The Crisis

The morning of 31st October, 2016, saw the city of Delhi, and a few neighboring areas, shrouded in a blanket of thick smog. While the initial thought of most people was that the winters had hit Delhi early this year, however, the idea faded away quickly when most of them realized that the weather was in fact not cold at all. The temperatures throughout the day continued to be around 30’C to 35’C but the blanket of smog still engulfed the city and the visibility continued to remain really poor. Soon thereafter, news started to pour in about how the smog enveloping Delhi was actually due to the intense air pollution caused by burning of crackers on. 30th October, 2016, the night of Diwali. The pollution levels reached an alarming 40 times over the safe limit levels and the residents were left with no alternative but to breathe the noxious gasses. . Such was the situation of Delhi that it beat Beijing’s worst air pollution events on the Diwali night of 2016 rendering all the measures and pledges enforced and taken by the government and public respectively failing to do any good.

On 31st October 2016, and for at least one week after, the visibility in most  areas of the city dropped down to zero leading to  a lot of flights being  cancelled as well as trains being  delayed owing to the same. Normal life of the residents was severely disrupted and most people chose to stay indoors due to the extreme difficulty in safely maneuvering the roads. Such was the gravity of the situation that over the next few days, schools all over the city had to declare leaves because of the fact that the kids were unable to reach school on their own and because school buses were unable to effectively ply due to the poor visibility on the roads severely multiplying the chances of an accident.

Even otherwise, Delhi is admittedly not a very pollution free city. . In fact, it is one of the most polluted cities in India and the government, as well as the people, of Delhi, has constantly been warned by internal and external agencies alike to do something about the degrading quality of breathable air in the region. Delhi has also seen a substantial rise in the number of people suffering from breathing disorders in the last few years owing to the falling standards of air purity. However, the morning after Diwali witnessed a new low in this alarming chain of events. The Particulate Matter Pollutants Level, which is normally between 2.5 and 10, had reached levels roughly 15 times above the generally accepted safe limits. The reports submitted by The Delhi Pollution Control Committee state that the air quality in certain places, such as RK Puram, was 42 times worse than what can be termed as a safe limit.

Possible Causes

  • The Weather

The weather conditions prevailing in the capital were touted as one of the biggest reasons for the density and severity of the smog. The end of the month of October is usually the time when winter begins to set in the city of Delhi. This means that the speed of the winds is significantly reduced and the temperatures also begin to drop. The result of a combination of the two is instead of the smog particles being constantly blown away and scattered by the wind, they begin to collect and solidify in their own place, leading to the increased density of the smog. Additionally,   is also the fact that the air of Delhi is  so polluted all year round that it does not have any additional capacity to  to bear the added pollution from the crackers and  crop burning, among other sources of air pollution in the city.

  • Crop Burning

One of the practices used by farmers to clear the land for agricultural purposes is crop burning. Essentially, its a process in which the farmers set fire to the crops/trees/plants growing in a certain area of land in a controlled way such that only the desired amount of area is cleared while the rest of the area remains covered in vegetation. One of the major repercussions of this process is the release of various gases in the air from the burning of such vegetation. Since, Punjab is one of the major agricultural centers in India, this practice is highly prevalent in those parts. The proximity of Punjab to Delhi and the mass scale burning of crops in the area is believed to be one of the primary causes of the smog. The Akali Dal, which is the ruling party in Punjab has also been blamed for not taking stringent actions against such activities owing to the upcoming elections.

  • The Crackers Burst During Diwali

Bursting of crackers during the festival of Diwali is a common practice in every household, especially in the Northern parts of India. However, the indiscriminate burning of such crackers is one of the biggest sources of the release of noxious gasses and pollutants into the atmosphere. This year saw huge campaigns being undertaken by the government and private parties alike to spread awareness about the ill effects of bursting fireworks. A majority of the citizens took pledges to celebrate Diwali in an eco-friendly manner by avoiding purchasing crackers. However, all such efforts and pledges went up in smoke on the eve of Diwali as the evening after, when most of the residents took to the streets bursting the very same crackers that they had promised to refrain from. Delhi is known both for its immense population and its extreme pollution and when such a vast number of people contribute to the release of even more pollutants into an already over-polluted air, then the result is as disastrous as the smog covering the city of Delhi the day succeeding Diwali.

The repercussions

As has already been discussed above, the entire city of Delhi came to a standstill as the visibility on the streets reduced to almost zero and inherently the chances of a road accident went up drastically. The number of people suffering from breathing related medical conditions also shot up astronomically and schools and offices had to remain shut for a number of days to ensure traffic on the streets is reduced ad no untoward road accidents occur. The government also tried to take steps to reduce the smog to acceptable standards but not much could be done apart from letting nature take its course and letting the smog naturally clear away.

Conclusion

The smog situation created in Delhi, even though temporary, served as a huge reminder that the air in Delhi is already polluted to its maximum and it is high time that serious steps are taken to bring the pollution levels under check. The smog also served as a wakeup call for all those who were up until now under the assumption that air pollution is way more hyped than it should be. If the smog for a few days could wreak such havoc in the lives of the people, further air pollution could be catastrophic for the people as well as the nation and hence it is in the best interests of everyone that sincere efforts be made to curb the menace of air pollution.

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