How toxic Delhi air is leaving businesses in the capital gasping for breath
The nip in the air brings pollutants and smoke with it in Delhi. At a time when we are seeing post-pandemic economic rebound, let's examine how air pollution affects the capital's business climate
Harshit Rakheja New Delhi
It’s November and if you’re in Delhi, chances are you’ve begun to experience a sore throat and even watery eyes as you step out. That’s because of the thick smog enveloping the city this time of the year.
In 2015, the Delhi High Court had famously observed that living in the capital city was akin to living in a gas chamber. Six years later, last Monday, the Supreme Court slammed the Centre on the same issue. The apex court said that not just farm fires, but construction dust, vehicular and industrial emissions are all major contributors to air pollution. It may lead to another round of curbs on economic activities. Construction activities in Delhi and Gurugram have already been stopped till November 17, leading to huge losses for real estate developers.
A day after Diwali, the national capital had a ‘severe’ air quality index touching 462, the worst since 2016. Bursting of crackers during Diwali and stubble burning in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana contribute to a rise in pollution.
Nevertheless, according to a report prepared by jointly by the Confederation of Indian Industry, Dalberg Advisors and Blue Sky Analytics from November 2020 to March 2021, Indian cities rank low on air quality metrics throughout the year.
Of the world’s 30 cities with the worst air pollution, 21 are in India. New Delhi has the poorest air quality among cities globally, with PM2.5 concentration levels nearly ten times the WHO target.
Air pollution costs Indian businesses Rs 7 trillion or $95 billion every year. This is 40% of the cost of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and 3% of India’s GDP. The cost of air pollution manifests in six ways. They are lower labour productivity, lower consumer footfall, premature mortality, lower asset productivity, increased health expenses and welfare losses.
Head-hunting and human resources consulting firms these days receive specific queries from C-suite executives and senior professionals: jobs that would take them out of Delhi. Similarly, hiring for jobs based in Delhi has become difficult.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry has previously cautioned that worsening air pollution in the city could drive away top-level executives and talented individuals. This may severely impact inflow of investments and hit sectors like tourism, hospitality, outdoor recreation, and others.
According to the CII-Dalberg-Blue Sky report, Delhi faces 275 days of unhealthy air with a 6x rise in the sale of respiratory medicines during bad air quality days, with 40% of survey respondents preferring to leave Delhi.
All of this leads to absenteeism among employees due to illness, and lower productivity. Severe air pollution will also continue to affect retail sales, similar to what has been witnessed amid the pandemic with buyers moving to online shopping.
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First Published: Nov 17 2021 | 8:15 AM IST