Increased stubble fires, calm conditions cause Delhi’s air to become ‘very poor’

The condition will last till October 17, according to the SAFAR website under the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences  

By Shagun
Published: Thursday 15 October 2020

The air quality in Delhi entered the ‘very poor’ zone October 15, 2020, with the average Air Quality Index (AQI) crossing 300. This is the first time this season that the average AQI, average of past 24 hours, settled in the ‘very poor’ category.

An AQI from 0-50 is considered ‘good’, 51-100 ‘satisfactory’, 101-200 ‘moderate’, 201-300 ‘poor’, 301-400 ‘very poor’ and 401-500 ‘severe’. Above 500 is the ‘severe-plus or emergency’ category. 

The AQI in Delhi reached 312 October 15 according to Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) data. 

October 15 was also the day when the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) – a list of pollution-control measures followed in Delhi and neighbouring cities depending on the deterioration in air quality – came into force. Ghaziabad, Gurugram, Noida, Greater Noida and Faridabad were also in the ‘very poor’ category.

At least 26 out of 36 areas monitored together by CPCB, Delhi Pollution Control Committee and India Meteorological Department, were in the ‘very poor’ category. 

The concentration of lead and harmful pollutants in Delhi’s air also increased substantially. The value of particulate matter (PM) 10 was 258 microgramme per cubic metre (µg / m3), according to data from SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research) website under the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences.

PM2.5 level was at 148. Both measures – PM 10 and PM2.5 – were around 2.5 times more than the WHO (World Health Organization) prescribed standard of 100 and 60 µg / m3 respectively.  

Situation to worsen

“The calm and variable surface wind condition is continuing and AQI is likely to stay in the very poor category for tomorrow. Marginal improvement is likely on October 17 but in the lower end of the very poor to poor category,” an analysis by SAFAR said. 

The local wind speed and ventilation is also low. This means the speed at which pollutants get dispersed is low. Thus, a favourable situation for pollutants to get trapped in the atmosphere has developed. 

The analysis added that the stubble burning fire counts observed October 14 around Haryana, Punjab and the neighbouring border regions were estimated at 740 and transport wind direction was partly favourable. Hence, an increase in stubble contribution in PM2.5 was expected.

There has been an increase in fire counts recorded till now this year, when compared to the last two years. For example, on October 14 in 2018 and 2019, the fire counts were around 200.

However, the share of stubble burning in total PM2.5 of Delhi was just six per cent October 15, the SAFAR analysis showed.

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar flagged off 50 CPCB teams for field visits to inspect air control measures. He said around 95 per cent of the pollution in Delhi was due to local factors like dust, construction and biomass burning.

These teams will do on-the-spot reporting about major air polluting sources. These include major construction activities without proper control measures, dumping of garbage and construction waste alongside the roads and in open plots, unpaved roads as well as open burning of garbage / industrial waste.

The teams will visit Delhi and towns of the National Capital Region (NCR) – Noida, Ghaziabad, Meerut in Uttar Pradesh; Gurugram, Faridabad, Ballabhgarh, Jhajjar, Panipat, Sonepat in Haryana and Bhiwadi, Alwar, Bharatpur in Rajasthan.

These teams will specifically focus on hotspot areas where the problem is aggravated, Javadekar said.

Some tough measures to combat air pollution also came into force from October 15.

These include a ban on diesel generator sets (except in emergency and essential services) in Delhi and NCR towns of Noida, Ghaziabad, Greater Noida, Faridabad and Gurugram. Authorities will conduct night patrolling to check dust, industrial emissions and waste burning.

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