AQI enters red zone, all eyes on farm fires.

Delhi residents woke up to a hazy Tuesday morning as the air quality index (AQI) slipped to “very poor” for the first time this season amid increased farm fires in Punjab and Haryana, and local factors such as low wind speed and accumulating pollutants, sparking widespread calls for pre-emptive measures against a crisis that has become routine as winter approaches.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) recordings, Delhi’s average 24-hour air quality index (AQI) at 4pm settled at 300 — in the “poor” zone. However, until 2pm, the hourly AQI average was well above 300. An AQI between 0 and 50 is classified “good”, 51 and 100 “satisfactory”, 101 and 200 “moderate”, 201 and 300 “poor”, 301 and 400 “very poor”, and 401 and 500 “severe”.


Nasa’s satellite imagery showed a large cluster of fires near Amritsar and Firozpur in Punjab and Patiala, Ambala and Kaithal in Haryana. Experts said relief is not on the horizon and the situation will likely become worse in the coming days.

“In Delhi, the development of strong surface level inversion and sudden local calm surface wind conditions led to a low ventilation coefficient and accumulation of pollutants near the surface… AQI is likely in the very poor to poor category for the next two days. An increase in stubble burning fires observed yesterday around Punjab, Haryana, and neighbouring border regions with SAFAR synergized fire count estimated as 675 on 12th October but, the transport wind direction is not favourable and hence only marginal stubble contribution in PM2.5 is expected,” the Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) said. This means that the wind speeds were not strong enough to facilitate the dispersion of pollution particles accumulated near the surface, leading to a spike in levels.

On Tuesday, the prominent pollutant in most of the monitoring stations in Delhi was PM10 (particulate matter with diameter lower than 10 micrometres), which is primarily dust.

At 7am, Delhi’s hourly average AQI was 298, and it progressively slipped to reach 306 at 10am and then deteriorated further to reach 318 by noon. At 5pm, several stations such as Shadipur, ITO, Mathura Road, Pusa, Nehru Nagar, Dwarka Sector-8, Ashok Vihar, Jahangirpuri, Rohini, Mundka and Bawana continued to remain in the red zone. The average PM10 level rose from 252ug/m3 at 7am to 300ug/m3 at 1pm, before it finally started reducing marginally to reach 293.2ug/m3 at 5pm.

As pollution levels rose, both the chief minister and deputy chief minister spoke up about the issue of stubble burning, which has been a political flashpoint between Delhi and neighbouring Punjab and Haryana.

CM Arvind Kejriwal said state governments should stop blaming each other and work together to find a solution to the issue of stubble burning. He said that while farmers of neighbouring states and people of Delhi were bearing the brunt of stubble burning, “governments have shut their eyes”.

“State governments should stop blaming each other. We have to work together to find a solution to the issue… All agencies and governments need to take it seriously now,” he told reporters in Hiranki village in Narela, where the spraying of Pusa bio-decomposer solution started on Tuesday. The solution, experts say, can turn the stubble into manure in 15 to 20 days and, therefore, can result in the reduction of stubble burning.

Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, meanwhile, appealed to the Centre to play a “crucial role” in controlling pollution in north India and curb stubble burning.

The period between mid-October and Diwali is considered critical in the battle against air pollution because while smoke from farm fires in nearby states drifts into the National Capital Region, the use of firecrackers on the day of the festival exacerbates the micropollutants. The air also becomes still and heavy with the weather turning cold, creating a toxic mix in an environment already polluted by emissions from vehicles, road and construction dust, and industrial emissions.

Pollution levels usually remain in the severe category in this period, with the AQI varying between 300 and 500. The level of PM2.5 and PM10 particles reaches at least five to six times above the safe limits of 60μg/m3 and 100μg/m3. PM2.5 are ultrafine particles which stick deep inside the lungs and take the heaviest toll on human health.

“Pollution, especially the smoke from stubble burning, is not Delhi’s problem alone. It is an issue that is affecting entire north India. We (Delhi government) have been working throughout the year to control pollution levels in Delhi but unfortunately, the central government did not do anything to resolve the issue of farm fires. They sat idly for the entire year,” Sisodia said. “We say it again and again that it is not just Delhi which is affected by pollution but whole of north India,” he said. “Pollution plus corona has become lethal for people. Pollution, especially that related to stubble burning, is not an issue for Delhi alone, it is for entire north India,” Sisodia said.

He also took a dig at the pollution monitoring body, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, or Epca, accusing them of not overseeing the coordinating among other states to control the farm fires.

Following Sisodia’s remark, a spokesperson of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change said: “Central government believes in working to end pollution. The central government has taken various anti-air pollution initiatives in the last six years. To control stubble burning, machines for stubble cutting worth ₹1,400 crore has been provided to Punjab and Haryana farmers, which has resulted in a reduction of about 15% and 20% pollution from stubble burning, respectively.”

Bhure Lal, Epca chairperson, said that the monitoring body has been in touch with the state governments of Punjab and Haryana for nearly a month since the first signs of early burnings were spotted through satellite imagery.

A senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said that Delhi on Tuesday received easterly winds with a speed of 6-8kmph. “Around afternoon, for some time, the wind speed improved a little because of which the air quality managed to remain in the poor zone and not slip to the very poor zone. The situation will be similar on Wednesday and Thursday; there is no significant improvement. From October 16, we are expecting that the air quality will start improving,” the scientist said.

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy) at the Centre for Science and Environment, said that this is the third year of Delhi with the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), which states clearly the role of all agencies when the pollution levels start deteriorating. “The action taken by the agencies round the year will now determine the winter pollution levels. The action taken now is only going to be like firefighting. The emergency action at this time of the year will not give us very visible results. Delhi has done quite a lot but a lot more needs to be done,” Roychowdhury said.

Source- Hindustan Times.

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