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Crisis in national capital: It's almost like Delhiites have resigned to their fate

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New Delhi, Nov 02: Delhi's Air Quality is not a crisis anymore, it is a problem of gargantuan proportions and the situation is extremely alarming. If the chief minister of the National Capital can use a phrase like "Gas Chamber" to describe the city's air quality, then we can only imagine what it is like there.

Delhi's Air Quality plunged to 'Severe-Plus' category and a public health emergency has been declared. The government has shut down schools and is distributing masks.

The situation is so bad that implementing the Graded Response Action Plan or GRAP, an emergency action plan was discussed. GRAP is enforced by the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) when environmental conditions become hazardous. Under GRAP, if the air quality continues to be in the "severe-plus" category for more than 48 hours, emergency measures such as odd-even car rationing scheme and banning entry of trucks would be taken.

Representational Image

OneIndia spoke to Delhiites about the condition of the city. The reactions were as if the people have resigned to their fate and feeling helpless. Gaurav Agrawal, an IT professional who lives in Dwarka and works in Gurgaon, told OneIndia that when the government in the national capital is directing the people to wear masks, then it shows that the government does not have clear solution to this problem.

"Increasing number of vehicles, deforestation and construction has made it worst in the past few years. Earlier it was manual harvesting which left less residue hence less burning. Now, mechanised harvesting leaves a lot of residual plant waste which has to be burned as an economic solution," he said.

When we asked him about the public emergency being declared, he said, "This is the story of every year during this time. Some 10 years ago, the haze and fog used to disperse by 9-10 am, but now, it stays hazy the whole day."

Was it Global Warming, we casually asked, and Agrawal said, "It is more to do with local reasons than global."

[Explained: What is 'Severe-Plus' air quality? Effect on health, GRAP]

Another IT professional, Rachit Gulati, said straight away that he was worried about his children. It has been impacting my health surely, but now that it happens every year, it does not worry me to the extent of panic, but I am worried about my children. They are very sensitive and fall ill frequently, Gulati said.

Vindhesh Srivastav, a Delhiite who's currently based in Europe, remembers how the air quality began deteriorating in the 90s and by 2006-2010, he says, "It suddenly started to deteriorate very fast. Everyone could notice it, the action should have been taken in the first decade of this century."

Srivastava is an engineer and knows a thing or two about problem-solving and logical approach needed to find solutions to practical problems, he believes that random knee-jerk reactions and fire fighting would not yield results.

"Do we have all data on what factors are contributing, and how much. What I understood is western winds are bringing a large amount of dust from dusty plains and deserts in western India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are one of the leading contributors to increase in suspended particles in the air. Then there are industries. And vehicles and energy companies," he said.

He is worried about his parents and other members of the family who live in Delhi. I do not see the intent to solve the problem, he said. "Leaders are avoiding taking on the problem head-on and are instead indulging in blame game, it is a sad state of affairs," he said.

[Public health emergency declared in Delhi-NCR as Air Quality deteriorates to "severe-plus"]

We held discussions with many people about the Air Quality crisis on Friday evening. And this is how it can be summarised.

What led to this situation?

There is no single straight forward answer to this. There are many factors that contribute to it like - emission from factories, power plants, exhaust by vehicles that run on fossil fuels, burning garbage, burning crop residue or stubble, etc. The low temperature in winter in regions around Delhi worsens the matter as the particles, smoke, smog settle down due to low temperature.

A student, who did not want his name to be mentioned, said there is no point hoping that governments would do it. Some things need to be done by society "collectively". Governments and leaders will only do what they are good at, "Politics."

Gaurav Agrawal said it would not be right to blame farmers totally for this. Yes, stubble burning is adding to the woes of Delhi. But, has the government given them an economically viable alternative to dispose of the farm waste, he asked.

The most common phrase that came up during the discussions, was "Ab kya kar saktein hain. Dekhtein hai kya hota hai (What can we do, let's see what happens)".

Sowmya S, who has lived in Delhi for over 10 years, shifted to Bengaluru in 2016 after she gave birth to a baby. One of the main reasons for leaving the city was that she did not want her infant to be exposed to a hazardous environment.

"I did not care much when it used to come in the News every year. But, when I was three months pregnant, I read a report that newborns are at most risk. I thought, that when my child enters the world, the least I can give him/her is clean air to breathe. The report said it was affecting the life expectancy of children. I was alarmed. Then I and my husband decided to relocate to Bengaluru," she told OneIndia.

Delhi is enveloped in a thick, toxic layer of smoke and haze, and the situation is extremely alarming. Experts likened the situation of living in a gas chamber. AQI entered the "severe-plus" or "emergency" category late on Thursday night. Pollution levels increased alarmingly overnight. At 8.30 am, the capital's overall air quality index stood at 459. It was 410 at 8 pm on Thursday.

'Severe-Plus' AQI: What does it mean?

The Air Quality Index (AQI), which takes into account five chief pollutants including PM10 and PM2.5, were alarmingly high on Friday or November 1. An AQI between 401-500 is considered ''severe'' and anything beyond 500 is ''severe-plus emergency''.

Air Quality Index (AQI) is a tool to showcase air quality status. It transforms complex air quality data of various pollutants into a single number and colour.

All the 37 air quality monitoring stations across Delhi recorded the air quality in the severe category on Friday morning. Bawana was the most-polluted area with an AQI of 497, followed by Delhi Technological University (487), Wazirpur (485), Anand Vihar (484) and Vivek Vihar (482). Neighbouring Ghaziabad was the most polluted city in the country, with the levels of PM2.5 reaching as high as 493. Greater Noida (480), Noida (477), and Faridabad (432) also breathed extremely polluted air.

Air Quality Index (AQI) categories:

The AQI has six categories. Each of these categories has a different level of health concern. For example, an AQI value of 50 is considered as 'good' air quality with little or no potential to adversely affect the health of the people of a particular area. The air quantity index takes into account five chief pollutants including PM10 and PM2.5.

AQI between 0-50 is considered Good. AQI between 51-100 is considered Satisfactory. AQI between 101-200 is considered Moderately Polluted. AQI between 201-300 is considered Poor. AQI between 301-400 is considered Very Poor. AQI between 401-500 is considered Severe. According to official data, the overall AQI in Delhi was 582 at 12.30 am on Friday.

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