Last week, the air quality index in New Delhi exceeded 470, which is over 10 times the global safety threshold and considered “severe” (AP News). In response, the Delhi government closed primary schools and factories, restricted diesel vehicles on the road, and advised children, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations to stay indoors as much as possible. The government also issued a temporary ban on construction work, and announced that going forward 50% of government staff would be told to work from home, urging private companies to take similar steps (Reuters). If pollution levels remain elevated, the Delhi government will consider shutting down all educational institutions and temporarily banning all non-emergency commercial activity (AP News). 

The current air pollution crisis has led politicians to point fingers as they attempt to negate their own culpability. Bhupender Yadav, India’s Environment Minister, argued that the northern Punjab state is to blame because it did not stop farmers from burning their rice crop residue at the harvest season, a practice which has long been known to degrade air quality (AP News, N.Y. Times). “There is no doubt over who has turned Delhi into a gas chamber,” Mr. Yadav wrote on social media. The crisis has prompted India’s human rights commission to summon state authorities to provide details on the actions they are taking to reduce the extreme levels of air pollution in their states (N.Y. Times). 

New Delhi has been the most polluted capital in the world for at least four years. In 2019, air pollution killed more Indians than any other risk factor. India’s air pollution crisis will likely be on voters’ minds in the nation’s next general election in 2024 (N.Y. Times).