Delhi Smog-Ocalypse: When Rogue Neighbours Make India’s Capital Suffer

Rampant stubble burning across Haryana and Punjab, despite a court-ordered ban, is adding to Delhi's smog, turning India's capital to a health-wrecking gas chamber.

Delhi is in the grip of a severe air pollution crisis with the city covered in a thick layer of haze and smelling of smoke. The toxic smog has engulfed much of the Delhi-NCR region as it is known to extend beyond Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad.

Typically, the period around Diwali, the festival of lights turned smoky by the bursting of crackers, has been bad for Delhi’s air and its health but the past few years have seen increasing incidents of stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, the predominantly farming states, adding more smoke and pollutants to Delhi’s air.

Stubble or crop residue burning is rampant in Delhi’s neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab despite a ban imposed in the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab by the National Green Tribunal in 2015.

And this year, it has been particularly bad especially the days immediately after Diwali. In fact, it was so bad the past few days that the share of stubble burning in Delhi’s smog rose to 44 percent on Friday according to the Ministry of Earth Sciences air quality monitor SAFAR.

According to SAFAR “the overall air quality of Delhi continues to be in the SEVERE category and overall Delhi’s PM2.5 touched the highest level of 383ug/m3 today morning which is equal to AQI of 500-plus”.

The numbers indeed are scary; the dull haze and the burning smell even more. Delhi looks like a scene from a war zone with many people wearing masks or covering their faces while commuting or venturing out of their homes.

The city authorities are taking steps to control the local factors but have repeatedly raised their hands in dismay at their neighbours. Rampant stubble burning despite a ban and repeated reminders and requests to the respective state authorities have brought no luck or joy.

The fact that crop residue is being burnt even with the result known speaks volumes for the value we put to our lives. A quick gain now resulting in the harm to many is of no consequence to either the farmers or the ban enforcers as local politics and demands clearly override the diktat of even the courts.

The fact that this situation was anticipated, predicted and repeatedly brought to the notice of the state authorities makes for even sorrier reading and horrible sight.

A public health emergency has been announced for Delhi and its surrounding NCR region with schools ordered shut till Nov. 5, all construction activity stopped and bursting of crackers banned during the winter season. Delhi’s government had already announced the version 3.0 of the odd-even traffic plan, limiting the number of vehicles on Delhi’s roads that can ply from Nov 4-15.

Yet, no action has been taken on stubble burning, a nearly equal contributor to Delhi’s smog woes. The yearly event has now become a ritual and since even a court-ordered ban has failed, we wonder what more than a smog-ocalypse will trigger some sanity and action to stop this annual ritual from turning Delhi into a health-wrecking gas chamber.

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Anirban Roy

Anirban has been a journalist all his working life having worked with leading global media brands for most of this time. He has a strong interest in sustainability too and is an occasional writer for IamRenew.

3 thoughts on “Delhi Smog-Ocalypse: When Rogue Neighbours Make India’s Capital Suffer

  • November 2, 2019 at 8:41 am

    Rightly said. Too little value is being given to lives. So unfortunate that the only thing clearly visible in this haze is the politics of pollution.

  • November 4, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    We need to take the ‘politics’ out of pollution and focus on problem-solving. Instead of playing the ‘blame game’, the local Govt. can sit down with farmers to discuss and implement cost-effective means of getting rid of crop residue…Instead of burning it, there may be some money to be made if it were sold as compost to nearby areas that need it. One thing is clear in this haze: EVERYONE in Delhi is suffering these fires, so why not involve concerned individuals and businesses in such discussions…In this digital age of rapid communication, we should be able to do better with coordination and cooperation….I was led to this article from a facebook post, and just saw the author’s name…Cheers, Jeet!

    • November 5, 2019 at 6:50 pm

      Hi Sulabha – some points you make like the compost is already on as a pilot in some areas so yes, things are being worked on but yes, needs more drastic action to solve this crisis. Glad you read, and Cheers!


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