New Delhi’s Pollution Problem


In what has emerged to be an annual event, a cloud of pollution has descended over New Delhi, India. Although the country’s capital has long had poor air quality, the recent smog is of particular concern, with Dr. Krishnan Kumar Aggarwal of the Indian Medical Authority stating that New Delhi is a ‘public health emergency state.’ According to Forbes, the U.S. embassy air pollution tracker recorded an air quality index 2.4 times the level considered dangerous on November 7. The pollution is attributed to a combination of cooling weather, as well as emissions and increased smoke from annual stubble burning, which although prohibited, is practiced regularly. Whilst this has detrimental implications for the health of Delhi citizens, the smog also draws attention to India’s climate change policies, and elicits the question: are they working?

In accordance with the 2015 Paris Agreement, India pledged to reduce coal imports, cancel the building of coal plants and decrease prices of renewable energy. Moreover, it has ratified the agreement. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda of economic development somewhat undermines this, as the industries that such development encourages often have high emissions. Furthermore, the lack of enforcement of these policies, and others meant to support them, has resulted in the exacerbation of pollution.

Cumulatively, these aspects have resulted in New Delhi’s current reality – a pressing pollution problem. Whilst India’s current climate change policy has the potential to effectively respond to this problem, New Delhi continues to experience toxic clouds of smog annually.

In November 2016, New Delhi’s government released a 13-point plan to address a similar smog to the one now being experienced. According to The Wall Street Journal, these strategies included ceasing ‘construction and demolition activities,’ and the closing the Badarpur Thermal Power Station for a period of 10 days. The measures enacted to address the issue currently are quite similar, with Reuters reporting the temporary ban of ‘diesel-run power generators, construction, burning garbage’ and unnecessary truck movements.

Even though such action demonstrates governmental awareness, its limited success and lack of longevity highlights its lack of considered importance. With 10-day turnarounds, the government’s strategies are not responses but mere Band-Aids. To effectively address the problem, complex solutions are required, ones that require changes to the current socioeconomic systems and practices that contribute to the pollution.

Considering possible solutions to India’s pollution problem requires realistic ideas. It is not enough to simply suggest that India halts industries that produce emissions and implement a clean energy regime. While India has made steps towards renewable energy, a complete abandonment of carbon industries would result in unemployment and significant economic investment. Essentially, climate change action is undertaken to better the well-being and security of individuals and states. Consequently, it stands to reason that aggressive action such as the cessation of these industries should be opposed, since this would require states to forsake current economic structures and social practices that support security.

In turn, the 2015 Paris Agreement has been largely met with acceptance. Its ‘bottom-up’ approach allows for states to determine their own targets and therefore establish policies that balance the losses and gains of socioeconomic change that climate change action requires. However, for this to be effective, it is necessary that all arms of government actively pursue their targets. This includes local governments monitoring the illegal burning of crops that contribute to smoke, and for the federal government to provide funding for alternatives. It requires all branches of government to highlight Delhi’s pollution problem, and take long-lasting steps to minimize it. Most importantly, it requires citizens to recognize the problem, and realize that they can contribute to the solution. Otherwise, the exacerbation of New Delhi’s pollution problem is potentially detrimental.

Emily Forrester