Air quality still severe as farm fires continue to choke Delhi and NCR

Around 5,100 farm fire counts were recorded over Punjab on Thursday by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) Air Quality Early Warning System (EWS) for Delhi — the second day in a row when close to 5,000 fires have been recorded in the state.

Pollutants from farm fires in Punjab, Haryana and neighbouring regions were said to be playing a major role in deterioration of Delhi-NCR’s air quality, which continued to remain close to ‘severe’ level on Friday.

Around 5,100 farm fire counts were recorded over Punjab on Thursday by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) Air Quality Early Warning System (EWS) for Delhi — the second day in a row when close to 5,000 fires have been recorded in the state.

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The MoES air quality monitor SAFAR stated that farm fires in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and neighbouring areas had an estimated 21% share in Delhi’s PM2.5 levels — fine particles suspended in the air — on Friday, lower than 42% recorded on Thursday.

VK Soni, head of the Environment Monitoring and Research Center of the India Meteorological Department, said, “Large number of fires were recorded in Punjab and neighbouring areas on Thursday, which is impacting the air quality of not only Delhi-NCR but the entire Indo-Gangetic plain… If the farm fires were not there, then the air quality would not have reached this stage.”

He added that from the years 2017 to 2019, approximately 55,000 fire counts were recorded in Punjab every year during the stubble burning season, and this year, around 50,000 counts have been recorded so far. In the year 2016, around 80,000 fire counts were recorded.

The EWS has forecast that winds over Delhi-NCR on Saturday would be from the northwest direction, which is favourable for transporting pollutants from stubble burning states. However, the AQI is expected to improve to the higher end of ‘very poor’ category on Saturday and Sunday.

A bulletin from SAFAR said, “Better dispersion condition and not-so-calm winds is forecast for the next two days, which is likely to improve Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) unless more than estimated (farm) fire-related emission takes place.”

Delhi’s 24-hour average AQI on Friday was 406, in the ‘severe’ category, which impacts healthy population and “seriously impacts” people with pre-existing medical conditions, as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

The AQI on Thursday was 450.

Air quality of nearby NCR towns also remained in the ‘severe’ category or close to it.

Concentration of PM10 and PM2.5 in Delhi-NCR on Friday remained above 410 and 230 µg/m3 against their 24-hour exposure limit of 100 and 60 µg/m3, as per CPCB data.

A CPCB-led task force had Thursday recommended that government and private offices in Delhi-NCR reduce vehicle usage by 30% in view of ‘severe’ air quality.

Meanwhile, Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai on Friday saidthat around 2,300 complaints against polluting activities have been received on the ‘Green Delhi’ mobile application since its launch on October 29 — mostly about waste burning.

Out of these, over 1,300 or 58% of complaints have been solved.

“Most of the complaints are from the North MCD area… From Monday, 14 teams of the Delhi government that are monitoring ground situation will directly visit areas to solve the complaints,” he said.

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