New Delhi

Delhi Smog Tower: A Costly Misstep in Capital’s Battle Against Air Pollution

Examining the Disappointing Legacy and Lessons Learned from a Failed Solution

New Delhi, the city once hailed as the world’s most polluted capital for the fourth consecutive year, a promising solution to the ongoing air pollution crisis has faltered. The smog tower, inaugurated in 2021 by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, was designed as a colossal air purifier capable of cleansing 1,000 cubic meters of air per second. However, a comprehensive study conducted by IIT-Bombay found that the smog tower had a minimal impact on air quality and was not a justifiable expense. Instead, the study proposed a more constructive use of the smog tower’s location: transforming it into an innovation centre dedicated to environmental and climate change solutions.

Delhi, the capital of India, continues to grapple with a severe air pollution crisis. The air quality index (AQI) has reached alarming levels, posing a significant health threat to its residents. PM 2.5, an airborne particulate matter linked to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, has exceeded 700 micrograms per cubic meter in some areas, surpassing the WHO’s safe limit by more than 140 times.

Amid this crisis stands a smog tower in Connaught Place, an ambitious endeavour to mitigate air pollution. The 24-meter tall structure, inaugurated by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in 2021, was constructed for Rs. 23 crore to deliver clean air to the surrounding community. This tower, equipped with 40 fans and 5,000 air filters, was engineered to purify 1,000 cubic meters of air per second within a one-kilometre radius. The initiative was supervised by IIT-Bombay and funded by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), with participation from Tata Projects Limited and the National Buildings Construction Corporation Limited (NBCC).

The smog tower was implemented on a trial basis to assess its feasibility and effectiveness in addressing air pollution. A second smog tower was also commissioned in Anand Vihar, a pollution hotspot in Delhi.
Despite the high expectations, the Connaught Place smog tower, intended to be a beacon of hope, proved a letdown. It sits idle and locked while the national capital grapples with severe pollution. Reportedly, a team of ten, comprising engineers, operators, and assistants, managed the smog tower until seven months ago, when they were disbanded. The reason behind this action was the underwhelming performance and efficacy of the smog tower, as indicated by a two-year study from IIT-Bombay.

A study demonstrated that the reduction in Particulate Matter (PM) was a mere 12-13% at 100 meters from the tower. It further revealed that the smog tower had a similarly low impact on reducing the concentration of PM 2.5 and 10, even at distances of 300 and 500 meters. The research suggested that the tower could have a more substantial impact during peak pollution periods than lower pollution levels. However, the data revealed persistently high particulate pollution and minimal discernible effects. In response to these findings, the DPCC recommended the smog tower’s closure and proposed its conversion into an innovation centre focused on environmental and climate change solutions.

The smog tower’s failure raises critical questions about accountability and responsibility among the entities involved in the project. Who bears responsibility for the misallocation of public funds and resources? Who is answerable for the false assurances and expectations given to the public? Who will be held accountable for the neglect and mismanagement of the project? The Delhi government, DPCC, IIT-Bombay, and other agencies engaged in the initiative must address these questions and face public scrutiny.

Furthermore, the smog tower’s failure underscores the necessity for greater scientific and technical expertise in addressing the air pollution problem. The smog tower replicated a Chinese model, which was also deemed ineffective and costly by Chinese authorities. Many experts and activists criticized the smog tower as a superficial solution that failed to address the root causes and sources of air pollution.

Ultimately, the smog tower’s shortcomings emphasize the need for comprehensive, sustainable solutions to combat the air pollution crisis. These solutions should be grounded in scientific evidence, promote public involvement, and demonstrate political commitment. Addressing the major contributors to air pollution, including stubble burning, vehicular emissions, industrial pollution, and meteorological factors, is crucial. Achieving this requires collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders, encompassing government, industry, farmers, and the public. Swift and decisive implementation of these solutions is imperative to prevent further deterioration.

The smog tower’s failure serves as a wake-up call for both authorities and the public to acknowledge and address the air pollution issue urgently and earnestly. It offers an opportunity to learn from past mistakes, refine solutions, and drive innovation. It underscores the significance of implementing holistic and sustainable measures that genuinely enhance air quality and the quality of life for the populace. Ultimately, the smog tower’s failure serves as a reminder that the air we breathe is a precious shared resource that warrants protection and preservation for the well-being of current and future generations.

Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma is a seasoned Political Journalist with a deep passion for Indian Politics. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has established himself as a trusted… More »

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