Smogged Delhi: A Troublesome Future

 

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A month ago, NCR (National Capital Region) including Delhi was affected by a combination of smoke and fog, commonly called as ‘smog’. The level of particulate matters, (PM10 and PM 2.5) were at a hazardous level of more than 800μg/m3 which is much higher than the level recommended by WHO (World Health Organization) which is 50μg/m3 . If one were to compare this with the air quality index, it would be surprising to find that the air quality index lists only up till 300μg/m3 and all the values above that are considered to be hazardous for natural life. Smog is usually caused by man-made causes such as the combustion of coal, vehicular emissions, photochemical emissions and natural causes like the eruption of volcanoes. The smog which was rampant in China in recent years and in much of the industrialized world like US and UK in the 20th century was due to the burning of coal to meet energy requirements. This kind of smog had particles like nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, ozone, smoke and other particulates (less visible pollutants include carbon monoxide, CFCs and radioactive sources). Modern smog, found in the industrialized world, is a type of air pollution derived from vehicular emissions and industrial fumes that react with sunlight to form secondary pollutants that further combines with the primary emissions to form photochemical smog. However, in Delhi, the primary source of smog is stubble burning in neighbouring states and other contributing factors are the burning of garbage, road dust, power plants, emissions from factories and vehicles. Smog causes many health problems as well as a reduction in visibility. Recently, there was a pile-up of 24 vehicles on the Yamuna Expressway due to low visibility. Moreover, during a Sri Lanka v India cricket series at Firoz Shah Kotla Stadium, Delhi the Sri Lankan players had to wear face masks to continue playing. However, due to horrible air condition affecting their game the match was ultimately suspended. Following this, doctors and social activists escalated their campaign against conducting sports events in Delhi and appealed to the ICC (International Cricket Council) for the formulation of a policy on pollution. A recent report in “The Lancet” medical journal, stated that pollution had claimed as many as 2.5 million lives in India in 2015, the highest anywhere in the world.

 

0611pg3aSource: Hindustan Times.

 

Hazardous Health Effects of Smog

Cough and irritation in throat or chest generally lasting for a few hours after having been exposed to smog is caused by high levels of ozone which irritate the respiratory system. Ozone can continue to harm the lungs even after symptoms disappear as it may damage the lungs and cause difficulty in breathing. It can also trigger asthma attacks if one already suffers from asthma. Irritation in eyes, allergies, breathlessness etc are also ill effects caused by smog. Smog affects different people differently making children, the elderly and asthmatic people more susceptible to its ill effects.

Reactions

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on impulse declared a holiday for all Delhi schools for three days. All construction and demolition works were halted for five days in Delhi, all diesel generators were banned for ten days except for those used at hospitals and in emergencies, vacuum cleaning of roads started on November 10 and water sprinkling on all roads commenced in the following days. Supreme court banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi last year. All of these were short-term measures. The long-term measures proposed, included shutting down of coal-based Badarpur power plant implying that there will be no fly ash transportation from the power plant. There is also a call for permanent shut down of this plant as it is very old and polluting. The Environment Department proposed to launch an app to monitor the burning of leaves. All of these measures come under command and control measures which is a type of regulation that sets certain standards. A standard is a mandated level of performance that is enforced by law. This is favoured by our politicians because it is easy to set the law and claim that they have done something to solve the problem. However, it is prima facie evident that most of these are like putting a band-aid over a huge injury and in the long term, these measures won’t really help. People are buying indoor and outdoor air-purifying plants like aloe vera, areca palm and Sansevieria to protect themselves from the thick smog present in Delhi. Oxygen chambers such as the one built by nurturing green near Huda City Centre metro station are being built to provide breathing spaces to Delhites.

Long-term Solutions

We need to change our system of using command and control method to solve these problems. We should try more effective methods such as economic incentives and set up effective and permanent mechanisms to solve these problems by providing farmers with alternative methods to deal with stubble which are also economically beneficial for them. There are many uses of stubble such as using it as a fodder for animals and in biothermal power plants to generate electricity. The thermal plant at Jalkheri, District Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab is the first plant in India which is based on the use of biomass and is a good example to show that we have the technology and manpower to overcome these hurdles. Usage of rice residue as bedding material for cattle is a traditional use of stubble in India and elsewhere in the world. Usage of stubble for mushroom cultivation, paper production and biogas are also well-proven methods to deal with stubble. Scientists working for Punjab Agricultural University(PAU) have found a method to decompose stubble in the site itself using chemicals and bio-oils. Another alternative is the No Till Agriculture (NTA) method of farming which involves farming from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. This method has a lot of advantages such as elimination of soil erosion and enrichment of soil due to high humus content. The most important part is that all these new policies should be economically beneficial for the farmers because that is the only way to ensure that these steps are being followed. Otherwise, it will be futile just like the current laws prohibiting stubble burning which are not enforceable on the ground due to the protest from farmers.

References:

Healthline (Ed.). (2016, August 05). The Dangers of Smog: What You Need to Know About Air Pollution. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.healthline.com/health/dangers-smog-what-you-need-know-about-air-pollution#what-is-smog2

Kumar P., Kumar S., Joshi L. (2015) Alternative Uses of Crop Stubble. In: Socioeconomic and Environmental Implications of Agricultural Residue Burning. Springer Briefs in Environmental Science. Springer, New Delhi

Kirpal, N. (2017, December 07). Just how bad is Delhi’s pollution? People are driving through smog to grab time in an oxygen chamber. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://scroll.in/magazine/858870/just-how-bad-is-delhis-pollution-people-are-driving-through-smog-to-grab-time-in-an-oxygen-chamber

Rajvanshi, A. (2017, December 07). Here Are the Solutions That Will Clear Delhi’s Smog and Enrich Farmers as Well. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.thebetterindia.com/123662/delhi-air-pollution-smog-farmers-solution/

Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2017, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/

Danish MC, the author, is a second year economics honors student from
Jindal School of Government and Public Policy.

Featured Image Source: NewsMobile

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