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Less pollution this Diwali but Delhi’s air quality has entered severe zone

Although experts said after the Supreme Court order there was a substantial decline in bursting of firecrackers compared to last Diwali, the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research insisted that prevalent pollution levels give no such indication.

delhi Updated: Oct 20, 2017 23:42 IST
Joydeep Thakur / Ritam Halder
Joydeep Thakur / Ritam Halder
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi air quality,Delhi air pollution,Air pollution
A child protects his face amid heavy smog due to bursting of firecrackers despite the ban imposed by the Supreme Court to control the air pollution following Diwali celebrations in New Delhi on Thursday. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

The Capital’s air quality nosedived to ‘severe’ levels after Diwali, even though a Supreme Court ban on the sale of firecrackers in the region prevented a smoggy situation like the previous year.

The city witnessed extremely high pollution levels — its worst in 17 years — around Diwali in 2016, forcing the apex court and several environmental bodies to take remedial measures.

The last time Delhi had witnessed severe air pollution was around 10 months ago, in December 2016.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi stood at 403 on Friday, markedly better than 2016’s post-Diwali count of 445. However, it did not fare as well as the same period in 2015 — when the AQI count measured just 360.

Good air quality, in this index, falls in the 0-50 range.

Although experts said there was a substantial decline in bursting of firecrackers when compared to Diwali 2016, a statement issued by the ministry of earth sciences’ System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) insisted that prevalent pollution levels give no such indication.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) blamed the post-Diwali weather conditions for the spike in pollution levels. “There was a definite decline in burning of firecrackers because of the ban. But the high moisture content and calm winds on Friday (the day after Diwali) trapped pollutants, making some parts of Delhi more polluted than others,” said CPCB member-secretary A Sudhakar.

For instance, pollution levels touched hazardous levels – PM10 at 1,179 and PM2.5 at 878 – at RK Puram around 11 pm on Thursday. Nevertheless, the day’s average provided a clearer picture. Anand Vihar, one of the most polluted areas in the city, recorded a PM 2.5 level of 301 microgrammes per cubic metre. This was the lowest since 2012. However, data provided by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee indicated that the number of micro-fine particles in the RK Puram air touched 440 microgrammes per cubic metre – the highest in eight years.

An analysis conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment stated that the situation could have been worse if the firecracker ban hadn’t been enforced. Besides this, the Supreme Court-mandated panel Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) had also enforced a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) that banned the use of diesel generators in the national capital and shut down the Badarpur thermal power plant to curb pollution levels.

“Pollution levels fluctuate in accordance with emission levels and weather patterns. To initiate action as per GRAP, pollution has to remain stagnant at one level for at least 48 hours,” EPCA member Sunita Narain had said when the action plan came into force on Tuesday.

Met officials said the Capital’s air was unlikely to clear up before Sunday, when strong winds are expected to rush in. On the brighter side, noise pollution levels were at their lowest when compared to the last four years.

On the day of the festival, it seemed as if Delhi would have its cleanest Diwali in three years. However, things took a turn for the worse the next day, when the city’s green belts – such as Lodhi Road and Mathura Road – retained moisture levels to increase the air-pollution load. “PM2.5 levels have been alternating from poor to very poor since October 1. But the emergency level was breached on Diwali night,” an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment stated.

Although firecrackers were burst in most parts of the city, the volume was much less due to lack of easy availability. While some people travelled out of the city to buy the polluting agents, others said they used leftovers from last year’s stash.

First Published: Oct 20, 2017 23:41 IST