Top 7 Causes of Air Pollution in Delhi

The causes of air pollution in Delhi is contributed by not only the factors in Delhi but also from neighbouring cities. This has made Delhi one of the world’s polluted cities.

According to studies, air pollution costs billions of dollars every year and it is one of the leading causes of death in the city. Millions of people are struggling while the government tries to find the solution.

If you are living in India’s capital, New Delhi, chances are you will wake up to something like this (air so filthy that it could cause heart and lung problems. By the way, the higher the reading on a pollution monitor, the worse the air quality.

A number above 50 is unhealthy and anything above 300 means the area is toxic enough to require a gas mask. In the last ten years, Delhi’s population has grown by more than 7 million people.

Today according to United Nations in 2018, it’s the second-largest city in the world and according to Air Visual 2018 daily average and World Health Organisation, Delhi is one of the world’s most polluted big cities.

This is because of the emissions from cars, factories, construction dust and the burning of rubbish and crop stubble but just how much pollution is Delhi’s residents breathing in?

It depends on the time of the day, what you are doing and where you are. Delhi’s air quality is worse in the morning and the evening and during the winter months. Even on a train, you need a gas mask. The air in an underground station is a little worse than inside the train.

Out on the street, it is even worse. The air has even gone worse hitting 1305 pm 2.5. India’s top court recently banned the sale of smoke causing firecrackers but pollution levels are still rising. On the road, sitting next to big vehicles exposes one to even more toxic gases.

India’s capital New Delhi and nearby cities suffer from the smog that has led to the closing down of schools and offices including stopping construction sites for weeks to reduce air pollution that is blanketing cities and noxious smog.

This precautionary measure is so children can stay inside away from the smog. Because of the toxic air, hospitals usually see a large number of patients with breathing difficulties, bronchitis and lung infections. Children are mostly affected.

There have been occasions where accidents involving many vehicles (more than 20) occur as a result of smog. The smog becomes so thick that drivers wouldn’t see where they were going causing them to crash into the pile of cars.

These conditions happen every year when Delhi experiences a huge spike in air pollution. (US EPA). every two minutes, one person dies due to air pollution in India. About 1.7 million people died as a result of air pollution alone.

When air pollution hits, about 30 million people living in Delhi are forced to live in a toxic cloud. Scientists have estimated that spending a day outside in these conditions is like smoking 50 cigarettes.

Dr Arvind Kumar (founder trustee, lung care foundation) said, “as a lung surgeon, when I open the chest, I rarely see a normal pink lung these days.”

On the ground, a layer of dust covers the entire city, and in the air, a thick layer of pollution hides landmarks that are easy to see the rest of the year.

When air pollution in Delhi spikes in October and November, it sends air pollution levels to fifty times what is considered safe.

Delhi has always been a big, busy, polluted city. But in the last decade, something is making it even worse. Levels go haywire, many of the machines have been not made to measure the levels that are emitted. The smog is so bad that it can be seen from space.

According to Jasmine Shah, a policymaker of the Delhi government,

The biggest obstacle is that while the Delhi government has a very aggressive plan against pollution, there is no regional action plan mandated by the central government on pollution that holds all the north Indian states accountable for their actions.

Environmentalist have criticised the government for its approach to the crisis, saying that the government lack the political and bureaucratic will, lack urgency and correlation in understanding the link between public ecology and public health in the bureaucratic class causing a major problem that makes the air toxic, the rivers frothing and the forest disappearing.

Every year, in October, November and December, air pollution in Delhi is at its peak.

Air Quality Index is what tell us about the quality of air around us. When the air quality index is above 151, this means that the air around us is unhealthy. When air pollution reaches its peak, the Air Quality Index crosses the 500 mark.

Imagine air quality being so terrible that the AQI cannot record it. This causes the closedown of schools and other outdoor activities as it is dangerous to step outside the house.

The substance known as particulate matter is responsible for this air pollution, these particles are so small that they can enter our bloodstream.

Air pollution causes premature illnesses reducing the lives of Indian citizens by 17 years.

Top 7 Causes of Air Pollution in Delhi

The following are the causes of air pollution in Delhi making the air quality in Delhi unhealthy year-round. They include:

  • Landfill and Garbage Dumps
  • Emissions from Industries and Factories
  • The Use of Firecrackers
  • Emissions from Construction Sites
  • Over-Population
  • Emission from Transportation and Motorised Vehicles
  • Agricultural Fire

1. Landfill and Garbage Dumps

Landfills and garbage dumps are one of the causes of air pollution in Delhi. The emission from different waste landfill sites can lead to infertility in humans. Also in landfills, they burn some of this waste leading to emissions into the atmosphere affecting but man and the environment.

These emissions can also lead to growth defects and cancer. In various parts of Delhi, there are garbage dumps and these garbage dumps release dangerous air pollutants into the atmosphere polluting the air.

2. Emissions from Industries and Factories

Emissions from industries and factories are one of the causes of air pollution in Delhi. There is also more industries, contaminating the environment. Some industrial sites like the waste treatment plant can bring about emissions which can lead to reduced fertility in humans. These emissions can also lead to growth defects and cancer.

Even cars close to these factories and industries feel the effects of this pollution as they are covered with ash from the atmosphere released by the factories and industries. 80% to 85% of people living in the area are said to have respiratory diseases.

3. The Use of Firecrackers

The use of firecrackers is one of the causes of air pollution in Delhi. Though there is a ban on cracker sales because of the pollution they release, firecrackers are still a common site causing air pollution in Delhi.

4. Emissions from Construction Sites

Emissions from construction sites are one of the causes of air pollution in Delhi. As Delhi grows, there is also more construction producing dust particles. These constructions are carried out by mostly big corporations who care less about the environment and the public infrastructure is invested less in.

5. Over-Population

Over-population is one of the causes of air pollution in Delhi. In the last ten years, Delhi’s population has grown by more than 7 million people. Today according to United Nations in 2018, it’s the second-largest city in the world. Over-population adds up to the various types of pollution including air pollution in Delhi.

6. Emission from Transportation and Motorised Vehicles

Emissions from transportation and motorised vehicles are one of the causes of air pollution in Delhi. Transport is the largest contributor to PM 2.5 an air pollutant in Delhi. That is about 18% to 40%. Road dust is the largest contributor of PM 10 an air pollutant in Delhi today. its contribution is about 36% to 66%.

Vehicular emission is increasing the hazardous effects of air pollution and smog. According to Eco Survey, Delhi has lahl core registered vehicles on its roads. In 2006, Delhi had 317 cars for every 100 people. Now, Delhi has 643 cars for every 100 people.

More people means more cars, spreading dust and exhaust into the air. There is a lot of private transport, contributing to the emissions in Delhi. An alternative (electric buses) should be adopted. This would allow more people to switch.

7. Agricultural Fires

Agricultural fires are one of the causes of air pollution in Delhi. Though Delhi’s smog is a noxious mix of pollutants from its millions of vehicles and many factories. Agricultural fires are also a major culprit. Farmers in regions around the capital burn the straw or crop stubble leftover from their rice harvest at the onset of winter.

As crop prices fall, they don’t usually get rid of the straws than burning them.

But this air pollution is not coming from Delhi. The states of Punjab and Haryana are known as ”India’s breadbasket.” they are key regions for the countries agriculture. Farmers here grow rice and that requires a large amount of water.

In the 2000s, rice farming here took off, and farmers in the area started using so much water, that the groundwater of the region started running low. So, to save water, authorities passed a new act in 2009. it bans rice planting before mid-June.

That means farmers can’t plant rice until right before the monsoon season when rains come to replenish the groundwater. That pushes rice harvesting later into the year. This means farmers have less time to get their fields ready for the next crop.

So, to clear the fields more quickly, more and more farmers have started setting their crop stubble on fire. Every year, all those stubble fires form a massive cloud of smoke during October and November and it heads straight for Delhi.

There are two reasons why smoke in this region makes things worse in Delhi. The first is geography, the Himalayan mountains act as a kind of barrier, directing the smoke towards Delhi.

The second is the weather, during the winter, cold mountain air rushes down from the Himalayas towards Delhi, arriving beneath a layer of warm lowland air that creates a kind of dome over the city.

The warm air keeps pollution trapped on the ground. With nowhere to go.

So, when the stubble fire smoke arrives in Delhi, it mixes with the urban pollution forming a toxic smog that sits on top of the city. Mix all that and you have the most hazardous air pollution of almost anywhere.

In November of 2019, India’s supreme court that states in the North have to stop farmers from burning their crop stubble. But so far, the ruling hasn’t been enforced on the ground.

In the weeks after the ruling, tens of thousands of crop fires continued to burn in Punjab and Haryana. Delhi can’t stop crop burning in neighbouring states.

Instead, when pollution spikes in October and November, city officials change the things they can control. Sometimes, they will halt all construction in the city . or put restrictions on vehicle use.

Still, until India’s ban on crop stubble burning is enforced, these spikes will be back every year making the city’s already dangerous pollution even worse and putting the lives of millions at risk.

Politicians have criticised that the strategies of tackling air pollution have had little impact.



A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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