While winter has not officially begun in Delhi, air pollution from multiple sources have left the capital and its nearby areas like Gurugram, Noida, Faridabad, and Ghaziabad choking for clean air by mid-October. This is primarily due to the burning of agricultural wastes in neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana and fumes caused by diesel generators, heavy vehicles, and construction sites. The situation is not new as the National Capital Territory typically faces an annual battle with air pollution every winter as the cold air tends to trap dusts and smog in the atmosphere.
Moreover, Diwali, the festival of lights which involves fireworks and crackers, will be celebrated nationwide on October 27 and may result in further pollution. At present, the Central Pollution Control Board in India indicates that the Air Quality Index (AQI) stands at 339, deemed to be in the “very poor” category; this is expected to deteriorate sharply in the coming days due to stubble burning and the upcoming Diwali festival. According to the Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), burning has increased in the past days with additional new hotspots discovered in western Uttar Pradesh State. SAFAR also noted that the air quality deterioration is also due to the gradual change in wind direction.
|Range of Air Quality Index (AQI)||Severity|
|0 ~ 50||Good|
|51 ~ 100||Satisfactory|
|101 ~ 200||Moderate|
|201 ~ 300||Poor|
|301 ~ 400||Very poor|
|401 ~ 500||Severe|
Ground transportation measures
In order to combat air pollution effectively, authorities in Delhi have banned the use of diesel generators from October 15 as part of its Graded Response Action Plan, although a specific timeline for the ban was not specified. Moreover, an odd-even road license plate traffic rotation scheme will take place from November 4 to 15 where vehicles with numbers ending in odd and even numbers would be allowed on alternate days to reduce vehicle emissions. However, women drivers, school buses, and vehicles carrying people with disabilities as well as two wheelers will be exempted from the policy. A fine of INR 4,000 (USD 56; EUR 50) will be imposed on those who violate traffic rules.
Precedents indicate that additional ground transportation advisories are likely to be issued in the event that smog level rises to “severe” level. This includes prohibiting entry of trucks to the capital for a number of days with the exemption of those carrying essential commodities. Banning of trucks normally occurs in the post-Diwali period, likely to be between Oct 28 and Nov 8, and again in the peak of the winter season, typically the New Year period. Past records also highlight that diesel vehicles older than 10 years and petrol cars older than 15 are likely to be restricted on the roads as part of such measures.
Since the opening of Delhi’s new ‘Ring Expressway’ late last year, Western Peripheral Expressway along with Eastern Peripheral Expressway have helped reduce travel times of over 50,000 trucks going to different parts of the country without having to enter Delhi which eases the city’s traffic. Thus, in the event that the authorities prohibit the entry of trucks, ground shipments that do not involve businesses in Delhi would have minimal impact.
International and domestic flights flying via Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) may also face cancellations, delays, and diversions on short notice, particularly in December and early January, due to low visibility caused by fog and smog. In late 2018, Low Visibility Procedures (LVP) was enforced for 11-hours at the airport resulting in 84 flights being cancelled and 2 delayed, since aircrafts require minimum runway visibility of about 125 meters to take off.
As DEL is India’s busiest airport with the capacity to handle cargo volume of 963,000 tons with aircraft movement of 441,300 in 2017-2018, any disruption to scheduled flights via the airport may impede airfreight cargo departures.
Limited impact on manufacturers
It is not common for the government of India to issue stringent directives to manufacturers in the heavy industry sector to cut down on production output due to environmental concerns. While industries and thermal power stations in and around Delhi are the biggest contributor of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), there have been no official warnings to manufacturers to cut output.
At present, authorities are directing farmers to reduce the burning of stubble in neighboring states to control the emissions event though pollutants from cement factories, stone crushers, food, and fertilizer industries which discharge toxic waste and corrosive vapors are some of the main drivers of air quality deterioration.
Resiliene360 customers with businesses that are dealing with air or in-land shipments in the National Capital Territory should brace for slight disruptions in the coming weeks as further traffic restrictions, such as intermittent ban on trucks to and from Delhi, are possible. While trucks bypassing Delhi have alternative routes to use, air shipments via DEL have higher potential to face cargo delays in the event of flight cancellation or diversions. Perishable goods and those that require appropriate temperatures during freight movement should be prioritized with carriers, especially during peak winter season.