Gasping and Choking in The National Capital Region

The last few weeks have been nightmarish for everyone and everything that breathes and lives in New Delhi and cities surrounding it. Citizens of New Delhi and other neighboring cities have been forced to breathe air polluted with various harmful particles like PM 2.5, PM 10, and Nitrogen Dioxide.

India Gate covered by a thick blanket of smog. (Source: www.financialexpress.com)

Smog levels reached a record high in nearly two decades, and reached ‘hazardous levels’, forcing schools and other educational institutions to close. When smog levels slightly fell and allowed schools to re-open, students were encouraged to wear pollution masks and all strenuous outdoor activities were brought to a halt.

Business Activity was also affected by the onslaught of ‘severe’ pollution in the National Capital Region

Construction workers and laborers were amongst the first who felt the smog’s adverse effects on their overall health, dramatically decreasing their productivity. Street-side vegetable vendors were also at a loss because of high pollution levels as many of their customers were forced to purchase commodities inside grocery shops or one’s local supermarket, whose business was booming at the time, a grâce de le smog. Auto-rickshaw drivers, pedestrians, bikers and cyclists were amongst the many commuters who put their health at risk to reach their place of business.

Health complications also saw a spike because of the increased pollution levels. Many people developed complications such as pneumonia, asthma and various heart diseases. Adults and children in schools and playgrounds (like myself) had severe irritation and itchiness in the eyes, throat infections and a burning sensation in the nose, all as reactions to the onslaught of hazardous smoke. Many fell sick and flooded the hospitals and clinics in hope of escaping the thick smog blanket covering their city.

Perhaps the industry that benefited most out of the region’s suffering was the air purifier and portable air filtration industry, whose inventory of finished goods were selling like a wildfire amongst the privileged individuals and families.

The question one may ask is why pollution levels reached a record high right under our noses.

There were two main reasons for heightened pollution levels this year: Over-bursting of firecrackers on Diwali and crop stubble-burning in the neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab by farmers.

Diwali. The festival of lights. The triumph of good over evil. A truly festive celebration for the country and Indians all over the world. There is nothing wrong with bursting a few firecrackers in the celebration of the festival, but many people in India often overdo things and simply do not know where they should draw the line. There were thousands of crackers bust on Diwali this year, being no different from any other year in India, which had a great impact on our already strained and delicate environmental conditions. Despite aggressive anti-firecracker campaigns by students and environmentally-conscious individuals, many still took to the streets with bags of firecrackers.

Source: (www.decodedscience.org)

The second most prominent cause of the high pollution levels in New Delhi and neighboring cities was the burning of crop stubble by farmers in the states of Punjab and Haryana. Every year, farmers burn paddy straw to set ground for their next crop plantation. While doing so they unwarily damage soil quality and cause heavy pollution, saying they have no viable alternative.

Financially constrained, the farmers have no use for the paddy, and it doesn't mix with the soil either, which is why they set it ablaze every year around October, as their financial limitations do not allow them to use the paddy as biomass or dispose of it without affecting the environment. To tackle the problem, the government recently launched an initiative to implement the use of a paddy straw based biomass power project. The State Pollution Control Board also created a scheme to educate farmers about the detrimental effects of such activities and requested support from authorities present in villages and habitations to effectively relay information related to the same. These schemes and initiatives may prevent an occurrence of such magnitude in the coming years.

In conclusion, I feel that the severe pollution levels of this year and the impact they had on all aspects of society should not be looked down upon, but should serve as an example of our preparedness to tackle such issues and should also mirror our actions, which along with many other factors, caused a problem of this enormity in The National Capital Region. Let this event pose as a beginning and a foundation of a more environment-conscious and prosperous 2017.

By Adhiraj Singh, Grade 9