Levels of PM2.5, combustion particles that are roughly forty times finer than the average human hair, more than doubled in the last couple of days. A key source of PM2.5 at this time of the year is the fires farmers in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana light to clear their fields of paddy residue after harvesting their paddy crop.
In the coming days, officials expect a combination of three factors to drastically worsen the pollution: wind speed is likely to remain low, local emissions are set to increase because of the festive rush and pollutants from more farm fires are expected to drift in, said D Saha, former head of CPCB’S air quality lab.
The other major pollutant, PM10, also rose to 289.7 micrograms/cubic meter – nearly thrice the 100 microgram/cubic meter level that is considered safe.
On Thursday, the India Metrological Department (IMD’S) informed the CPCB that the wind direction will change to northnorthwest from Friday onwards, meaning that pollutants will start drifting into the capital from Punjab, and even beyond, from Pakistan. CPCB officials, who met that day, asked the Haryana and Punjab governments to enforce the ban against stubble burning.
The CPCB has said that from Monday on, restrictions proposed in the so-called Graded Action Plan (Grap) will be in force. A ban on construction and open burning, along with the odd-even road rationing scheme, may be enforced under Grap if pollution levels reach alarming levels.
Representatives of farmers unions have repeatedly expressed helplessness in combating the problem of crop residue burning, which they say is a cheap and quick method of disposing paddy stubble for those who have been unable to afford modern machines to clear their farms.
“Burning stubble is our last resort. We know it harms our families first since we reside near our farms. It destroys micronutrients (from the soil), and we have to put up with all sorts of threats from the state government that files police cases and imposes hefty fines,” said Chamkaur Singh Nainewal, a farmers leader, during a rally in Barnala on Saturday.
The rally was held by farmers to urge the government to do more to manage crop residue.
While announcing Grap, the CPCB had said that the air quality may deteriorate to ‘very poor’ later this month.
From next week, the measures to combat pollution include a possible hike in parking fees to dissuade people from using private cars, and a ban on the use of diesel generators.