New Delhi: As Delhi’s air quality turned ‘severe’ on Tuesday for the first time this season with stubble burning intensifying in neighbouring states, the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) said that the use of private vehicles may be stopped in the national capital if situation of air pollution gets worse.

“Let us hope the air pollution situation in Delhi doesn’t deteriorate but if it turns out to be an emergency, we will have to stop the use of private transport,” said Bhure Lal, chairman of the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA). “There is a committee which will advise me on this.”

The overall Air Quality Index (AQI) was 401, falling in the ‘severe’ category, the highest this season, Central Pollution Control Board officials said.

The Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) recorded the AQI at 410.

An AQI between 0 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’.

Eighteen areas of Delhi recorded ‘severe’ air quality with the highest AQI at 4 PM recorded at Anand Vihar at 467, according to data by the CPCB.

Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Noida recorded ‘severe’ air pollution, crossing the AQI of 400. Greater Noida’s air is also on the brink of turning severe, according to the data.

The Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) attributed the spike to “heavy stubble burning in the last 24 hours and calm winds”.

EPCA Bans Construction Activities in Delhi NCR From Nov 1 to Nov 10

The EPCA, which is considering regulating use of private vehicles, has already ordered halting of all construction activities from November 1 for 10 days and intensifying patrolling in “hot spots”.

The EPCA’s directions to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee came after it accepted the recommendation of a Central Pollution Control Board-led task force for the period between November 1 to 10 when further deterioration of air is expected due to festival season and stubble burning in neighbouring states.

The order includes halt of all construction activities involving excavation, civil construction to remain closed in Delhi and other NCR districts from November 1-10, closure of all stone crushers, hot mix plants generating dust pollution in Delhi and NCR districts from November 1-10.

All industries using coal and biomass as fuel(excluding thermal and waste to energy plants) to remain closed in Delhi and NCR districts from November 4-10 is another order.

The EPCA has also asked DPCC to direct transport department and traffic police to intensify checking of polluting vehicles and control travel congestion in Delhi and other NCR districts during November 1-10. It has also asked for intensified patrolling in industrial areas and other hot spots so as to completely control waste burning and industrial emissions.

Following the direction from the EPCA, the DPCC notified Delhi Development Authority, Navratna Central Public Sector, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Delhi Transport Corporation, National Highway Authority of India, India Meteorological Department, New Delhi Municipal Council, South Delhi Municipal Council, East Delhi Municipal Council and Public Works Department to enforce these measures.

The Supreme Court has already prohibited the plying of 15-year-old petrol and 10-year-old diesel vehicles in the national capital region. The top court made it clear that such vehicles would be impounded if found on roads in Delhi-NCR.

The top court directed that a list of 15-year-old petrol and 10-year-old diesel vehicles be published on the website of the CPCB and transport departments of the NCR area.

The court directed the CPCB to immediately create a social media account on which citizens could lodge their complaint about pollution directly “to be acted upon by the task force responsible for implementation of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP)”.

It permitted the court-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) to take pre-emptive steps under the GRAP without strict adherence to pollution stages delineated in the plan.

Earlier, the green panel had also banned the plying of 15-year-old petrol and 10-year-old diesel vehicles in the Delhi-NCR.

Situation Likely to Worsen

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the air quality is set to deteriorate further from November 1, and the Diwali this year is likely to be more polluted.

“Currently Delhi has trapped pollutants because dispersion is negligible. There is hardly any wind, so the pollutants are from local sources and dust,” Mahesh Palawat, director Private Weather forecasting agency Skymet told IANS.

According to Met officials, the local pollutants are largely a combination of meteorological reasons and dust generating from vehicles and renovations of buildings due to festival season.

A SAFAR official said pollution is likely to increase faster now with lead pollutant as PM10 because of new development as shown by SAFAR-model where it is indicating that western disturbances may hit over western Himalayan region from October 31.

“Lot of moisture is already getting introduced in Delhi sky as an early signature. The withdrawal will bring even more moisture in the air and result in fall in temperature. Upper winds already turned north-westerly (stubble site) today. Only favourable thing is that upper wind speed is moderate and fire counts are low,” the official said.

The leading factor causing severe pollution levels also include moisture and heavy air.

“The increase in surface wind speed can only prevent AQI to cross severe zone,” the official said.

Do Not Burn Incense Stick, Avoid Outdoor Activity: Centre-run SAFAR’s Advisory to Delhiites

The Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) asked Delhiites not to rely on dust masks for protection as city’s air quality turned ‘severe’ Tuesday.

The agency has advised Delhiites to avoid all outdoor activities and give a miss to walk Tuesday.

“If the room has windows, close them, if the air conditioner provides a fresh air intake option then choose it, avoid burning anything such as wood, candle or even an incense,” it said.

The advisory also recommended frequent wet mopping and using masks known as N-95 or P-100 respirators only for outdoor activities.

“Do not rely on dust masks for protection,” the advisory added.

Blame Game Over Delhi Pollution

As a thick haze due to smog continued to hover over the national capital during the day, both the BJP and the ruling AAP dispensation indulged in putting the blame on each other for the worsening situation.

“Every year Delhi suffers because of the ineptness of the federal government and the state governments of neighbouring Punjab and Haryana states,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a tweet.

Responding to Kejriwal’s charges, Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan alleged the AAP dispensation “failed” to undertake basic measures to curb pollution.

Vardhan said Kejriwal “cannot absolve himself of responsibility” by targeting the Centre and the state governments.

He said the Centre had undertaken a series of measures like Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for Delhi and the national capital region and setting up of air purifiers.

“This is your responsibility. We have been tracking farm fires with the help of satellites and compared to previous years, it has been consistently going down. It is wrong to blame Haryana, Punjab and the central government. Your work is being done by the central government,” Vardhan said.

(With PTI inputs)