“Our work on a daily basis can range from coordinating with traffic police to ensure there’s no congestion on roads (to prevent increased emissions from vehicles) to analysing data that will help formulate policies for pollution control.”Chetan Arora, Junior Environment Engineer
First established in 2020, Delhi’s Green War Room has been tasked with controlling air pollution and air quality in the national capital.
Tackling pollution is a serious concern in many parts of India. But especially in Delhi – where it is literally about life and death.
In August this year, a report by Chicago University's Energy and Policy Institute said that Delhi residents are likely to lose 11.9 years of their life if current air pollution levels are not brought down. The same report highlighted two other things that should worry Delhi residents:
While Delhi residents are at risk of losing almost 12 years of their lives, the average Indian in other cities will lose 5.3 years of their life.
The PM 2.5 concentration in Delhi is 126.5 micrograms per cubic metres – which is 25 times the WHO limit of 5 micrograms per cubic metre.
What is also concerning is that year after year, in October and November, right after Diwali, the AQI levels in Delhi surpass 999 (which is the upper limit for monitoring stations).
Ahead of the peak air pollution season, FIT visited the Green War Room which is a part of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee to understand more about what it does.
How The Green War Room Functions
What goes into the everyday functioning of Delhi’s Green War Room is a lot of data monitoring and coordination with other departments of the Delhi government.
Nandita Moitra, an environmental scientist who has been heading the team for the past three months, tells FIT:
“We monitor the real time air quality of 13 major pollutant hotspots in Delhi at all times. We also have air quality data coming in from 24 Commission of Air Quality Management (CAQM) stations in Delhi.”
To put it simply, this is what the Green War Room team does:
Monitors the air quality of each area in Delhi
Identifies areas where pollution or pollutant levels are high
Finds out the source of pollutants in specific areas
Coordinates with local departments to target the source of pollutants
Chetan Arora, a junior environment engineer in the Green War Room, says that there are usually four main source of pollutants that worsen air quality – open burning, construction and demolition activities, biomass burning, and vehicle pollution.
Ahead of winter in Delhi, the team is monitoring these 13 hotspots that are major hubs of these pollutants:
To tackle these, the team has 13 field engineers who work as ground staff to monitor dust control and supervise other departments for control measures.
The team also monitors ambient air quality, PM 2.5 and PM 10 pollutants, and compiles bulletins from CAQM data. They also monitor the remediation of landfills across Delhi–Ghazipur, Okhla, and Bhalswa.
The Other Side of Keeping Pollutants in Check
But the Green War Room also engages with the public to spread awareness and hear their grievances.
The team puts out posters and slogans on social media – related to biodiversity, cleanliness, etc – to spread awareness among people regarding pollution.
Anurag Pawar, another junior environment engineer in the team, says that every day when he punches into work, his first set of responsibilities include going through the complaints that people lodge on the ‘Green Delhi’ mobile application and those tweeted to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee on microblogging platform X (formerly Twitter).
What do these complaints look like?
“Usually people complain when there’s a lot of dust due to construction work. Or if there’s dust and dirt due to some road construction work being halted midway. We also receive complaints about garbage disposal. People also send us geomarkers during peak traffic hours since there’s increased emission."Anurag Pawar
And how are these complaints handled? Pawar explains that each complaint received by them is forwarded to the nodal officer of the concerned area.
The nodal officer then delegates it further to the concerned department (the Green War Room coordinates with 27 Delhi government departments including the Public Works Department, Water Department, etc) that is equipped to resolve the issue.
The field engineers and the junior engineers both then supervise and follow up with these departments until the complaints are resolved, Pawar claims.
Since being launched in October 2020, the ‘Green Delhi’ application has received over 74,000 complaints from the public.
But the team tells FIT that there's no specific time period within which the complaints are resolved. "Some can take time when they're construction related, for instance, others like garbage disposal or traffic problems can be much quicker to address," they say.
Diwali & Winter: Green War Room’s Real Test
Ahead of winter, the Green War Room has intensified its actions. Moitra says,
“We can’t forecast how much pollution will increase but we are anticipating that it will increase as winter comes close.”
To prepare for this, they’ve deployed mechanised road sweeping tools, anti-smog guns, and water sprinklers so that the pollutants settle and can be removed.
Despite all this, on Sunday, 15 October, Delhi recorded an AQI of 245 in the ‘poor’ category.
Pawar adds, “Ahead of winter, there are also meteorological factors that we have to monitor. For instance, if the winds increase or if there’s rain, then the pollution levels won't be as high. But if such things don't happen, we have to take extra care to keep AQI under control.”
Is This Enough Though?
While the team says it’s doing its best to keep AQI levels in check, year after year Delhi has seen degrading air quality.
A survey conducted in Delhi-NCR last year by LocalCircles revealed that 4 out of 5 families (80 percent) in the region were suffering from ailments due to ‘severe’ air pollution. The survey’s participants said they had issues like
Respiratory tract infections
Long term problems like asthma
Another study conducted by scientists at IIT Delhi in November 2022 showed that with every 10 microgram/metre cube increase in exposure to PM2.5 pollutants, the prevalence of anaemia in women increases by 7.23 percent.
When the health, livelihood, and life impacts of pollution are many, it begs the question – is the Green War Room enough to fight pollutants in one of the world’s most polluted cities?
Arora confesses that there’s scope for improvement. He tells FIT:
“The ground monitoring should be much more frequent and should be intensified, especially in winters. We also should be periodically training people and departments on how to use the Green Delhi portal because there are sometimes lags in resolving complaints which can be addressed by this.”
What else is Delhi doing to curb pollution levels?
According to a series of announcements made in the past few days by Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai, here’s what Delhi is doing:
Rai wrote to the Centre on 16 October asking it to impose a blanket ban on firecrackers. He also asked the Centre to only permit CNG and electric vehicles to move in Delhi-NCR.
On 16 October, the Public Works Department took the initiative to install air pollution sensors at major construction sites in Delhi.
On the same day, Rai also launched a sapling plantation drive.
As part of an anti-dust campaign, Rai announced on 15 October that Rs 8.35 lakh in fines was collected from 21 construction sites.