Post-Diwali smog could envelope Delhi soon

Experts blame lack of comprehensive plan to curb air pollution


October 27, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Post-Diwali smog could envelope Delhi soon

The principal cause for a poor AQI score in Delhi, and the adjoining areas, is the irresponsible burning of crop residue by farmers in this season (MIG photos)

While this Diwali Delhi did not choke on its fireworks, it is largely due to favourable weather conditions as well as delayed burning of stubbles on farms rather than any significant reduction in use of firecrackers. Government is yet to come up with a comprehensive, cogent plan to curb pollution, say experts.

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Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was quick to claim credit when the air quality index on Tuesday, the day after Diwali, reflected a reading of just over 300. While it was classified as very poor air quality, it was a significant drop of about 30 pc from the AQI readings of 2021, when the index had reached 462. Kejriwal credited various steps by his government, including a ban on firecrackers for the ‘clean’ air.

However, one of the main factors behind the relatively clean air in the national capital was the Cyclone Sitrang in the Bay of Bengal which propelled winds that cleared the air and minimised the impact of the blatant violations of firecracker ban. It also helped that the rains in the first two weeks of October had somewhat brought down the air pollution levels as raindrops washed away suspended particles and toxic fumes present in the air.

Another factor behind the lower level of AQI this year is that due to delayed withdrawal of Monsoons, the farmers have just about completed their harvests and hence the stubble burning will commence in full earnest now.

Indeed, reports from Punjab, which alongside Haryana is the biggest farm producer, say that stubble burning is expected to begin in full earnest from this week and with the cyclone having passed, the normal weather conditions, which propel winds from northwest India towards the plains and hence bring the smoke from Punjab and Haryana to smother Delhi will recommence now.

With the arrival of autumn, the capital usually experiences clouds of smog caused by the toxic melange of emission of fine particulate matter from factories, old vehicles, and thermal power plants, leads to a harsh rise in air toxicity. Moreover, the absence of winds during this time of the year leads to the suspension of pollutants and, thus leads to PM 2.5 concentration.

However, the principal cause for a poor AQI score in Delhi, and the adjoining areas, is the irresponsible burning of crop residue by farmers in this season. A report by the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research of the Weather Bureau says that the share of stubble burning to Delhi’s air pollution has increased to more than 10 pc, the highest figure ever recorded.

Consistently dropping air quality levels have tagged Delhi as the ‘most polluted city on Earth. According to a report published by the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago (EPIC), the air quality levels in Delhi has shrunk the life expectancy of its residents by 10 years. Moreover, the residents of neighbouring cities-Lucknow, Ghaziabad, Haryana and many others, also stand to lose about 9.5 years of their life expectancy.

However, the pollution levels are not only restricted to the capital or northern India, as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh reported an increase in pollution levels by 68 pc and 77 pc respectively this year.

Scientific responses needed

Environmentalists say instead of stop-gap or one-shot attempts, the government needs to mount a comprehensive response to curb air pollution, which is caused by multiple factors such as vehicular pollution, energy generation, stubble burning and firecrackers.

“CNG has the potential to provide an alternative to fossil fuels. But burning firecrackers is environmentally unfriendly. There are three major components in a firecracker: an oxidiser, fuel, curbing agent and binder. All of these elements are heavy pollutants and they also cause soil pollution. Gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and heavy metals such as lead, iron, nickel, copper, and zinc are also emitted with the firecrackers which also interfere with the human respiratory system. A few years back, the science and technology minister suggested the use of eco-friendly crackers that might have zero-net pollution. Research is ongoing. The scientists who come up with innovative ideas for developing eco-friendly crackers should be encouraged,” Rayies Altaf, science communicator, at The Energy and Resource Institute, an institute in New Delhi that specializes in sustainable development, tells Media India Group.

“Although I can see a change in perception of Diwali festivities, firecrackers are still burnt on a large scale. Alternative ways have to be worked out so that people’s want of firecrackers could be satisfied without harming the environment,” says Altaf.



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