Pollution in Urban India: The View from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh


by Johannes Urpelainen



The figure you’re looking at shows a fan inside an office in Lucknow, and the dirt on it is from air pollution. According to locals, wiping off the dirt is basically useless because it’ll be back within 3-4 days at this time of the year.


The idea that indoor fans would be covered with dirt from air pollution seems pretty shocking – until you spend a little time outdoors. During my weeklong stay in the city of nawabs, the air quality was so bad every night that one felt physically sick. The combination of dense fog, dust, and air pollution from a variety of sources (diesel generators, cars, burning branches and leaves, burning tires – the list goes on) together contributed to yet another airpocalypse.


The situation has grown worse over time. I have visited Lucknow every January for the past five years, and every year has been worse than the last one. This year, in particular, has been a public health disaster.


Sadly, awareness of air pollution remains limited. My local friends said they no longer realize whether the air is polluted, and I did not see anyone wear a mask – except colleagues from Delhi and New York. So while awareness of air pollution seems to have grown in Delhi, it is virtually non-existent in Lucknow. No wonder, then, that the Uttar Pradesh state government does not consider air pollution the crisis it really is.