By Adnan Abidi and Mayank Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI (Reuters – Every winter, a thick smokey cloud hangs over India’s north plains and New Delhi. This raises concerns about the health of millions of people. Authorities have issued fixes that do not clear the air.
The Air Quality Index for the capital, home to 20 million people, has increased to 350 points on a scale 500. It is now near “very poor”, according to the SAFAR monitoring organization.
Anything more than 60 is considered unhealthy.
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The index measures airborne PM2.5 particles which can travel deep into the lungs. This can cause serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, and other fatalities.
The rainy seasons usually end in September. By October, the air quality starts to decline as cooler temperatures and lower winds trap pollutants in more of the atmosphere.
The November crop stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, which is part of the farm Belt that borders New Delhi, makes the pollution worse.
The bread-basket states’ farmers are leading the way in mechanised farming and increasingly use harvesters to bring in their rice crop.
The machines, however, leave stubble and paddy straw behind unlike manual harvesting.
Experts say that farmers, who have a very short window of time to prepare their fields for winter crops only once a year, start burning stubble and straw. This results in sooty smoke drifting off the land, and accounts for 25% of the country’s air pollution.
New Delhi is responsible for a lot of its pollution. December is when most of the stubble burning stops.
Nearly 10 million vehicles in the capital, which is more than any of the three major cities of Mumbai and Chennai, emit exhaust fumes. Industrial emissions, dust from construction sites, and smoke from domestic fires also contribute to this murky mixture.
The city is rapidly growing and losing oxygen-producing forests. Illegal miners are reducing nearby hills to provide gravel for the construction industry and removing the natural barrier to dust from Thar Desert.
Authorities close schools and ban construction when the smog becomes too severe. However, they admit that they don’t have enough resources to effectively clamp down on illegal industries or enforce emission rules.
The Supreme Court has reproached officials for failing to clear the air, and has asked the government in Delhi, its neighboring states, and federal authorities to cooperate to improve the environment.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party doesn’t govern Delhi. It is instead run by the Aam Aadmi Party, which has little cooperation.
It is nature that makes things better. Warmer weather ends the atmospheric conditions which trap the smog until the return of the rains in June.
(Reporting and Editing by Mayank Bhadraj; Editing by Robert Birsel