Delhi is not breathing easy. With the onset of winter, the city recently woke up to thick haze in its skies—a deadly combination of poisonous gases and fog that turned into smog affecting people’s lungs. The 1.75 crore people staying in the Capital were subjected to the ‘air of death’. According to officials at the Delhi pollution control committee, (DPCC) the smog is caused by a high concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the air. This is caused mostly due to gases emitted from diesel engine vehicles.
Scientists say Delhi is expected to witness severe pollution after November 13 with the likelihood of western disturbance coinciding with smoke caused by the Diwali firecrackers. High concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the air can cause breathing irritation and serious respiratory problems. “One of the principal emitters of nitrogen dioxide in the city are engines consuming diesel. Petrol and CNG vehicles emit very low quantities of nitrogen dioxide as compared to diesel vehicles,” said a senior DPCC official.
The acceptable upper limit of nitrogen oxide in the air is 80 microgram per cubic metre. On November 2, the concentration of the gas was a whopping 267 microgram per cubic metre as recorded at Anand Vihar.
“The air quality index (AQI), which crossed a critical (very unhealthy) level of 500 and peaked November 7 to 920, has suddenly dropped to around 350 (very poor level) November 9,” said Sunil Peshin, head of IMD’s Environmental Monitoring Research Centre.
The next deadly air pollutant present in the air is particulate matter up to 10 microns, called PM 10. These are easily inhaled by humans and cause diseases of the heart. PM is produced in huge quantities by diesel vehicles as also in blowing winds in dust prone areas like Delhi. The upper limit of PM 10 in the air is 60 microgram per cubic metre. On November 2, the concentration of PM 10 in the air was alarming 990 microgram per cubic metre, at Anand Vihar. The level of PM 10 was 16.5 times the permissible limit. Another big health hazard is the presence of particulate matter up to 2.5 micro grams, called PM 2.5. The presence of PM 2.5 in the air can cause severe diseases of heart and lungs and cancers. The upper limit of PM 2.5 in the air is 60 microgram per cubic metre. On November 2, the level of PM 2.5 recorded was 476 microgram per cubic metre.
A 2007 report of the Environment pollution control authority (EPCA), while referring to a study of particulate air pollution and morbidity in California Central Valley, 2002, has stated that every 10 per cent increase in the level of PM2.5 was associated with a 4.1 per cent increase in acute respiratory hospitalisations, a 7.5 per cent increase in chronic respiratory hospitalisations, a 5.2 per cent increase in acute respiratory emergency room visits and a 6.5 per cent increase in chronic respiratory emergency room visits.
The situation is unlikely to improve as 1200 new vehicles are registered in Delhi every day—a significant number of the vehicles registered are diesel engine ones. The disparity between petrol and diesel increasing, the share of diesel propelled cars has gone up. “People talk of levying congestion tax and high parking charges as charged in London. Will people in Delhi pay `2000 per day as parking charges or pay `1500 to enter Connaught Place? Is it politically possible to bring about changes in the Delhi’s traffic scene,” said a senior bureaucrat attached to the Delhi government. He feels that the best way to curb people from buying diesel vehicles to levy a one time charge of `2 -2.5 lakh. “But then, even the adjoining states would also have to implement the change to have a desired effect. Will the diesel lobby with the combined installed capacity to pro duce lakhs of diesel vehicles allow that to happen?” the bureaucrat added. Any decision taken by the government has socio-political ramifications.
Of the over 11,000 CNG public transport buses that the Delhi government envisaged to be plying on Delhi roads, 6200 are available as of now. Unless public transport with feeder service is provided, people are unlikely to switch to public transport.
Sanjeev Kumar, secretary, Environment Department, Government of Delhi said, “When talking of pollution, Delhi cannot be taken in isolation. It has bordering cities Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Noida. These bring a large concentration of pollution causing factors. A large number of construction projects in Gurgaon, Dwarka expressway and Ghaziabad generate suspended particulate.” According to Beig, Delhi cannot afford to have two extreme pollution episodes back-to-back. Speaking to the media, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit blamed the smog on the burning of paddy husk in the neighbouring states. She said, “The haze is not a result of vehicular pollution but burning of husk and paddy straw in various areas of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana.”
- Sunday Standard