Air Pollution in Delhi touches emergency levels once again

  • As temperature dips and wind speed slows down, air pollution touches the emergency levels once again

  • Delay in implementing graded response action plan is increasing public health risk

  • The new statistical handbook of Delhi government also shows that motorisation has become explosive, threatening to undo the air quality gains from action on other sources

New Delhi, December 30, 2016:  Centre for Science and Environment warns that pollution is rising once again hitting the emergency level. If the notification of graded action plan, as directed by the Supreme Court is delayed, it can worsen the health emergency. Offsetting the short respite after post-Diwali smog episode, that was possible due to improved weather conditions and more disciplined action on several sources, the pollution curve is turning upwards again. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change must notify the graded action plan under section 3 of the Environment Protection Act immediately. Winter is poised to get harsher. 

It is already evident from the analysis of pollution data that the number of days falling in ‘severe’ and ‘emergency’ categories has increased during the second half of December. It has hit the emergency levels yesterday. This situation demands immediate response. 

It is also worrying that while Delhi is battling a difficult pollution challenge, uncontrolled motorisation is threatening to undo the gains of the ongoing action.  The newly released Statistical Handbook of the Delhi government reveals explosive motorisation in the city. If this continues without restraint measures, pollution and toxic exposure cannot be curbed. 

Number of days with severe and emergency pollution levels increasing 
As winter conditions are setting in pollution spikes are increasing. Since December 23, the number of emergency days has started to increase. Despite improved wind speed on December 29 (from 1.4 metre per second to 1.7 metre per second), the PM2.5 levels have increased and crossed the emergency levels of 300 microgramme per cum -- 5.3 times higher than the standard. Over the last three days, temperature is dropping continuously. As much as 14 per cent of the days in December have been in ‘emergency’ category, 21 per cent days in ‘severe’ category and 65 per cent of the days in ‘very poor’ category.

The daily average of PM2.5 this month was highest on December 24 -- 7.3 times higher than the standard. PM2.5 levels at Punjabi Bagh and Anand Vihar have remained elevated and at emergency level (beyond 300 microgramme per cum levels) for two consecutive days on December 28- 29. In Mandir Marg, levels fall in the ‘severe’ category. The relay of data for RK Puram station has stopped since December 23. 

Motorisation in Delhi threatens to negate air quality gains 
Explosive numbers: According to the recently released Delhi Statistical Handbook of Delhi Government, Delhi has a total of 9.7 million registered vehicles which is 3.4 times higher than the total registered vehicles in Mumbai.  

Car congestion is expected to get worse: During 2015-16 as many as 2 lakh more new cars have been added as opposed to 1.6 lakh during the previous year. According to the motor vehicle department of Maharashtra, the number of cars registered in Mumbai during the same period is only 61,308 which is one-third of Delhi. During 2015-16, cars have increased by 20 per cent as opposed to 6.4 per cent during 2014-15. 

Cars are growing at a faster rate than two-wheelers and enhancing pollution load: The annual rate of increase for cars is higher than two-wheelers. While cars have increased by 20 per cent, two-wheelers have increased by 10 per cent. Two-wheelers are however more in number -- about 4.2 lakh two-wheelers have been added this year. These trends in personal vehicles is ominous as according to the IIT Kanpur study cars and two-wheelers are responsible for 44 per cent of the particulate pollution load from vehicles in Delhi. 

Insatiable parking demand makes city unliveable: The additional area required to park only the new cars that got registered in Delhi in 2015-16 is equal to 630 football fields. Without restraint measures Delhi will become unlivable. The recently announced proposal to implement proof of parking should be implemented along with parking district management that must include demarcation of legal parking area, high penalty for illegal parking, effective and variable parking pricing and residential parking permit, among others. 

While cars and two-wheelers are exploding, bus numbers and ridership is dwindling: Delhi has failed miserably to augment reliable bus transport system to meet the ever growing travel demand. Delhi's bus fleet is constantly declining with a total of roughly 5300 buses providing the city's bus services today. As a result, DTC has lost its daily ridership by almost 8 lakh passengers in 2 years from 2013-14 to 2015-16, while the number of passengers carried per bus per day has also come down from 952 to 927.

Act now
Health emergency demands emergency action: Immediately notify and implement graded action plan according to pollution levels

Roll out more systemic reforms to scale up public transport, walking and cycling facilities and parking restraint measures to curb motorization. This is urgently needed to reduce direct exposure to toxic fumes and to not compromise gains from action on other pollution sources. 


For more information on this, please contact Souparno Bannerjee,, 9910864339