Expats put their lives at risk working in Delhi

Published:  20 Nov at 6 PM
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For decades, India was regarded as a must-have posting for senior executives at multinational companies in the West, but health risks due to pollution are killing its attraction.

Nowadays, India is regarded as a proving ground for major talent as well as an important international market, but its rise as an expatriate hub has been all but halted by the grim conditions in its major cities. Seen from space, the region round New Delhi shows a thick blanket of smog far more dangerous than the infamous smog in London after the end of WWII. It's an image which is scaring off the majority of diplomats as well as multinational corporation executives, all of whom are citizens of the world whose impressions matter.

Up until five years ago, a stint in India was considered a must for the resumes of executives with high ambitions, but nowadays there’s a requirement to put one’s health at risk in order to achieve one’s corporate desires. Even diplomats, used to going exactly where they’re told, are finding excuses not to take on assignments to Indian embassies, especially if they’d be arriving with their families. The official view of India, especially its northern sector, is that it’s one of the world’s most noxious gas chambers, worse even than China’s great cities.

As if to prove the point, the Costa Rican ambassador to India Mariela Cruz Alvarez recently left Delhi for a respiratory illness recovery period in Bangalore, a large city set 3000 feet above sea level on the Deccan Plateau in southern India. It’s the highest of all India’s mega-cities, and is safe from pollution, at least for the foreseeable future.

The Thai embassy isn’t happy either, having requested New Delhi’s classification as a hardship post, even although Bangkok and Thailand’s northern regions have their own issues with pollution on a far lower scale. Earlier this month, the UK’s Prince Charles visited Delhi and was asked how he was coping with the poisonous air. He replied he was ‘trying to get used to it’. Once the seasons change, the winds will pick up and Delhi’s air will become far clearer and cleaner, but, for expats living and working in the city, the relief will only be temporary.
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