Addressing the Pollution Issues in Delhi
School of Environmental Sciences Faculty and Students

The world is facing severe environmental crisis and no part is untouched by this problem which is prominent especially in the metros including Delhi. Ever increasing pressure from population growth and resulting pollution and waste accumulation is taking a sever toll on the air, water and soil quality of the city. Therefore, such issues pertinent to environment in the contemporary times were discussed in the talk. Faculty and distinguished scientists and students of the School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University took part in the talk on 29th January 2016 to discuss the environmental challenges and propose possible solutions for the current pollution problems facing Delhi.

The first speaker Prof. S. Mukherjee, a renowned geologist working in the field of remote sensing and GIS for almost two decades, addressed the issues of air and water pollution in Delhi and said that both anthropogenic as well as natural factors were responsible for Delhi’s air and water quality and meteorological conditions play a significant role in determining the atmospheric conditions of any place. In order to better understand the dynamics of air quality, several parameters such as temperatures, pressure and humidity should be regularly monitored and modelling studies correlating these parameters should be conducted. With regard to water, particularly Yamuna river pollution, he emphasized the role domestic sewage run off from nearby settlements as well as the movement of the river and pattern of sediment deposition in determining the river water quality.

Professor P.S. Khillare has been dealing with environmental monitoring and assessment for the past 20 years. He discussed the basics of dynamics of environmental pollution in Delhi. He highlighted the fact that Delhi has highest vehicular density and is one of densest in terms of population in India. As a result, Delhi’s air and water bodies are becoming a repository of pollutants. He said that the air quality monitoring done by the government is only in terms of routine parameters and there is no convergence of data distribution. He brought out the need to systematically monitor inorganic and organic species in air as well which have more detrimental impact on human, livestock and crop health. Addressing the issue of water pollution, he said that domestic sewage is the main culprit of Yamuna river water pollution. No ecological flow in Yamuna leading to high concentrations of domestic sewage and discharge of untreated sewage is mainly responsible for the river water pollution. Citing the recent odd/even plan of government, he mentioned that till date, there is no substantial evidence for the success of the scheme. He suggested that to solve Delhi’s environmental crisis, residents’ response as well as government initiatives must go hand in hand.

Professor Krishan Kumar, specializing in air and noise pollution, discussed air and land pollution issue. Commenting upon the recent initiative of the government of developing “Smart Cities”, he was of the view that the rural areas and urban settlements should be developed in a manner that magnetism of the big cities and metros is less. He also pointed out the need for better planning of metro route and development of a mass rapid transit system such that the individuals can reach their final destination in time. He suggested that the major polluting industries within the city should be moved to the outskirts and there should be uniform enforcement of law for pollution control. He appreciated the government’s initiative of dissolution of subsidies for those with a salary above Rs. 10 lakh so that the funds could reach the poor who still use fire wood as cooking fuel, which is a major source of air pollution in the city. He also pointed out the problem of landfills, open burning of solid waste and dust from road and barren lands that is one of the main sources of suspended particulate matter in the city air. He suggested the use of vacuum cleaners and planting of green cover along roads and on barren areas in order to fight the problem of dust. He pointed out that Delhi’s aerosol concentration mostly shoots up twice in a year, first during May-June which is due to low rainfall and second during October-November, which is mostly attributed to the Kharif crop burning in the adjacent Punjab-Haryana belts and the westerly winds.

Prof. U.C. Kulshrestha, a prominent scientist in the area of chemistry and climate change, has been working on the problem of air pollution for the past 20 years. He said that for proper implementation of pollution control measures, the awareness of civic society, industrial stakeholders and regulatory authorities is needed. He emphasized that criteria of characterizing PM 2.5 and 10 should be redefined and the type of PM 2.5 and 10 should be mentioned, that is, whether it is consisting of Carbon or heavy metal or POPs. He proposed that systematic characterization of pollutants and policy formation and implementation could be the possible solutions to solve the problem of air pollution.

Dr. Meenakshi Dua, who specializes in molecular microbiology, expressed her view point as a Delhi resident and recalled her early days in the city with lush green cover most of which is lost now. She pointed out that it is the responsibility of the individuals as well to deal with the city’s aggravated pollution problems. Addressing the problem of solid waste accumulation in the city, she suggested that garbage should be directly collected from households and taken to the treatment sites instead of being dumped collectively at one corner of the societies. She proposed for construction of more water bodies and maintenance in the city. She also suggested some of the possible solutions to deal with the pollution crisis such as the formation of a collective board to address the specific pollution issues, formation of “Silent zones” in the city to curb noise pollution and spreading of awareness among the public by the students of the School of Environmental Sciences.

Dr. N.S. Siddaiah, whose research interests include water pollution, said that’ “While solving one environmental problem, we create more problems”. He cited the example of Cerium pollution that resulted from replacement of lead with nanocerium in catalytic converters of vehicles. He suggested that the best way to solve the problem of pollution is to distinguish between “need and greed”.

Dr. Vijay Pal Yadav, researching in environmental biology, discussed the problems of vehicular emissions. Dr. Sudesh Yadav, who works on aerosol chemistry and e-waste management, finally concluded the talk by summing up the various points that were discussed. He pointed out the lack of systematic monitoring sites in Delhi and non-availability of a specific scientific index for better understanding of air quality. He said that society at large should act to address the problem and we at SES, JNU should set an example for others. He cited several instances where students and faculty of SES actively participated in addressing environmental issues within the university campus. He also encouraged fellow faculty members to start car pooling.
At the end, students discussed their doubts and shared their views on the topic. The talk ended with a resolution proposed by Dr. Sudesh Yadav to collect all waste paper generated in SES in separate bins for proper recycling. The talk concluded with the words of Prof. S. Mukherjee, who said that the main plume is our thinking and the Gandhian way of “Simple Living and High Thinking” would best solve the environmental crisis we all are facing today.