City sees better air than last year; quality set to dip sharply
Zero days of poor air quality, five days of moderate air, 14 days of satisfactory air and nine days of good air. That’s how September was for Gurugram, among the most polluted cities in the world, where air quality was an average of 70 (satisfactory) on the CPCB’s air quality index (AQI).
In contrast to the same period last year, these numbers reflect an improvement in the city’s air quality. In September 2018, the city recorded an average daily AQI of 125 (moderate), with just three good air days, nine satisfactory air days, four days of moderate air and at least five days of poor air.
Pollution levels in September last year almost veered into the very poor category, peaking at 298 (poor) on September 29. This year, however, the city’s AQI score has not exceeded 162 (moderate) on a single day.
However, experts said the dip in air pollution is a combined effect of both meteorology and policy implementation.
HSPCB senior scientist Rajesh Garhia said, “The last couple of years have seen stricter implementation of the Graded Response Action Plan’s (GRAP) on ground measures, which might have impacted pollution levels. In Haryana’s NCR districts, we have ensured that traditional fuels, such as furnace oil and pet coke, are not used. Industries have also been made to switch to PNG.”
Garhia added that the recently launched Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway has had an immediate impact on reducing vehicular emissions in Gurugram, particularly from freight vehicles which are considerably more polluting than private vehicles.
The city’s only official air quality monitor, at Vikas Sadan, also seems to be functioning more efficiently. While it failed to record data on nine days in September last year, it only failed to do so on one day in the past month.
According to D Saha, former head of the CPCB air quality lab, the data is hopeful, but can’t be put down to merely policy implementation. “The driving factor behind pollution in the Delhi-NCR airshed is meteorology. On ground measures should be taken in account, but the next year might present a different set of meteorological circumstances which could cause pollution levels to spike again.”
This view was echoed by Sachin Panwar, a city-based air quality expert who said, “Last year, atmospheric humidity was not as high as it is this year. That’s the main reason for the improvement; we have seen lesser long-range dust from Rajasthan as well. Also, though the monsoon has not yielded much rain this year, it has persisted quite late into September. Hence we are seeing good air despite the recent drop in temperature.”
However, with winter just around the corner, experts said this window of good air will not last much longer. Pollution levels are expected to dip sharply within the next week itself.
While the early air quality warning system for Delhi-NCR predicts that air quality will remain in the upper end of the ‘satisfactory’ category on October 2, a forecast by Urban Emissions—an air quality research and advocacy group—shows that Gurugram will likely experience ‘very poor’ air, with an AQI value exceeding 300.
Moreover, the onset of stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, which began earlier this month, is also expected to have an impact on air quality in the city in the coming weeks. However, according to Urban Emissions’ modelled source contributions of PM2.5 for Haryana, the main contributors over in the next three days will be diesel generators, power plants and industries.