The National Capital Region is choking. Over the last few days, pollution levels in the capital have reached “severe-plus emergency” category – leading to urgent shutdowns of schools and colleges in Noida, and public hazard announcements by the Government. At 12 noon on Sunday, the air quality index (AQI) of Delhi was 625. For comparison, New York’s AQI on Sunday hovered around 25. (Quick recap: An air quality index is used by Government agencies to communicate to the public how polluted the air currently is or how polluted it is forecast to become. Public health risks increase as the AQI rises.)
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Political entities across parties are not convinced where the fault lies.
“While addressing the citizens through the AK App, the chief minister (Arvind Kejriwal) urged people not to blame the residents of the city for the situation. “Where is our fault? Between February and October, the air was clean. What has happened in the last few days? I don’t suppose the people here purchased over one lakh vehicles. The pollution is due to stubble burning from neighbouring states,” he said.
At least 32 flights have been diverted from Delhi towards Jaipur, Amritsar, and Lucknow, news agency PTI reported. Air India also said that 12 of its flights have been diverted due to bad weather conditions.
On Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged him to find a consensus on a solution for the health emergency, and admitted that stubble fires, accompanied by wind direction, were partly to blame.
A statement by Punjab CMO said Singh made it clear that he had no intent of brushing his hands off the state’s responsibility, but added that the entire country, including Delhi itself as well as the Centre, had allowed “this state of affairs to emerge and sustain, with our various acts of commission and omission”.
Punjab actually reported increased levels of farm fires the day after Diwali — the day when leftover crop is traditionally burned to make way for a new crop cycle. That smoke, plus the direction of winds, ensured that NCR found itself enveloped in a thick fog of smoke for days.
One only has to take a cursory glance at the satellite map here to understand the truly hazardous levels of pollution across North India.
“Another measure of the toxicity of North India’s air comes from satellite imagery. When pollution figures from NASA’s and European earth observation systems are converted into colour they show a red swirl enveloping North India, in stark contrast to the rest of Asia and the world.
“Cars, trucks, industry, coal plants, trash burning, crop residue burning, construction, even traditional stoves and household fires to keep warm: air pollution is caused by a complex list of sources,” writes economist Dean Spears in his new book on North India’s air pollution crisis. The exact contribution of each source, however, is still a matter of contention because India lacks high-quality data on air pollution, he explains in this excerpt from the book.”
So, what now?
Delhi Government has announced the return of the Odd-Even Scheme from Monday — in hopes to curb some amount of pollution. (Quick recap: The Odd-Even Scheme refers to the scheme where cars with number plates ending in an even number are allowed on the road on even-numbered dates, and cars with number plates ending in an odd number are allowed on the road on odd-numbered dates.) The Supreme Court has also announced a complete ban on construction and many other related industries for a few days, till the pollution levels go down. An air purifier van has been deployed by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to purify the air in and around Taj Mahal. Meanwhile, certain ministers have invited a spate of criticism by suggesting alternate ways of avoiding pollution.
“As Delhi struggles with its worst air pollution crisis of the year, two tweets by union ministers on Sunday triggered a wave of criticism online. While Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar’s post was a music recommendation, Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan suggested eating carrots as one of the ways to counter pollution-related health problems.”
Keep your eyes on this space. We’ll keep you updated.