NW India could get a brief breather from dirty air due to changing winds

Several parts of north-west India have started recording “poor” air quality for the past four days because of north-westerly calm winds and crop fires flaring across Punjab and Haryana, but the region is likely to get a brief breather due to a change in wind direction.

Crop fires are likely to peak next week, when the harvesting is midway, farm leaders said.

Though National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite images show widespread fires in Punjab and Haryana, the impact from the smoke may reduce over the next three to four days because of a likely change in wind direction from north-westerly to easterly.

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Moisture in the air is also likely to increase for a few days until wind direction changes back to north-westerly.

Delhi air quality index (AQI) at 216 was poor on Sunday.

Agra, Bulandshahr, Bahadurgarh, Ballabgarh, Bhiwadi, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Lucknow, Karnal and other north-western towns also recorded a similar poor AQI.

“Winds were calm during the evening for the last four to five days. So even though the contribution from crop fires to air pollution isn’t as high, air quality has worsened due to lack of dispersion. This will change due to the depression that has developed over the Bay of Bengal. Wind speed will increase and wind direction will change to easterly. We don’t expect any adverse pollution events in the next seven days,” said Vijay Soni, a scientist at the air pollution division of India Meteorological Department (IMD).

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Night or minimum temperature is also likely to rise as moisture laden, warmer winds enter the north-western region from Monday, said Kuldeep Shrivastava, head, Regional Weather Forecasting Centre (RWFC).

“Harvesting has started in Punjab. It will peak next week, when crop fires will also rise. We have been saying for a long time that in the absence of a direct subsidy crop fires will continue because a subsidy on the straw management machinery is not enough for small farmers,” said Harinder Singh Lakhowal, general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), Punjab.

According to the Air Quality Early Warning System under the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), air quality in the national capital is likely to improve and reach in “moderate” category on Monday and Tuesday owing to the change in wind direction.

The Supreme Court (SC) in an order dated October 7 had issued notices to the Centre and the north-western states on the issue of stubble burning of crops.

The apex court had directed Solicitor-General (S-G) of India Tushar Mehta, who had appeared on behalf of the Centre, to file replies to an application on the issue.

The SC has also summoned chief secretaries of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Delhi, Punjab and Haryana on the next date of hearing.

Vikrant Tongad, the petitioner before the apex court, had sought to formulate a mechanism, where an incentive of Rs 100 per quintal would be part of the total minimum support price (MSP), which can be withheld until a farmer could assure that there was no stubble fire in his agricultural patch.

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