Delhi gasping for breath on Diwali eve; air quality to worsen further
Rampant stubble burning, change in wind direction prime factors

Delhi markets were swarmed with shoppers on Dhanteras. It was chock-a-block traffic on roads. But the festival fervour was missing as haze engulfed the city and air quality plunged. Many were gasping for breath and complained of irritation in eyes. Experts have warned that the situation is likely to worsen further.

According to Reuters, levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that can reach deep into the lungs and cause major health problems, were above 400 in most parts of the capital, and in some places soared above 600. That is nearly 24 times a recommended level of 25 micrograms per cubic metre on average over a 24-hour period, set by the World Health Organization, which this year said India was home to the world’s 14 most polluted cities. New Delhi was ranked the sixth most polluted.

The cause of air quality deterioration was attributed to a change in wind direction and rampant stubble burning in neighbouring states.

The air in severe category means that anyone, including perfectly healthy people, who have prolonged exposure to the air outdoors can fall sick. It is like smoking almost two packets of cigarettes a day that can make anyone really sick.

As per air quality index (AQI), the overall air quality on Monday was registered in the severe category at 418, a drastic decline from a day before when the AQI was moderate at 171.

The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology said the increase in PM2.5 concentration is due to a change in the wind direction and because of contribution from biomass burning.

The pollution monitoring website has sounded the alarm bells for Delhi. It said AQI touched 409 microns on Monday evening in outer Delhi’s Mundka area, a very hazardous level that should ideally trigger a health alert as it will have serious repercussions on everyone. This is higher than a usual post-Diwali morning in Delhi when the combined impact of low wind, cool temperature, cracker smoke and general pollution convert the city into a gas chamber.

AQI levels up to 50 is considered good but considering the air quality in and around Delhi, pollution index up to 200 is considered fairly ok with alarm bells ringing once this crosses 300 mark. But a AQI of 400 and above is sign that air is unbreathable and will result in permanent damage to health.
The situation is not isolated to Mundka as many areas in an around Delhi have been constantly reporting AQI level of over 300. In fact, the AQI stood at 392 in Jahangirpuri, 339 at Pusa and 349 at Satyawati College in West Delhi at 7.30 PM. Experts are suggesting that if wind speed does not pick up in the next few days, we could witness a situation similar to 2016 when AQI crossed the dangerous 500 level.

An official with the Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research said intensified stubble burning is presently contributing nearly 24 per cent to the air pollution in the national capital.

All hopes are pinned on the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for the air quality to improve. This plan will be putting into action a number of anti-pollution measures and there will be specific actions for each category – moderate to poor, very poor, severe and emergency. The measures include stoppage in the running of diesel sets, a three-fourfold increase in the parking rates, enhanced bus and metro services, and newspapers, TV and radio stations alerts on a daily basis with advice to people with respiratory and cardiac problems. It could initiate movement of odd and even numbered vehicfles on Delhi roads.

(With PTI inputs)