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Delhi Breathes Easier: Best Diwali Air Quality in Eight Years

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New Delhi: Delhi witnessed its best Diwali air quality in eight years on Sunday, marked by an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 218 at 4 pm, the most favourable in at least three weeks. However, pollution levels may rise due to the burning of firecrackers and low night temperatures.

This is a significant improvement compared to the AQI of 312 recorded last year on Diwali, with the city experiencing ‘very poor’ to ‘severe’ air quality in the two weeks leading up to the festival. Contributing factors to this improvement included intermittent rainfall on Friday and favourable wind speeds for pollutant dispersion.

According to the PTI, the India Meteorological Department’s prediction of a slight improvement in air quality before Diwali proved accurate, attributing it to favourable meteorological conditions, including light rain from a western disturbance. This disturbance brought rain to northwest India, reducing the impact of stubble burning on Delhi’s air quality. The improved air quality, however, may be short-lived, with concerns about pollution levels rising due to the burning of firecrackers and low night temperatures.

Despite a comprehensive ban on firecrackers within the city, sporadic incidents were reported on Saturday night and Sunday evening. Low temperatures and firecracker burning could contribute to a late Sunday increase in pollution levels. However, last year’s decrease in stubble-burning incidents, delayed rain, and favourable conditions prevented Delhi from experiencing severe pollution post-Diwali.

Data from the Decision Support System indicated that stubble burning in neighbouring states contributed to 23% of Delhi’s air pollution on Wednesday, 33% on Thursday, and 10% on Friday. Transport, another major contributor to pollution, accounted for 12 to 14% of the city’s air quality issues in recent days.

Despite implementing the odd-even car rationing scheme being postponed due to improved air quality, the government remains vigilant and may reconsider the scheme after Diwali if pollution levels sharply increase. Doctors warn that breathing Delhi’s polluted air is equivalent to smoking approximately 10 cigarettes a day, with prolonged exposure increasing the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) has been enforced in Delhi under Stage IV, with restrictions on construction work and the entry of polluting trucks into the city, following the air quality reaching ‘severe plus’ levels (AQI above 450). The Delhi Pollution Control Committee’s analysis indicates that the city experienced peak pollution from November 1 to 15, coinciding with an increase in stubble-burning incidents in neighbouring states.

According to a report from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, Delhi consistently ranks among the world’s capital cities with the worst air quality, shortening lives by almost 12 years.

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