Stubble burning, dust from West put an end to north India’s clean air

The region had experienced clean skies during the COVID-19 lockdown, but now, particulate matters have again increased

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 28 September 2020
Clean air of COVID-19 lockdown giving way to pollution in north India. Photo: NASA
Stubble fires in Punjab and Haryana captured by NASA. Photo: NASA Stubble fires in Punjab and Haryana captured by NASA. Photo: NASA

The air in the Indo-Gangetic Plains region of north India has started to become heavy. Some areas have entered the ‘poor’ category of air quality, especially in Delhi, according to a bulletin by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) September 28, 2020. 

Dust coming in from the west of India and smoke from fires to burn paddy stubble in Punjab and Haryana have led to an increase in particulate matter (PM) in the cities of the National Capital Region, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, with some returning to their pre-lockdown levels.  

Lucknow’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was recorded as ‘poor’ September 28, while districts like Bulandshahr, Ballabhgarh, Bhiwadi, Hapur, Manesar, Ghaziabad, Greater Noida and Noida were on the lower end of the ‘Moderate’ category and close to entering the ‘poor’ category, according to the CPCB bulletin. 

Areas in Delhi like Bawana, Mathura Road, Dwarka Sector-8 and Mundka have already entered the ‘poor’ category. The dominant pollutant was PM10, that could be a result of dust coming in from the west

“Also, the economy is comparatively stagnant. Vehicles on roads are less for now. So combustion sources, that lead to PM2.5, are less compared to PM10,” Vivek Chattopadhyaya, programme manager, Clean Air Programme, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, said. 

An AQI between 0 and 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. 

There has been a steady increase in farm fires in Punjab and Haryana in the last few days, according to NASA’s satellite data. 

Pawan Gupta, senior scientist at Universities Space Research Association, NASA, posted Fire-count satellite data on Twitter which showed that there were around 240 fires September 25 in Punjab and 280 September 26.

Most of the fires were concentrated in Punjab till last week. However, fires also started in some districts of Haryana like Kurukshetra, Karnal and Kaithal September 27. Over 20 fires were recorded from Haryana September 27. 

The Delhi High Court September 28 issued notice to the Centre, state pollution control boards and CPCB to take immediate steps after hearing a plea filed to prevent stubble burning. 

The air quality is likely to deteriorate further by next week. 

 “Late withdrawal of the monsoon and the associated high-pressure system and stagnant wind conditions are likely to influence Delhi’s air quality negatively by the end of next week,” the SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research) website under the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, said.

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