Road Dust and Industry, a Jeopardy to Delhi’s Environment

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Recently Delhi is in news for smog and heavy pollution, some readings mentioned that its air quality index reached to 312 in some parts of Delhi, breaching its upper limit. It converted the city into a gas chamber.  smog-choked skies affected the health of young children, they struggled for a breath of fresh air in Delhi. Earlier in this month parents of young children were most worried due to the Nobel coronavirus, now they have to deal with Delhi’s bad environment. It also brought a hike in the sale of air purifiers and face masks. Most citizens of Delhi covered themselves from head to toe, children were locked within the four walls by their parents due to safety reasons. It’s not just about the year 2021 but for continuous three years, Delhi’s air quality has degraded. In 2014 WHO (World Health Organisation) declared it the most polluted city in the world. Winter in Delhi always remains more smoggy, foggy, and polluted than in the summer months.

why is winter most polluted? It’s because of meteorological reasons, in winter cooler air traps pollutants at ground level( a phenomenon known as inversion) where it causes the most harm. In winter warm rising air wipes pollution out and as the result, average pollution at ground level follows more closely the profile of polluting activities throughout the day. at night it’s at its peak due to the release of excessive dust by heavy vehicles movement and by the practice of loading goods at night for import/export.

Sources of Pollution

Air pollution is an invisible killer that engulfs the life of many innocents. It poses a major threat to health and climate, there are various factors (natural and manmade activities) responsible for heavy pollution in Delhi.

Road Dust: road dust is a suspended particulate matter which contributes significantly to pollution and increases more in summer. Poorly maintained roads and partially paved surface grind dust storm on the movement of vehicles. Dust particles change their character when it mixes with other air pollutants. According to the IIT report, road dust makes up over 50 percent of the total PM 10 particles and about 38 percent of PM 2.5 particles. Mounds of soil from open fields and uncovered debris to get airborne in summer. The colony near construction sites is covered with heaps of fine dust particles which adds to the pollution of Delhi.

Industry: IIT Kanpur’s study shows that industry and power plants contribute the maximum amount of poisonous gases and particles to Delhi’s air. Industries are the major source of fly-ash. Emission of S02 and NOx from them penetrates deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system which severely affects health. Illegal use of low-quality oil and coal-fired power plants adds to its miseries. Some factories do not follow the term and norms of government, it also goes unchecked due to some fault practices. Green areas are also decimated due to the rise in population which results in more buildings of houses and offices. Apart from this biomass used by people in winter for heating their homes and coal used in most of the restaurants for tandoors in Delhi are also the sources of pollution.

Crop Burning: pollution problem was even exacerbated by the illegal burning of the crop in northern India. A few years back NASA satellite captured an image that also proves that grey haze was created due to the release of fire from crops. Stubble burning of the crop in the agricultural field in Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana increases pollution levels in the air mostly during winter. In winter paddy is cut and the field is cleared by burning(this process is known as slash and burn) for the next crop and to enrich the nutrients of the soil.

Population: Delhi’s soaring population is also responsible for Delhi’s pollution. An increase in population leads to continuing increase in human activity and to meet their required needs push up pollution levels. Heavy jams on Delhi’s roads are an indication of heavy population. In search of jobs and work, people migrated in a great number which added to the plight of this city. Petroleum consumption and electricity consumption shoots up, and that in turn increases air pollution. The inadequacy of public transport increases the use of a private vehicle which results in air pollution too.

Consequences of Air Pollution

In Delhi, due to heavy smog, public health crisis was declared by doctors as they knew its consequences. It affects almost every people but the most vulnerable groups are children, older people, and people who are suffering from heart and respiratory problems. People who reside near main roads are also worse affected. Air pollution has a very hazardous effect on health, its severity varies in degree from minor effects to severe illness to premature death. It is estimated that 10,000 people die prematurely in Delhi every year due to soaring pollution. Nitrogen dioxide and Sulphur dioxide present in it affect the functioning of the lungs. Whereas fine particulate matters penetrate deep into the respiratory system, irritating lung tissue and causing long-term disorders. Smog is a yellowish or blackish fog formed by a mixture of pollutants in the atmosphere which consists of fine particles and ground-level ozone. It also imparts cloudiness to the atmosphere photochemical smogs is produced mostly due to industrial activities. Photochemical smog causes damage to the nervous system, irritates the eyes, nose, and throat, asthma and bronchitis. Prolonged exposure to this pollution can cause lung cancer. Its consequences were not only limited to health. Heavy smog also brought invisibility in the city resulting in major and minor vehicle accidents across the city. Many officials and important work got hindered due to the cancellation of public transports, trains, and flights out of fear of accidents.

Delhi is not only a polluted city but its neighboring states are also polluted. Other than Delhi, the most polluted states are Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Raipur of Chattisgarh, and if we talk about other countries Bangladesh and Pakistan are the most polluted. Zabol in Iran and Beijing of China was also declared as a polluted city by WHO in 2017. China also was recently in news for Beijing being the most polluted city. But it soon controlled pollution by taking some restrictive measures like shifting to gas or electric system from coal, the closing of factories, banning construction, and introducing environment-friendly regulations.

Measures were taken by the Delhi government to curb pollution- Looking at Delhi’s worst condition Delhi government also took measure steps forward for curbing pollution. First of all schools of young children were closed on the request of the Supreme Court as he said the health of children cannot be compromised. The Supreme court of India agreed with the statement of WHO(which monitors 4,300 world cities for air pollution in terms of PM2.5 ) who said that the first 13 out of 26 worst cities in the world in terms of pollution are in India. The Supreme court also said if necessary steps are not taken it may affect the health of people. They asked the government to take all necessary steps to curb the effects of air pollution in the capital city. The government also banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi/NCR regions during Diwali.

By looking at people’s plight Kejriwal government took initiatives to minimize the effect of smog in Delhi. Restrictions and strict inspections were imposed on the construction sites to control dust pollution. To reduce dust emphasis was given on CNG-Vehicles, smog tower installments, check on waste burning.  Eco-park for managing e-waste I going to be set up in the national capital to curb pollution. Earlier also Delhi government has used some of the effective methods to get rid of pollution. Water was sprinkled on plants and roads in an excessive amount to prevent the release of dust particles into the air. Vacuum cleaners were used for cleaning roads. Apart from all, the odd-even scheme system of the vehicle was brought back along with a four times hike in parking fees to deal with pollution. Heavy vehicles and trucks were prohibited from entry into the capital city. A public awareness camp was organized to bring social awareness among people regarding pollution and its consequences and measures were suggested to cope with it. Most importantly old vehicles and auto taxis on conventional fuels and diesel-driven city buses were phased out. Measures taken were very helpful, they brought back clear skies in Delhi but every winter they struggle hard for having clear skies.

To have the same good condition every year something more to be done. Energy-efficient housing, a boost towards the use of natural gas, power generation, industry, and better municipal waste management can effectively reduce key sources of ambient air pollution. Not only government but we also as a citizen must take it seriously as it is an invisible foe that swamps the life of millions of people and it also poses a great threat to the climate.

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