Punjab, Haryana crop fires cause of soaring levels of pollution in Delhi: NASA

New Delhi, November 19 (KMS): NASA’s earth observatory has claimed that the crop fires in Indian states of Punjab and Haryana have contributed to a sharp deterioration of air quality in November. Though lingering monsoon rains this year kept fire activity at low levels for a few weeks longer than usual, satellites observed elevated fire activity in November as the pace of burning accelerated in the northern states.

Sensors in Delhi area—including one at the U.S. Embassy—recorded concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and coarse particulate matter (PM10) well above 400 micrograms per cubic meter on several occasions in November, the NASA earth observatory noted.

However, smoke from crop fires is not the only contributor to the hazy skies. Influxes of dust sometimes arrive from the Thar Desert to the west. Besides, an array of other human-caused sources of air pollution in cities, including motor vehicle fumes, industrial and construction activity, fireworks, and fires for heating and cooking also causes pollution in the national capital Delhi.

The earth observatory said that geography and weather also deteriorate Delhi’s air quality. As of November 16, NASA’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) had detected more than 74,000 hotspots in Punjab.

While total fire counts have remained consistently high in Punjab, satellite data indicate that campaigns to get farmers to clear fields without using fire have proven more successful in Haryana. “Over nine years of VIIRS observation, we don’t see much of a trend in Punjab. However, in Haryana, we saw a 45% decrease in the total number of fires in 2020 compared to the 2012-2019 average,” Pawan Gupta, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “But fire counts seem to be on the higher end in Haryana again this year,” he added.

Yesterday, Delhi’s Gopal Rai, the Minister for Environment, Forest and Wildlife Development, said only 30% of pollutants in Delhi’s air stem from the city itself, with the rest (69%) coming from the vast urban sprawl around it.

Citing reports by environment-related organisations such as Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Indian Institute of Tropical Management (IITM), the minister said 64% pollution is due to external sources and 36% pollution is due internal source of Delhi.

Delhi recorded its air quality in the “very poor” category on Friday. The city recorded its 24-hour average air quality index at 347. According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences air quality monitor SAFAR, 773 farm fires in neighbouring regions accounted for two per cent of Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution on Thursday.

To combat pollution, the Delhi government on Wednesday issued 10 directions, including a ban on the entry of trucks carrying non-essential items in the city and closure of schools and colleges till further orders.

The Delhi government has banned construction and demolition activities in the city till November 21. It has also ordered its employees to work from home till Sunday.

The city government had earlier announced the closure of all schools, colleges and educational institutions till Sunday.