While spotlight’s on Delhi, smaller northern towns often fare worse in air quality

Agra, Firozabad, Vrindavan had higher pollution levels than national capital after Deepavali; experts call for focus on areas beyond NCR too

Updated - November 25, 2021 10:15 am IST

Published - November 25, 2021 01:37 am IST - New Delhi

An analysis of air quality data by The Hindu shows that Agra, Firozabad, and Vrindavan were more polluted than Delhi during the week after Deepavali. However, during this period, the media attention and actions were concentrated more on Delhi and the NCR.

While Delhi was among the top 10 most polluted cities for three out of seven days, Agra, Firozabad, and Vrindavan were part of the list for four days, as per the air quality index (AQI) data of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Also, the average daily AQI of these three places is more than that of the national Capital.

On some days, other non-NCR districts such as Kaithal and Kanpur made it to the top 10 list and were more polluted than Delhi. Interestingly, Delhi was never among the top five polluted cities in the country during this week.

The Supreme Court ordered actions have also been mainly for the Delhi-NCR, which is monitored by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in NCR and Adjoining Areas. For instance, despite the high pollution, schools were not closed or construction activities were not banned in Agra, Firozabad or Vrindavan after Deepavali, officials said.

However, on November 13, these actions were taken in Delhi after the Supreme Court pulled up the State and Central Governments earlier that day. Also, Delhi and the NCR have a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), according to which, different actions kick in as per levels of air pollution. But no such plan exists for areas beyond the NCR.

Most polluted

From November 5-11, the average daily AQI of Delhi was 414.8, while Vrindavan’s was 438.14, Agra’s 429.85, and Firozabad’s 437.6. On November 9, Delhi was not part of the top 10 polluted places, and there were four non-NCR districts in the top 10 and Firozabad was the most polluted place in the country. Similarly, on November 10, Agra was the most polluted place in the country.

Delhi has 39 air quality monitoring stations, while Agra has six and Vrindavan and Firozabad have only one each. “It is not that we are not giving attention to these cities. These three cities are also part of the 132 cities which are covered by the NCAP (National Clean Air Programme),” a CPCB official said.

About smaller cities witnessing higher pollution compared to Delhi, the official said that though meteorological conditions of Delhi and these places are similar, local factors could be behind the higher AQI.

Attention needed

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of Centre for Science and Environment, a research and advocacy NGO, said that during winter, the natural ventilation of the entire Indo Gangetic Plains (IGP), which stretches from Punjab and touches the boundaries of West Bengal, is constrained and pollutants get trapped. This is due to a drop in temperature, wind speed and the height up to which pollutants can be dispersed in the atmosphere.

“A big chunk of the IGP is affected by stubble burning also. Because of these factors, several cities and sub-regions that are outside the NCR, but within the IGP, are more polluted than even Delhi during winter. But the annual average pollution of these places could be lower than Delhi,” Ms. Roychowdhury said.

“Delhi gets an undue importance as initial cases on air pollution were filed about the Delhi-NCR in the Supreme Court. Because of the court orders, the region got focus,” she added.

But Ms. Roychowdhury said that the Government should pay more attention to the entire IGP for pollution mitigation, as the entire region is more vulnerable to high pollution. “The NCAP is for 132 cities. The Government should implement NCAP at district and State levels and take into consideration rural areas too, instead of just focusing on cities,” she said.

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