‘Need more than just a one-off ban to lift that haze’

The choking haze of pollution in Delhi and National Capital Region is worsened by the poisonous fumes from firecrackers during Diwali. This year, responding to a public interest litigation, the Supreme Court banned the sale of fireworks in Delhi-NCR just days ahead of the festival. Many people are now curious to find out whether this step helped curb the deadly Diwali smog.

The popular perception is that bursting of crackers was comparatively lower this year due to the ban, though there is no data to establish that. The air quality data, however, clearly shows that pollution levels breached emergency level on Diwali night. Calm winds and humidity in the morning post-Diwali worsened the pollution build up.

Emergency level

But it is also clear that without the ban, the pollution levels could have been worse. Air quality data from at least 13 monitoring stations in Delhi on Friday showed that from noon onwards pollution levels reached 6.6 times higher than the standard, hitting emergency level. This was more than two times higher than the levels recorded on Wednesday.

It is not possible to compare these figures against the same days last year as the comparable data for all monitoring stations are not immediately available.

The pre-Diwali pollution level this year has also been comparatively lower, largely due to the measures initiated under the directive of the Supreme Court, including the graded response action plan, and closure of the Badarpur thermal power station and conventional brick kilns.

Pre-Diwali pollution levels last year had hit the “severe” level (4.9 times the standard), in contrast to the ‘very poor’ category (2.9 times the standard) this year.

Pollution levels spiked on Diwali night when particulate pollution increased three to four times than the day-time levels. The levels across NCR, including Gurugram and Ghaziabad, also hit ‘emergency’ levels.

Herculean task

The concentration of sulphur dioxide (SO2), which otherwise remains very low in the region, increased by more than three times at several locations, including R. K. Puram, Shadipur and Punjabi Bagh.

This is a direct indicator of the impact of bursting crackers on Diwali.

The Herculean task to control pollution is revealed in such data. From October 1 to 7, the PM2.5 levels were in the ‘poor’ category, but worsened to ‘very poor’ when farm fires the spread in neighbouring States.

On Diwali night, the region experienced the season’s first ‘severe’ and ‘emergency’ episode.

It is very clear that Delhi and NCR require long-term measures and systemic action, rather than a one-off ban, to control pollution.

The Supreme Court has already directed a phasedown strategy in its directive of September 12 that asked for regulation of chemicals, reduced quantum of crackers, and controlled bursting through community events, among others.

These measures must be implemented immediately for a long-term solution to this episodic problem.

It is important to emphasise that Delhi and NCR cannot continue to remain on ‘emergency mode’ all the time to address this public health crisis.

Steps must be taken to control emissions from continuous sources of pollution, including vehicles and industry, while putting curbs on episodic pollution such as from firecrackers and farm fires. A comprehensive action plan must be drawn up on priority, which will combine short and long-term strategies for vehicles, industry, waste burning and construction activities.

At the same time, rising awareness among the people about the affects of pollution, will further usher in change.

(The writer is an executive-director of the Centre for Science and Environment)

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 9:02:42 AM |

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