Air Pollution in Delhi

By Hemant Kumar|Updated : February 18th, 2020

Public Health Emergency was declared in Delhi by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) authority, due to the reason that the pollution in the capital entered the severe plus category. The severe plus category is one of the pollution levels, which is determined by the Air Quality Index.

Air Pollution in Delhi: Causes; Impact; Steps Taken by Government; Combine Harvester; Way Forward


  • AQI stands for Air Quality Index.
  • It takes into account the five chief pollutants including particulate matter with a diameter less than 10 micrometres (PM10), PM 2.5, Ozone (O3), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Carbon Monoxide (CO).
  • AQI categorises different levels of pollution and there various categories of AQI which are described as under:
    • AQI lying between 0-50 means good.
    • AQI between 51-100 stands for satisfactory.
    • AQI lying between 101-200 means moderate level.
    • AQI if lies between 201-300 mark the poor level.
    • AQI between 301-400 denotes the very poor level
    • AQI lying between 401-500 marks the severe level of pollution.
    • If AQI is above 500, it denotes the severe-plus emergency category.
  • The higher value of AQI denotes the greater level of Air Pollution along with health concerns.
  • National AQI was launched in New Delhi on September 17, 2014, under the ambit of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’

Causes of Air Pollution in Delhi

A few of the causes of Air Pollution are being described as under:

  • Delhi shares its border with the states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. One of the prime reasons for increasing air pollution levels in the capital is the burning of crops by the farmers in these states.
  • During the winter season, movement of dust particles and pollutants in the air gets reduced. Due to this stagnant winds, these pollutants get locked in the air which affects weather conditions, resulting in smog.
  • Over-population in the capital. It adds up to the various types of pollution, whether it is noise pollution or air pollution.
  • lesser investment in public infrastructure is another reason of air pollution. investment in public transport, as well as infrastructure, is quite low which results in the congested roads, and hence air pollution.
  • Even after the ban on cracker sales, these were a common sight during Diwali. It might not be the top reason for the smog, but it certainly contributed to its build-up.
  • Pollution caused due to the traffic menace in Delhi is yet another reason which is contributing to this smog and air pollution. The air quality index has even reached ‘severe’ levels. Vehicular emission is contributing to the hazardous effects of air pollution and smog.

Stubble Burning

  • Stubble Burning is considered as the major cause of Delhi’s Air Pollution due to various reasons.
  • Especially, the areas of Punjab and Haryana are contributing a lot in stubble burning.
  • The farmers in Punjab and Haryana after harvesting the cultivation of crops, burn the remains of the crops, which eventually contributes to increasing the pollution level in Delhi.
  • As the smoke released after burning crops is carried to Delhi by the winds thus, contributes to increasing the pollution level.
  • This increases the level of smog in Delhi.

Reason behind Stubble burning:

  • The cultivation of rice has increased a lot since the last decade especially, in the areas of Punjab and Haryana.
  • This is due to the availability of electricity, water along with fertile land in these states and hence leads to a surplus of rice.
  • The harvest of rice is mainly done during the month of October.
  • As it is profitable to farmers, thus, most of the farmers prefer the cultivation of rice.
  • But the fact cannot be denied that harvesting a crop in a large acre of land is a bit challenging task.
  • So, combine harvester is used by the farmers.

Combine Harvester:

  • When a combine harvester operates, then after harvesting, it still leaves at least one feet long crop which we call by the name ‘Stubble’.
  • The farmers end up in burning the stubble as it seems convenient to them.
  • But no combine harvester is being allowed to operate, this season, without the Online Classroom Program Straw Management System, installed on it.


  • SMS stands for Online Classroom Program Straw Management System.
  • It is a machine which is used to remove the leftover one feet stubble without, burning.
  • The government of both Punjab and Haryana advised their farmers to use SMS machine simultaneously while operating a Combine Harvester.
  • Super Management System can also sow new seeds.
  • But the main problem with SMS is that it is a bit expensive and all the farmers couldn’t afford it.

Government approach regarding SMS:

  • As the SMS machine is expensive for farmers, thus, the Government decides to subsidise SMS for farmers.
  • But the problem arose when the companies which were dealing with the SMS machines, has increased their rates and thus, SMS can’t reach the farmers.
  • As per the official data, out of 26 lakh farmers, only 63000 SMS machines have been provided by the central government to curb the problem of stubble burning.

Impact of Air Pollution in Delhi:

  • Tourism is widely affected.
  • Due to this, the government is suffering the loss of billions.
  • Health is severely affected.
  • Worldwide image of the country is degraded. One of its examples can be traced when the Chancellor of Germany named Angela Markel commented on Delhi Pollution and said that it is the high time to replace the diesel buses with the electric ones.

Measures taken to curb Pollution:

  • Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) is now being constructed with the objective of providing non-polluting, useful as well as an affordable rail-based mass rapid transit system for the Capital, integrated with other modes of transportation.
  • With a view to reducing vehicular pollution, a ban has been imposed on the plying of more than 15 years old transport/commercial vehicles, taxis and autos which run on conventional fuels, including diesel driven city buses.
  • The quality of the fuel which is being supplied in Delhi has significantly improved over the years as a result of the ban of selling leaded petrol, reduction of sulphur and benzene content in petrol, the introduction of low sulphur diesel.
  • Permanently shut down the old and polluting Badarpur coal-fired power plant in the south-eastern outskirts of Delhi. The plant, a major cause of Delhi’s air pollution, had been shut down every winter for the past 3 years to scale down pollution.
  • The Centre constituted the Supreme Court-empowered Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority or the EPCA, which is to take various measures to tackle air pollution in the NCR.
  • Delhi govt regularly comes up with emergency measures like Odd-Even formula for vehicles to limit rising pollution.
  • GRAP has been launched.

GRAP stands for Graded Response Action Plan.

  • It has been approved by the Supreme Court in 2016.
  • It works as an emergency measure.
  • It has been launched so as to cope up with the existing emergency situation.
  • Various measures of GRAP includes-
  • Restriction of the entry of trucks in Delhi except, those carrying essential commodities.
  • Restriction on the Construction work.
  • Introduction of odd/even scheme for private vehicles.
  • Taskforce to decide any additional steps including shutting of schools.

Peripheral Expressways

The central government has already maintained two important peripheral expressways around Delhi including Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways.

Way Forward

  • An alternative to Burning Crop Stubble – Farmers need to be provided with alternate options. Govt agencies should provide shredder machines at free of cost rather than just providing subsidy. Also, farmers need to be educated and should be made aware of the harmful effects of crop burning.
  • Adopting Renewable Solar Power and promoting Solar Rooftops – Many govt buildings in Delhi have rooftop solar installations which are noteworthy. This is to be further encouraged not just in govt buildings but also across all kinds of commercial buildings in the National Capital Region.
  • Public Transport –  Improving public transportation with an overall objective of achieving last-mile connectivity to reduce vehicular pollution.
  • Promote CNG as fuel – The govt should encourage CNG fuel for private vehicles. Most of the public transport buses in Delhi already use CNG as the primary fuel. This should be encouraged by providing subsidies and increasing the number of CNG pumps
  • Electric Vehicles and related infrastructure – The government should develop the necessary infrastructure – the most important of them being charging stations to help wide adoption of these vehicles. Subsidies should also be provided to people who want to buy electric vehicles.
  • The sprinkling of Waste Water in Construction Sites – Wastewater can be used to sprinkle construction sites so that pollutants emanating from these sites can be controlled.
  • Large Scale Afforestation Drives – The government should identify large tracks that can be planted with trees for green cover across the city. Also, hill ranges like the Aravallis should be preserved and they should be planted with trees.


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