Delhi chokes as pollution levels hit three-year high

Foam is seen floating along the Yamuna amidst heavy smog conditions in New Delhi on November 3, 2019.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Pollution levels in Delhi peaked to a three-year high on Sunday as hundreds of distraught people took to social media to say they wanted to leave the city because of poor air quality.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the national capital’s 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) stood at 494 at 4 p.m. on Sunday, the highest since November 6, 2016, when it was 497.

Twenty-one of the 37 air quality monitoring stations recorded the AQI between 490 and 500 with air quality sensors at Aya Nagar, Ashok Vihar, Anand Vihar and Aurobindo Marg peaking out at 7 pm.

In the National Capital Region (NCR), Faridabad with AQI 493, Noida (494), Ghaziabad (499) and Greater Noida (488), Gurugram (479), also breathed extremely polluted air.

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The Ministry of Earth Sciences’ air quality monitor, SAFAR, said the city’s overall AQI reached as high as 708 around 5 p.m., which is 14 times the safe level of 0-50.

Some weather models showed that Delhi’s pollution could impact even south India. A chemical-pollutants dispersal model called SILAM (System for Integrated modeLling of Atmospheric coMposition), developed by the Finnish Meteorological Institutes, indicated that the plume of dust and smoke hanging over Delhi would travel towards east India, move into the Bay of Bengal and hike pollution levels as far away as Tamil Nadu.

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“That is quite unlikely,” said V.K. Soni, scientist at the India Meteorological Department. “The chemical-transport model we’re testing shows a rapid dispersal that will make its presence felt as early as Sunday night. It’s unlikely for this current pattern of wind to transport pollutants so far.”

An AQI between 0-50 is considered ‘good’, 51-100 ‘satisfactory’, 101-200 ‘moderate’, 201-300 ‘poor’, 301-400 ‘very poor’ and 401-500 ‘severe’. An AQI above 500 falls in the ‘severe plus’ category.

With the pollution levels worsening in Delhi, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba will monitor the situation in Delhi and the NCR on a daily basis, it was decided at a high-level meeting chaired by Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister P.K. Mishra.

Delhi chokes as pollution levels hit three-year high

Mr. Mishra reviewed the situation with senior officials from the States of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi joining the meeting through video-conference, according to a statement.

Meanwhile, the thick haze in the national capital threw flight operations at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport into disarray. Poor visibility led to 490 flights being delayed, 35 cancelled and 32 diverted to nearby airports.

Delays of two hours to seven hours were common resulting in chaotic scenes at the local airport as passengers struggled for updates on flight status. 

There were similar scenes at other airports, too, where flights scheduled to depart for New Delhi were held back.

The spurt in pollution levels also prompted the administrations in Ghaziabad, Noida, Greater Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad to shut all government and private schools till November 5. The Delhi government on Friday directed closure of schools till November 5. 

The deterioration in air quality over Delhi was blamed on plummeted to the season’s lowest because ofpollution and adverse weather conditions. Meteorologists said a strong wind is expected to pick up and flush pollutants within the next 12 hours.However, only concerted action to check sources of pollution would lead to long-term improvement. 

Over the last week, authorities monitoring pollution had already said the air quality warranted declaration of a “public health emergency.”

As of Sunday evening, the AQI was in the “severe plus” levels with particulate matter levels crossing 500 micrograms/cubic metre, according to weather forecast agency SAFAR. This was primarily due to increased moisture from a passing Western Disturbance, on November 2 and 3.

The WD didn’t bring as much rain as expected, stalled winds and retarded the disbursal of pollutants, said Madhavan Rajeevan, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences. 

Large crowd of passengers at the IGI airport as many flights were rescheduled due to poor visibility.

Large crowd of passengers at the IGI airport as many flights were rescheduled due to poor visibility.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


(With PTI inputs)

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 3:25:10 AM |

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