Air quality of the national capital is likely to remain “poor” for the fourth consecutive day on Sunday and is likely to deteriorate further. Though experts said the situation is better than that in the last few years.

The Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) recorded the overall air quality index (AQI) at 222 on Saturday and 208 on Friday, which falls in the “poor” category.

Delhi’s AQI is predicted to deteriorate to 256 on Sunday with localities like Anand Vihar and Wazirpur already hitting “very poor” 300 AQI.

According to SAFAR stubble burning in neighbouring states contribute 2 per cent to the total concentration of PM2.5, particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, in Delhi on October 12 and it will increase to 6 per cent by October 15.

In its short range forecast, SAFAR said that the overall air quality of Delhi has entered the poor category for the first time since the monsoon. The biomass fire counts in Punjab and Haryana have significantly increased during the past 24 hours, and such magnitude will now start to influence Delhi’s air quality, it said.

Pollution levels will move towards “very poor” by the third week of October, it said.

Experts say that increase in fire incidents in neighbouring states and winds will carry the smoke to the capital in the coming days.

“The fire counts in Punjab and Haryana have increased significantly over the last two days. The wind direction in Delhi is westerly which is unfavourable thereby carrying the smoke from the stubble burning towards Delhi. Delhi will probably encounter poor air quality in the coming days due to the prevailing wind direction and the stubble burning,” said Kurinji LS, Research Analyst, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

The senior official added that the air quality is not likely to deteriorate drastically for the next two to three days as the wind speed is not enough to transport smoke from the burning of stubble in Haryana and Punjab to Delhi.
The stubble burning incidents in Haryana has shown a decrease of 12 per cent with recorded 481 cases till October 11 against 547 in the corresponding period last year. While Punjab has reported an increase of 195 cases, from 435 in 2018 to 630 in 2019.

SAFAR said the AQI is still much better than the last few years in this time of the year, partly due to enough widespread moisture with relatively warmer temperatures around the surrounding areas of Delhi.

“Delhi’s air quality was recorded in the ‘satisfactory’ category till October 2 and in the ‘moderate’ category till October 9. It turned poor for the first time in the season on Thursday.

SAFAR further said that the increased biomass fire counts in Haryana and Panjab are likely to influence Delhi’s AQI now.

From October 15, stricter measures to fight air pollution will come into force in Delhi-NCR as part of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), which was first came into force in 2017.

Ahead of the Assembly Elections early next year, the air quality this season is likely to become a political battleground between the ruling AAP and BJP. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal made announcements taking credit for the improvement in Delhi’s air quality.

On Saturday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said smoke from crop residue burning in neighbouring states has started reaching Delhi and the air quality has started deteriorating. “It has been widely reported that the smoke coming to Delhi is due to the burning of stubble in Karnal, Haryana,” he said.

Earlier, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had announced last week that 46 teams of CPCB are taking stock of pollution levels in Delhi-NCR and will take appropriate action, wherever needed. He too listed several steps taken by the Centre to curb air pollution in Delhi-NCR region.

(With inputs from PTI and IANS)