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Why Air Quality Has Deteriorated Sharply In India’s Capital

India’s vast northern plains are drier and dustier than other parts of the country. New Delhi, despite being one of the greenest cities in India, is also exposed to pollutants coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan making it more vulnerable to air pollution, as per experts

Why Air Quality Has Deteriorated Sharply In India's Capital
Here are some of the factors that are driving the abrupt changes in air quality in the National Capital Region
  • Pollution from crop burning peak in winter as pollutants get stuck in air
  • Stubble burning also coincided with Diwali
  • On the day after Diwali, Delhi’s AQI surged to 451

NEW DELHI: Pollution has been hitting dangerous levels across New Delhi and other parts of northern India this month, in a sharp deterioration from October when people breathed the cleanest air in four years. Here are some of the factors that are driving the abrupt changes in air quality and compounding the problems regularly caused by crop burning and Diwali festival firecrackers.


In past years, air quality has generally started to decline steadily in the region around October after farmers finish harvesting their rice crops. Typically, the growers from the states of Punjab and Haryana near New Delhi then start clearing space for wheat by torching rice paddy stubble left behind by mechanised harvesters.This year, however, regular rains made it difficult for farmers to set fire to the rice paddy stubble and start re-planting. As a result, the Air Quality Index – which measures the concentration of poisonous particulate matter PM2.5 in a cubic metre of air – came in at an average 72 across the region in October, sharply down from 126 the same month last year.That is still above what the government says is a “safe” limit of 50.

Also Read: In Times Of COVID-19, Health Experts Red Flag The Impact Of Worsening Air Pollution


Grain growers have had to move quickly to make up for the time they lost in October. In an average year, they would have had 20-25 days to harvest the rice crop and plant wheat. Speed is everything as late planting can result in lower crop yields and substantial losses. This year, many have said they will focus on the first two weeks in November and burn whole areas at once, rather than staggering fields. The pollution from crop burning is due to peak at a time when temperatures drop further and pollutants get trapped in the air in thick winter fogs and smogs.

It has also coincided with Diwali, when Indians set off firecrackers as part of an ancient Hindu tradition. On Friday, the day after the festival, the Air Quality Index in New Delhi and other cities surged to 451 on a scale of 500, indicating “severe” conditions.


India’s vast northern plains are drier and dustier than other parts of the country. New Delhi, despite being one of the greenest cities in India, is also exposed to pollutants coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan, experts say. Dust from the Thar Desert, or the Great Indian Desert, in the northwestern part of the subcontinent, adds to Delhi’s pollution. Outside the city, experts say farmers have also been slow to adopt technologies and techniques that could cut down on the pollution coming from crop burning. Since 2018, India has given up to an 80% subsidy to farmers to buy machines that dispose of rice stubble left out in the field by mechanised harvesters without burning. But poor implementation of the plan means that a large number of farmers still prefer to burn crop waste.

Also Read: Delhi Pollution Off The Charts After Diwali, Itchy Throat, Watery Eyes

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity,  that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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