Stubble burning and polluted rivers choke India's capital

Women taking a dip in the waters of smog clad Yamuna river covered in foam. Image via Instagram by Nabina Chakraborty. Used with permission

Delhi, the capital of India, suffers from high air pollution levels every year, which puts the health of residents both inside the city and in the surrounding areas at risk. In the first week of November 2019, the smog problems grew out of control and citizens also had to contend with toxic foam covering the already badly-polluted Yamuna River.

Deadly Air Quality

In the first week of November, the pollution in Delhi reached hazardous levels as the Air Quality Index levels neared 400 and at times 999.  The polluted air resulted in low visibility and breathing problems. Inhaling such toxic air made the residents of the National Capital Region (NCR) vulnerable to serious health issues.

As an immediate action to the severe pollution crisis, the Delhi government urged every resident in NCR and surrounding areas to wear masks at all times. In order to facilitate this, the government made provisions of 50 lakh (5 million) masks to be distributed to the residents.

Schools and offices were also shut down until 6 November 2019 as a precautionary measure. The airport was almost non-functional as most flights were diverted from Delhi due to a lack of visibility because of the smog.

The Delhi government has also tried in the past years to deal with the issue with regulations that would apply regulations to the residents of the National Capital Region (NCR) but nothing seems to have had a lasting effect.

Despite these dire environmental circumstances, many criticized a decision by the Board of Control For Cricket in India (BCCI) to organize an international cricket match in Delhi on November 3, 2019.

Neighbouring states blamed

The Delhi government has placed the blame on neighbouring states — prominently the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. According to officials, the reason for the hazardous air quality is the unmonitored burning of stubble in the fields of the neighbouring states.

The Supreme Court, the apex court of India held a ruling to arbitrate in the situation that required immediate intervention. The Supreme Court held the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh responsible and answerable for this weather condition. Stubble burning by farmers is an issue that pollutes the air every year; however, 2019 has surpassed all previous records.

The Supreme Court’s ruling held the state governments of Punjab and Haryana responsible for not properly restricting stubble burning as well as being too lenient on farmers who were caught in the act. They also added that the state governments were responsible for arranging funding for farmers to procure machines to manage paddy stubble.

Netizens flooded the internet with memes and sarcastic comments regarding the situation in Delhi. Some followed the hashtag “#letusbreathe” asking that they deserve better air quality than the hazardous levels.

Many celebrities shared photos with masks on in Delhi.

Polluted Yamuna River

Following Diwali, the festival of Chhath Puja is celebrated across most parts of northern India. This festival worships the Sun God and asks for His blessings as the winter soon follows. The rituals in this include complete abstinence that ends with a dip in holy water during sunrise on the fourth day of the festival. With the increase in air pollution levels, the waters of Yamuna, a river flowing in the northern region of India, was covered in foam. People took a dip in the foam covered Yamuna waters, putting their health at higher risk.

After a few showers, the air pollution is expected to get better; however, the 2019 smog may represent a dangerous, growing environmental trend for Delhites.

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