Unclear future: Despite an order from India’s Supreme Court, industries and power plants in Delhi’s National Capital Region are not monitoring their emission levels. Photo: Hindustan Times

Pave streets, enforce stubble burning ban to reduce air pollution: House panel

According to a Parliamentary panel report tabled in Rajya Sabha, air pollution mitigation efforts in the National Capital Region (NCR) will not yield desired results without paving streets. A Parliamentary standing committee chaired by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said the environment ministry should monitor and furnish actions by all NCR states on paving roads and also furnish a response from the civil aviation ministry on sharing funds to control air pollution in the region.

The panel also said the Centre’s enforcement of a statutory ban on stubble burning by state governments (Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh) was allegedly weak. The panel said “coupled with laxity towards the sensitivity and gravity of the matter has also adversely affected the ongoing efforts to tackle the issue of air pollution in Delhi and NCR.”

Delhi-NCR power plants not monitoring pollution effectively: CSE report

Despite an order from India’s Supreme Court, industries and power plants in Delhi’s National Capital Region are not monitoring their emission levels. All this while the air quality in NCR is hovering over the “severe” category of over 400.

An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found discrepancies in emissions data. In 2014, industries and power plants in Delhi-NCR were ordered to install continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS) and share data online. Among NCR states, Uttar Pradesh does not even have a portal to put out CEMS data. Punjab shares data from only two among its four thermal power stations that are included in NCR. Haryana also shares data from two power stations although five of its stations are included in NCR.

The data of four of the 11 thermal power plants in NCR remain questionable, the analysis found, pointing out that Rajiv Gandhi and Guru Hargobind plants shut down recently. But they are reporting sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide data currently, despite there being no operations.

The CEMS data shared online is also instantaneous. The historical emissions data is not available. 

Peak stubble burning shifted by a month this year leading to most polluted November in 6 years

According to Central Pollution Control Board data, the average air quality index for November in 2021 has been the worst in six years at 376, the figure for November 2020 was 327, while the air in November 2019 was also cleaner with an average AQI of 312. The November average In 2018 was 334, in 2017 it was 360, in 2016 it was 374 and in 2015 it was 358. 

November 2021 recorded 11 ‘severe’ air days, which were 9 in 2020, 7 in 2019, and 5 in 2018, Indian Express reported. Gufran Beig, founder project director, SAFAR, told the newspaper that the air quality in November 2021 can be attributed to the peak stubble burning season having been delayed by about a week due to the late withdrawal of the monsoon this year. Usually, the air quality gets bad in October and November, but this year, the worst was shifted to November, he said.

US space agency NASA’s satellite images showed smoke gushing towards Delhi. The images depicted a massive ‘river of smoke’ originating from fires in Punjab and Haryana stretching towards Delhi. Some smoke coming towards Delhi is linked to crop-burning activities in northern Pakistan, the weather channel reported. Since November 11, the fire activities have gained pace. The VIIRS has recorded more than 74,000 fire hotspots in Punjab till November 16.

Patna records rise in acute respiratory illness cases due to worsening air pollution 

In Bihar, Patna, people visiting hospitals with acute respiratory illness shot up due to worsening air pollution in November. The overall Air Quality Index (AQI) in the city was recorded at 231 on November 17, 2021, according to the Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB). 

A doctor at the chest department, Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Science, Patna, told Down to Earth that of the 20-25 patients who visit the outpatient department every day, at least five have falling oxygen levels similar to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and have to be admitted.

The burning of firecrackers around Diwali despite the ban was one of the major reasons for the rise in air pollution in Patna, said BSPCB chairman Ashok Ghosh. Construction activities and vehicular movement also contributed to air pollution. The shifting of river Ganga away from Patna and biomass burning were responsible for Patna’s deteriorating air quality, a BSPCB study had pointed out two years ago, DTE reported.

More pollution recorded this year during Diwali than 2020 in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai

According to central agency SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecast and Research), air pollution during the Diwali period (five days before and after Diwali on November 4) in 2021 was higher compared to 2020 in the cities of Delhi, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Delhi was the worst among the three as concentration of PM10 and PM2.5 was higher than 2020 and 2019 with air quality index racing “severe” category of over 400 µg / m3.  

Ahmedabad’s air quality was in the ‘poor’ category on November 5, with PM2.5 levels reaching 97 µg/m3, much more than that recorded in 2020 (93 µg/m3). Early morning hours of November 5 (from 1 am to 5 am) were the hot spot hours for PM2.5, with AQI levels ranging from ‘very poor’ to ‘severe’. The 2021 levels in Ahmedabad were also higher than 2018, when the air quality was in the ‘very poor’ category.

Air pollution levels increased during the 2021 Diwali period in Mumbai, compared to 2019 and 2020. However, the air quality was recorded in the ‘moderate’ category because of light rain in the city.

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