Our environment is a natural gift that has been abused to no end by mankind. Air, water and soil pollution has been a rising concern from a very long time. The population of Delhi has seen exponential growth over the last few decades. Apart from the natural population growth Delhi sees thousands of immigrants come to the Capital in search of better prospects of life and livelihood. However, very few of these people realise their dreams of a better life and most join the ranks of unskilled labourers, crowding the slums mushrooming in and around Delhi. The exponential growth of population, registering Delhi as the eighth most populated metropolitan city in the world, has resulted in more number of vehicles, increased air pollution, water pollution, irresponsible waste disposal, soil erosion, decrease of greenery and an increased pressure on the limited available resources.

In the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), 2011 Delhi had been ranked at 26. The planning Commission of India named Delhi, as one of the worst performers in the environmental performance index in 2013. EPI is developed as a measure of environmental well-being of states. The ranking reflects states’ performance on a scale of 16 green indicators under five categories – air quality, water quality, state of forests, waste management and steps taken for climate change adaptation. Andhra Pradesh was ranked as the best performer and Delhi as the worst.

The natural resources in and around Delhi have suffered severely. The river Yamuna, which has been the lifeblood of Delhi since ancient times and the prime reason for its existence, is highly polluted. Even until a few years ago, the sewage lines from half of Delhi’s household emptied raw sewage into the river and apart from that the Yamuna also carries the sewage of the thousands of unplanned habitation located on its banks. It has been estimated that 80% of Yamuna’s pollution results from the dumping of sewage. And other than sewage, Yamuna is also polluted by dumping of garbage and industrial runoffs. It does not help that Yamuna has a ‘sacred river’ status. Thousands of inhabitants drop flowers, coins and other offerings into the Yamuna polluting it further. The level of pollution in Yamuna is so high that the water has turned frothy in several stretches. The condition of Yamuna improved a little after the Supreme Court took the matter into his own hands and ensured that sewer interceptor were built that would channel the waste flowing from unconnected parts of the city to the sewage-treatment plants. However, in spite of millions of dollars spent on treating the water pollution of Yamuna, the condition of the river is only going from bad to worse.

Water pollution in Delhi is not just limited to the Yamuna but also extends to the ground water. Despite schemes like rainwater harvesting, Delhi’s groundwater quality has only worsened over the years. The nitrate concentrations in the ground water of many areas are way higher than the prescribed limits making it relatively unsuitable for drinking. Some of the major reasons for the increased levels of Nitrate in Delhi’s ground water are: contamination from sewage, run off from landfills, pesticides from agricultural fields and open drains.

The levels of air pollution in China might have made headlines around the world but it doesn’t even come close to the kind of pollution that is present in Delhi. Outdoor air pollution is one of the major causes of death in Delhi. Particles suspended in air cause severe respiratory diseases and health hazards among old people and children. The increasing number of vehicles in Delhi, and the untreated smoke from industries has contributed to air pollution in Delhi. Another major reason for air pollution is fireworks or firecrackers. Any festivities, marriage or even a win in a cricket match sees thousands of people burning fireworks and adding to the sulphur levels of the air. Delhi authorities have made repeated efforts to bring down the pollution levels. The launch and expansion of metro rail in Delhi was supposed to bring down the levels of pollution by decreasing the number of vehicles on Delhi roads.

However, the desired effect was never achieved. In spite of good public transport connectivity in the Indian Capital, there are thousands of cars travelling the distance and adding to the harmful gases that clog our environment.

The forest cover in and around Delhi has also thinned considerably and no new trees have been planted to maintain the delicate ecological balance. The high levels of pollution in the atmosphere, water and soil of Delhi has resulted in large-scale destruction of the natural flora and fauna. The biggest challenge in regard of fauna has been the complete destruction of fresh water fish reserves that used to abound Yamuna. The increasing pollution levels has not just decreased but in certain places wiped out the fishes and other aquatic life forms from Yamuna.

Delhi has seen a mushrooming of several NGO’s and individuals working towards generating more awareness about the environmental crisis. The ‘Yamuna Bachao Aandolan’, the ‘Chipko movement’, the afforestation initiatives are just some of the examples. The rising concern over environmental problems has led to some inspiring action over the past few years. As our developing nations progress in its quest for development, technological advancement, industrialisation and urbanisation, the demand on our ecosystem are just going to multiply. Every day we are evolving some new technologies that further jeopardise the conservation of our environment. Progress is essential for mankind but in the mad rush of progress it must not be forgotten that without the shield of our ecosystem there might be little to sustain us further in our aspirations of growth.

The government and government authorities are definitely responsible for protecting our environment but that is not all. Until and unless every citizen realises their duty towards protecting the environment, it is impossible to sustain the fine balance of nature that nurtures us. Small steps can also go a big way in changing Delhi’s status as the most polluted state of India.

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