Delhi air pollution will rise again as stubble burning begins and the economy reopens


A Delhi subway train crossing the fog in November 2019 | Stock Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

Text size: A- A +

New Delhi: The approaching winter marks the annual return of the dreaded pollution and smog to Delhi, largely attributed to Punjab and Haryana farmers burning rice paddies in their fields. But this time, the resumption of economic activity after the Covid-induced shutdown could end up being such a big culprit.

The closure gave Delhiites a breath of fresh air for several months. In early September, the air quality index (AQI) in Delhi was recorded at 41, the lowest since the national air quality index was launched in 2014.

However, just as satellite imagery began detecting agricultural fires in the Punjab last week, Delhi’s air quality also began to deteriorate (the capital’s AQI on Monday morning was at 140 , which falls into the moderate category).

According to the Air and Weather Quality Forecasting and Research System (SAFAR), the pollution predictor led by researchers at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, favorable weather and wind conditions have maintained up to now the AQI in Delhi of being worse than ‘moderate’. Air quality is expected to remain in the moderate category for the next three days.

Also read: Delhi air is clean, closed but there is a lot of pollution for a few hours after dawn – JNU-DU study

Experts expect a rebound

Experts say the profits from the blockade will now be invested.

AP Dimri, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University School of Environmental Sciences, told ThePrint that the reference pollution load (the level of pollutants that was already in the air before crop burning began ) is lower than last year, which could result in an overall reduction in Pollution. However, if the stubble combustion scale is similar to last year, it is likely that Delhi will continue to experience a sharp rise in air pollutants.

“The gaseous components of pollution can change. For example, due to blockage, pollutants such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides, as well as surface ozone, are likely to decrease. But as for PM2.5 and PM10, they are likely to be at the same levels as before, ”Dimri said.

Chandra Bhushan, ecologist and CEO of the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iFOREST), also predicted that low levels of pollution will reverse quickly due to the reopening of the economy.

“Energy consumption, the transport and construction sector will have a big boost. On the other hand, the burning of harvest waste has already begun, “Bhushan said.” I am expecting pollution levels to rise in the coming weeks. The only saving grace may be if the weather is in our favor. ” .

He also noted that people will need to be more careful because air pollution causes respiratory problems, just like Covid-19, and therefore, “masks will be even more important than they have been so far.”

What happens every year

A report from the Central Pollution Control Board released last week estimated the impact of the Covid-19 blockade on air quality in different cities and showed a significant reduction in PM2.5, PM10 levels and NO2 this year, due to the combination of a small number of vehicles on the roads, the operation of only the essential commercial units and the prevailing weather conditions.

According to a 2018 study conducted by the Institute of Energy and Resources (TERI) and the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), the main sources of pollution in Delhi in summer include dust and construction activities ( 38-42%), transport (15-17%) and industry (22%).

However, as winter approaches, farmers in Punjab and Haryana are beginning to clean up rice paddies from their farmland by setting them on fire. The particulate matter from these fires travels across the ganget plain, surrounding vast strips of smoke in northern India with smoke.

Cities like Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon, which are already suffocated by the pollution of vehicles and industries that operate all year round, bear the brunt of the weather as their weather conditions prevent the smoke from dissipating.

As winter begins, the cold makes it harder for particles to rise, leaving people exposed to toxic human smoke. The Diwali festival, which will be held on November 14 this year, introduces more pollutants as people light firecrackers.

Between 2016 and 2018, Delhi pollution levels fell by around 25%, but AQI figures remained well above what is considered safe. According to a study by the Center for Science and Environment, Delhi needs to further reduce its pollution levels by 65% ​​to meet air quality standards.

And yet, on September 22, satellite data began detecting the first cases of stubble burning in Amritsar, even though crop burning is now a punishable crime.

Also read: Delhi HC calls for Center response to plea to stop burning of Punjab stubble, Haryana

City-centered policies

Bhushan said work to reduce air pollution has so far focused on the city, with measures revolving mainly around the automotive sector. For example, the government of Delhi’s Aam Aadmi party imposes a ‘pair’ scheme for limited periods in Delhi every year: odd vehicles on odd and even dates. Still, the scheme has been controversial, with studies showing that it recently did to reduce pollution levels in Delhi.

Meanwhile, the central government led by BJP opened the eastern and western peripheral highways, which help 30,000-40,000 vehicles every day that are not destined for Delhi.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar also stated that the new law on motor vehicles of 2019, measures to reduce stubble burning, the introduction of fuel standards and vehicles in line with Phase VI of Bharat, the incentive of Electronic vehicles and the rise of the Delhi metro network had helped reduce air pollution in the city.

However, Bhushan said the government “has lost the plot” when it comes to handling biomass burning, which contributes to increasing pollution every year.

Dimri agreed, adding that policies against stubble burning have not been successfully implemented at ground level.

Also read: Three ways the Delhi Kejriwal government can deliver on its promise to curb air pollution

Subscribe to our YouTube and Telegram channels

Why the media is in crisis and how you can fix it

India needs even more free, fair, unscripted and questioning journalism as it faces multiple crises.

But the media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, making it a raw show in prime time.

ThePrint has the best young journalists, columnists and editors working for it. To maintain such quality journalism, smart, thinking people like you have to pay for it. Whether you live in India or abroad, you can do so here.

We support our journalism