Delhi: The Gas Chamber

Jai Pise

The Delhi Gas Chamber has been a thorn in the side of the central government for the last decade. Its causes are well-documented and known to all, with the government even implementing multiple measures to combat it. Even with these actions, however, most solutions have been ineffective. The causes and attempted solutions to this issue are numerous, and yet each factor contributes to the issue in its own way. 

One attempted solution is Delhi’s Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), a series of steps that were approved by the Supreme Court in 2016. While a step in the correct direction, GRAP works only as an emergency measure and currently doesn’t include any action by various state governments to be taken throughout the year to tackle industrial, vehicular, or combustion emissions. It is incremental, so the steps have to be followed in order when the air quality shifts from one category into another. 

Although there are several plans and measures in place to curb pollution levels, it is unclear whether there is a single reason behind the pollution. However, one major reason that most people agree with, is stubble burning.

Stubble burning is intentionally setting fire to the straw stubble that remains after grains (paddy, wheat, etc.) have been harvested. This practice has existed in India for a long time, but a significant change that occurred around a decade ago has contributed to the annual toxic air quality. The farming seasons were changed, meaning that the stubble burning would instead take place when there was little wind activity in New Delhi.  Crop burning generally takes place in Punjab, a state to the northwest of New Delhi, and unlike Delhi, there are many southeastern winds in this area. This essentially means that all the pollution and smoke from the burning of the crops are transferred to Delhi and surrounding areas, and it doesn’t move unless the unlikely wind comes around. 

The section of GRAP that affects the inhabitants of Delhi the most initiates only when the air quality reaches the ‘severe’ category. Many know this policy as the odd-even system, and it takes place over two weeks and applies to most automobiles inside the Delhi metropolitan area. It is quite simple: based on the last digit of one's license plate, they can either drive on an 'even' or 'odd' date.  This plan has only ever been implemented twice: in 2016 and this year. It was very successful in 2016, with the average AQI dropping by almost 25% within a week. This fact is what led predictions that the odd-even plan would drop the AQI levels drastically this year too. However, in the week following the end of the scheme, there was little to no change in the visibility and AQI levels. This suggested that the enforcement of this scheme wasn’t as strict as 2016.

In conclusion, although the government knows what the problem is, and has several proposed measures in place, a majority of these are rendered ineffective.

So what does this mean for Delhi residents...?