  • Why is Delhi Breathing in More Toxic Air Despite Lower Input Pollutants?
  • Challenges Ahead and Only Hope for an Improvement in the Air Quality Situation
  • Steps Taken by the Delhi Government
  • Impact of Air Pollution on Economic Growth

Why in News?

  • The number of farm fires in Punjab may have seen a sharp dip this year, but Delhi’s air is the most polluted it has been since 2020.

Situation in Delhi - Comparing with Previous Years:

  • According to data maintained by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the average Air Quality Index (AQI) in the city stands at 210 in October, lower only than the 257 recorded in October 2020.
  • In October 2022, when the average AQI was 198, the city saw 6 rainy days.
  • In 2021, when Delhi saw its best October air since records have been maintained, with an average AQI of 166, the city saw 7 rainy days.

Why is Delhi Breathing in More Toxic Air Despite Lower Input Pollutants?

  • While the reasons behind Delhi being among the most polluted capital cities in the world are a complex mix of geography, vehicular destiny, dust and farm fires, weather plays a vital role too.
  • The primary pollutant in Delhi after monsoon rains is particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10).
    • Delhi has the poorest air quality among cities globally, with PM2.5 concentration levels pegged at nearly 10 times the WHO target.
    • These particles can be blown away by strong winds and can be washed away by rains. This is what happened in 2021 and 2022.
    • This year, 5.4 mm rains were recorded on October 17, but the skies have been clear since.
  • The problem is compounded by dipping temperatures as the area for dispersion of pollutants decreases further.
    • During the winters, the atmospheric circulation over this region is usually anti-cyclonic in nature. This makes the air move downwards.
    • In a cyclonic circulation, as during the monsoon season, the air tends to move up.
    • Because the air tends to move downwards right now, it prevents the pollutant particles from escaping vertically, and keeps them near the surface.
  • The boundary layer (the layer of the troposphere in contact with the surface of the earth) has been lower.
    • The boundary layer generally becomes shallower November onwards, suppressing the atmospheric ability to push pollutants upwards.
    • It’s like a ceiling. If the rooftop is brought lower, you will feel more suffocated.
    • As temperature falls further, the boundary layer falls further. The boundary layer was around 400 m on October 26, and dropped further to around 200 m this week.

Challenges Ahead and Only Hope for an Improvement in the Air Quality Situation

  • The intensification in agricultural burning in Punjab, an annual practice now.
    • With 35% of the area under paddy cultivation in Punjab (~10 lakh hectares of land) still remaining to be harvested, the burning events are likely to continue for some time.
    • No significant improvement could be expected till the fire counts in Punjab went down. A fire count of 100 or less may not have an impact, but a count over 500 will.
    • For the first three days of this month, the reported fire counts in Punjab averaged over 1,700 a day.
  • The only hope for an improvement in the air quality situation is a disruption in the prevailing meteorological conditions.
    • A western disturbance event is expected around November 7.
    • This western disturbance event is expected to bring light showers to Jammu and Kashmir and parts of Himachal Pradesh but not in Delhi.
    • But it could still change the wind systems. The anti-cyclonic circulation can, even temporarily, change into a cyclonic circulation.
    • All this can result in the dispersion of the pollutants, and could lead to relief.

Steps Taken by the Delhi Government

  • Only electric, CNG and BS-VI compliant buses can enter Delhi from other states.
  • It demands from the Centre to implement a complete ban on BS III and BS IV buses operating in NCR areas of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
    • All buses in Delhi are running on CNG. More than 800 electric buses are also running in Delhi.
    • However due to BS-III and BS-IV diesel buses running in UP, Haryana, Rajasthan NCR area, pollution is increasing in Delhi.
  • A campaign has been conducted by the Transport Department at all entry points to check the buses entering the city and action will be taken against any buses that do not follow the rules.

Impact of Air Pollution on Economic Growth

  • Conventional wisdom tends to dismiss air pollution as an unavoidable by-product of economic growth and this tends to limit the urgency for formulating a policy response to the problem.
  • However, a slew of new research points to exactly the opposite: that air pollution has a direct, and a particularly debilitating impact on GDP growth and per-capita income levels by way of -
    • Reduced worker output,
    • Lower consumer footfall in consumption-led services,
    • Hampered asset productivity, and
    • A surge in health expenses and welfare allocations, especially in the productive age groups.
  • According to the study, air pollution has an economic cost of $2.9 trillion, about 3.3% of the world’s GDP.
  • This is particularly worrying for a country like India,
    • As more than 20 of the world’s 30 cities with the worst air pollution are in the country.
    • Where key economic hubs such as Delhi NCR are now prone to a recurrent annual cycle of high pollution with the onset of every winter (air quality recently plummeted to the “severe plus” category).
    • Where economic activities involving the outdoors - agriculture and construction are among the biggest employment avenues. Even in indoor jobs (like call centres), air pollution takes a toll on productivity.
  • According to an RBI report, up to 4.5% of India’s GDP could be at risk by 2030 due to lost labour hours from climate change issues, including extreme heat and humidity.
  • If the impact of recurrent annual cycles of pollution in key manufacturing and services hubs is added, the drain on economic productivity is far higher.

 Q1) What is the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)?

NCAP was launched in 2019 by the Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change. It is India's flagship program that outlines a long-term, time-bound, national level strategy to tackle the air pollution problem across the country in a comprehensive manner.

Q2) What do you mean by western disturbance?

A western disturbance is an extratropical storm originating in the Mediterranean region that brings sudden winter rain to the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent.


Source: Why pollution in Delhi is rising despite fewer farm fires | IE