EMERG­ING POL­LU­TION CAP­I­TALS OF IN­DIA

As Delhi chokes on bad air, other cities are not far be­hind

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

ANU­PAM CHAKRAVARTTY

AAJEET SINGH

smog en­veloped Delhi for about 10 days fol­low­ing Di­wali cel­e­bra­tions push­ing the Delhi gov­ern­ment to de­clare emer­gency mea­sures, sev­eral smaller cities showed up as more pol­luted than the national cap­i­tal. This is ev­i­dent from the daily Air Qual­ity In­dex (aqi) that the Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (cpcb) re­leases for 32 cities. Worse, there is ab­so­lute silence about pol­lu­tion risks in these cities.

On Oc­to­ber 29 and 30, Kan­pur be­came the coun­try’s most pol­luted city. It scored 487 and 480 on cpcb’s aqi. Delhi scored 404 and 431 on those days. Farid­abad topped the list on five dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions be­tween Novem­ber 1 and 7, with its aqi level hov­er­ing be­tween 453 and 493. Over the next two days Lucknow topped the list—the cap­i­tal city of Ut­tar Pradesh scored 491 on Novem­ber 8 and 494 on Novem­ber 9.

In fact, Lucknow’s air wors­ened by three times be­tween Di­wali and the day be­fore the fes­ti­val— the level of PM2.5 in the city’s at­mos­phere jumped from 248.2 μg/m3 on Oc­to­ber 29 to 672.2 μg/m3 on Oc­to­ber 30. The con­cen­tra­tion of PM10 in­creased from 360.1 μg/m3 to 863.8 μg/m3, show es­ti­mates by the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tox­i­col­ogy Re­search (iitr), Lucknow. Agra and Varanasi also re­ported high aqi lev­els dur­ing the pe­riod. Alok Dhaw, di­rec­tor of iitr, says pol­lu­tion lev­els pre­vail­ing across north In­dian states are alarm­ing for both hu­man and eco­log­i­cal health.

Such high con­cen­tra­tions of par­tic­u­late mat­ter in the at­mos­phere and calm weather make a per­fect recipe for a dense smog, which is haz­ardous to health. As per cpcb, aqi level above 400 is con­sid­ered “se­vere” air pol­lu­tion. At this range, air pol­lu­tion af­fects even healthy peo­ple and can se­ri­ously af­fect those suf­fer­ing from dis­eases.

The sit­u­a­tion was sim­i­lar in all ma­jor cities across north In­dia, ex­cept Rohtak and Panchkula. aqi for these cities sug­gest that they ex­pe­ri­enced “very poor” to “se­vere” air qual­ity dur­ing the pe­riod.

In a sharp con­trast, Dur­ga­pur, an in­dus­trial city in east­ern In­dia, scored 53 on aqi on Di­wali day and 34 the day af­ter, sug­gest­ing min­i­mal impact on peo­ple’s health. aqi of port city Vishaka­p­at­nam were 74 and 96 on the two days. The fig­ures were 162 and 114 for Nashik, which lies in the west­ern part of the coun­try. Even the city of Chan­dra­pur, ill-famed for coal-fired in­dus­tries, re­mained in the mod­er­ate cat­e­gory of 101 and 200 on most days in the week fol­low­ing Di­wali.

So why did north In­dian cities suf­fer from se­vere air pol­lu­tion around Di­wali fes­tiv­i­ties?

In land-locked north In­dia, pol­lu­tion from open fires, traf­fic, biomass chul­has, power plants and in­dus­try stays el­e­vated and trapped. Wind­less and cool weather dur­ing the win­ters

On Oc­to­ber 29 and 30, Kan­pur be­came the coun­try's most pol­luted city. Farid­abad topped the list on five dif­fer­ent days be­tween Novem­ber 1 and 7, while Lucknow be­came the pol­lu­tion cap­i­tal on Novem­ber 8 and 9

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