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Air Pollution Levels at Delhi

With globalization, environmental issues across the world have skyrocketed. The ecosystem is witnessing a severe imbalance due to the hazards that industrialization has caused to the environment. Topmost among them are Air Pollution.

What is Air Pollution?

For a simple understanding, air pollution is the condition where the air is contaminated with a lot of foreign substances. These substances may be in the form of solid, liquid or gaseous substances. Such substances when present, in sufficient concentration in the air, for a sufficient period of time, under certain conditions causes damage to the environment and this kind of air we breathe, interferes with the comfort of human beings, and their general well-being.

So, how do we measure Air Pollution?

Every city has a monitoring station, normally the Pollution control board, which measures the quality of air. These stations measure the presence of contaminants that pollute the air such as Carbon monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate matter (PM2.5), Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and Hydrogen Sulphide(HS2).

These elements present in the air are measured in one of the two ways:

  • Continuous(Real-Time) Monitoring: Air is constantly measured in real-time or continuous monitoring and the data so collected gets transmitted to a central database.
  • Non-Continuous Monitoring: Contaminants are collected on a filter or canister over a specified period of time (One, Three or Six Days). This is sent to a certified laboratory for analysis through which the pollution levels are measured.

Air Pollution levels in Delhi.

Over the years, a sharp increase in the number of vehicles, especially ones using diesel has been a major cause of air pollution in Delhi. Other factors are road dust, with a high concentration of metallic substances such as Copper, Nickel, Magnesium, Barium, Zinc, etc., forms the major sources of particulate matter for polluting the air in Delhi. Also, burning piles of trash caused by abundant garbage all over the city causes high levels of particulate matter, mercury and other harmful chemicals that pollute the air.

Another factor that adds to the pollution of the city is the emission caused by industries in and around Delhi. Although most of them are small-scale industries, they also add to air pollution in Delhi. These industries fudge data to obtain permissions and not following the stipulated rules laid down by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.

Historical Data of Pollution levels in Delhi



Current Air Pollution Levels in Delhi

The Air Quality Index helps us measure the Air Pollution Levels at different locations. One can get real-time data on current levels of air pollutions across different locations through  This year, the air pollution levels at Delhi were 40 times over the permissible safe limits. Particulate matter-PM2.5 and PM 10, were at least 15 times over the permissible safety limits, as reported by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee. In places such as RK Puram, the pollution levels were 42 times worse than the safety limits.

Even, with this kind of a data, the good news is, Delhi which was rated as the world’s most polluted country by WHO, has come down places to the 11th position due to various strict measures implemented by the government to curb pollution in the past two years.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards

The Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1998 was enacted by the Central Government to curb pollution and thereby arrest the deterioration of air quality. The present National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) were advised on eighteenth November 2009, by the Central Pollution Control Board, which sets benchmarks for the nature of air.

 National Ambient Air Quality Standards

Pollutant Time Weighted in Average Fixation in Ambient Air
Mechanical, Rural, Residential, and Other Areas Naturally Sensitive Area (told by Central Government)
Sulphur Dioxide (SO2),
24 hours**
50 80 20 80
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2),
24 hours**
40 80 30 80
Particulate Matter (size less than 10 µm) or PM10 µg/m3 Annual*
24 hours**
60 100 60 100
Particulate Matter (size less than 2.5 µm) or PM2.5µg/m3 Annual*
24 hours**
40 60 40 60
Ozone (O3) µg/m3 8 hours*
1 hour**
100 180 100 180
Lead (Pb)
24 hours**
0.50 1.0 0.50 1.0
Carbon Monoxide (CO) mg/m3 8 hours*
1 hour**
02 04 02 04
Ammonia (NH3) µg/m3 Annual*
24 hours**
100 400 100 400
Benzene (C6H6) µg/m3 Annual* 5 5
Benzo(a)Pyrene (BaP)- particulate phase only,
Annual* 1 1
Annual* 6 60
Nickel (Ni),
Annual* 20 20
* Yearly number juggling mean of least 104 estimations in a year at a specific site taken twice per week 24 hourly at uniform interims.
** 24 hourly or 8 hourly or 1 hourly checked qualities, as pertinent, should be agreed to 98% of the time, they may surpass the points of confinement yet not on two back to back days of observing.
Source: National Ambient Air Quality Standards, Central Pollution Control Board Notification in the Gazette of India, Extraordinary, New Delhi, eighteenth November 2009.


Comparison of Air Pollution at Delhi with other Major cities across the world

Unfortunately, among the top 20 polluted cities in the world, India has the maximum number of polluted cities.  Thirteen out of the twenty most polluted cities in the world are in India, in comparison to our neighbor China that just has three of them. Although, until recently Delhi was the most polluted city in the world, it’s not anymore as per reports released by WHO. Delhi has dipped from the No.1 position in 2014 to No.11 position in 2016. Along with Delhi, other 6 major cities such as Patna, Raipur, Agra, and Varanasi far surpass the toxic levels of Beijing and other Chinese Cities. Almost 32 stations across India have reported air toxic levels that have exceeded by more than 70% of the National Standards.

The biggest question now is the control of such extreme levels of air pollution and the measures that all citizens have to exercise in order to control air pollution.

Few measures to control Air Pollution

  1. The Odd-Even Policy: One of the first methods that Delhi has adopted in curbing air pollution is the odd-even policy of vehicular movement across the city that is already showing results in curbing air pollution levels. Still, a lot more needs to be done. Read more here.
  2. Public Transport: Easy access and availability of public transport such as Metro and Buses all through the day are one of the many other suggestions to curb air pollution
  3. Car Pooling: Already a popular phenomenon in the metros, carpooling help in sharing of resources and thereby cuts down pollution levels.
  1. Usage of Masks: The Supreme Court has issued an order to supply proper masks to Delhi traffic police to curtail the health hazards caused by the pollution levels.
  2. Ban on registration of Luxury SUVs: The Supreme court took the extreme step of banning the registration of luxury SUVs and diesel cars that were above 2000cc at the national capital, as diesel cars were a major source of vehicular emissions.
  3. Hike in Taxes: Commercial vehicles that enter Delhi have to pay a higher Green cess. The hike in Cess is as high as a 100%.
  4. Taxis to convert to CNG: As taxis comprise of a major means of public transport in Delhi, the top court has ordered them to convert into CNG vehicles latest by March
  5. Ban on Burning of Waste: The National Green Tribunal(NGT) has issued orders to all authorities to strictly ban burning of waste and also a fine is being levied on emission of construction dust
  6. Phasing out of Diesel vehicles at Government offices: The NGT has asked Central and State government to stop buying diesel vehicles for its staff. Public administration departments and municipal bodies have been asked to take efforts to gradually phase out diesel vehicles.
  7. Ban on burning crop residue: The NGT has asked to ban the burning of crops not just in Delhi, but even neighboring states such as Rajasthan, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.


Measures to look after one’s health

  • Staying indoors as far as possible where pollution levels are high
  • Check the pollution levels in your city and avoid visiting places with high intensity of pollution during peak hours of the day
  • Avoiding exercising at places where the Air Quality reports indicate unhealthy conditions
  • Consider the purchase of an indoor air purifier
  • The filters on air conditioners and heaters need to be cleaned frequently
  • Using a vacuum at home and office often can curb dust in your living area
  • Install a home air filter that blocks air pollution
  • Use bike routes and walking routes and avoid heavy traffic
  • Avoid smoking and entering areas where there is a high density of smoke
  • Improve the selenium content of your food that protects your body from free-radical damage caused to liver and lungs. This could eventually even lead to cancer. Making eggs, onions, grains, and fish a part of your daily routine can help increase immunity to the body.

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