Representational Image

(Tarun Rawat/TOI, BCCL, Delhi)

Tuesday, November 15: Delhi’s air quality, notorious for plummeting in the winter months, seems to have settled on ‘poor’ today after fluctuating between the ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’ categories in the weeks since Diwali.

As of 10:00 am today, Delhi’s overall AQI stood at 221 — near the lower end of the ‘poor’ category. Its PM2.5 levels stood at 94 and PM10 at 172, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR).

Moreover, the AQI is likely to remain in the ‘poor’ category for the next two days. An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered “good”; 51 and 100 “satisfactory”; 101 and 200 “moderate”; 201 and 300 “poor”; 301 and 400 “very poor”; and 401 and 500 “severe”.

While this is in no way an ideal situation, cars have begun to ply in the national capital once again after a brief ban. For the unversed, the Delhi government had issued a ban on the movement of petrol-run light motor vehicles of up to BS-III emission standard and diesel LMVs of up to BS-IV emission standard until November 13, in an attempt to stabilise the union territory’s volatile air quality index (AQI).

However, since the air quality has remained more or less the same over the last few days, the ban was not renewed for this week. But officials will continue to keep a close watch on the AQI, transport commissioner Ashish Kundra told TOI while encouraging people to use the metro, buses and shared mobility.

Several factors, including vehicular, industrial pollution and meteorological factors, share the blame for the annual decline in Delhi-NCR’s air quality. But one of the most prominent reasons is the stubble burning practised in the neighbouring states.

Once the crops have been harvested after the Kharif season, a ‘stubble’ of the crops still remains on the fields. And since this takes over a month to decompose on its own, farmers who need to sow the next crop as soon as possible are driven to burn the stubble to speed up the process. However, the winds end up transporting this stubble smoke to Delhi-NCR, resulting in further degradation of the capital’s AQI.

The share of stubble burning in Delhi’s PM2. 5 rose to 24% over the weekend, and on Sunday, satellites detected 2,175 and 132 farm fire incidents in Punjab and Haryana, respectively.

The Punjab government, on the other hand, has announced that it is mandatory for brick kilns across the state to use 20% of straw as fuel. Environment, Science and Technology Minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer said that brick-kiln owners have been given six months to prepare for this new management, and action will be taken against those who do not implement these instructions after May 1, 2023.

The government hopes that this decision to use the straw will boost straw management and allow farmers financial gain by allowing them to sell the straw.

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