Delhi’s Pollution

Dear Mr Kapil Misra,

Thank you for your email asking of me my opinion about the pollution in Delhi. I am not really a resident of Delhi because I live off the city limits in the periphery of a suburb in Faridabad, driven out of Delhi due to high land prices. However, I am in the city for three decades now and work here and may continue to work in Delhi while living in the NCR for another couple of decades. Hence Delhi is very much a part of my concern and hence its pollution needs my thinking hat.

We have to accept the fact that Delhi is not at an advantage in terms of its geography and climate zone; it is a dust bowl by the fact of its longitude and latitude, by the fact that the great Himalayas guards the north Indian plains like a giant hat which prevents air to flow out of the area. Central Asia which is drier and barer practically has no dust because there is nothing there to trap wind and hence dust with it. Therefore, Delhi is naturally inclined to be dusty. Crackers during Diwali, crop burning before the winter, crop cutting through machines, the rise in moisture in areas around Delhi like the heavy rains in eastern India this year which creates an envelope of vapour around the northern plains and thus preventing the air from making a safe exit towards the sea all escalate air pollution by making the air both dust laden as well as heavy. Besides, autumn and early summer, when temperatures change and the winds reverse their directions air pollution is bound to happen.

If we examine the nature of air pollution in Delhi, it consists not of hydrocarbon emissions nor of suspension of Sulphur which could have been caused by vehicles and crackers respectively. Nor do we have a high noxious factor for which we could blame our industries. What Delhi has is a very high dust quotient and given its natural proclivity to have a high suspension of particulate matter which is dust, one must look towards what raises dust in Delhi.

There are three sources of dust, one seasonal and which is crop cutting and the wind falling around Diwali and early summer. But there are other two which are structural to the urban sprawl of Delhi and hence may be addressed as part of town planning and city management. First are the construction. There are all kinds of constructions in Delhi, roads, buildings and of course, the metro rail. I do not see any extensive use of dust suppression methods used by the contractors. I am not sure whether dust suppression constitutes a part of their cost sheets or not and whether the tender documents at all check the environmental and ecological matters. Then there are private buildings and large scale apartment complexes which are taking place all over the city and in the large swathes of land lying outside the city. These real estate development activities are dust generating activities and are ecological disasters. I have no idea why there are no elaborate rules charted out for the management of dust for construction activities. I think that one has to be very careful with the builders and the land and real estate developers.

These developers not only clear forest lands, dig up farm and grazing land and adopt no dust management practices whatsoever but these projects uproot the grass growing on soil. I have briefly visited the USA as well as Central Asia, which was supposed to be parts of the erstwhile Soviet Union and I have observed that every bit of exposed earth is sown with grass. In India, we hardly find grass on grounds. Every bit of earth should be planted with grass. This is the best method to prevent soil loss and dust.

Delhi is presently very green thanks to the hectic plantation of trees, but trees gather dust as well and this dust along with pollen and dry leaves produce a higher concentration of particulate matter suspended in air. I have observed that the MCD staff rarely sweep roads with any regularity and even when they do the garbage is piled up alongside the road. In the poorer areas of Delhi and in the MCD there is no system of garbage collection. Local nallahs and rain water channels are choking with garbage. The principal reason for this garbage heap is the lack of understanding that garbage is generated in geometric proportion while the staff to collect the same, the capacity of the carts to carry away the trash and the capacity of garbage processors such as incinerators are not increasing. There is no garbage forecast model, no model to track the operation of garbage clearing. Almost all the permanent staff employed for city cleaning outsource their jobs to others and these “others” are mainly the kabadiwallahs who sift and sort the garbage, take out whatever is important and throw the rest anywhere they feel like. The rural zones of Delhi, the suburbs of the NCR have heaps of trash since years. The pile up of such massive garbage adds to the heaviness of the air which finally traps dust causing the unbearable levels of pollution.

My concrete suggestions are:

  1. use very stringent laws of dust suppression for builders, real estate developers and the Delhi Metro.
  2. Invest money in grassing.
  3. Track the city and suburb garbage removal schedules and performances minutely.

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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