Delhi Air Quality is standing at ‘emergency’ levels

By Outlook Planet Desk November 15, 2020

A grey apocalyptic smog enveloped Delhi on Tuesday, blotting out the sun from the sky and smudging landmarks from view as air quality hit "emergency" levels.

Delhi Air Quality is standing at ‘emergency’ levels
Delhi Air Quality is standing at ‘emergency’ levels.

A grey apocalyptic smog enveloped Delhi on Tuesday, blotting out the sun from the sky and smudging landmarks from view as air quality hit "emergency" levels.

Delhi recorded a 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) of 476, which falls in the "severe" category. The neighbouring cities of Faridabad (448), Ghaziabad (444), Noida (455), Greater Noida (436), and Gurgaon (427), which fall in the National Capital Region (NCR), also recorded "severe" air quality.

This is the sixth “severe” air day on the trot in Delhi. The city witnessed seven “severe” air days in November last year.

The levels of PM2.5 – which is about three per cent the diameter of a human hair and can lead to premature deaths from heart and lung diseases – were 494 µg/m3 at 5 pm, more than eight times the safe limit of 60 µg/m3.

PM10 levels stood at 600 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m3) at 5 pm, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. PM10 levels below 100 µg/m3 are considered safe in India.

According to the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), the air quality is considered in the “severe plus” or “emergency” category if PM2.5 and PM10 levels persist above 300 µg/m3 and 500 µg/m3 for more than 48 hours.

GRAP recommends measures such as ban on construction activities, entry of trucks and car rationing scheme in such a scenario.

Earlier in the morning, air quality monitoring stations at Mandir Marg, Punjabi Bagh, Pusa, Rohini, Patparganj, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Najafgarh, Sri Aurobindo Marg and Okhla Phase 2 maxed out as their readings hit the 500-mark, according to CPCB data.

Smog reduced visibility to merely 300 meters in the morning, affecting traffic, an official of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

The city recorded calm winds and a minimum temperature of 10.7 degrees Celsius on Tuesday morning. Calm winds and low temperatures trap pollutants close to the ground, while favourable wind speed helps in their dispersion.

The Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas on Tuesday tasked the CPCB with operationalising and monitoring GRAP measures till a mechanism is set up by the newly-constituted panel.

At a meeting, the commission also decided that in view of deteriorating air quality in the NCR region, there is a need to invoke the GRAP, which has been already notified by the central government.

As the skies hung heavy and acrid over the region, people complained of itchy throat and watery eyes.

“It is the same every year. Doesn't matter what governments say or do. It feels like doomsday,” said Gaurav Rathi, a resident of Jangpura.

Simran Vyas, a 54-year-old resident of Bhogal, complained of heaviness in the chest and asked if lockdown was the only solution to avoid this situation.

Recently, the Indian Medical Association said pollution increased COVID-19 cases in Delhi by 13 percent.

According to an online survey with a sample size of 10,500, around 85 per cent households in Delhi, 62 per cent in Gurgaon, 68 per cent in Noida, 43 per cent in Ghaziabad and 66 per cent in Faridabad have “either one or more individuals suffering from pollution-related ailments”.

Government agencies and experts said calm wind speeds were exacerbating the effect of stubble burning and a “quick recovery” is not possible unless the number of farm fires reduces drastically.

V K Soni, the head of the IMD's environment research centre, said a major improvement in Delhi-NCR's air quality was highly unlikely in the coming days.

“The air quality is likely to be recorded in the upper end of the ''very poor'' category on Diwali if we discount firecrackers emissions. If people burst crackers, pollution levels can increase to 'severe' to 'severe plus' category (emergency),” he said.

The Ministry of Earth Sciences' air quality monitor, SAFAR, said Delhi was witnessing an “unusual” condition and no quick recovery is predicted from “severe” air pollution.

The central agency said three major factors are responsible for this situation -- secondary particle formation, extremely calm local surface winds and stubble-related intrusion.

It said the farm fire count in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and neighbouring areas stood at 2,247.

“The number has marginally reduced but is still significantly high,” it said.

The share of stubble burning in Delhi's PM2.5 pollution was 22 per cent on Tuesday.

The National Green Tribunal on Monday imposed a total ban on sale or use of all kinds of firecrackers in the NCR from November 9 midnight to November 30 midnight, saying "celebration by crackers is for happiness and not to celebrate deaths and diseases".