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Air pollution worsens in Delhi with increasing stubble burning, demand to shut down schools grows as average AQI nears 500

The Delhi government has been requested by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to close schools till the pollution reduces.

On Thursday, 3rd November 2022, residents of Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) complained of suffocating and “eyes scorching” as a result of smog and severe air pollution, which left many gasping for oxygen. At 7 am, the national capital’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was 408 (in the “Severe” category), and at 8 am, it was 364 (in the “Very Poor” category).

Later in the day, the AQI level went up in almost all zones in the city-state, with many places registering AQI above 500. The AQI was 700 at Punjabi Bagh and 605 in Pooh Khurd, according to aqicn.org live data. An AQI between zero 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’. AQI above 500 is hazardous, and today, the air quality is marked as poor to hazardous in various places in the entire city. Among the pollutants, PM2.5 and PM10 are at dangerously high levels, reaching levels above 700, and even nearing 1000 in some places.

AQI levels in Delhi at 2 PM on 3/11/2022

According to a report by ANI, people are holding stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana responsible for the worsening air pollution in the national capital. However, some people are also complaining about the excessive fireworks in Delhi during Diwali despite a blanket ban by the Arvind Kejriwal government.

Noida resident Arjun Prajapati said that despite the government’s ban, there were allegedly massive sales of crackers throughout the Delhi and NCR region. He said, “Despite the government’s ban, so many firecrackers were sold leading to this condition post-Diwali. There is so much difficulty in breathing that I cannot even breathe. There is burning in the eyes. Pollution is increasing. The government should take cognizance of it.” However, Diwali was over a week ago, and stubble burning in Punjab has seen a massive rise in the last week.

In addition to this, as the city is wracked by pollution, elderly people are complaining of breathing problems. A senior citizen said, “Amid the baseload of pollution, we suffer difficulty in breathing, burning in the nose. When we came here for a morning walk, the whole area was covered in smog.”

Increased air pollution causes various health issues

According to data released by SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research) India, the National Capital Region (NCR) experienced poor air quality. Noida, which is a part of the NCR, dropped to an AQI of 393, placing it in the “very poor” category, while Gurugram’s AQI stood at 318 and remained in the “very poor category.”

Another resident of the NCR also woke up to a thick layer of smog in the morning. He said, “When I came for a morning walk suffered from eye-itching and throat infection. The neighboring states are failing to stop the farm fires. As of now, we are entering into the winter season which is contributing to the pollution.” Another person, however, blamed the stubble burning and said, “We should hold ourselves accountable, along with the politicians. People are suffering due to stubble burning too.”

Demands to close the school due to pollution

The school management was unanimously urged by the students to close the doors until everything was back to normal. Divyansh, a student at Gyan Ganga Siksha Niketan School in Haldoni, mentioned pollution coming from private automobiles’ exhausts. He said, “The schools should also be shut down, apart from this government should close factories and offices, so that people do not use private vehicles.”

Data from SAFAR show that Dhirpur in Model Town fell to an AQI of 457, which is a threshold at which even healthy individuals might become unwell. The AQI in the vicinity of IGI Airport (T3) was 346, which is considered to be “Very Poor.” The local AQI reading on Wednesday was 350.

The national capital’s air quality getting worse, and Delhi officials stopped all construction and demolition until further instructions. The Delhi government has been requested by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to close schools till the air quality is better.

Spike in stubble burning incidents in Punjab

As per the data available, the stubble-burning incidents increased by 33.5% between September 15 and November 1 compared to last year. Last year there were 15,065 incidents reported. In 2022, 17,846 such incidents were reported. According to ET, in 2021, 1796 incidents of stubble burning were reported on November 1. In 2022, it increased to 1,846 incidents. Notably, 40% of the crop in Punjab has not been harvested yet, and more such incidents are expected to get recorded in the coming weeks.

Data suggests that 70% of the farm fires were reported in Amritsar, Sangrur, Firozpur, Gurdaspur, Kapurthala, Patiala and Tarn Taran districts. These districts were red-flagged in 2021 as well.

Haryana and UP recorded a decline in stubble-burning incidents

Data shows that Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are working extensively to reduce stubble-burning incidents. In 2021, Haryana reported 3,038 stubble-burning incidents. However, this year only 2,083 such incidents were reported marking a decline of 24%. In UP’s region around NCR, 53 stubble-burning incidents were reported in 2021, which has been reduced to 33 this year.

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