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Delhi’s air pollution is worse than Beijing’s

Press release - March 7, 2015
Greenpeace collated data shows that Delhi has no action plan to protect its citizens from heavy pollution episodes.

New Delhi, March 5, 2015:New Delhi is breathing the most polluted air in the world, according to the World Health Organisation report in 2014. The WHO found that 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, with New Delhi’s air being the world’s worst. While Beijing’s air quality has made headlines worldwide, a range of studies, backed by the government’s own data, shows that New Delhi’s air is often worse than that of Beijing. The examination of pollution figures collected and based on bad and good air quality days from Beijing and Delhi suggests that on an average, Delhi’s air is more laden with dangerous PM2.5 (fine particulate matter than can penetrate deep into the lungs) than Beijing’s. An average day in New Delhi would be considered a very bad-air day in Beijing. The exponential rise in the air pollution levels has highlighted the need for a robust action plan to tackle bad-air quality days and spread awareness of the health risks posed by air pollution.

Greenpeace Campaigner Aishwarya Madineni observes that “Delhi’s PM2.5 levels are several times higher than those of Beijing according to the Pollution Control Board’s data submitted to the World Health Organisation. Despite all the statistics, our Environment ministry continues to be in denial of the fact that we are taking worse care of our citizens than Beijing. Beijing, unlike Delhi, has a five-year action plan in place to protect its citizens from harmful air. It is appalling to see the union minister for environment dismiss any need for precautionary measures such as masks or school closures on heavy pollution days. The government needs to show that it cares for its citizens - children, the sick and elderly are at most risk from Delhi’s toxic air. Action on air pollution is something that NGOs, including Greenpeace, have been demanding for a while. A clean and healthy environment is in our national interest.”

Talking further on the emission standards for industries, Madineni said “there should be stringent targets for industrial emissions. We need an action plan similar to that of Beijing, it  should include an emergency alert system that issues health advisories to public on heavy pollution days along with instructions for industries to cut down emissions. We have no emission standards for Coal-fired power plants in India, a sector responsible for emitting 7500 tons of PM2.5 into the city[i]. Delhi had several bad-air days in 2014 for which no health advisories were issued.

A recent study published in the Economic and Political Weekly has clearly indicated that 660 million people across India are exposed to unhealthy levels of PM2.5 resulting in reduced life expectancy by 3.2 years on an average. PM2.5 is estimated to have been responsible for over three million premature deaths in 2010[ii]. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified particulate matter pollution as carcinogenic to humans in 2013, and designated it as a “leading environmental cause of cancer deaths”[iii]. India is one of the countries with highest population exposure to PM2.5, and consequently Indians face one of the highest health risks from PM2.5.

Elaborating on the threat posed by PM2.5, Aishwarya Madineni said that In the last couple of months, several studies including the one from the Jawaharlal Nehru University have thrown light on the hazardous levels of PM2.5 in Delhi possibly leading to as many as 47,800 pre-mature deaths per one million population. The study has further acknowledged that Delhi’s air is full of cancer-causing particles. Despite the capital’s serious air pollution problem, there was hardly any emphasis on it in the union budget. The level of funding given to the pollution control board is simply not enough to address a problem of this scale.”

Delhi also does not have Health Advisories or Action Plans in place. On the contrary, Beijing has a Four-level alarm system to tackle heavy pollution episodes. The alarm system issues health warnings along with addressing the emissions from different sources of pollution such as cars and coal-fired power plants.




BLUE: One day of PM2.5 over150 ug/m3

YELLOW: Three days of pollution over 150 ug/m3 or one day of pollution over 250 ug/m3 

ORANGE: Three days of pollution alternating between over 150 ug/m3 and over 250 ug/m3 

RED: Three days of pollution over 250 ug/m3








Children, elderly and people with respiratory or cardiovascular conditions warned.

Vulnerable groups told to stay inside.


Factory close.


Schoolsand kindergartens are closed.

Increase dust prevention at construction sites

Power plants and factories cut emissions

Schools stop exercise classes

Power plants cut emissions further.

Reduce public vehicles use.


Everyone told to avoid exercise outside and wear masks.

Car use regulated based on licence plate number (odd/even number system).




Excavation and demolition work at construction sites stopped.




Please find Greenpeace Petition link to :-  #ToxiCity



For Furher Information:

Aishwarya Madineni, Campaigner, Greenpeace; +91 8884875744

Madhulika Verma, Communication Specialist, Greenpeace; +91 9971137736