Delhi asks Centre to clarify data in SC affidavit on stubble fires
New Delhi: Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai on Tuesday asked his counterpart in the Union government, Bhupender Yadav, to clarify the exact contribution of stubble burning in Delhi’s air, referring to contradictory data submitted by the Centre in an affidavit to the Supreme Court on Monday.
The Union government on Monday submitted before the Supreme Court that stubble burning is not a prime cause of pollution, adding that it contributes just around 10% to the total pollution. But the affidavit, placed by the Centre before the court in the same matter, also contains a finding that the stubble burning has been contributing about 35% to 40% of the total pollution load in Delhi-NCR.
Interestingly the same affidavit, at another point, refers to a scientific study to maintain that stubble burning contributes a meagre 4% to PM 2.5 and PM 10 pollutants during the pre-winter and winter weeks. The source of this scientific study has not been named in the affidavit.
“On Monday, there was a debate between experts and sections of the media on what is the exact contribution of stubble burning to Delhi’s PM 2.5 concentration. While the affidavit said the contribution was 4% , another section in the same affidavit says the contribution of stubble burning to Delhi is 35-40%. Either the 4% figure is correct, or the 40% figure is right, both cannot be correct,” said Rai during a press conference on Tuesday.
He asked the union environment minister to verify the contribution, and clarify the data so that corrective measures can be taken.
Quoting the data from the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (Safar), a body under the Union ministry of earth sciences, Rai said that the daily contribution of stubble burning to Delhi’s PM 2.5 levels between November 4 and 14 was around 31%. “This body also falls under the central government, so which figure is correct?,” asked Rai, stating a Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed to tackle a 4% percent contribution will work quite differently from an SIT formed to tackle a 40% load.
“I request the minister to look into this matter and give everyone clarity on stubble burning and its contribution,” he said.
A senior union environment ministry official on condition of anonymity, said there is a difference between the two figures, as one represents real-time concentration for the day, whereas the other figure of 4 percent is averaged out through the year. “There is a clear explanation in the affidavit submitted and the source of these,” said the official.
According to the Safar data, the contribution from stubble burning to pollution in Delhi was 25% on November 4, 36% on November 5, 41% on November 6, and it peaked at 48% on November 7. By November 14, this came down to 31%.
The Supreme Court had on Monday asked the Centre to hold an emergency meeting on air pollution within 24 hours. The meeting was organised on Tuesday by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) with Delhi and the states of Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan.
Rai said the Delhi government suggested implementing work from home across Delhi-NCR, a ban on construction activities in the region and shutting down industries in Delhi-NCR, if required.
“We have already imposed a ban on construction activities in Delhi, but we have asked the commission to impose this across NCR. Similarly, like Delhi, all government staff in NCR may work from home. If required, we have also suggested shutting down industries,” said Rai.
To continue acting on local sources of pollution, the minister said the Delhi government will launch phase-two of the ‘Red Light On, Gaadi Off’ campaign from November 19. Phase-one of the campaign was held between October 18, till November 18.
“Due to poor air quality, we have decided to extend the campaign. Phase-two of the campaign will run for 15 days.” he said.
Delhi’s air quality deteriorated to the ‘severe’ category on Tuesday, touching an air quality index (AQI) of 403 (severe) according to CPCB’s daily bulletin. In comparison, the AQI on Monday was 353 (very poor). Agencies say low wind speeds across Delhi, even during the day, are trapping pollutants locally and not allowing dispersal.