Have your pick: Smoke 20 ciggies a day, or live in pre-Diwali Delhi

By Prarthana Mitra

With one day to go for Diwali celebrations to ratchet up the air pollution in the national capital, Delhi woke up to a thick blanket of smog on Monday morning with no sign of dispersion. Along with lowered visibility from high storied-buildings and vehicles on the roads, the air smelled of something burning throughout the day.

The air quality significantly deteriorated early Monday with a decrease in wind speed and onset of winter fog, registering a record 570, with the levels of the pollutant PM2.5 at a “hazardous” 644 – 20 times the permissible mark set by the WHO.

The highest levels of PM2.5, respiratory disease-causing particulate matter, were reported in south Delhi’s Okhla, according to data from the Delhi Pollution Control Board, which tackles with the same problem every Diwali season, due widescale stubble-burning in Punjab and Haryana at this time, leading to biomass pollution. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has held the central government and the neighbouring states culpable for this annual dehumanisation that the citizens of Delhi go through.


While the air quality had improved over the weekend, with PTI reporting that the Air Quality Index (AQI) was at 231 on Sunday, the AQI at 10 AM on Monday was 365, although it is said to have reached 570 at some point in the day.


Delhi authorities had taken several measures including a temporary closure of all construction work involving excavation, shutting down stone crushers and hot mix plants (that generate dust) to reduce air pollution. The DPCC has further directed the transport department and the traffic police to tighten measures against vehicles exceeding emission limits and control road congestion till November 10. Additionally, a Delhi-based start-up Kurin Systems has designed a 40-feet-tall purifier that can clean air and impact about 75,000 people living in the three-kilometre radius around it.

DPCC officials, however, expect a clean Diwali without a drastic increase in pollution levels in the coming days.  But according to Pune’s Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and Safar’s early warning system, pollution will worsen in the coming week, following a further drop in temperatures and as the bursting of firecrackers ensues tomorrow. The ventilation index which determines how fast pollutants get dispersed is expected to be low as a result of decreasing wind speed.

To put the scale of the capital’s pollution in perspective, the AQI in Chennai was 43 on November 1, 54 in Kolkata, 92 in Pune and 126 in Mumbai, while Delhi registered a level of 378 the same day. According to the WHO, India is home to six of the ten most polluted cities in the world with Delhi topping that list.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

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