Sunday, 27 December 2015

Pollution : A looming menace

A hazy view of the India Gate due to smog

The odd-even number plate rule to be implemented in Delhi next week has attracted vociferous debate. The move is aimed at curbing the traffic related issues for one, and probably, more importantly, to reduce the ever-rising air pollution in the nation's capital. While some support the move, others are skeptical about the feasibility and it's effectiveness in a city like Delhi known for 'Jugaad'.


All eyes were on Beijing for the last decade or so, a city known world-wide to be the most polluted in the world. The city is engulfed in smog on most days, and sometimes it makes the visibility so low that it is difficult to see even buildings a few meters away (Beijing is aptly called 'Greyjing' or 'Beige-jing' by some). That was until the World health organisation submitted a report in May last year.

According to the report, the air quality in New Delhi was found to be almost three times worse than in Beijing. If I get a little technical here, particulate matter (PM) in the air causes most of the health related hazards. There are two major groups, PM10 and PM2.5. Simply put, PM10 are the larger particulate matters and PM2.5 the smaller ones. But PM2.5 are far more dangerous than PM10.

The report mentioned that Delhi air had a concentration of 153 micro grams per cubic meter of PM2.5 and 286 micro grams of PM10 during the period 2008-13. During the same period, Beijing had 56 
micro grams of PM2.5 and 121 micro grams of PM10 in the air. The WHO considers under 25 micro grams per cubic meter of PM2.5 to be safe. So to put it all in perspective, the air in Delhi is 6 times worse than the standard of air quality which WHO considers severe.

The Government of India rejected the report saying that the 'UN agency had overestimated the levels in the capital'. The government scientists said that the air quality of Delhi is not as severe as the report showed it to be. Even if you agree with the government's statement, I see no point in waiting till the time it actually got as worse as the report suggested. Certain ambitious measures could have been planned even at that point. Nevertheless, no point crying over spilt milk. Let's hope things get better from here on.


This might come as a shock to some, but out of the most polluted cities in the world, 13 of them are in India

Looking at the list, I felt bad, but thought, atleast my current city of Bangalore doesn't feature in the list. How wrong I was! The city on an average might fare a little better than the ones on the list, but on certain days and in certain parts of the city, like the BTM Layout, the pollution levels reach higher than even Delhi. Click here article for details.


Obviously, air pollution is caused by factors such as vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, power plants and domestic sources. But interestingly, what caused the pollution levels to reach such a high (or lows, depending on how you look at it), nobody knows! Conflicting reports by IIT Kanpur, IIT Delhi, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Center for Science and Environment (CSE) states different reasons for this ruckus. So this mean that nobody knows precisely how much is vehicular emission contributing to the air pollution in Delhi; just that it is a major factor by virtue of common sense.


I can put up a lot of statistics of how so many thousand people die and suffer from severe lung diseases each year, and it is not going to make any difference to the reader. After all we cannot relate to the actual situation if we throw in too many statistics in the mix (which I feel I do a lot). But the most important thing to understand is that the pollution levels in our country are reaching unprecedented levels and breathing such air inevitably affects everyone. About the half the children in Delhi already suffer from irreversible lung diseases, and the other cities will only have a slightly better number. That this air causes chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart related diseases, goes without saying. Air pollution is the 5th largest killer in India, according to an article in So just imagine to what extent we all are at risk.


In our country, we just do not value human lives. In Beijing, if the pollution levels spike up to hazardous levels, the government imposes red- alert and schools, offices and other institutions close down. In India, we have no such emergency alerts. Maybe we should think about something like that. In the entire post, I just compared everything to Beijing. I did not even mention the success stories of huge cities of Europe and North America, where the levels of pollution are far from even the 'mildly unsatisfactory' standards set by the WHO. Saying that we should aspire to become like them will be nothing short of over-ambitious, but at least we can take baby steps and learn from them. In my opinion, the odd-even rule in Delhi is one such step. It might not work, or might be impractical. But at least it is a step, or a thought in the right direction. Whether to joke on or to criticise the move, at least people are waking up to the idea that if not this, then there must be something else that needs to be done...and quickly.


  1. Thank you so much for this timely post. Sharing.

    1. Thank you so much. I hope more and more people realize the gravity of the situation and contribute in whatever small way, for the better.