Delhi’s residents are breathing worse air than previously known

Updated - November 16, 2021 09:52 pm IST

Published - December 12, 2014 08:31 am IST - NEW DELHI:

NEW DELHI, 28/11/2014: A view of traffic during peak hours as the Smog covers Delhi, pollution level is reported very high in Delhi, in New Delhi on November 28, 2014.
Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

NEW DELHI, 28/11/2014: A view of traffic during peak hours as the Smog covers Delhi, pollution level is reported very high in Delhi, in New Delhi on November 28, 2014. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Early on November 13, Bhure Lal, chairperson of Delhi’s Environment Pollution Authority, set off from his residence in Lutyen’s Delhi for his daily walk in Lodhi Gardens, his personal air pollution monitor attached. The monitor read: 1196 microgramme per cubic metres. Mr. Lal was breathing 20 times the recommended safe standard for particulate matter.

Over the last two months, eight Delhi residents tracked their air quality over 24-hour periods on portable monitors given to them by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Each person’s reading exceeded by between three and 11 times the recommended safe exposure to PM 2.5 and PM 10 particulate matters for a 24-hour period. It also significantly exceeded the government’s official readings for that area for the same period, CSE revealed on Thursday afternoon.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation pegged Delhi’s average annual mean PM 2.5 level at 153 microgrammes per cubic metre compared with 56 microgrammes per cubic metre for Beijing, rating Delhi’s air quality as the worst in the world.

Air quality was worst ate in the night and early in the morning, as a result of a combination of the cool air and Delhi’s late-night truck traffic, the report’s authors Sunita Narain, Anumita Roychowdhury and Vivek Chattopadhyaya said. Senior lawyer Harish Salve, who lives in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar area was monitored on November 25-26. Between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. he recorded an hourly average of 408 microgrammes per cubic metre, or seven times the safe standard.

People walking and cycling are highly exposed to pollution, CSE found, through the readings of Avikal Somvanshi, an asthma patient. “I’ve stopped going for a morning run after seeing these numbers,” Ms. Narain, director of CSE, admitted. Morning walkers are also likely to be affected. William Bissell, head of Fabindia and a resident of plush Hauz Khas Enclave, went for a morning walk at 7.30 a.m. to Jahanpanah Park in late November, and the hourly real-time average of PM2.5 between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. in that area was 706 microgrammes per cubic metre. The closest Delhi Pollution Control Committee reading for the same time period was 318 microgramme per cubic metre.

``The ambient pollution measured by the six DPCC monitors in Delhi is bound to be different from individual exposure levels. Moreover, the trend is the same for their data and ours,” Ms. Roychowdhury, executive director, research and advocacy, at CSE, said. CSE does not claim that the government’s measurements are faulty but recommends an upgrade of official monitoring systems and a move to individual monitoring.

Even by the government’s official air quality readings, all but three days Between November 1 and December 9 would be categorised as “severe” or “very poor” in air quality by the union government’s new National Air Quality Index. Yet, CSE pointed out, there was no health advisory put out to citizens on action to be taken.

“On days when particulate matter hits such emergency levels, Beijing shits its schools, takes 80 per cent of government vehicles off the road and even bans barbeques,” Ms. Roychowdhury said. “The government needs to consider such steps when air pollution in Delhi hits emergency levels,” she said.

For the long-term, vehicular emission standards needed to be upgraded and the use of cars disincentivised, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has recommended. “The time for low-hanging fruit has gone. Delhi has lost the gains it made in the early 2000s after introducing CNG and relocating polluting industries.

Now it will have to take tough actions which affect the rich, like restricting car use,” CSE director Sunita Narain said.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.