• Delhi braces for toxic smog crisis as winter begins

    05 November 2018

    The air quality in Delhi has been lingering at a “very poor” category since October 21 with an overall Air Quality Index (AQI) of 348. As winter begins from November, authorities are expecting the air quality to deteriorate to “severe” level with the AQI climbing above 401 due to the upcoming Diwali festival on November 6. As the festival involves celebrations with crackers and fireworks, the pollution produced as a result is expected to further exacerbate the smog situation in Delhi.

    At the time of writing, a severe pollution level has already been recorded across ten areas in the city. These include Mundka, Anand Vihar, Ashok Vihar, Bawana, CRRI Mathura Road, DTU, Jahangirpuri, Mundaka, Narela, Punjabi Bagh and Rohini. Precedents indicate that air pollution level rises alarmingly every winter, as the cool air tends to trap fumes from vehicles, factory emissions, crop burning and construction dust. According to the World Health Organization, Delhi ranked sixth out of the world’s 14 most polluted cities in 2018.

    Since farmers seasonally set their rice fields on fire to clear left-over loose straw after harvesting paddy to make way for wheat, recent reports suggested that stubble burning by farmers in neighboring Haryana and Punjab States, together with calm winds have contributed to the growing haze in Northern India. Nevertheless, industries and power plants in and around Delhi are the biggest contributor of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollutants. These include industrial chimney waste (cement factories, stone crushers, food and fertilizer industries which discharge toxic waste and corrosive vapors), thermal power stations, and emissions from automobiles.

    While authorities have recommended the public to keep windows shut, wear masks and minimize the use of private vehicles to reduce exposure to polluted air, pragmatic measures against industries have also been implemented. On October 15, Delhi’s biggest power generator, Badarpur Thermal Power Station was permanently shut down in an effort to curb smog. In addition, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority has recently agreed to the recommended measures to stop all construction activities involving excavation, civil construction, stone crushers, and hot mix plants that generate dust pollution from November 1 to 10.

    Other measures also include halting operations at coal and biomass-based industries from November 4 to 10. However, this excludes thermal and waste-to-energy plants. Moreover, recent media sources reported that 113 industries have been ordered to be shut down for not converting to piped natural gas. The 67 units out of that total were located in Bawana and Narela industrial areas of Delhi. As air pollution continues to grow, environmental night patrols will reportedly be put in place in Bawana, Narela, Mundka, Nangloi, Punjabi Bagh, Dwarka, Anand Vihar, Bhalaswa SLF and Ghazipur SLF to safeguard industries from open burning, dumping of rubber and plastic wastes, as well as generating dust pollution.

    It is likely that policies to curb smog may cause intermittent disruptions to air and land freight movement from November to at least until early January 2019. Past records indicate that numerous international and domestic airlines flying via Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) were regularly disrupted with cancellations and delays due to low visibilities on the runway. When the conditions became worse, the airport briefly suspended its operations on 2018 New Year’s Day. Railway traffic in the National Capital Region including Delhi was also hampered.

    In the event that air quality dips further downwards, an odd-even traffic scheme in Delhi to cut down vehicle emission is likely to be implemented. The regulation implies that vehicles with license plates ending in an odd number will be allowed to drive on odd dates and license plates ending with an even number on even dates from 08:00 to 20:00 (local time) excluding Sundays. Last year, only trucks carrying essential supplies were allowed to enter Delhi; diesel vehicles that were older than 10 years as well as petrol cars older than 15 were restricted.

    The persisting poor air quality may result in authorities adopting short-term measures, such as temporary suspension of coal-fired power plants and construction based industries, during the winter to help reduce smog. Customers working with suppliers in any of the aforementioned industrial areas of Delhi are advised to stay abreast of developments. Industries that rely on in-land freight movement are also advised to coordinate with local logistics service providers to ensure that trucks are not operating with diesel engines as the aforementioned traffic polices may be implemented amid growing pollution and can cause delays in cargo delivery.

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