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Air quality plummets to emergency levels in Delhi

Burning of crops in northern India – a major driver of the region’s pollution crisis and which Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has blamed for the city’s pollution woes this season, deemed an emergency by the EPCA. Image credit, Neil Palmer (CIAT) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]
Air quality in the national capital has plummeted to emergency levels, with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal once again likening the city to a ‘gas chamber’. 

In declaring the emergency, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) ordered that schools be shuttered in the National Capital Region (NCR), imposed a moratorium on construction activities, and shut down factories which rely upon fossil fuels such as coal. “We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution is now hazardous and will have adverse health impacts on all, but particularly our children,” said EPCA chairman Bhure Lal in a letter to the Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh state governments as the agency ordered the measures, in place until November 5th. 

This came as Delhi’s ranking on the Air Quality Index (AQI) stood at around 530 at 11 a.m.. Density of particulate matter stood at 500 and 300 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) respectively, five times the recommended levels. Such figures mark a significant deterioration in the capital’s air quality.

By comparison, an AQI score of 400 to 500 is ‘severe’ – above 500 is considered ‘severe plus’. By comparison, an AQI score between nought and fifty is considered ‘safe’; above that, 51 to 100 is considered ‘satisfactory’ and 101 to 200 ‘moderate’. When the AQI reading crosses the 200 mark, it becomes ‘poor’; above 300, it is ‘very poor’.  

For Delhi’s AQI reading to be well in excess of 500 represents a very real hazard to the health of the NCR. As previously reported by Health Issues India, even staying in a polluted city for a short period of time can incur negative effects on health. As such, for those who reside in such an environment, the implications are dire.

“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber,” Kejriwal tweeted. He announced that fifty lakh masks to protect individuals from pollution will distributed through private and government-run schools. “I urge all Delhiites to use them whenever needed,” he said. 

Again, Kejriwal pointed the finger at neighbouring states Haryana and Punjab where crop burning is practiced as driving the capital’s pollution woes. Between seven and eight million metric tonnes of crop residue are burnt by farmers every year. 

Such fires spiked recently, with 3,105 such instances being reported in Punjab on October 28th alone. Between September 15th and October 23rd, 15,132 active fires were reported in the state – fewer fires than the figures reported for 2016 and 2017, but higher than the figures reported last year. In addition, between September and October, 3,700 fires were reported in Haryana. 

The Centre’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting (SAFAR) implicated the practice as being responsible for 46 percent of Delhi’s pollution on Friday. “The effective stubble fire counts of [northwest] India is showing an increasing trend and on its peak value of this year…has increased its share [of pollution] significantly to 46 per cent,” SAFAR said. Pollution from local sources also occurs.

Of the outlook going forward, the agency said “a slight improvement in AQI [air quality index] is expected by tomorrow but in the same severe category. By November 3, significant improvement in air quality to the upper end of very poor is expected and by November 4 further improvement to the very poor category is expected.” 

Kejriwal took the state governments of crop burning states to task for the practice, alleging “the…governments are forcing farmers to burn stubble, which is causing severe pollution in Delhi. Yesterday, people protested at Punjab and Haryana Bhavan and expressed their anger against governments there.” 

In response, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh accused Kejriwal of telling “brazen lies” and abdicating his government’s responsibility in controlling pollution, stating that his remarks were trying to “divert public attention from his own government’s failures.” 

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