As a consequence of flouting the ban imposed on firecrackers this Diwali, a thick layer of acid smog visibly hung over Delhi-NCR on Friday while emissions from farm fires in the region peaked at 36 per cent pushing the capital's air quality into the 'severe' zone.
On Friday, several complaints of itchy throat and watery eyes were reported by residents of Delhi-NCR.
Environment Minister Gopal Rai on Friday said that Delhi'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.
According to him, the number of farm fires has risen to 3,500 and its impact is visible in Delhi.
Rai said Delhi's base pollution has remained the same. Only two factors have been added – firecrackers and stubble burning.
"A large number of people did not burst firecrackers. I thank them all. But some people burst firecrackers on purpose. The BJP made them do it," he told reporters here.
Ahead of the festive season, the Delhi government had announced a complete ban on firecrackers till January 1, 2022 and ran an aggressive campaign against their sale and use.
Delhi's air quality index (AQI), which entered the 'severe' zone last night, continued its upward trend and stood at 463 at 3 pm on Friday.
The neighbouring cities of Faridabad (464), Greater Noida (441), Ghaziabad (461), Gurugram (470) and Noida (471) also recorded 'severe' air quality at 3 pm.
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'.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the 24-hour average concentration of lung-damaging fine particles known as PM2.5 in Delhi-NCR shot up from 243 micrograms per cubic metre at 6 pm on Thursday (Diwali day) to 430 micrograms per cubic metre at 2 pm on Friday, around seven times the safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre.
The PM10 levels crossed the 500 micrograms per cubic metre mark around 5 am on Friday and stood at 558 micrograms per cubic metre at 2 pm.
As per the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), the air quality is considered to be in the 'emergency' category if PM2.5 and PM10 levels continue to be above 300 micrograms per cubic metre and 500 micrograms per cubic metre, respectively, for 48 hours or more.
Low temperature and fog in the morning allowed the accumulation of pollutants.
Fog conditions intensified in Delhi-NCR this morning, lowering visibility at the Indira Gandhi International Airport and the Safdarjung Airport to the range of 200 to 500 metres at 5.30 am. Visibility in parts of the city dropped to 200 metres, said R K Jenamani, senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
People from several parts of the capital and its suburbs complained of headache, itchy throat and watery eyes as the thick layer of smog partially blotted out the sun.
Concerned citizens and environmental activists shared pictures and videos of people bursting firecrackers on social media and termed the government ban a "joke".
"Delhi should ideally shut down tomorrow morning, and the government's cracker ban turned out to be a bigger joke this year. No one cares, meanwhile majority of my family is either down with severe dry cough or headaches. #DelhiAQI is 700+ and the night hasn't even begun," a Twitter user posted on the microblogging site.
People from a large number of areas in the capital had reported rampant cracker bursting on Thursday night.
Cracker bursting continued till late night in NCR cities of Noida, Faridabad and Gurugram.
The Haryana government had imposed a ban on the sale or use of all kinds of firecrackers in 14 of its districts in the National Capital Region.
The Uttar Pradesh government had allowed the use of green crackers on Diwali only for two hours in areas with moderate or better air quality.
Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said that Delhi'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.
He alleged that the BJP made people burst firecrackers on Diwali on Thursday.
Rai said Delhi's base pollution has remained the same. Only two factors have been added -- firecrackers and stubble burning.
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.
"The overall air quality of Delhi plunged to the upper end of the 'severe' category with additional firework emissions... The share of stubble emissions has peaked today at 36 per cent," said Gufran Beig, founder-project director of SAFAR.
"Local winds have picked up and fast dispersion (of pollutants) is expected now. Without any more firecracker emissions, the AQI will improve to the 'very poor' category by tonight, although the stubble contribution is expected to remain almost the same (on Saturday)," he said.
On Thursday, farm fires accounted for 25 per cent of Delhi's PM2.5 pollution.
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.
The concentration of stubble burning in Delhi's PM2.5 pollution was 32 per cent on Diwali last year as compared to 19 per cent in 2019.
(With PTI Inputs)