Daily Editorials for UPSC IAS Exam Preparation

Daily Editorials – Smog in Delhi and basics of air pollution


Air pollution is the contamination of air, where physical, biological or chemical alteration of the air takes place.

Context – Thick smog has enveloped New Delhi since the Diwali festival .The air quality has been “severe” as pollution levels touched a new high. Levels of particulate matter finer than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) crossed the 900 mark in some areas, recording almost 15 times the safety limit.

Reason for present smog surrounding delhi

Increase in pollutants during this festival season is due to:-

  • The smog, since Diwali, has been relentless due to certain weather conditions such as low wind speed, lack of vertical wind and lower temperatures.
  • Winds usually blow the pollutants and particulate matter away, helping to clear up some of the smog. But with no winds, the pollutants remain stagnant in the air.
  • In the winter, cool air causes “inversions” that stagnant the air and trap pollution close to the ground.
  • Air flow patterns  from Afghanistan and Pakistan pick up emissions as they move over the densely urbanized regions of Punjab and Haryana where farmers burn the straw in their fields
  • The NCR generates 10,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste, much of which is eventually burned, adding particulate pollution to the air
  • In adddition, Delhi has more than 7.4 million vehicles on it’s roads, with an additional 1,200 added each day and the result is a pollution “hotspot.”
What is smog?

Smog is basically derived from the merging of two words; smoke and fog. Smog is also the type of fog which has smoke or soot in it. Smog is a yellowish or blackish fog formed mainly by a mixture of pollutants in the atmosphere

What is Particulate Matter (PM)?

PM is the term used for solid or liquid particles emitted to the air.

Particulate matter can come from many sources. Generally, any activity which involves burning of materials or any dust generating activities are sources of PM. Some sources are natural, such as volcanoes and water mist.

Humans create huge quantities of particulate and many of these sources can be regulated, such as smoke stacks at factories, power plants, and auto paint shops

PM can alter the body’s defense systems against foreign materials, damage lung tissues, aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease

Basics of air pollution 

 Some pollutants and their effect-

  • PM10 – these particles are small enough to be inhaled and accumulate in the respiratory system
  • PM 2.5– these particles measure 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller.These tiny particles are small enough to get inhaled into our lungs.And then they can pass from our lungs into our blood supply
  • NO2– respiratory issues , eye irritation
  • SO2– it can cause difficulty in breathing and premature death. Influences the habitat suitability for plant communities and animal life. Causes acid rain
  • CO– Can cause headache, dizziness, vomiting, and nausea. Carbon monoxide is a product of incomplete combustion of organic matter. It is often produced by motor vehicles that run on gasoline, diesel, methane. It Combines with hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin (HbCO) in the blood. This prevents hemoglobin from carrying oxygen to the tissues.
  • O3-The majority of tropospheric ozone formation occurs when nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight. Causes respiratory problems like asthma , nausea , irritation.
  • NH3– Ammonia plays a role in the transportation and enhanced deposition of acidic pollutants – resulting in acidification of ground and water bodies, which can harm plant and animal life. Could cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
  • Pb– Lead exposure affects the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Neurological effects in children and cardiovascular effects (e.g., high blood pressure and heart disease) in adults.

Causes of air pollution

  • Burning of fossil fuels- release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.
  • Agricultural activities – release of another greenhouse gas methane , crop burning causing increase in ash ,soot and smoke .
  • Exhaust from factories and industries
  • Mining operations – Emissions of particulate matter and gases like methane , sulfur dioxide , carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen
  • Unplanned urbanisation – leading to sanitation problems , traffic jams, lack of parks , treeline around roads .
  • Use of old vehicles – They consume more fuel and release a lot of smoke .
  • Deforestation – causing loss of trees and hence oxygen produced.

Effects of air pollution

  • Respiratory problems
  • Global warming- A gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere
  • Depletion of ozone layer – due to release of CFCs , HCFCs (montreal protocol has been an achievement in checking this depletion .
  • Acid Rain – caused due to nitrogen and sulphur oxides ,
  • Effect on monuments and other structures
  • Effect on the wildlife – air pollution is a major cause behind change in weather of a place affecting the wildlife there. Eg- global warming , no regularity in rain etc

Air Quality Index

  • AQI has six categories of air quality, viz Good, Satisfactory, Moderately polluted, Poor, Very Poor and Severe with distinct colour scheme.
  • AQI considers eight pollutants (PM10, PM 2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3 and Pb) for which short-term (upto 24-hourly averaging period) National Ambient Air Quality Standards are prescribed.



Acts passed concerning air pollution –

  • Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
  • Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
  • Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981

Steps taken by government so far

  • Notification of National Ambient Air Quality Standards envisaging 12 pollutants – PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3, Pb, Ni, As, Benzo(a)pyrene, and Benzene ;
  • Decision taken to leapfrog directly from Bharat Stage -IV to Bharat Stage-VI fuel standards by 1st April, 2020
  • Increase in percentage of ethanol blended in gasoline to 10%
  • Review of Waste Management Rules including Municipal Solid Waste, Plastic Waste, Hazardous Waste, Bio-medical Waste and Electronic Waste.
  • Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has set up ‘Environmental Surveillance Squad’ (ESS) programme for carrying out surprise inspections of industrial units.
  • CPCB along with State Pollution Control Boards has been operating National Air Monitoring Program (NAMP) covering 240 cities of the country
  • Clean environment Cess on coal production increased from 200 to rupee 400 per tonne.
  • The National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) created in 2010-11 using the carbon tax – clean energy cess – for funding research and innovative projects in clean energy
  • Targeting energy generation up to 175 GW by renewable energy , formation of International Solar Alliance , commitments regarding reducing carbon emission in INDC submitted during paris agreement.


  • High population of India.
  • Dilemma between development and limiting the use of conventional sources of energy
  • Implementation and monitoring of the laws hampered by paper work , negligence
  • Almost 60 percent of the energy requirement comes from coal .renewable energy sources to be brought into use , have to be inexpensive and accessible.

Steps that are needed to be taken

  • Promotion of public transport network of metro, buses, e-rickshaws and promotion of carpooling,lane discipline, vehicle maintenance
  • Conserving energy , afforestation
  • Giving high priority to CNG vehicles
  • Focussing on reducing waste, promoting recycling and reusing.
  • Make policy changes to help farmers stop burning crop waste
  • Planned urbanisation , proper housing and infrastructure .
  • Promoting clean energy
  • Formulation of a vehicle retirement policy, apply the provisions under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 to formulate an age limit for retirement of vehicles.
  • Making outer roads around populated cities so that undestined vehicles don’t cause unnecessary traffic and pollution.


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