Temperatures soared to a blistering 49.1 degrees Celsius in the national capital on May 29, according to the India Meteorological Department. The Safdarjung observatory in Delhi recorded a maximum temperature of 46.8 degrees Celsius, the highest ever temperature in 79 years, reported NDTV. The maximum temperature over the Delhi-National Capital Region ranged between 45.2 degrees Celsius and 49.1 degrees Celsius.

The highest temperature last recorded in Delhi was in 2014 at 47.8 degrees Celsius, according to the news agency IANS. A weather station at Mungeshpur recorded the temperature peaking at 52.3 degree Celsius, but the India Meteorological Department said this could be due to an error with the sensor or local factors and that it was examining the data and the sensors.

Kartavya Path, usually bustling with crowds, was deserted as the sun beat down on the stretch.

Those outdoors, including the national capital’s population of outdoor worker, found refuge wherever they could. For some, trees provided respite.

Others turned to makeshift arrangements.

But for some, there was no option but to weather the scorching sun.

Extreme weather conditions threaten the lives and livelihoods of low-income Indians, many of whom have little choice but to labour outdoors for long hours to make a living.

Delhi’s rapid urbaniSation has exacerbated the heatwave. The city’s population has grown from 13.8 million in 2001 to over 20 million in 2023, leading to increased construction, vehicular emissions, and deforestation.

The urban heat island effect, where urban areas become significantly warmer than their rural surroundings, has intensified due to concrete structures and asphalt absorbing and re-emitting heat.

Delhi has seen a substantial reduction in green cover over the years. According to a report by the Forest Survey of India, Delhi’s forest cover has decreased by 0.6% from 2019 to 2021. Trees play a crucial role in cooling the environment by providing shade and releasing moisture through transpiration. The loss of green spaces has removed these natural coolants, contributing to higher temperatures.

The surge in industrial activity and vehicular emissions has contributed to the heatwave. Delhi is home to numerous industries and one of the highest numbers of vehicles per capita in India. These activities release significant amounts of greenhouse gases and pollutants, which trap heat in the atmosphere. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee reported that vehicular emissions account for nearly 38% of the city’s air pollution.

Ice-cream vendors were practically providing an essential service in the heat.

All photographs by Shivansh Srivastava.

Shivansh is an independent photojournalist based out of Uttar Pradesh. His work focuses on Climate, Human Rights, Gender, Society, and the environment. His Instagram handle is @shivsrivastv and his handle on X is @srivastvshivans.