New Delhi air pollution has hit record levels — but it’s still not a political issue in India

Skies over this city of more than 18 million have been blanketed in a dark yellow haze for several days, as air pollution hits record high levels that has forced schools to close and flights to be diverted. Residents complain of burning eyes, persistent headaches and coughing.

Delhi may be India’s worst affected city, but it is not alone. All of northern India is breathing toxic air, just as it does every winter when pollutants get trapped in the atmosphere as the windy monsoon season ends.

Of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, 22 are in India. Yet the protest at India Gate is the first this winter and fewer than 500 demonstrators are present.

“Air pollution hasn’t become a political issue in India,” says Bharati Chaturvedi, founder of Chintan, an environmental advocacy group.

“(It’s) because we don’t have a large number of angry people across the socio-economic spectrum protesting frequently on the roads and putting clear [demands] to elected representatives,” adds Chaturvedi.

“It is still seen as an issue that impacts all, but upsets only the elite on social media.”

Karma catches up

Air quality in New Delhi is bad for almost the entire year, except for a few weeks when monsoon rains wash pollutants away.

In what has become an annual ritual, residents worry about air pollution only for a few winter weeks when the haze gets so thick you can not see the buildings on the next block. Come February, blue skies return and the issue is forgotten.

“People don’t know how bad it is,”…

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