Sci&Tech writer Ashley Baker discusses Delhi’s new infrastructure designed to alleviate air pollution in the city

Written by Ashley Baker
2nd-year Chemistry undergraduate | Sci and Tech writer
Images by Wikimedia Commons

The first ‘smog tower’ has been inaugurated in India’s capital New Delhi as the city grapples with extreme levels of air pollution. Installed as part of a pilot scheme overseen by New Delhi’s local government, the structure measures 25 metres (82 ft) tall and was built at a cost of $2 million. It is situated in Connaught Place, one of New Delhi’s main commercial districts.

Smog has become a prominent issue for the city in recent years

Currently regarded as the most polluted capital city in the world, New Delhi’s poor air quality is caused by a number of factors such as traffic congestion, heavy industry and burning of fossil fuels in power stations. Smog has become a prominent issue for the city in recent years and is having a damaging effect on the health of its citizens.

Following the inauguration of the tower on 23rd August, New Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said ‘Today is a big day for Delhi in its fight for clean air against pollution.’ Mr Kejriwal added that the impact of the project would be monitored and replicated throughout other parts of the city if proven to be successful.

The technology used in New Delhi’s smog tower was initially developed at the University of Minnesota before the structure was built by Tata Projects Limited. The effectiveness of the tower is to be continually assessed by teams from the Indian Institutes of Technology in Delhi and Bombay (Mumbai).

According to engineers behind the project, the smog tower contains 40 giant fans that each pump 25 cubic metres of air per second through a filtering system which is thought to reduce the number of harmful particulates by a half. The tower is designed to purify air within a 1-kilometre radius of its position.

Critics have raised concerns about the large cost of the project which was funded through public money, suggesting that authorities should shift their focus to tackling the causes of the smog and promoting renewable sources of energy. Karthik Ganesan from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a Delhi-based think tank, told the AFP news agency that the tower was ‘futile’ and ‘an absolute waste’.

A second tower, backed by India’s national government, is also set to be opened in the Anand Viha locality of New Delhi in early September. Other structures dubbed smog towers have been set up in previous years, including a 60-metre (197 ft) tower in Xian, China, which was implemented in 2018 although authorities stopped short of rolling out structures in any of China’s other cities.

Published in March this year, the 2020 World Air Quality Report by IQAir identified New Delhi to be the world’s most polluted capital city for the third year running. New Delhi is located centrally within the wider National Capital Territory of Delhi, an area estimated to be home to over 20 million people. Levels of air pollution in the city are thought to regularly exceed 20 times the level which is considered to be safe.

Levels of air pollution in the city are thought to regularly exceed 20 times the level which is considered to be safe

The report by the Switzerland-based firm featured a list of the top 50 countries experiencing the poorest air quality throughout 2020, of which 35 of the cities were in India. Major cities such as Lucknow, Kanpur and Agra were mentioned in the list alongside New Delhi. Of the remaining 15 cities listed, seven were in China including Hotan which topped the list, five in Pakistan, two in Bangladesh, and one in Indonesia.

Severe air pollution in Delhi and other built-up areas is blamed for high rates of respiratory disease among India’s population and huge numbers of premature deaths each year. A study by the Lancet medical journal found that the number of deaths linked to air pollution across India in 2019 was approximately 1.67 million, including 17,500 deaths in Delhi.

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