As the air quality in the national capital entered the second-worst severe category on Tuesday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed “with folded hands” to Punjab and Haryana to take concrete steps against stubble burning to prevent the national capital from becoming a gas chamber.
The pollution in Delhi spiked on Tuesday and was recorded in the severe category. An Air Quality Index (AQI) between 401-500 falls in “severe” category and anything beyond that is “severe-plus emergency”.
Punjab and Haryana have recorded an increase of at least 2,400 farm fires, which are a major contributor to the air pollution in Delhi, since last year, according to official data. Kejriwal said the Delhi government is taking all steps to reduce pollution.
“I appeal to the Punjab and Haryana governments with folded hands on behalf of the residents of Delhi to take strong steps and prevent Delhi from becoming a gas chamber. At our level, we are making all possible efforts and will continue to do so,” he tweeted in Hindi.
Later, the Delhi government said in a statement that the latest NASA images show a drastic spurt in crop residue burning in the neighbouring states. The stubble plume from north-west regions has become one of the significant factors adversely affecting Delhi’s air quality. “The effective stubble fire counts of Haryana and Punjab have increased from 1,654 to 2,577 during the past 24 hours, which is a matter of extreme concern for the residents of Delhi,” it stated.
The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said the Delhi government cannot fight the rising pollution levels till the Center, Punjab and Haryana do not take stern action to control stubble burning. AAP leader Atishi said the Delhi government and its agencies have worked relentlessly to bring down the pollution levels in Delhi. “But the issue cannot be resolved till the time the Centre, Punjab and Haryana come together and take stern action against stubble burning. Delhi alone cannot combat this pollution,” she said.
Atishi said the Delhi government is taking all emergency measures. “From next week, the Delhi government will distribute free masks through schools and mohalla clinics and the odd-even scheme will also come into effect,” she said.
Citing data from the Punjab Pollution Control Board, senior AAP leader Dilip Pandey said the state had recorded 12,027 incidents of stubble burning till October 27 this year, up from 9,600 during the same period last year. “This increasing number of stubble burning incidents led to the spike in pollution (in Delhi) but neither the Centre nor the governments of the neighbouring states did anything,” he said.
Pandey said the Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) had also predicted that the pollution levels in Delhi will rise due to stubble burning. “The Ministry of Earth Sciences air quality monitor, SAFAR, on Monday predicted that the share of smoke from stubble burning in Delhi’s PM 2.5 concentration is likely to jump to 25% on Tuesday. It was 15% on Monday,” he said.
He added that it is the time to rise above politics and join hands to fight the problem. On Tuesday, the wind direction is north-westerly, which might increase stubble plume towards the national capital and as per the SAFAR model, the stubble share may touch this year’s peak now, the Delhi government said.
The AQI takes into account five chief pollutants, including PM 10 and PM 2.5. The higher the AQI value, the greater the health concern. Delhi is going through a bad period with reference to ambient air quality after celebrating one of the cleanest Diwali in the last few years, the government said.