What is India missing in its battle against air pollution?

If Google search results are a proxy for public interest in a topic, air pollution would qualify as a November issue in India. Policy action also reflects this winter bias. Most announcements on combating pollution typically occur during the October-January period.

It is unsurprising then that the impact of these announcements have been limited so far. In the absence of concerted efforts for the rest of the year, governments tend to resort to quick-fix measures such as smog towers in the winter months. The Delhi cabinet allocated ₹20 crore for a smog tower last month.

A ‘mini smog tower’ with a capital cost of ₹7 lakh was installed in Lajpat Nagar in January by East Delhi’s member of parliament (MP), Gautam Gambhir, followed by two other such smog towers in other parts of the city.

Smog towers are perhaps an acknowledgment by politicians that something needs to be done but are unlikely to have any impact. They might work for closed spaces such as power plants and subway tunnels but they are ineffective elsewhere.

If Delhi were to clean its open air through smog towers such as the one in Lajpat Nagar, it would need 5 million such towers during winters, with an outlay of ₹3.5 trillion.

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