New Delhi: Pollution levels have reached "alarming" levels in Delhi even before Diwali and could touch "scary" heights after the festival on Wednesday, an environment watchdog said on Tuesday.
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Diwali, the festival of lights, has been increasingly adding tonnes of toxic smoke to the city's air in recent years because of the extensive use of firecrackers, leading to major health issues.
This year the pollution levels could cross previous levels, experts warned.
One reason for this is crop burning, widespread construction activity and carbon emissions from outdated trucks and vehicles.
When one monitors the particulate matter in Delhi's air, which is filled with noxious pollutants, on any average day it is at least three times the prescribed normal levels with smog.
This rises to greater heights during winter.
Vikrant Tongad, an environmentalist working with the Delhi-based Social Action for Forest and Environment, told IANS: "The rise in pollution levels after Diwali has been going up three-to-four times the normal levels. But it's alarming to see the rise even before Diwali."
At this rate, Tongad said the levels could touch "scary" heights when the festival gets over.
Over the past few weeks, the country's northern belt -- Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh -- have witnessed hazy skies owing to the acres of crops set ablaze.
"What Delhi is facing even before Diwali has a great affect from these burnt crops," Tongad said.
Echoing similar views, a scientist at the 'Air Lab' of Delhi government's Delhi Pollution Control Committee, M.P. George, said Diwali makes a fair bit of contribution to air pollution in the city.
"The pre-Diwali air pollution levels could be associated with the crop fires which show their impact on Delhi. Diwali adds to the growing city's pollution," George told IANS.
The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) of the ministry of earth sciences prescribes the PM 2.5 level -- Particulate Matter with a diameter smaller than 2 1/2 microns, where a micron is one millionth of a meter. The nano particles suspended in the air in the range of 0-100 is safe, while those above 100 fall under the unhealthy "poor" air quality level.
According to Delhi Pollution Control Committee of the government of Delhi, the PM2.5 (particulate matter) levels, which is a measure of pollution in the air, stand at 222.87 units, as recorded around the Indira Gandhi airport, as against the standard prescribed norm of 60 units. The levels show nearly four times the amount of pollutants allowed in the air.
Whereas, as per the WHO, the guideline values for PM2.5 levels stand at 10 units, raising a question about the way Indian authorities measure the pollution levels.
SAFAR also predicts that the levels after Diwali, could reach as high as 429 units of PM 2.5, reaching the absolute "critical" levels of pollution. According to SAFAR: "This Diwali is going to be colder as compared to last year. There is enough moisture in the air and the atmospheric holding capacity of pollutants is quite high."
Jai Dhar Gupta, who has been a victim of the city's pollution and went through years of nebulization and steroids, has turned into a clean energy crusader and manufactures air purifying masks through his company, Vogmask.
"The Indo-Gangetic plain is like a dust bowl. With the crop burning that has been happening, the PM 2.5 levels have reached critical stage. It requires the government to issue advisory in this emergency situation and aggressively fight the pollution," Gupta told IANS.
He said that Paris earlier this year adapted emergency measures when their PM 2.5 levels reached around 100, and said the situation is graver in Delhi.