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Delhi air pollution: CPCB asks weatherman to set up smog alert system

Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI), a measure of particulate matter in the air, hit 486 and the levels stayed in severe category for seven days, forcing closure of schools, ban on entry of trucks and construction activity.

delhi Updated: Nov 20, 2017 08:24 IST
Joydeep Thakur
Joydeep Thakur
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi air pollution,Delhi air quality,Smog alert system
A woman wears a face mask due to smog at Mayur Vihar in New Delhi, on November 8, 2017. Delhi suffered poor air quality for a week at the start of November, triggering a political slugfest over who was responsible.(Sushil Kumar/HT Photo)

The country’s top pollution-monitoring body wants a smog alert system in place for Delhi, where air quality has just begun to improve after almost two weeks of toxic haze.

The central pollution control board (CPCB) wants the Indian meteorological department (IMD) to warn Delhi in advance about the dust storms in west Asia and also cyclones brewing in the Bay of Bengal, both of which have a bearing on the city’s air.

“We have requested the IMD to develop an early warning system. If we get some prior intimation of what’s coming in from across the borders, we can take necessary precautions,” CPCB’s member secretary A Sudhakar told Hindustan Times on Sunday.

Delhi’s recent smog nightmare was triggered, in large parts, by dust storms in Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and not so much by stubble burning in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana, as was thought earlier.

Moisture-laden winds, pushed by the cyclones in the Bay of Bengal, were the other culprits. Moisture traps tiny air-borne dust particles and hamper their dispersal, forming a heavy layer of pollutants.

Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI), a measure of particulate matter in the air, hit 486 and the levels stayed in severe category for seven days, forcing closure of schools, ban on entry of trucks and construction activity.

According to officials, the dust from the Gulf storms takes at least three to four days to hit Delhi. An early warning system will give authorities the headroom to minimise the impact of foul air.

For instance, the government can boost transport system before rolling out the road-rationing plan, which couldn’t take off this time, to minimise vehicular emissions.

The CPCB didn’t have a system to monitor the dust storms or tropical cyclones and their impact on Delhi, said D Saha, who head the pollution authority’s air quality laboratory.

The IMD gives weather updates and forecasts, the government-run SAFAR, alerts about particulate matter, one of the key pollutants in Delhi.

The need for a warning system was also felt during a recent meeting of the CPCB task force that was also attended by the officials of pollution control boards of the national capital region and IMD.

“As these activities (dust storms) are beyond our control, in order to be better prepared for minimising exposure, an early warning system (smog alert) may be developed by IMD,” said the minutes of the meeting, a copy of which is with HT.

The Supreme Court-appointed environment pollution (prevention and control) authority (EPCA), too, has asked the IMD to share updates of the cyclones.

“Tropical cyclones and other bad weather conditions over the sea have a vital role in deciding air quality of Delhi,” EPCA member Sunita Narain had said.

First Published: Nov 20, 2017 07:16 IST