Airpocalypse: What Delhi Can Learn From Beijing’s War On Pollution


Dear Delhiites, wipe your sulphate saturated tears, choke in the cancerous gases and wait patiently as your leaders debate on the measures to curb the toxic haze while China’s capital is winning (surprise!) its war against pollution. (Photo: iStock altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
Dear Delhiites, wipe your sulphate saturated tears, choke in the cancerous gases and wait patiently as your leaders debate on the measures to curb the toxic haze while China’s capital is winning (surprise!) its war against pollution. (Photo: iStock altered by The Quint)

Airpocalypse: What Delhi Can Learn From Beijing’s War On Pollution

At the time of publishing this story, Delhi’s air quality index reads a ‘hazardous’ 552. While that of the notoriously noxious Beijing stands at a pleasant 25. The China reading is not State-sponsored, it’s from the US Embassy’s air quality index, because we inherently don’t trust all things Chinese.

Even though Beijing has the worst reputation, data from the World Health Organisation suggests, Delhi’s air has been 45 percent more polluted than the Chinese capital from 2014.

What happened? How did Delhi steal the ‘dirty crown’ mantle from Beijing, for good?

Delhi Debates While Beijing Beats Pollution

Picture taken in Beijing on the same spot on 3 December 2015. An independent research by Berkeley Earth concluded that in 2015, there was an 8 percent decrease in toxic smog across most of China, though the group cautioned that it was too early to call it a definitive trend. (Photo: AP)
Picture taken in Beijing on the same spot on 3 December 2015. An independent research by Berkeley Earth concluded that in 2015, there was an 8 percent decrease in toxic smog across most of China, though the group cautioned that it was too early to call it a definitive trend. (Photo: AP)
China’s capital is not in the clear yet, but for the first time since 2008, that’s when their government started monitoring air pollution data, Greenpeace has recorded a 15 percent annual fall in the concentration of the most deadly air pollutant, PM 2.5.

The air in Beijing and most of eastern China remains noxious by WHO standards but 2015 was the cleanest and freshest air, which Beijing residents breathed in a long, long time.

Last week, like Delhi, Beijing too was battling its season’s worst air quality; the particulate matter in its air was still 1.5 times lesser than New Delhi’s.

There Are Going To Be No Quick Fixes, China’s ‘Red Alerts’ Mean Real Progress



It’s kind of pathetic that Beijing is getting used to small victories in the war against pollution, while Delhi continues to be shrouded in sepia-toned thick air. Clearly India needs to do a China and blatantly knock-off their anti-pollution policy. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b><i>The Quint</i></b>)
It’s kind of pathetic that Beijing is getting used to small victories in the war against pollution, while Delhi continues to be shrouded in sepia-toned thick air. Clearly India needs to do a China and blatantly knock-off their anti-pollution policy. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/The Quint)

Devise a System of Smog Alert and Penalise Offenders Severely

After 2013, that’s when China stopped living in denial about the smoggy soup its population was living in, they came up with the National Air Pollution Action Plan, a four-level alert system and a reserve of 7.5 trillion rupees (760 billion yuan) to get its act together. At the core of that is a scheme to cut back coal use in the big metropolitan regions and restrict car emissions.

The highest mark, the ‘red alert’ which has been issued twice in the last three years when the air quality index touched the 200 mark, warrants a complete shutdown of the city.

The cost of disobedience in China is severe. If there is a factory which releases illegal emission for 10 days, the penalty is 10 times bigger.

China’s addiction with burning coal accounts for 60 percent of the PM 2.5 in their country; for the first time in this century, burning coal declined in 2014 compared to 2013.

Back in New Delhi, the number of private vehicles on the streets grow by a whopping 1,400 a day! To top it, the law is such that car manufacturers are required to fit only basic emission-cutting apparatus in their vehicles.

Also Watch: Can't Breathe? Try An Air Pollution Mask – It May Help

Indians Have the Weakest Lungs yet 'Air Pollution' Does Not Make It to the Election Manifesto



The first step to fighting pollution is to acknowledge there is a problem. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b><i>The Quint</i></b>)
The first step to fighting pollution is to acknowledge there is a problem. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/The Quint)
Compared to China’s population, our lung capacity is terribly low. In fact, WHO has said that Indians have the weakest lungs in the whole world and the highest global death rate from respiratory diseases, like asthma. For years, this poor lung function was thought to be genetic in Indians but a massive 2010 study found that children of Indian origin living in the United States had much better lung capacity than those in Delhi. It’s the air and not our DNA.

And still the level of awareness about the toxicity of smog is abysmally low in India. Air purifiers are still seen as fancy things for the rich and even those with dire health conditions don’t don masks.

Compare That With China:

  1. People don’t step out of their homes without high-grade masks if the skies are smoky.
  2. Most offices in Beijing and Shanghai regularly distribute superior air-filter masks to the staff, install air purification units in their premises so the people breathe fresh, clean air for the eight to ten hours they are at work.
  3. Schools have done the same. Some international schools have gone ahead and built indoor pollution-free stadiums so the AQI (air quality index) doesn’t hinder childhood.

In India, neither the Modi government nor Kejriwal’s AAP, both of which stormed to power, didn’t list curbing pollution as an election priority.

Related Read: Gasping Yet? Skip Your Morning Jogs If You Want to Keep Breathing

Los Angeles Was a Smog Town Like Delhi Till 1970

Enter the Clean Air Act

The first smog attack post the World War II in LA was so bad that people thought it was the Japanese starting chemical warfare. As the population spiked, economy thrived and the number of cars reached two million by 1950, LA started slipping into a toxic haze. The government came up with a formula:

Step 1: Face facts, accept them and own them. So in official lingo, it was never hazy or overcast, it was always smoggy.

Step 2: The Clean Air Act was passed in 1963, it set up an air quality standard and the government then did whatever it takes to reach that limit. Car manufacturers had to comply with stringent emission standards as well.

Step 3: By 2030, California aims to have goods with ‘zero emission’ technology.

There are many ways which will make Delhi breathable once again, let’s hope our policymakers get their act together to deal with this epidemic.

Related Read: Your 8-Point Guide to Surviving Delhi's Deadly Pollution

(FIT is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Click here and hit the Send button.)

Follow our Flex 'em section for more stories.

    Also Watch