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Air quality in Delhi turns poor; likely to worsen in coming days

In the coming days, officials expect a combination of three factors to drastically worsen the pollution problem in Delhi. Wind speed is likely to remain low, local emissions are set to increase due to the festive rush and pollutants from more farm fires are expected to drift in.

delhi Updated: Oct 13, 2018 22:35 IST
Vatsala Shrangi
Vatsala Shrangi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi air quality,Delhi,Crop burning
Smoke rises as a farmer burns paddy stubbles at a village on the outskirts of Amritsar, Friday.(PTI Photo)

Pollution levels in the national capital and neighbouring cities shot up again on Saturday, as the wind speed dropped to zero, trapping local pollution, even as the effects from farm fires started to be felt.

A thick haze hung over the city in the early part of the day and eight monitoring stations out of the 36 recorded ‘very poor’ levels of air quality -- a stark contrast from the day before when air quality was ‘moderate’ as the city recorded strong cold winds.

The overall Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi was classified as poor at 262 on Saturday – a day before it was 154 in the moderate category, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Levels of PM2.5, combustion particles that are roughly are a forty times finer than an average human hair, more than doubled in the last couple of days. A key source of PM2.5 this time of the year is the fire farmers in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana light to clear their fields of paddy residue.

In the coming days, officials expect a combination of three factors to drastically worsen the pollution problem. Wind speed is likely to remain low, local emissions are set to increase due to the festive rush and pollutants from more farm fires are expected to drift in, said D Saha, former head of CPCB’s air quality lab.

The other major pollutant, PM10, also rose to 289.7 micrograms/cubic meter – nearly thrice of the 100 microgram/cubic meter level that is considered safe.

On Thursday, the India Metrological Department (IMD’s) gave an input to the CPCB saying wind direction will change to north-northwest from Friday onwards. CPCB officials, who met that day, asked the Haryana and Punjab governments to enforce the ban against stubble burning.

The CPCB has said that from Monday onwards, restrictions part of the so-called Graded Action Plan (Grap) will be in force. Bans on construction, odd-even and open burning could be announced under Grap if pollution levels reach alarming levels.

Representatives of farmer unions have repeatedly expressed helplessness in combating the problem of crop residue burning, which they say is a cheap and quick method for those who have been unable to afford more modern machines that can remove paddy stubble.

“Burning stubble is our last resort. We know it harms our families first since we reside near our farms. It destroys micronutrients [from the soil], and we have to put up with all sorts of threats from the state government that files police cases and imposes hefty fines,” said Chamkaur Singh Nainewal, a farmer leader, during a rally in Punjab’s Barnala on Saturday.

The rally was held by farmers to urge the government to do more to manage crop residue.

While announcing Grap, the CPCB had said that the air quality may deteriorate to very poor later this month.

From next week at least, the measures to combat pollution include a possible hike in parking fees to dissuade people from using private cars, and a ban on the use of diesel generators.

(With inputs from HTC in Barnala)

First Published: Oct 13, 2018 22:34 IST