As Delhi NCR residents physically struggle with thick smog that the president's doctor has called a "death sentence" for children and the elderly, it appears that indiscriminate crop burning by farmers in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab may be adding to the pollution woes in the region.
This NASA map shows the extent of unregulated agriculture crop fires whose smoke may be blowing towards Delhi NCR from the surrounding states.
The New York Times reported that farmers traditionally resort to burning straw left over from harvests -- an expected 32 million tonnes -- as they can't afford to buy expensive new equipment offered by the government as alternative ways to clear the land for fresh sowing season. One rice farmer told NYT the most-widely available brand of seeders that doesn't require crop burning can cost about $1,900 (Rs 1.27 lakh), which is too expensive.
And although the government has offered to bear half of the cost of these equipment, they are still a big financial burden for most farmers. The National Green Tribunal has also previously asked the government to ask farmers to stop burning crop but the practice continues unchecked with no strict action, noted the report.
Delhi's 'severe' pollution levels are expected to continue for at least three more days unless winds pick up speed, sweeping away some of the smog, according to weather scientists. An official with the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (Safar) told the Economic Times, "We are not expecting rains in Delhi in the next 2-3 days, so air quality will not improve."
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) noted the air quality index in Delhi NCR had reached an average of 432, or the "severe" category with the reading at 445 on Monday and 389 on Tuesday following the festival of Diwali, which is usually accompanied by the burning of firecrackers that add to the pollution.
The severe smog led to reduced visibility causing a 20-vehicle pileup on a highway near Delhi on Thursday morning. NCR residents are also complaining about a burning sensation in the eyes, along with worsening respiratory conditions.
Meanwhile, a petition to ban firecrackers has also gone viral after air pollution levels rose to hazardous levels in the last few days.
The Delhi government is looking at interim steps to curb the pollution such as the use of mist fountains and air purifiers. Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Tuesday said the Delhi government will launch an app so people can share their grievances on pollution, along with asking the Public Works Department (PWD) to check the rising menace of dust particles, which has made the situation worse.
But clearly more urgent and drastic steps from the other states outside Delhi are also needed.