Poor air quality? Local sources main reason, says EPCA

New Delhi banned the use of diesel generators on October 15 as pollution levels in the Indian capital exceeded safe limits by more than four times. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

As stricter anti-air pollution measures kick in from Tuesday, a Supreme Court-mandated green panel has asserted that local sources of pollution in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are the primary reasons for poor air quality that plagues the national capital every winter.

Stack (chimney) and dust pollution, as well as open burning of plastic and rubber scrap, are a major cause for concern, member of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) Sunita Narain said on Monday.

While Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has blamed stubble burning in the neighbouring states for deterioration of air quality in the city, SAFAR, the ministry of earth science's air quality and weather forecast service, has said the share of stubble burning in the PM 2.5 concentration in Delhi has remained less than 10 percent so far.

PM 2.5 stands for particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter. Particles narrower than 10 micrometers are the most hazardous because they can get deep into the lungs, and some may even get into the bloodstream.

The effect of stubble burning ranged from 0 to 9 percent between October 10 and 13, according to a SAFAR report released on Monday.

"Delhi's air quality index (259) is at the higher end of the poor category. It touched the very poor category last night for a brief period, indicating the peak impact of stubble fires to a maximum of 8 percent," it said in a report.

"Although stubble burning incidents in Haryana, Punjab and nearby border regions are moderate, there's going to be a significant change in circulation pattern and the direction at transport height is going to be southeasterly, which means the impact of biomass burning is going to be negligible," the SAFAR report said.

Narain said stack and dust pollution, as well as open burning of plastic and rubber scrap, are a major cause for concern.

"Incidents of external biomass burning cannot be ignored. These are exacerbating pollution in Delhi-NCR. But the fact is local sources of pollution are massive. Biomass burning is contributing 10 percent, which means local sources account for the rest 90 percent of the pollution. Uttar Pradesh, Harayana and Delhi are all to blame," Narain said.

EPCA also said illegal godowns, each spanning across more than two acres, have come up on agricultural land in Bahadurgarh district of Haryana, adjoining Asia's largest wholesale junk market in Delhi's Tikri Kalan. They are burning waste that cannot be recycled, it said.

"Plastic segregation and recycling are important for the city. The Delhi Development Authority has given land for it at Tikri Kalan and Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited lifts the waste that cannot be recycled for controlled burning in waste-to-energy plants," Narain said.

"The problem is that it is overflowing outside Tikri. There are illegal segregation units that burn the waste that can not be recycled," she said.

Kejriwal had on Monday appealed to the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal to do something about stubble burning in neighbouring states.

He had earlier said that all the gains achieved so far on the pollution front in Delhi will be nullified if immediate steps were not taken to stop crop residue burning.

The Graded Response Action Plan to curb air pollution in Delhi-NCR came into force on Tuesday, rolling out stricter measures depending on the need to discourage private vehicles on roads, stop entry of trucks, use of diesel generators, and closing brick kilns and stone crushers.

Prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board and first implemented in Delhi-NCR in 2017, the Graded Response Action Plan lists measures to curb air pollution according to the severity of the situation.

This year, GRAP will witness the return of Delhi government's odd-even car rationing scheme from November 4 and the extension of the ban on diesel gen-sets to NCR cities of Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida, Greater Noida, Faridabad, Sonepat, Panipat, and Bahadurgarh.

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