Diwali: Delhi’s air high quality turns ‘extreme’; firecrackers add to distress

New Delhi, November 15 

Delhi’s air quality turned “severe” on Saturday with stubble burning accounting for 32 per cent of Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution and firecracker emissions making the situation even worse.

A layer of haze lingered over Delhi-NCR at night as people continued bursting firecrackers despite a ban, and calm winds allowing accumulation of pollutants.

The level of PM2.5 – which is about three per cent the diameter of a human hair and can lead to premature deaths from heart and lung diseases – was 331 microgram per cubic metre (µg/m3) in Delhi-NCR at 10 pm, above the emergency threshold of 300 µg/m3.

The safe limit is 60 µg/m3.

The PM10 level stood at 494 µg/m3 at 10 pm, precariously close to the emergency threshold of 500 µg/m3, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. PM10 levels below 100 µg/m3 are considered safe in India.

According to the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), the air quality is considered in the “severe plus” or “emergency” category if PM2.5 and PM10 levels persist above 300 µg/m3 and 500 µg/m3 respectively for more than 48 hours.

Earlier, the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ air quality monitor, SAFAR, had said that the PM2.5 concentration in Delhi on Diwali was “likely to be the lowest” of the last four years if no firecrackers are burnt.

However, it had said that even a small increase in local additional emissions is likely to have “a significant deterioration impact on Sunday and Monday”.

It said peak levels of PM10 and PM2.5 are expected between 1 am and 6 am in case of additional internal emissions.

The city recorded an overall AQI of 414 at 4 pm on Saturday. It soared to 454 by 10 pm.

The 24-hour average AQI was 339 on Friday and 314 on Thursday.

Delhi recorded a 24-hour average AQI of 337 on Diwali last year (October 27), and 368 and 400 in the next two days. Thereafter, pollution levels remained in the “severe” category for three days on the trot.

In 2018, the 24-hour average AQI (281) on Diwali was recorded in the “poor” category. It deteriorated to 390 the next day and remained in the “severe” category on three consecutive days thereafter.

In 2017, Delhi’s 24-hour average AQI on Diwali (October 19) stood at 319. It, however, slipped into the “severe” zone the next day.

This time, the India Meteorological Department has said that a fresh western disturbance is likely to increase the wind speed and improve the air quality in Delhi-NCR post Diwali.

Light rain is likely on Sunday under the influence of a western disturbance. It is still to be seen if it is enough to wash away pollutants, Kuldeep Srivastava, the head of the IMD’s regional forecasting centre, said.

“However, Delhi-NCR’s air quality is likely to improve post Diwali due to an expected increase in the wind speed on Sunday,” he said.

V K Soni, the head of the IMD’s environment research centre, said the wind speed is expected to pick up thereafter and the wind direction will be east-southeasterly.

There will be a significant improvement in air quality by November 16, Soni said.

The Air Quality Early Warning System for Delhi also said the situation is likely to “improve significantly” on Sunday.

“Under the influence of a Western Disturbance, isolated rainfall over plains of northwest India and adjoining central India is likely on Sunday. The predominant surface wind is likely to be coming from East-Southeast direction of Delhi with wind speed up to 20 kmph,” it said.

“Generally cloudy sky, light rain, thundershowers accompanied with gusty winds (speed 30-40 kmph) is likely towards afternoon-evening on Sunday,” the central agency said.

The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) on Friday directed the CPCB and the states concerned to ensure there is no lapse in the implementation of the National Green Tribunal’s directions in view of the air quality scenario during the Diwali period.

“In pursuance of NGT order dated November 9 and considering the concerns of air quality scenario in the NCR and its adverse health impact, the commission directed CPCB, state governments and authorities concerned for strict compliance of the directions of NGT, with zero tolerance on violation,” it said.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had on Monday imposed a total ban on sale or use of all kinds of firecrackers in the National Capital Region (NCR) from November 9 midnight to November 30 midnight, saying “celebration by crackers is for happiness and not to celebrate deaths and diseases”.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel clarified that the direction will apply to all cities and towns in the country where the average of ambient air quality during November 2019 was in “poor” and above categories.

“At other places, restrictions are optional for the authorities but if there are more stringent measures under orders of the authorities, the same will prevail,” the NGT had said. PTI

Firecrackers heard across Delhi on Diwali night despite ban    

Bursting of firecrackers could be heard across Delhi and its neighbouring areas on Diwali night even though a ban was imposed on its sale and use in the national capital region in view of rising air pollution and COVID-19 pandemic.

Sparklers were seen lighting up the night sky while crackers went off on the ground in various areas.

On Diwali night firecrackers could be seen going off in various residential colonies of the national capital from around 8 pm.

A doctor in Kailash Hills area said, “Everyone was posting images of clear blue skies during the COVID-19 lockdown. Now, we all can see how bad the pollution is. Bursting of cracker will make things worse.” “The Delhi government has banned it, but you can see what is happening,” he said.

The Delhi Police, however, said that it has deployed personnel in many parts of the city and action will be taken against those violating the ban.

“We have deployed adequate police personnel to check illegal sale and bursting of fire crackers. Today also, personnel have been deployed and action will be taken against the offenders,” a senior police officer said.

In south Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar area, a lot of crackers could be heard going off.

Chitra, a resident, said, “Amid the pandemic and pollution, this Diwali is different. We usually avoid bursting firecrackers for this reason. For us, Diwali is about spending quality time with family at home and exchange sweets with neigbhours and light earthen lamps.” Jyothi, another resident of Lajpat Nagar, said it was first difficult to explain children about the ban.

“But we told them that if we don’t burst crackers this Diwali, then God will save us from the virus and they will get to play with their friends just like before. You need to find ways to convince children. 

“They don’t understand otherwise. But hearing others burst firecrackers, they did ask us but again we convinced them again,” she said.

However, Shailesh Kumar, a resident of Patparganj, said no one in his residential society burst crackers this time.

In Laxminagar, Kavish Chaudhary, a resident, said last year, he burst crackers along with friends but this time he was avoiding it due to the coronavirus.

In Delhi’s neighbouring Noida, Pawan Kumar said he could hear a lot of firecrackers.

“People burst crackers despite the fact that there was a ban. There should have been strict measures to enforce the ban at ground level,” he said.

Nitish Tyagi, a resident of Ghaziabad’s Sihani area, to had a similar experience. 

Earlier in the day, Delhi Police arrested 10 people and registered 12 cases for alleged sale of firecrackers in the national capital, officials said.

“Of the 12 cases, one was registered in northeast district, four in southeast, two in outer-north, one in outer, three in Dwarka and one in southwest,” Additional PRO (Delhi Police) Anil Mittal said. PTI

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