New Delhi has recently experienced record levels of air pollution, prompting a public emergency in the Indian capital.
With school closures, flight diversions and a temporary odd-even license plate scheme intended to halve the number of cars on the road daily, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the city had been "turned into a gas chamber,” while India's Supreme Court said "Delhi is choking every year and we are not able to do anything,” The Weather Channel reported.
However, a politician has pointed a finger at India’s neighbors for the ongoing environmental emergency.
“There is a possibility that this poisonous gas could have been released by any neighboring country which is afraid of us,” Vineet Agarwal Sharda, a leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said. “I feel that Pakistan or China are afraid of us."
He then shifted the onus to Pakistan.
"We must seriously consider whether Pakistan has released any poisonous gas," Sharda said.
Sharda further targeted Kejriwal for blaming the air pollution on agricultural burning in nearby states, saying farmers “are the backbone of our country.”
“Farmer(s) and industries should not be blamed," Sharda said.
But is Pakistan to blame for New Delhi’s pollution woes?
Milind Kandlikar, a professor at Canada’s Liu Institute for Global Issues and Institute of Resources, Environment and Sustainability, told Polygraph.info that India’s pollution problem is “almost surely homegrown.”
In determining New Delhi’s Air Quality Index, which on November 3 exceeded 900 – 25 times the limit deemed safe by the World Health Organization – Kandlikar said the standard air pollutants (PM 2.5, Nox, CO, SOx, VOCs) are being measured.
“There are measurements in the air, and models that confirm the numbers. And it all adds up,” he said. “There is no nefarious plot.”
Kandlikar said the actual sources of air pollution are myriad, with roughly two-thirds of it coming from “biomass burning of various forms,” including fuelwood for cooking/heating and agricultural waste burning.
Industry, power plants and traffic account for the rest.
Kandlikar said winter exacerbates the problem because of “specific meteorological conditions” which result in pollutants lingering for greater lengths of time.
That said, there is always the possibility some pollution (and not “poison”) can reach New Delhi from Pakistan, and vice versa.
“Industrial pollution and again burning from Pakistan could contribute a bit to the overall pollution of the entire airshed, I suppose,” Kandlikar said. “But, of course, it could work both ways. Pollutants know no boundaries.” Still, he said, to suggest that a “poison” released from Pakistan could affect New Delhi is a “far-fetched idea.”
A "poison" released hundreds of kilometers (over 400 Km) away has little chance of affecting people in Delhi. “The ‘poison’ is from within and entirely quotidian,” Kandlikar said.
China is even farther away from India, with the Himalayan mountain range forming a border between the two countries.
New Delhi has long suffered from air pollution woes.
The city was ranked the world’s most polluted capital last year, with nine of the world’s 10 most polluted cities being located in India.
In 2014, a World Health Organization (WHO) study of 1,600 cities across 91 countries found that New Delhi at that time had the world's highest annual average concentration of small airborne particles (PM2.5) of 153 micrograms per cubic meter.
By 2016, New Delhi dropped to 11th place worldwide, which was attributed to government and industry efforts to curb air pollution.
Thus, while Sharda has attempted to shift blame to a neighboring state for New Delhi’s air pollution crisis, Polygraph.info finds his assertion that Pakistan may have released a poisonous gas targeting the Indian capital to be false.