Business travelers and expats in Delhi apprehensive about future amid smog concerns

Traffic drives through smog in Delhi. Pic: Reuters

TWO weeks ago, New Delhi grappled with its worst ever case of smog in the last 17 years, where measurements on the Air Pollution Index (API) were recorded at 999, well beyond the “hazardous” level of 500.

The report added that some parts of India’s capital recorded air quality that’s almost five times of what’s considered “unhealthy” by the US environmental protection agency.

The New York Times described the smog as “acrid, eye-stinging and throat-burning, and so thick that it is being blamed for a 70-vehicle pileup north of the city.”

SEE ALSO: India’s tourism shrouded in uncertainty as Delhi battles worst smog in 17 years

The smog is slowly lifting, but as the city recovers, many corporate travelers and operators are anxious about the future of their businesses in Delhi.

Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of PayTM payment start-up, left last Sunday for a temporary stay in Mumbai, worried about the impact of hazardous clouds of dust, smoke and fumes that hang over Delhi during the winter months.

His company, which has considered moving from its base outside Delhi, has installed air purifiers, brought in plants and masks and offered extra health assistance.

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a global real estate services firm serving large corporates, said some clients were reconsidering Delhi as a base, as costs of working there rise.

New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) workers spray water on trees to settle down the dust in Delhi. Pic: Reuters

“This is increasing their operational costs as they are being made to spend more to provide a healthy workplace to their employees,” said Santosh Kumar, a senior executive at the firm.

Delhi’s image is deteriorating more widely, a headache for tour promoters and a government touting “Brand India”.

Some local tour operators say they are already receiving requests from overseas partners to redraw the itinerary of foreign tourists to avoid even an overnight stay in Delhi. Business travelers say they are cancelling trips.

“The ongoing tourism season, which is yet to pick up, could see a maximum hit,” Assocham said.

Expatriates are also thinking twice about living in the Indian capital. JLL’s Kumar said more smog could see foreigners packing their bags, a blow to real estate as well as employment.

Additional reporting by Reuters.