Smogged Capital

Published: November 6th, 2016
Written By : Ronak Pol

Air Pollution is a problem with rising political importance in India. Presently the Indian capital which is also the world’s most polluted city is struggling to control its pollution level, with over 17000 schools being shut because of the pollution the Aam Aadmi Party has its work cut out for itself.

So how bad is the pollution problem?

In simple terms – It’s really bad!!

If you have read into air quality literature you must have come across the term particulate matter, these are sums of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air many of which are hazardous. These particulates are classified into two sizes < 10 µg and

The table below shows how high the levels of these particulates have become in some of the major areas in Delhi.

Anand Vihar Mandir Marg Punjabi Bagh  R. K. Puram  IGI Airport  Civil Lines Prescribed Standard
Particulate Matter < 10 µg 1711 µg/m3 797 µg/m3 870 µg/m3 NA 422.65 µg/m3 NA 100 µg/m3
Particulate Matter < 2.5 µg NA 665 µg/m3 659 µg/m3 NA NA NA  60 µg/m3
*Data taken from DPCC website and pertains to Saturday, November 05, 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-11-05 at 5.33.26 PM.png

Data is for the R.K Puram area and spans from April 2015 to November 2016. Similar cyclical trends can also be found in all other areas. *Data is taken from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) website

When we plot the data for the particulate matter for last 2 years we can clearly see the seasonal spikes, we can clearly see that air quality drastically worsens during the winter months starting from October and the air quality is consistently bad till the summer sets in. We can clearly expect this trend to continue in the coming months and expect the air quality to worsen.

For the residents of Delhi, an hourly monitored of air quality can help determine the relatively safe hours to leave your home.

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 11.17.29 AM.png

Taken from the Delhi Pollution Control Website the data pertains to the RK Puram area.

In this graph we can clearly see that pollution peaks just before offices open and when schools leave. This makes sense considering we can expect a rise in mobility during this period adding to the problem. Please note that the missing bars indicate missing data and not missing pollution.

For those that are interested in a more detailed look into air quality and check the rest of the indicators, I will ask them to visit the following link. (Click Here)

Some reasons for rising air pollution

Countless resources are spent to monitor and reduce air pollution, but when faced with the reality of human actions resulting in air pollution many are reluctant to change their behaviour.

Last month the country celebrated Diwali the festival of lights. Diwali is also the time when Delhi sees a rise in pollution levels. The cyclical patterns in the above graph start peaking just after the country has celebrated Diwali. The pollutants released from the crackers mixed with water vapour and dropping temperatures are the right mix for smog. Something that the Delhi government is struggling with.

The month of November also accompanies with it the end of harvest season. This means it’s time to clear your fields to prep them for next year which is done by burning the roots and other plant remains. Now considering the close proximity of Punjab and Haryana to the nation’s capital, all the pollutants released also severely affect the air quality in Delhi adding to capitals problems.

Another problem in the land-locked capital is the rising vehicular emission. Delhi is the capital of big SUVs which also come with big diesel engines. Although steps have been taken to reduce vehicular emission and to stop sales of big engine diesel engines the effects of these steps is modest at best. The main problem in Delhi is vehicular emission from trucks. These vehicles with under-serviced engines have emerged as the prime cause of vehicular pollution. But banning these vehicles from the city limits is difficult to say the least. The unions that support the interest of these truck drivers have a big bargaining chip as they also control the transportation of goods in an out of the city limits.

There are not the only but some of the major reasons why air quality in the city has deteriorated over time.


It is easy to blame the government for not acting fast enough when it comes to solving the air pollution problem in Delhi. Although I agree that the Kejriwal lead sarkar has failed on some fronts when it comes to controlling air pollution, it also necessary to understand that the geography of the city makes it susceptible to air pollution and makes solving air pollution so challenging.

There is no silver bullet that can solve this problem but a combination of increased use of public transport, an innovative measure like the odd-even scheme and improved rules concerning vehicular emission might help the city deal better with its problem.

It is also necessary to note the dichotomy that exists among the people who complain about rising pollution in the country. Many a time the same set of people are found protesting against rising smog and celebrating festivals by lighting fire crackers. Individuals who burn crackers cannot complain about dump yard fire; unless they are willing to embrace the term hypocrite associated with them.

 I hope that all my readers had a wonderful Diwali. Wishing you all a very Happy Diwali. For those wondering, there was no post last week on account of the festival.


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