Delhi recorded an increase of 125 per cent in NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) pollution between April 2020 and April 2021, according to a Greenpeace India study which analysed NO2 concentrations in India's eight most-populous state capitals.
NO2 pollution has increased in all the eight capitals studied Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Jaipur and Lucknow but Delhi has seen the most dramatic increase during the period, the report said.
NO2 is a dangerous air pollutant that is released when fuel is burned, as in most motor vehicles, power generation, and industrial processes.
Exposure to NO2 can severely impact people's health at all ages, affecting the respiratory and circulatory systems and the brain, leading to an increase in hospital admissions and mortality.
"Satellite observations reveal NO2 pollution increased to 125 per cent of April 2020 levels. The analysis suggests the increase would have been even greater (146 percent) had weather conditions been similar to 2020," read the report, titled Behind the Smokescreen: Satellite Data Reveal Air Pollution Increase in India's Eight Most Populous State Capitals.
Although relatively better than the capital, other Indian cities too recorded an equally worrying increase in NO2 levels.
NO2 pollution increased by 52 per cent in Mumbai, 90 per cent in Bengaluru, 69 per cent in Hyderabad, 94 per cent in Chennai, 11 per cent in Kolkata, 47 per cent in Jaipur and 32 per cent in Lucknow in April 2021 compared to the same month last year, the study showed.
As the pandemic continues to have a severe impact on India during 2021, there is growing evidence that polluted cities suffer disproportionately more coronavirus cases.
The health impact of fossil fuel-related air pollution is severe and has been reflected time and again in several reports. Yet there has been little change in our reliance on fossil fuels, including coal, oil and gas. Increased economic activity is still largely coupled with toxic air pollution in most cities, Greenpeace India said.
The air quality levels in these cities are alarming. The cities and the people are already paying a huge price for our reliance on burning fossil fuels, this business as usual cannot continue. People saw clean skies and breathed fresh air during the nationwide lockdown though it was an unintended consequence of the pandemic," said Avinash Chanchal, senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace India.
"The disruption caused by the pandemic is a case to transition to cleaner, equitable and sustainable decentralised energy sources such as rooftop solar and clean and sustainable mobility must be central to recovery efforts across cities. The recovery from the pandemic must not come at the expense of a return to previous levels of air pollution," he added.
"Motor vehicles and industries based on fossil fuel consumption are the major drivers of NO2 pollution in Indian cities. The governments, local administration and city planners must initiate the transition from privately owned vehicles to an efficient, clean and safe public transport system that is run on clean energy that of course, must provide COVID-19-related safety measures," Chanchal said.