The main culprits behind the poor AQI in the capital has been a constant source of debate, with the centre blaming only 10% of it on stubble burning. Patriot takes a look
Is the pollution Delhi NCR facing more so to blame on dust, vehicular emission and construction activities? The centre at least projected that when it told the Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant on November 15 that farm fires in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh contributed only 10% of the pollution.
This, as Delhi’s air quality has been in the “severe” category for days now. While it’s true that Delhi’s air quality is usually unsatisfactory keeping aside the monsoon weeks, it does witness consistent high toxicity levels in the starting of winter months.
Furthermore, even contradicting itself, SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research) which comes under the union government, shows on its website that the contribution of stubble fire to the PM 2.5 level on November 7 last year went up as high as 48%, when there were 5,450 fires.
To see how the air quality was before the months of stubble fires – which is at its highest in October and November – we picked random days in the months of May, June, July and August and checked the AQI levels according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data available online.
A random day such as May 3, at Anand Vihar was a “poor” air quality day with the AQI at 227, but May 19 was at a satisfactory level with AQI at 80. On June 10, the pollution level was at 269 AQI but by 12th reached a moderate level of AQI 172, such was the case in the following week as well where it didn’t just reach moderate but satisfactory levels for most part of the month. Same was the case in July and August.
Then we looked at October, when Delhi started witnessing more bad air quality days than in previous months. Since October 6 for example air quality was at “very poor” levels, with it then getting better for two days on the 18 and 19, it got worse again and then from October 22-25 it was at moderate levels. But since October 26 air quality has been either at poor, very poor or severe levels till date – with the last week witnessing severe levels of pollution.
We also corresponded the days that forest fires were visibly more according to the NASA fire map.
For Haryana, the farm fires were worse in October, say for example October 26 till about November 1, which gradually became more scattered, but the fires were raging by then in Punjab. As the farm fires increased in Punjab as of November 9, so did the AQI levels here.
We continued to take Anand Vihar as an example. Here on October 19, the air quality was at moderate levels with 168 AQI. The next day AQI was poor at 279. As fires started increasing in Punjab by Oct 27, so did the AQI. On Oct 28 the AQI was 328 here. By November 4 the AQI was 441, November 5 it was 457 and the numbers have stayed well above 400’s since.
The Centre of Excellence for Research on Clean Air, an academic think tank and research centre at IIT Delhi says last year the fire counts increased drastically in Punjab. The project team studied the change in the number of fire counts in Punjab and Haryana districts during the year 2020, recording around 74,590 incidents of crop-residue burning in Punjab between September 22 to November 30, this it said was the highest in the last four years (44,004 cases in 2019, 56,463 cases in 2018 and 56539 cases in 2017).
At the same time Haryana recorded improvement with 5,862 farm fires between September 22 to November 30, lower than 6,227 cases in 2019, 9,120 cases in 2018 and 11,344 cases in 2017.
While stubble burning seems to be a major source of pollution to the capital city and NCR, the role of construction, industries, and transport cannot be overlooked.
For now, the Supreme Court continues to hear a petition seeking directions to tackle pollution.
Cover: A foggy and smog weather view at Pushta road Shastri Park on November 11, 2021 in New Delhi PHOTO: Getty Images)