Sunday, December 10, 2023

Delhi battles with toxic air pollution

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Pollution levels in Delhi and its surrounding areas dipped marginally on Saturday due to a relatively better wind speed but a thick toxic haze lingered over the city for the fifth consecutive day. The concentration of poisonous PM2.5 was still over 80 times the healthy limit prescribed by the World Health Organization. Expressing concern about the expected deterioration in air quality in the coming days due to Diwali and stubble burning in neighbouring states, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai shot off a letter to Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav urging that only CNG, electric and BS VI-compliant vehicles be permitted in Delhi-NCR.

He also requested for an emergency meeting with NCR states to address the issue.

Data from the Central Pollution Control Board showed Delhi’s air quality index increased by over 200 points between October 27 and November 3, culminating in a descent into the “severe plus” category (above 450) on Friday. On Saturday, the 24-hour average AQI, recorded at 4 pm every day, marginally improved from 468 on Friday to 415 on Saturday.

Friday’s 24-hour average AQI was the worst since the previous high of 471 recorded on November 12, 2021. Rai also wrote to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, seeking the suspension of Delhi Pollution Control Committee chairman Ashwani Kumar for “arbitrarily halting” the operation of a large smog tower installed at Connaught Place two years ago to mitigate air pollution. In his letter, Rai also sought disciplinary action against project in-charge Anwar Ali, whom he minister accused of changing his stance on the smog tower’s effectiveness under pressure from Kumar.

Meanwhile, the blame game between the AAP and the opposition BJP on the pollution crisis intensified. At a press conference, AAP chief spokesperson Priyanka Kakkar hit out at the BJP government in Haryana over the pollution crisis.

“The Khattar government in Haryana has done nothing for stubble management. If it wishes, we can send our experts from Punjab who can guide them on where machines are needed for stubble disposal,” she said.

She claimed out of 52 most polluted districts in the country, 20 are in Haryana.

BJP MP Manoj Tiwari alleged the “callous and frivolous attitude” of the Kejriwal government was responsible for the annual affair of toxic air quality in the city during winters.

In a letter to Kejriwal, he said it was high time to initiate measures to protect people and stop the blame game.

With Delhi breathing toxic air, doctors expressed concern that it is increasing respiratory and eye problems among children and the elderly.

The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulate matter capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory system and triggering health problems, exceeded the government-prescribed safe limit of 60 microgrammes per cubic metre by seven to eight times at multiple locations throughout Delhi-NCR.

It was 80 to 100 times the healthy limit of 5 microgrammes per cubic metre set by the WHO.

The air quality in neighbouring Ghaziabad (394), Gurugram (404), Noida (408), Greater Noida (490) and Faridabad (438) also reported hazardous air quality.

In view of the pollution hazard, the resident welfare associations (RWAs) in Delhi have issued dos’ and don’ts and banned trash burning.

Some RWAs are holding interactive sessions with their residents to advise them about various measures to protect themselves from high level of air pollution.

Delhi’s air quality ranks among the worst in the world’s capital cities.

A report by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) in August said that air pollution is shortening lives by almost 12 years in Delhi.

The hazardous pollution levels compelled many to forgo their morning walks, sports, and other outdoor activities.

Parents also are a worried lot as health experts say children breathe faster, taking in more pollutants.

Unfavourable meteorological conditions, combined with emissions from vehicles, paddy straw burning, firecrackers, and other local pollution sources, contribute to hazardous air quality levels in Delhi-NCR during the winter every year.

According to an analysis conducted by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), the capital experiences peak pollution from November 1 to November 15 when the number of stubble burning incidents in Punjab and Haryana increases.

Smoke from stubble burning accounted for 24 5 percent of the PM2.5 pollution in Delhi on Saturday, dropping from 35 percent on Friday, according to a numerical model-based system developed by the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

Officials at the Commission for Air Quality Management, a central government panel that formulates strategies to combat pollution in Delhi-NCR, expect pollution levels to further decline due to comparatively better meteorological conditions and curbs imposed on certain polluting activities, including non-essential construction work, starting Thursday.

On Friday, the commission deferred the implementation of stricter measures under the air pollution control plan, called the Graded Response Action Plan, citing a declining trend in the AQI in the region.

A day earlier, the pollution control body had ordered a ban on non-essential construction work and specific categories of polluting vehicles.

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