Come autumn and winter, many parts of India struggle with the noxious air quality and stifling smog which lingers in the sky. Being home to seventeen per cent of the population of the world, the ongoing air quality crisis in India threatens the lives of over a million Indians every year. While city dwellers, like from New Delhi (capital of India) and Gurugram, go about their routine in most months of the year, months between October and December become unbearable for the residents, attracting global attention as the air quality reaches insidious levels.
New Delhi and Gurugram, are some of the most polluted cities in the world. The geography of these cities, which are surrounded by neighbouring villages where farmers burn the remnants of the crops after harvest to sow seeds for the next harvest, has been causing havoc in entire Northern India. The billowing smoke from these fields reaches these cities. Growing population is adding at least 1500 vehicles every day on the road in New Delhi. The festival of Diwali also falls in October or November when it is a custom to burn firecrackers and which emanates smoke. Slow wind speed and weather patterns, too, contribute to trapping these pollutants in the air. The pollutants billowing with the smoke of the industrial chimneys, thermal power plants and the vehicles which usually run on fossil fuels, are so fine, especially PM2.5, that it can easily be inhaled into the human body and enter bloodstream, where it forms the clots in the arteries, leading to severe heart and lung-related ailments. On a global level, in 2017, PM2.5 caused somewhere between 3 and 5 million early deaths and more than half of which were from India and China.
Doctors have been warning that the current air quality will affect the population, especially children, drastically, and may even stunt their development, cause cancer, hypertension, birth defects, obesity, and pneumonia. In the year 2018, it cost 1.5 million lives in India. The poor air visibility because of the smog causes cancelling, diverting or delaying of many International and national flights flying into or out of the city. The number of patients with respiratory problems elevates significantly in hospitals during this period. On some months, breathing Delhi air becomes equivalent to smoking 10-25 cigarettes a day. It becomes so toxic that even schools have to be shut during these periods. This is only expected to grow in the years to come as India is on an economic growth trajectory which will require more consumption of fossil fuels.
While a growing concern from the government is palpable, it still misses a sense of urgency in tackling this air pollution crisis. Unless the farmers are provided with economic incentives and technology to remove the remnants of the previous harvest, they will continue burning it as it is much cheaper and easier and that is the only way they have been doing since ages. Heavy fines have been ordered by the Supreme court of India on those polluting the air; some farmers burning the stubble have also been arrested too. The transition from fossil fuel to a renewable source of energy like electricity is needed to be pushed aggressively; more and more trees need to be planted as they not only add oxygen in the air, they also purify the air and eat many bacteria and fungi. With air pollution worsening over the years, a major chunk of global pollution faces threat to their lives and only government intervention can reduce it.