New Delhi: From outstripping Beijing, known for its record pollution, to international airlines cancelling flights to the world's most polluted capital, Delhi saw pollution last week that peaked at 40 times the World Health Organization's safe level. The ordeal for the city of 20 million, however, might be over for now.
The Indian Meteorological Department says that an acceleration in wind-speeds could result in rain on Monday night and continue till Thursday, washing down much of the unbreathable blanket of smoke. "The wind speeds during this period are likely to pick up which will then help clear the air," Scientist at IMD, Charan Singh said.
The rains will also bring a respite for the most vulnerable - lakhs of students who return to schools on Monday after five-day break due to the pollution.
On Sunday, the pollution levels in and around Delhi were recorded as 'severe' - the highest category on the government's Air Quality Index. Nine of the 10 most polluted places in the country were in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) with air quality levels over 490 - the hazardous category, data from the Central Pollution Control Board or CPCB showed.
Experts emphasise the need for a holistic approach to curb pollution rather than one-off measures like the Delhi government's proposed odd-even traffic rationing scheme. "Odd-even alone cannot control the rise in pollution and even if we want to ration the use of vehicles on the city's roads, it is important that there are no exemptions. Pollution levels are at a sever zone and no one is exempt from contributing their bit," Centre for Science and Environment Director Anumita Roychowdury said.
"While Delhi is certainly among the most polluted parts of the country, it isn't alone. Spanning from Punjab all the way to Uttar Pradesh including cities like Lucknow, Agra and Kanpur are just as polluted," Santosh Harish, a researcher at the Energy Policy Institute, said.