Rising air pollution in Delhi, India has sparked demand for air purifiers among home ministry bureaucrats. Once a rare sight in bureaucrat offices, air purifiers are now in almost every office of every joint secretary and working secretary in the ministry.
The pollution level in the capital is so high, doctors equate breathing the outdoor air to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. Humans breathe 3,000 gallons of air every day. Such heavy exposure to high levels of pollution can lead to adverse health effects.
The government implemented a ban on trucks entering the capital and all civil construction projects were suspended temporarily. At one point, all schools were closed due to the heavy pollution.
In early November, the city’s air quality readings skyrocketed to 969. Any reading over 25 is considered unsafe by the World Health Organization.
“Air purifier is a device that many are getting installed in their homes as well. Having one in the office helps us fight air contaminants on a sustained basis,” said a home ministry official. “The administration division of the home ministry has acknowledged this fact by procuring air purifiers for installation in rooms within North block.”
Officials have blamed the burning of crop stubble in neighboring states on the high levels of pollution. Lack of wind and changing humidity levels have also been blamed for the smoggy conditions.
Delhi is no stranger to smog and pollution. The city, home to more than 18 million people, experiences high levels of pollution in the winter.
In 2014, the WHO named Delhi the most polluted city in the world. Other cities in India have since knocked the capital down to number 14 on the list.
“Delhi has become a gas chamber. Every year this happens during this part of year,” tweeted Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister. “We have to find a solution to crop burning in adjoining states.”
Along with crop burning, Delhi also deals with pollution from industrial emissions, the burning of biomass and vehicle exhaust.
A 2014 report from the Institute of Technology Kanpur found that vehicle exhaust account for 20% of the capital’s yearly PM2.5 levels.
The number of vehicles on the road in Delhi continues to rise. In 2016, the total number of vehicles on the road exceeded 10 million.
Local governments have taken measures to help combat the problem, including shutting down brick kilns and power plants. Private electricity generators have been banned during the winter months.
Firecrackers were also banned during Diwali, the festival of lights.
Unlike other smoggy cities, like Beijing, pollution has yet to become a politically sensitive issue in Delhi. Residents are instead turning to privatized solutions.
“For instance, most people don’t trust the quality of water that’s supplied to their homes, so the solution that they found is the water purifiers,” Govindraj Ethiraj, founder of IndiaSpend, told CNN. “So now what people have done is buy air purifiers.”
Demand for air purifiers and pollution masks is on the rise, but millions in India are unable to afford such solutions.