Capital unable to shed its post-firecracker shroud | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Capital unable to shed its post-firecracker shroud

By, New Delhi
Nov 15, 2023 04:51 AM IST

The air quality index reached the cusp of the "severe" zone, with a 24-hour average AQI of 397 on Tuesday.

The national capital on Tuesday remained locked in the shackles of an oppressive smog two days after Diwali, with a combination of low temperatures, overcast skies and calm winds keeping the remnants from Sunday’s unfettered firecracker-burning trapped in the city’s air, pushing the air quality index (AQI) to the cusp of the deep red “severe” zone.

Heavy smog on a cold morning as air pollution levels rise in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)
Heavy smog on a cold morning as air pollution levels rise in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

Delhi on Tuesday clocked a 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) of 397 at 4pm, a shade below the severe zone (which starts at a reading of 401) and significantly worse than 358 on Monday, which in turn was much worse than 218 on Diwali evening (Sunday).

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Despite this, the city remained shorn of pollution data through much of Tuesday, with data from the 24 Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) air monitoring stations unavailable till 4pm. As a result, the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) Sameer app displayed an average AQI for Delhi that was far lower than accurate throughout the day. The monitors went dark for eight hours, with DPCC attributing it to a “server error”, without giving further details.

To be sure, the monitors were back up by 3pm, and CPCB’s official AQI bulletin took into account data from all the active pollution stations in Delhi, the agency said.

The city is reckoning with a crisis purely of its making, as residents burnt firecrackers relentlessly on Diwali evening in petulant disregard of the Supreme Court’s directives and pushed the city’s air pollution up to noxious levels, overriding even favourable weather conditions. This meant that the city ended up squandering one of the best run-ups it had to Diwali in recent memory, and residents were left with pollution levels that were among the worst in recent years.

All this played out under the watchful eye of the Delhi Police, which did little to crack down on violators.

Delhi’s PM2.5 concentration at 4pm on Sunday was 45.6µg/m³, below India’s safe standard of 60µg/m³. However, smoke from firecrackers propelled this value to 550.8µg/m³ at midnight, nearly 10 times above the safe limit.

On Tuesday, Delhi’s PM2.5 peaked concentration peaked at 342µg/m³ at 12 am.

With winds still blowing in from the northwest and bringing in smoke from burning paddy fields in Punjab and Haryana, Delhi’s pollution levels are unlikely to relent, especially with calm speeds and dipping temperatures, warned meteorological experts.

Officials in Punjab recorded 1,776 farm fires on Tuesday, an uptick from 1,624 on Monday. The agrarian state, which burns more farm fires than any other state before the winter cropping season, has now recorded 28,117 blazes so far. Punjab recorded 49,922 fires between September 15 and November 30 last year.

Experts from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said there won’t be a significant change in the city’s weather over the next three days, with low temperatures and calm winds early in the morning. Between noon and 5pm over the next three days, Delhi should continue to see an average wind speed of 6-8km/hr, it said, speeds that won’t be enough to scatter and disperse pollutants.

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said Delhi’s air on Tuesday was composed of a mix of pollutants from firecrackers, vehicles, biomass burning and other local and transboundary sources.

“We are seeing only winds picking up during the day for a few hours and while some pollutants may disperse during that period, our background emissions are so high that more pollutants are constantly being added and the end result is no significant change in air quality,” she said, underlining that Delhi will get no respite from the noxious air till strong winds wash the air clean.

Kuldeep Srivastava, scientist at IMD, concurred.

“Winds picked up for a brief window after noon, but became calm once again by the evening. We can expect similar conditions on Wednesday, as well as on Thursday. The only difference will be that while wind direction will remain northwesterly on Wednesday, it should switch to easterly by Thursday,” said Srivastava.

The dropping temperatures didn’t help the city’s cause.

Delhi’s maximum temperature was 25.9°C on Tuesday — three below normal, while the minimum was 12°C, two below normal.

The Met department’s forecast for Wednesday shows that while the city’s maximum should remain around 26°C, the minimum should drop down to 11°C by Wednesday.

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