A blanket of smog shrouded India’s capital of New Delhi over the weekend, leaving many rushing to emergency rooms around the city with varying degrees of respiratory shock. Experts say that currently the air in New Delhi is 75 times more dangerous than levels considered safe by the World Health Organization. Aside from families rushing to buy pharmaceuticals to treat smog-related illnesses and other preventative equipment to deal with smog, some are joining the scores that are leaving Delhi altogether. 

The Lancet Medical Journal has estimated that 2.5 million Indians die every year due to pollution.Living in New Delhi right now is the equivalent of smoking 45 cigarettes a day, making New Delhi the most polluted city in the country in comparison to the other cities people are fleeing to. Mayur Sharma, Indian TV personality, is one of many who are leaving New Delhi in search of a life elsewhere in India where the air does not pose life-threatening conditions. In what The Times of India tentatively dubbed the “Quit Delhi” movement, natives of the Indian capital are no longer putting up with the city’s choking air quality.


CC: Marc Shandro via Flickr

The ominous smog leering over the city at present is a result of the annual crop-burning that farmers in the nearby states of Punjab and Haryana – something that has been happening for generations. Government officials have claimed they are trying to minimize the toll of crop-burning, which is reportedly banned in countries around the world, but have failed to successfully do so in the face of the agricultural tradition. Earlier this year, an action plan was put together under the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change to target the deteriorating air quality across the capital. That, however, hasn’t prevented the crisis that New Delhi is facing today.

Statistics from a number of reports are pointing to the growing repercussions of New Delhi’s lackluster air quality. Despite government attempts, which have proven to be feeble, people have reportedly been leaving the city in scores in recent years. These “pollution migrants” are headed elsewhere – either to other parts of the country or even overseas. Among the stories of these ‘migrants’ is that of New York Times reporter, Gardiner Harris, who, in 2015 wrote about the horrors of living in a suffocating Delhi, that forced him and his family to return to the United States. Harris’ story is one among countless others. 


Figure comparing the standard of living across major Indian cities (via Times of India)

In response to the ongoing crisis in New Delhi, the government has continued to spray water over New Delhi in an attempt to clear some of the fog looming over the city – to no avail. Experts say that the situation has worsened over the past 10 years, with last year’s smog being the worst the city has ever seen in 17 years. The city has also put in place a number of measures in recent years in an attempt to curb the pollution that continues to put its residents at risk. However, that has not prevented Delhi’s residents from placing the government under scrutiny, which can explain the growing number of “pollution migrants” rushing to move out of Delhi.

With doctors reporting a 20% increase in the influx of patients to the emergency room in recent days, doctors are telling patients to leave Delhi in a last attempt to remedy health complications caused by the smog. Those who have remained in New Delhi are trying to make do with what they have, spreading useful information on WhatsApp groups and through word of mouth about which masks are the most durable against the PM2.5 in the smog (which shot up 300 more than the “safe” amount to 721 at mid-day yesterday), and which purifiers are the strongest. The smog has left nobody unaffected, forcing the cancellation of all United Airlines flights from the United States to the Indian Capital.

In the past few years, the Indian government has attempted to curb air pollution in and around the capital with initiatives like banning diesel-run vehicles older than 10 years and increasing the number of buses on the roads in the city. But instead of curb pollution, these initiatives have somewhat backfired. The most vulnerable are New Delhi’s children, who are increasingly developing respiratory problems due to the city’s ballooning pollution crisis. Only 60% of New Delhi’s children passed the country’s Lung Health Screening Test, falling behind three other major Indian cities. It is no longer a matter of what preventative measures can be taken to safeguard the health of them and their loved ones, but, rather, when they can pack their bags and head elsewhere.