An Indian man rides a bike amid heavy smog on a street of New Delhi on 10 November 2017. Photo: Dominique Faget / AFP / Getty Images

By Santosh Harish
20 November 2017

(Forbes Asia) – For most of November, Delhi has been blanketed by dense smog. Doctors in the capital declared the crisis a public healthy emergency, while the chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, called it a “gas chamber.” Since the beginning of the month, average pollution levels in the city have exceeded 10 times the World Health Organization-recommended 24-hour levels. At its worst, pollution levels were nearly 40 times this number.

But pollution is not just a Delhi problem. Indian cities are consistently ranked among Asia’s most polluted, according to WHO. Per the WHO's 2016 database, 10 of the world's most polluted cities, in terms of fine particulate matter, are in India.

Particulate matter pollution is the single largest environmental health risk across the world. These particles led to 4.2 million premature deaths in 2015-2016-more deaths than from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS combined. A recent study from the Energy Policy Institute at University of Chicago (EPIC), on the impact of prolonged exposure to particulates, finds that an increase in particulate pollution (PM10) by 10 micrograms per cubic meter reduces lifespans by 0.6 years. For Delhi, that means average life expectancy could increase by about 6 years if particulate concentrations were brought down to national standards. Many other cities in North India would see similar benefits, including Agra (5 year gain), Bareilly (4.7 year gain) and Lucknow (4.5 year gain).

Particulate pollution comes from many sources: vehicles, industrial plants, biomass burns and dust generated by construction or traffic on poorly asphalted roads. Reducing smog and improving air quality in Indian cities over the long term requires an approach that targets each source of pollution.

What’s missing from the conversation

While tackling pollution from vehicles and traffic have been widely discussed, a conspicuous absence in the current discussion has been industrial pollution reforms.

Map of the cities in India and China with the worst air pollution. Data: WHO. Graphic: Nick DeSantis / Forbes

Environmental regulations in India, especially for industrial pollution, are long overdue for an overhaul. State Pollution Control Boards are desperately understaffed. The environment acts have not kept pace with changing times. And, continued reliance on stringent command-and-control structures has proven to be ineffective because they are often unenforceable. Non-compliance is a criminal offense under the Air Act, and while Indian emissions standards are typically less stringent than in developed countries, dragging plants routinely to the courts and prison is fundamentally unfeasible. [more]

Delhi's Deadly Air: How India Is Falling Short On Fighting Pollution


  1. Dennis Mitchell said...

    Cruel and inhumane governance. They must have learned that from England.


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