This winter the air pollution levels in several other northern cities was higher than the national capital, the Central Pollution Control Board air quality index (AQI) data shows, implying that air quality is deteriorating in these smaller towns at a faster rate.
Since October 1, when the pollution levels in the northern plain started to deteriorate, several northern cities had higher pollution levels than Delhi. Tracking air pollution this winter clearly shows that several cities in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have emerged as the new hot spots as compared to places such as Gwalior and Jhansi, which used to have high particulate pollution.
Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh had highest AQI level of 500 on November 4 in the country, a day after Rohtak in Haryana topped the CPCB’s AQI charts of 102 cities across India. On November 6, Jind in Haryana was most polluted place in the country. On November 11 and 12, Panipat, another town in southern Haryana had highest pollution levels in the country,
Between October 1 and November 11, Panipat had topped the chart five times, Jind and Hisar four times each, Rohtak twice and Baghpat once. Ghaziabad, neighbouring Delhi in Uttar Pradesh, had been the most polluted place 11 times, Noida, twice and Lucknow once. The coal city of Talechar in Odisha also topped the CPCB AQI chart twice because of base pollution load and particulate matter flowing from the north India, the data analysis showed.
In this period, Delhi’s AQI level was highest only thrice including November 27, the Diwali night, according to the CPCB data. To be sure, Delhi has 38 air pollution monitoring stations unlike other towns which have maximum of five monitoring stations. As AQI is an average of pollution levels at all stations, the Delhi’s AQI may not reflect the highest pollution level at a particular place in the city.
“It is not fair that air pollution focus is just on Delhi,” said Chandra Bhushan former deputy director general of Centre for Science and Environment. “The data clearly shows that air pollution is pan north Indian plains problem and in several places pollution levels are higher than in Delhi.”
There are two primary reasons for spike in air pollution in the northern plains — stubble burning, which picked up from October 15 and was maximum on November 4, and the increase in local pollution load. The north-westerly winds carry the stubble smoke from paddy fields of Punjab and Haryana towards Delhi and the national capital region and its contribution to pollution load had been at a maximum of 25% this winter, according to analysis by System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (Safar), a wing of ministry of earth sciences.
Experts say the second reason is that there are virtually no action plans to deal with increasing pollution load in these smaller towns and cities, which have not come under the Supreme Court radar.
For instance, Panipat, which has seen 20% increase in population between 2001 and 2011, has seen several new small industries coming up and vehicle registrations rising almost two-fold in the past five years, according to Haryana statistical report of 2018. The report shows similar increase in population and vehicles in Karnal, Rohtak and Jind.
“A large number of industries which closed in Delhi have shifted close to GT Karnal Road between Panipat and Sonipat making it a new pollution hot-spot,” said an official of Haryana pollution control board, who was not willing to be named. He added that a similar trend is also visible in and around Rohtak, where pollution levels have almost doubled in the past three years. And same is the case with Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh, which is emerging as a new residential and industrial belt next to Delhi.
Haryana pollution control board member secretary, S Narayanan, said they have prepared pollution plans for these cities, which was being implemented by the district authorities. “The CPCB is monitoring the situation and issuing directions to mitigate air pollution which is being followed,” he said.
The Uttar Pradesh pollution control board also has air pollution mitigation plan, which is also monitored by the CPCB. “The problem is that these plans are based on assumptions and not real data. We need to know real sources of air pollution in these towns and then prepare area specific action plans,” Bhushan said.