Delhi woke up to heavy smog on Monday, the day after Diwali, but it would be myopic to blame just crackers for it. India’s capital has a chronic bad air problem for a variety of reasons, including its location and the weather at this time of the year.
The main culprits, though, are rampant, and often unregulated construction, the burning of crop stubble in Punjab and Haryana, and the movement of heavy trucks through the city. Emissions from pollutants in the Yamuna and the presence of an industrial belt around the city do not help. Monday was not the first time levels of particulate matter (PM) 10 and PM 2.5 reached as much as eight times the safe limit. It won’t be the last. Both increase the exposure of citizens to highly unsafe levels of carcinogens.
Maybe Delhi can learn from London’s experience in tackling the Great Smog of 1952 that resulted in several thousand deaths. The result was legislation that, while it took its time to work, eventually did. Unless Delhi does that, its residents can look forward to a unhealthy bonanza every year.