NEW DELHI: Grey skies, a thick layer of acrid smog and dangerously high concentration of lung-damaging fine particles in the air. Delhiites woke up to a grim morning on Friday as rampant cracker bursting on Diwali night and emissions from farm fires pushed pollution levels beyond the “severe” category.
The pollution levels in the national capital skyrocketed from 243 micrograms per cubic metre at 6pm on Thursday (Diwali day) to 410 micrograms per cubic metre at 9am on Friday, around seven times the safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre.
Data shows that average pollution levels recorded in the national capital were the highest in the last five years, leaving citizens across the city gasping for breath.

Delhi’s air quality index (AQI), which entered the ‘severe’ zone last night, continued its upward trend and stood at 463 at 3pm on Friday.
The spike in pollution levels came after citizens across the NCR flouted the cracker ban imposed by the Supreme Court. Cracker bursting continued till late night in NCR cities of Noida, Faridabad and Gurugram.
A significant rise in toxic farm fire fumes on Diwali day only made matters worse, creating a thick cocktail of life-threatening smog in the city.
Even adjoining areas of Delhi witnessed an uptick in PM2.5 pollution levels. The neighbouring cities of Faridabad (464), Greater Noida (441), Ghaziabad (461), Gurugram (470) and Noida (471) recorded ‘severe’ air quality at 3pm.
Why Delhi faces the brunt of cracker-bursting
Pollution charts of several other cities clearly indicate that Delhiites weren’t the only ones who flouted the cracker ban.
According to data, the AQI levels peaked in cities like Mumbai (331), Chennai (555), Kolkata (454) and Ahmedabad (443) on the eve of Diwali.
Except Mumbai, AQI in all other cities had breached the severe mark.

While pollution levels in all other cities dipped significantly following Diwali evening, Delhi’s AQI remained in the severe category throughout the following day.
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’.
But Delhi’s pollution problem is also driven by stubble burning.
This was expected, say experts.
Stubble burning accounted for 36 per cent of Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution on Friday, the highest this season so far, according to government air quality forecast agency SAFAR.
On Thursday, farm fires had accounted for 25 per cent of Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution.
The chart above shows that even before Diwali evening, the pollution levels in Delhi remained dangerously high and almost crossed the 500-mark around noon.
Last year, the share of stubble burning in Delhi’s pollution had peaked at 42 per cent on November 5. In 2019, crop residue burning accounted for 44 per cent of Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution on November 1.

According to the SAFAR forecast, the pollution levels in Delhi would have remained in the “poor” category even without fire cracker emissions. However, the forecast shows that bursting of firecrackers – even at 50% – would have pushed the AQI level past the severe mark on November 5.
Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai said that capital’s air quality had deteriorated due to a surge in farm fires and some people bursting firecrackers on purpose on Diwali despite a ban on it.
Rai said Delhi’s base pollution has remained the same. Only two factors have been added — firecrackers and stubble burning.
(With inputs from agencies)




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