Up in smoke
Pollution can be reduced easily if we go after the big offenders.

Up in smoke

29th Nov 2019 9:00 am

Shapur talks about ways to solve Delhi's air pollution problem.


Delhi has become a gas chamber. This is not a recent development. Thing is, the amount of pollution has been increasing steadily over the years. At first, it was only pilots who were affected; you could imagine them peering through the pea soup, looking for landing lights and the runway. This happened every winter in the capital. They called it fog back in the day, and some of it was. Then the constitution of the fog changed. It got darker, dirtier, muckier, more diabolical. Suddenly, everyone realised this smoky fog was smog.

The greens were the first to stand up and point fingers – at cars of course. Diesel cars were the main culprits, they howled. And this appeared to be true. It’s common knowledge after all that cars make pollution, right? And diesels made the most visible pollution, so they must be to blame. Then, the captains of the car industry were hauled over the coals, held responsible for the poor air quality and deteriorating pulmonary function, and new diesel cars were penalised disproportionately, made scapegoats. Some were even banned. And then every time the pollution increased as the weather cooled, out came the knives, again. They even banned classic and vintage cars from being driven!

This time around, however, things are different. Yes, pollution is massively up, the very odd odd-even scheme is back (to reduce congestion and aid the app-based cabs), and every once in a while, someone on a debate somewhere mentions vehicular pollution. But today, everyone and his Labrador know it isn’t primarily cars. Yes, yes, yes, new cars still emit a small percentage of the total pollution, and that goes for BS6 cars as well. But that’s NOT where the vast bulk of the pollution is coming from.

Want to solve the problem, want to clean Delhi’s air? Focus on the big sources of emission. The stubble burning, of course, but also the coal and thermal power stations, heavy and small scale industry and don’t forget garbage disposal. Remember, the latter can’t be burnt during the monsoon. You have to wait for the rains to stop, let the garbage dry and only then light it up.

In fact, looking back, probably the biggest reason for Delhi’s deadly air pollution is that those in charge have been barking up the wrong tree. Imagine how much cleaner Delhi’s air would have been had we diligently attacked the big problems from day one?

Then there’s the other big question: How could we have got it so wrong, despite having all the scientific data? Did we get it wrong? Also, who is to blame? And, importantly, who’s gassing who?

Yes, a large bulk of vehicular pollution needs to be cut. But, remember, approximately 90 percent comes from 10 or 15 percent of the worst polluters – old cars, bikes, and light and heavy trucks.

Yes, getting rid of the smog in Delhi is possible if we put in a collective effort; we can do it. Thing is,
we have to want to.


Shapur Kotwal

  • 395 Articles

Deputy editor at Autocar India.

Shapur is at the forefront of the magazine's extensive road testing activities and oversees the test instrumentation and data acquisition. Shapur has possibly the most experience among all road testers in the country.

What others think?