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Smoke from fires in Uttarakhand worsens Delhi’s air quality

At 279, Delhi’s air quality was in the “poor” category overall on Tuesday, which according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s Sameer app means “breathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure.”
It isn’t just Delhi, several cities in the northern plains are facing the same problem.(PTI file photo)
Published on Apr 07, 2021 01:52 AM IST
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Capital’s air quality index (AQI) has moved from moderate to poor to very poor over the past four days, the result of raging forest fires from Uttarakhand (and to a lesser extent, Himachal Pradesh) and winds blowing in from the northern state that has lost around 200 acres of forest to fires in the past few days.

At 279, Delhi’s air quality was in the “poor” category overall on Tuesday, which according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s Sameer app means “breathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure.”

“Delhi’s air quality is on the poor zone as suddenly the dispersal of pollutants has gone down and pollutant load has increased because of many reasons and forest fires is probably one of them,” said Anumita Roy Choudhary, an air quality expert with Centre for Science and Environment.

It isn’t just Delhi, several cities in the northern plains are facing the same problem. For example, Sharanpur in Uttar Pradesh recorded AQI of 331 on Tuesday and Yamunanagar in Haryana AQI of 289. And some areas in the foothills of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh witnessed haze like conditions on Tuesday.

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Uttarakhand has reported close to 100 forest fires in the last 48 hours and close to 250 in the past week. The intensity of forest fires in Himachal is lower, with close to 60 forest fires reported in the last 24 hours.

Most of the forest fires are in lower hills, which have pine tree forests that shed highly immflamable needles in this season. As there is no mechanism to collect the needles, a spark can cause fire, said Himachal’s forest minister Rakesh Pathania.

What has further contributed to forest fires is the dry hot weather. In the month of March and in first week of April, there was 79% rain deficiency in Uttarakhand and 65% in Himachal Pradesh, according to the India Meteorological Department.

A CPCB official, who asked not to be named, said that till the last week of March the wind direction was taking the smoke from forest fires towards the north, thereby not contributing much to the air pollution levels in the plains.

According to an Uttarakhand pollution control board official, there has been an increase in pollution levels in even within the state because of the forest fires. “We will be able to provide the data on the increase after few days as raw data was being analysed,” the official said.

“There are some forest fires in Uttarakhand, but air quality hasn’t declined in NW India only because of that. Winds are northwesterly here. Air quality is in poor category mainly because of dust and lack of moisture. It will improve later today because a western disturbance is expected to bring rain,” said VK Soni, scientist in IMD’s air quality division.

(With inputs from Jayashree Nandi)

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