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Asia Minute: New Delhi choking on seasonal air pollution

India Dangerous Air Pollution
Shonal Ganguly/AP
A bird flies with the horizon enveloped by smog and haze in New Delhi, India, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Shonal Ganguly)

More people are wearing face masks this week in the capital city of India. But the reason is not any threat of COVID — it’s something else in the air.

Air pollution is a familiar companion in New Delhi. The worst of it is seasonal — and has been for some years now.

There’s always dust — factory emissions — tailpipe exhaust from vehicles.

But at this time of year farmers in surrounding states burn crop stubble — the residue that remains after plants are harvested.

Once the monsoon rains are gone, it’s the quickest and cheapest way to clear space to plant winter crops from wheat to barley and mustard.

It’s illegal. The practice has gone all the way to India’s Supreme Court.

Fines haven’t had a big impact, but the resulting pollution has.

The Air Quality Index in New Delhi has been at its lowest level of “severe” for much of the week.

The Indian broadcaster NDTV reports a number of school closings and plans for reopening next week include mandatory N-95 masks for students and staff.

New Delhi stopped most construction projects around the city earlier this week — and the city government is urging residents to cut traffic pollution by working from home if possible — and carpooling.

The city government is also in a political fight with the federal government — each side blaming the other for failures in policy and execution.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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