Delhi NCR wakes up to an apocalyptic day with pollution hitting alarming levels

Even chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said, 'Delhi has become a gas chamber'.

 |  6-minute read |   07-11-2017
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On November 7, the capital woke up to a thick blanket of smog, marking a kind of déjà vu to 2016, when around this time of the year, Delhi-NCR found itself choked by pollution. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has categorised the air pollution levels recorded in Delhi as “severe”. Speaking to PTI, CPCB’s air lab chief Dipankar Saha said: “Total calm conditions, marked by the complete absence of wind, have led to the situation. The moisture has trapped emissions from ground level sources.”

While air pollution has been a problem Delhiites have learnt to live with, post-Diwali this year, thanks to the Supreme Court order banning the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR, the situation looked less dire. In fact, according to multiple reports, 2017 marked Delhi’s cleanest Diwali in three years. 

Alas, our luck seems to have run out.

As per a Hindustan Times report, the air quality index (AQI) shot past 400 in many parts of Delhi earlier today. The report further added that the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has issued a warning on potential health hazards, describing Delhi’s present situation as a “public health emergency state” and asked authorities to shut schools as a precautionary measure.

In fact, according to the US embassy’s real-time AQI, the situation was so poor in some parts of the city that the index went beyond the maximum level.

The problems don’t end there. ANI reported that the runway at Indira Gandhi International Airport has been closed due to the thick haze; not only that, more than 20 flights have been delayed. Rail traffic too has been affected. And at least 12 trains were delayed due to decreased visibility.

The Wire reported that a National Green Tribunal (NGT) bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar criticised the collective governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and has asked them for an explanation as to why preventive steps had not taken to manage the air quality in the region: “The ambient air quality is so bad that children are not able to breathe properly. Why didn’t you not spray water using helicopters as per our direction? You take instructions and inform us day after tomorrow.”

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted about Delhi’s smog saying, “Delhi has become a gas chamber. Every year this happens during this part of year. We have to find a solution to crop burning in adjoining states.” Kejriwal further advised Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia to consider shutting schools in the city for a few days.

Early in the evening, Manish Sisodia announced that all primary schools would remain closed till the day after; and that this order was subject to extension depending on the pollution levels. Sisodia further added that outdoor activities, including assemblies, should not take place in schools.

Kejriwal, according to a PTI report, also tried to seek an appointment with Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan, which was denied as the latter is in Germany to attend a climate change summit. A government official added that the chief minister wanted to discuss with the Union minister emergency measures to bring down high pollution levels.

Even in 2016, despite the spike in air pollution levels being suspiciously close to Diwali celebrations, the environment ministry attributed it to vehicular emissions, construction site dust and stubble burning of crop residue in neighbouring states.

A NASA Eart Observatory satellite image shows the extent to which this problem persists. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite, as it passed over India on October 25, 2017, recorded widespread crop fires in Punjab and Haryana.

earth-observatory_110717070957.jpgPhoto: NASA

That stubble burning – the practice of setting fire to the straw stubble that remains after harvest – is a huge factor in the deteriorating state of Delhi-NCR’s air is not a secret. But the solution to this problem will not come easy. In October, The Print reported that despite Haryana government claiming that it is trying various options to curb stubble burning, 672 cases had been registered till two days before Diwali.

Another report from the same organisation added that farmers continued to burn stubble defying court orders and that most are aware that their action is not just illegal but also endangers the environment. “We are not getting any incentive from the government to manage crop residue. We will continue to burn it, even if we get arrested,” said a farmer from Patiala.

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