Superwicked Problem of Pollution in Delhi


The Indian capital ranked as world’s fifth megacity got a blow (Not just any blow, a low blow) to its development agenda when it was ranked the world’s most polluted city in 2015. Already notorious for being one of the most unsafe cities in past few years, Delhi’s problems only escalated with the government being notified by scientists world over that the city will soon be like an inside of a tandoor oven in if they continued with Business as Usual. The inhabitants of this city will be grilled like they grill chicken tikka in bylanes of Khan Market. Sandra Bullock’s tribulations in the movie ‘Gravity’ seems like a cakewalk compared to Delhi’s problems.

Air Pollution index in Delhi has been steadily on rise since past decade or so, but no one really paid any attention to it, be it central or state governments or the average citizen. Now, this was bound to happen alright. Major reason of pollution however can be attributed to the uncontrolled growth of the city devoid of any sustainable policies. But then, almost everything that makes Delhi, a capital city is working against it. The city has all the key factors for converting itself into a smoky Tandoor.

Key Factors

Population – Delhi being the country capital has a population of 26 million with thousands flogging into the city every day. Like how excessive number of chicken leg pieces are impaled onto a single tandoori skewer. To accommodate such huge influx of people, the existing parks, the normally vacant green space and the adjoining farmlands have become residential complexes with people cramped up together. Land Mafia which is allowed to run amok plays the lead hand in developing such structures turning blind eye to the sustainability factors of their acts. The natural carbon sinks are systematically destroyed. Increased population with limited resources to offer, is one reason why the city is also a criminal haven.

Geography – Delhi has limited options for flushing out toxic air. A hot and dry climate is no help either. It’s a landlocked city. A perfect Tandoor. The dusty winds from the proximal Thar desert during the summer months every year add to the Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) in its air. When the trees which checks the growth of the desert are cut down to pave way for concrete jungles in the name of development, the amount of SPM in air is bound to increase exponentially. City also has limited water resources and doesn’t seem to have enough to provide for this ever increasing population. Even the poshest of the city in south Delhi suffer from water scarcity issue.

Power – Main Source of electricity powering the city is Coal. And it certainly doesn’t help that there are three main Coal Plants are right in the heart of the city; at Rajghat, Badarpur and Dadri. Moroever, they are old, outdated and very inefficient. Badarpur power plant especially being well past its prime. More the coal, better the grill you know.

But then again, since it has to cater such a large population; the city cannot afford to close down any of it unless a new source of power is identified.

Emissions – With great influx of people comes large number of vehicles on road. Consequently, leading to incredibly high rate of greenhouse gas emissions. The main problem is the enormous number of diesel spouting vehicles plying on its roads. Most of them are more than ten years old. Also, in affluent neighborhoods diesel generators are employed to remain lighted during frequent power blackouts. This again is major contributor. The trucks running through the city are also a major contributor to this problem. A perpetual hazy weather is a norm due to this. Constant discharge of pollutants and inability to disperse it all leads them to accumulate over the city forming a low hanging shroud. This gives the resultant tikka a smoky flavor peculiar to Delhi.


The Way Ahead

So now if we do not want to end up as smoked and grilled tikka, the problem has to be tackled. Tackling these issues would take an efficient government policy followed by strong measures to employ it. Out of all the above mentioned complications, traffic is a variable that the city management can control effectively. And they do are trying a lot on that front. Delhi introduced metro rail which helped a lot of in reducing the on road traffic. They are constantly expanding their area of outreach. The Delhi government’s program of introducing even/odd car policy was laudable. However, this alone won’t do. Chiefly, center has to do something about the Power Plants and come up with other renewable power sources. But its a start. We only learn by hit and trial and such information can be used to build greener scenarios for future.

Though, Delhi did come to its senses and did cooperate with Delhi government’s Odd/Even rule forgoing some luxuries to make some amendments. But it wasn’t until the air quality took a dip for worst and the problem slapped us all on our faces. After all this, there have been cases of some idiots resisting this scheme with all their might… not because they don’t care about this problem but because of some political disagreement with ruling party. Keeping differences aside in face of a calamity is something we need to learn.

It is not only Delhi, if we go by the reports almost all major cities in India are violators and the hard part is most of us still do not accept it as a genuine cause of any concern. Its only matter of time before these other cities also cross the red line. The problem of climate is a national issue and has to be accepted as one.

[See, I am no expert to provide solutions for all this. There are many scientific ways to go about and I do hope that government is employing all the tactics in its belt to confront this issue. What I really hope is to engage you people with this super wicked problem and start a conversation]

Mitigation processes definitely will have trade offs. It is obvious that we cannot go ahead with present model which accepts GDP as an indicator for economic growth, we have to keep experimenting with greener scenarios. And as citizens we need to support such policies aimed at controlling our greenhouse emissions. Educating ourselves on this issue is a start followed by small small lifestyle changes; for Climate Change is happening and we are its center. We have to decide if its free Wi-Fi that we need to fight for or a cleaner air.

Do checkout the following video


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