India’s capital city, New Delhi, has been engulfed in toxic air for several weeks now.
The city recorded an air quality index (AQI) of 460 yesterday (Nov. 14)—AQI between 401 and 500 is deemed “severe.”
Given these conditions, the sale of preventive products such as air purifiers, humidifiers, and anti-pollution masks is on the rise in the national capital region. As per some estimates, sales of such items have increased by 30% to 100% in India over the last six months, with most of the demand coming from Delhi National Capital Region (NCR).
Like the past several years, Delhi residents are reaching for anti-pollution masks, which are selling like hotcakes. Mask sales on Amazon India have grown 10 times in the past six months, and Flipkart has witnessed a tripling of sales over the year.
The types of masks available to Delhi residents vary from simple and essential to colourful and fancy. Options range from paper dust masks and white-cloth ones that would cost as low as Rs50 ($0.70) to designer products that cost upwards of Rs2,500.
Earlier this week, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority directed schools in Delhi-NCR to remain closed for two days due to the “health emergency” faced by the city given its pollution levels. In Delhi’s satellite cities of Gurugram and Noida, schools had been shut earlier this month for similar reasons.
Stubble burning on farms in some northern Indian states and pollution from firecrackers during Diwali are the key reasons for the worsening air quality in Indian cities, especially as winter approaches.
Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has said that the odd-even scheme of vehicle rationing, which was to end today (Nov. 15), may be extended. Under this scheme, first implemented in Delhi in 2016, odd and even-numbered vehicles ply on roads on alternate days, reducing traffic and air pollution, even if only marginally.
Visitors to the capital city have been struggling particularly.
On Nov. 13, the capital city had a rather embarrassing moment when air pollution hit “emergency” levels on the same day as Britain’s Prince Charles’ visit to the city. It was the second time in the past 10 days that the amount of PM 2.5, the deadly pollutants that get into the bloodstream and lungs, had hit “emergency” levels. Alarmingly, this was 20 times the safe limit set by the World Health Organization.
Like two-wheeler riders, public transport commuters, and pedestrians traffic police personnel are very vulnerable to the toxic air. Various government organisations are helping their staff cope with the crisis in their own small ways. For example, the Central Industrial Security Force, on Nov. 3, issued masks to its personnel deployed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport and Delhi Metro.
Meanwhile, various student and civilian groups are carrying out awareness programmes and protest marches, demanding implementation of strict measures to curb pollution.