Delhi chokes on particles as farm fires rage in Punjab and Haryana
According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, the 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) in Delhi stood at 349 on Sunday, close to the 345 registered a day before.Updated: Oct 26, 2020, 04:02 IST
Farm fires in Punjab and Haryana surged on Sunday, according to satellite data and authorities monitoring pollution, raising fears of the air quality in the National Capital Region deteriorating further from the “very poor” levels recorded in recent days.
According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, the 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) in Delhi stood at 349 on Sunday, close to the 345 registered a day before. The number of farm fires spotted from satellites rose from around 911 on Saturday to 1,619 on Sunday, according to data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa).
Experts have said in recent days that the over 30 million people in NCR are largely left at the mercy of weather conditions. If the winds die down in the coming weeks, as they normally do, and the pollutants from farm fires have not cleared, the region could experience the sort of extreme pollution that has been seen in the last four years.
“Stubble fires reduced on Saturday. There were about 940 fires in Punjab on Saturday, and a lower number of fires in UP and Haryana also. But the fires seem to have increased today,” said Vijay Soni, scientist, India Meteorological Department (IMD air quality division).
The highest number of farm fires spotted from satellites this season was 1,657 on Friday.
Soni added that prevailing wind patterns are such that ultra-fine PM2.5 particles that are emitted as smoke from these fires are drifting in towards the Capital and adjoining areas. “Winds are northwesterly now, and they will remain the same for around a week,” he said, while adding that there could be a marginal improvement from Monday when winds are estimated to pick up.
A second official agreed the wind patterns are bringing pollutants from the farm fires in. On Sunday, the wind speed was nearly 8 kmph, blowing from the north-west, bringing smoke from Punjab and Haryana, said Kuldeep Srivastava, head of IMD’s regional weather forecasting centre.
“The weather conditions are likely to remain pretty similar on Monday, which means that even though we will get some wind, there will be no visible improvement in the air quality because the winds continue to carry smoke from Punjab and Haryana,” Srivastava said.
Union ministry of earth sciences’ air monitoring centre, System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (Safar) also predicted that any possible improvement that could have happened because of increased wind speed will be nullified by the incoming farm fire smoke.
“AQI is predicted to remain in very poor range for the next two days but without further deterioration. SAFAR synergised stubble fire counts recorded a reduction and stands at 867 on Saturday. However, the boundary layer wind direction is north-westerly and wind speed is moderate. This will lead to an increase in pollutant transport towards the Delhi region and hence the SAFAR model estimate of stubble burning share in PM2.5 is 19% today (Sunday),” Safar air quality summary said.
Pawan Gupta, senior scientist, Earth Sciences at the Science and Technology Institute (STI), Universities Space Research Association (USRA) said, “On Sunday, crop fires were seen clearly all over the state of Punjab. Not just the count the burning is also being reported from a larger area now.”
Paddy farmers in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh set fire to stubble left after mechanised harvesting as a cheap and quick method to clear their fields. This year, with the rains having stopped sooner than usual, the farmers began harvesting early.
“Harvesting of early paddy varieties is almost over. About 2% to 5% may be left. Rest are Basmati and other varieties which are not a problem as far as stubble is concerned. The stubble from Basmati is usually used as fodder. But it’s true that this year, a very high number of stubble fires were seen because farmers were extremely angry with the Centre on farm bills and this was a way to oppose the bills,” said Rattan Singh Mann, Haryana chief of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).