No, Delhi has not sent its smog Chennai's way: Experts

Local, meteorological factors are responsible for Tamil Nadu's capital developing conditions similar to its notorious northern counterpart

By Shivani Chaturvedi
Published: Monday 11 November 2019
Smog over Chennai. Photo: Mass Vinks @ImVin45 / Twitter

Experts have discounted the theory that smog-laden air from Delhi could have caused similar conditions across the Vindhyas in Chennai.

“The air pollution that we are reeling under now is a cumulative effect and not sudden,” city-based medical professional Ezhilan, said.

“The city has been expanding on one side. Much of its recent urban expansion has been southwards. There is a 30-fold increase in the population of motorised vehicles. Because of thousands of jobs in the Information Technology sector, the population too has increased rapidly,” he said.

“The temperature has been fluctuating and there hasn't been good rainfall to flush out the pollutants. In the 1980s, sea breeze used to set in after 3 pm. But these days, we hardly feel any breeze,” Ezhilan added.

K Palanivelu, director of Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation Research, Anna University, agreed. A detailed study and analysis is required to understand whether polluted winds from Delhi are causing the smog or not, he said.

“In Chennai, there is already pollution because of vehicular emissions. Then, there is not much wind this time. So not much dispersion is happening,” he added.

Environmentalist G Sundarrajan of non-profit Poovulagin Nanbargal (which means Friends of the Earth in Tamil) said environmentalists in the city had been pushing for renewable energy sources and demanding the closure of power plants in Ennore and North Chennai.

“The reality cannot be ignored. The polluted air that we are experiencing today is of our own making and not the result of Delhi’s air pollution,” he said.   

“We have so many factories around Chennai. In fact, Tamil Nadu is one of the most industrialised states. The debate that air pollution is because of winds from Delhi is just baseless,” MB Nirmal of Exnora International, said.  

The metropolis’ air quality has been quite bad for a number of days now. The sudden increase in PM2.5 was a thing to be worried about, Palanivelu said.

The city’s residents are gasping for breath because of this unusual increase in air pollution.

Sujatha, a resident of the city’s Sholinganallur neighbourhood, had set out to make purchases on the afternoon of November 10 when she felt a burning sensation of smoke in her throat. “The city’s air quality continues to be very bad,” she said.

The Tamil Nadu government is yet to issue any public advisory.

The smog can have a very bad effect on the residents’ health, said Ezhilan. Since September, there has been a spurt of coronary heart disease, particularly among young people who are more exposed to unhealthy air. The increasing number of hospitalisations of such patients was an indicator, he said. 

Ezhilan added that non-smokers were developing lung cancer besides there also being an increase in the cases of lung disorders and infectious diseases.  

According to Palanivelu, once Chennai receives good rain, pollution levels will come down in the city. 

According to data available, Chennai was the worst-performing among all south Indian state capitals in matters of air quality in the first week of November.

Between November 4 and 8, the Tamil Nadu capital recorded an average Air Quality Index (AQI) of 305.75 (‘Very Poor’) in its Manali industrial neighbourhood.

During the same period, Bengaluru’s Peenya industrial area an AQI of 78.6 (‘Satisfactory’), Hyderabad’s Bollaram recorded an AQI of 128.8 (‘Moderate’), Amaravati recorded 54.4 (‘Satisfactory’), while Thiruvanathapuram recorded an AQI of 48 (‘Good’).

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