New Delhi, India, is facing its worst air pollution crisis in three years, prompting authorities to shut down schools and delay over 30 flights due to poor visibility. On November 1, New Delhi officials declared a public health emergency, halting construction projects, closing several thousand primary schools until November 5, and distributing five million face masks to schoolchildren. The city government also imposed an “odd-even” registration plate system, halving the number of private cars allowed on roads until at least November 15 (Reuters, New York Times, Aljazeera).


Every year around this time, Indian farmers burn stubble and rice paddy straw to make room for new harvests. The resulting smoke and vehicle pollution combine to form a smog that settles over the New Delhi region, affecting over 40 million people. Recent firework celebrations have also exacerbated air conditions, despite attempts by the government to ban most types of fireworks ahead of this year’s Diwali, the Hindu festival of light (Reuters, New York Times). On November 3, levels of fine particulate matter hit above 900, far above the 500-level considered “severe-plus.”


New Delhi residents protested outside Prime Minister Narendra Modi's residence on November 2, urging the Indian government to take more action. Among the world’s 15 most polluted cities, 14 are in India (Aljazeera). Despite the public health risk, lawmakers have taken few steps to address air pollution due to political gridlock between parties and reluctance to upset farming communities (CNN, Reuters). Prime Minister Modi has remained silent on the issue. Gaurav Gogoi, a lawmaker from the opposition Indian National Congress party, plans to put forth a revised Air Act similar to the United States Clean Air Act (CNN).