Haze shrouded India’s capital city again yesterday, with residents braving dangerous air quality to return to work after a weekend of clearer air and better weather.
The air quality index (AQI) of the US embassy in New Delhi stood at “hazardous” levels of 497 early morning, with levels of airborne PM 2.5 - particles that can reach deep into the lungs - touching nearly 700 in parts of the city.
That is more than 10 times the recommended safe limit of 60 for PM 2.5.
A dip in wind speed and temperature is making air denser, trapping pollutants and worsening air quality, said Vivek Chattopadhyay, a senior programme manager at New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.
The city government of Delhi, a metropolis of over 20mn, is restricting the use of private cars until November 15 with an “odd-even” system - allowing cars on alternate days, depending on whether their licence plate ends in an odd or even number.
The scheme, which includes a two-day waiver for a religious festival, has helped little, prompting environmentalists to call for urgent action.
“The chief minister (of Delhi) needs to declare an emergency,” said Bharati Chaturvedi, founder of the Chintan environmental advocacy group.
“If this was the plague, he would have declared an emergency.”
Every year, as India’s winter season approaches, farmers in Delhi’s neighbouring Punjab and Haryana states, where agriculture is a mainstay, burn off rice field stubble in preparation for the sowing season.
The smoke from fields mixes with vehicle exhaust and construction dust, making Delhi the world’s most-polluted capital.
The forecast for the next two days is not bright with the share of stubble burning set to rise to 25% of Delhi’s AQI which will plummet to the ‘severe’ category.
According to a forecast by Safar India, AQI is likely to deteriorate to ‘severe’ category for next two days and improvement towards very poor is predicted only by November 14.
Delhi’s Environment Minister Kailash Gahlot yesterday wrote to the chief Ministers of Pubjab and Haryana urging them for immediate actions to stop stubble burning.
Gahlot said that he also wrote to federal Environment Minister Prakash Jaavdekar over the issue and expressed displeasure as a meeting called by the central government on November 9 was not attended by the environment ministers of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
“The major reason for the air pollution in the national capital is the stubble burning in the neighbouring states. Despite the Supreme Court’s intervention, the environment ministers of the four states did not attend the meeting,” Gahlot said.
The Supreme Court last week chided authorities for their failure to curb the pollution and asked the city government, its neighbouring states and the federal government to work together to help improve air quality.
>> Researchers have found a growing link between agricultural fire and air pollution with the impact of the former aggravating in the last decade.
Researchers at an international conference on forestry at TERI School of Advanced Studies found that agricultural fires have been the same on the Pakistan side of Punjab while the fires have increased on the Indian side since 2008.
There has been around 2% increase in aerosol concentration in the last three decades. The black carbon concentration and absorbing aerosols over the Indo-Gangetic plain has been increasing due to biomass burning and other activities which peak during post-monsoon seasons (October-December). This was recorded using satellite data products of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Multiangle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR).
Forests in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been under constant stress from forest fires and this problem is now being tackled by providing early warning to forest departments from real time monitoring using high resolution remote sensing data.
Moreover, various initiatives have been taken by the Forest Survey of India to monitor and manage forest fires which include providing real time monitoring of forest fire and burnt area assessment through a geoportal called “Van Agni”.
According to the National Forest Inventory programme, 9.89% of forest areas are heavily affected and 54.40% areas are mildly affected due to forest fires.
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