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The Supreme Court-mandated EPCA today expressed concern over falling air quality in the national capital against the backdrop of farm residue burning gaining pace across the northern region. The EPCA (Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority), that spearheads crucial anti-pollution measures, also warned the state governments of the northern states to stop being in "denial" and get their act together. EPCA chairman Bhure Lal asked the state governments of Punjab and Haryana to consider setting up air quality monitoring centres in rural areas so that people realise the enormity of the situation before setting their fields on fire. He said the states need to explore, on a war-footing, measures to wean farmers away from the practice of burning crop residue and dismissed the contention of Punjab and Haryana that the situation was not "that bad". "The situation has to be tackled. It is going out of hand.
We have to stop being in denial and desist from jugglery of numbers to paint a rosy picture," he told the representatives of the states in a meeting of the body. According to EPCA data, around 10 per cent of the days since March 1 have witnessed "very poor" air quality while the rest have seen AQI (air quality index) in the moderate to poor categories. "It is also to be noted that the days when air quality was 'very poor', wind speed was also very low. The situation is gradually turning bad," an EPCA member said. In the meeting, it was decided that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) will monitor air quality on a regular basis and advice the SC-appointed body to further firm up measures if required. According to satellite data, the agricultural landscape of Punjab and Haryana is dotted with fires billowing out pollutant-laden smoke as farmers have set fire to the residues of the Rabi crop to usher in the Kharif season. In fact, according to the data of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the practice seems to have spread across the country and the situation was grim in parts of Central India. The Comprehensive Action Plan for air pollution, drafted by the EPCA which has been submitted to the Supreme Court, has pitched for a strict enforcement of ban on burning of agriculture waste and crop residues. Prolonged exposure to 'very poor' category air may cause respiratory illness, CPCB guidelines say. Children, elderly and the sick are considered most vulnerable to the harmful effects of hazardous air.
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