Delhi’s tragic turn: Cheaper power, toxic air

— Shashwat DC
Delhi has been reeling under the worst form of environmental pollution, there’s always been fog and now there’s thickening smog. In a recent report by World Health Organization (WHO), Delhi was adjudged to be the most polluted city in the world. In fact, the city is so polluted that inhaling the air in Delhi is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes  in a day, as per UNEP. Little wonder than when President Obama had come visiting the capital for the Republic Day parade, his exposure to outdoor air was as much a concern for the US government as was his security. To combat the polluted air, special arrangements had to be made, with numerous high-end air purifiers bought to pump ambient air, while the Prez was outside.

Situation from air pollution was so dire, that Delhi has the highest concentration of PM2.5 (particulate matters less than 2.5 microns), which is considered most serious and can cause respiratory diseases and other health problems.  The PM2.5 concentrations in the city was 153 micrograms and PM10 concentrations of 286 micrograms — almost three times the levels of Beijing, that is quite famous for it’s pollutionised smog.

And the reasons for the pollution are not so hard to pin. Primarily, it is because of the thermal power plants that supply power to the city and other such industries. Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that Delhi has the largest amount of vehicles in India with 8.1 million registered vehicles (and over 1,000 new ones added daily each day on its roads), the vehicular traffic accounts for just about 9% of the pollution (according to MoEF’s assessment vehicle exhaust contributes to around 9-21% of the ambient PM10 pollution measured in Delhi). The main culprit is the coal-fired thermal plants used to generate power. In fact, Delhi is home to one of the most polluting power plants in the country- NTPC’s Badarpur Thermal Power Plant- which has a significant role in making Delhi the most polluted city in the world.

And the reason, Delhi can’t do without coal is because of its own high consumption of power. The city currently generates just about 1GW of the total 4GW. The peak demand for power touched 6 GW last summer, and the city was coerced to purchase power from other companies located outside the state.
Delhi is power-starved and dependent on supply to other states. Yet, the state government of Delhi, led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, made true of his populist promise by slashing power tariff by 50% for those households which consume up to 400 units per month.
PrintKeeping the financial viability of the subsidy aside. The biggest question that one needs to ponder upon is the possible impact the subsidy will have on consumption. The straight-forward thumb rule of demand and supply, states that whenever any thing is subsidised or made available at free or at heavy discount, the consumption of the same goes up.
Going by the same logic, the consumption of electricity will go high, demand will be higher, and thus production of the same will be. And whenever you need power quick and cheap in India, coal is the easy and ready option. Not surprisingly then, the Delhi government recently decided to bid for coal blocks with an aim to set up new power plants and increase its own electricity generation. Thus, the current government seems only to be interested in making true of its promises, the long-term disastrous impact it may have on the environment and then on the health of the citizens, seems to be of no concern to them.
As per projection by Central Electricity Authority, the power demand in Delhi will jump to 8.7 GW by 2017. With the current generation of just 1 GW, Delhi will be in a very dire state in just a matter of few years.
Also, once the power-supply becomes erratic, businesses will be forced to deploy diesel gensets to ensure business continuity, thus adding a lot more to the pollution.
So, all in all, the reduction of power tariffs, could not have come at a more worse time for the city of Delhi. With more demand, there will need to be more generation and considering that it will continue to be coal, hence there is no respite in the near future. According to statistics, as many as 10,000 people a year die prematurely in Delhi as a result of air pollution. The primary cause is respiratory diseases, especially in children.
Some years back, the Delhi government under the aegis of Sheela Dikshit had launched a roof-top solar scheme in association with Greenpeace. Ramping up the solar power is often the best way to source power in a non-polluting manner. But to do so, one requires time and capital. Neither of which seem to be available to the new government, which seem to be thoroughly lacking in experience and vision.
In the end, with the latest move by AAP Government in Delhi, one thing is certain, Delhi will continue to retain the title of the most polluted city in the world for a quite some many years. Quite on the lines of the US counterparts, EU recently ordered all its diplomats in Delhi to procure air purifiers for home and office. Going forth in Delhi, air purifier will become a necessity and not a luxury. So, brace yourself for the tough days ahead Delhites, and opt for some nice medical insurance. Because now the money that you save in terms of cost savings, will be doled out on medical costs. The damage to the environment will have much more ghastly repercussions than you could even imagine.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: