Delhi recorded its worst air quality of the season Monday, two days ahead of Diwali, when pollution levels reached eight times the permissable limit and inched towards 'severe plus emergency' category due to a change in wind direction and rampant stubble burning in neighbouring states.
As a thick blanket of haze engulfed the national capital, experts warned that the air quality is likely to worsen further due to local factors during the festival while doctors said the impact of air pollution on public health can be compared to smoking 15-20 cigarettes a day.
According to a warning issued by Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), the national capital's air quality is expected to deteriorate to 'severe plus emergency' category after Diwali and it will be "bad" on November 8 even if "partial toxic crackers" are burned compared to last year.
Even as the Centre said factors like weather, wind speed and stubble burning in states were not under its control but it was making efforts to improve the air quality, opposition Congress accused the NDA and AAP governments of putting Delhittes at the risk of "death by breath".
Questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi's silence on the issue, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said while pollution was reaching hazardous levels in Delhi, the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were only interested in scoring political points and one-upmanship.
Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan warned that strict action will be taken against people violating anti pollution norms. While, Delhi Environment Minister Imran Hussain directed all agencies to be on alert and take all possible measures to control air pollution.
As air pollution dipped to alarming levels, Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, questioned when the authorities were ramping up emergency actions on all sectors, why should vehicles be spared.
"The proposed action on private vehicles has to be seen within the larger context of how we are gradually ramping up emergency actions on all sectors," she said during a Facebook Live online programme titled 'Season of Smog'.
The PM2.5 (particles in the air with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres) and PM10 concentrations touched 365 and 503 respectively, touching the 'severe-plus emergency' category, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data.
PM2.5 levels above 300 and PM10 levels above 430 are considered "severe-plus emergency" category.
According to the standards of World Health Organisation, the permissible PM2.5 limit is 25 ?g/m3 while PM10 level is 50 ?g/m3. India's official permissable PM2.5 limit is
60 ?g/m3 while PM10 level is 100 ?g/m3.
Delhi's overall Air Quality Index (AQI) was recorded at 434, eight times the permissable limit according to Indian standards.
An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered "good", 51 and 100 "satisfactory", 101 and 200 "moderate", 201 and 300 "poor", 301 and 400 "very poor", and 401 and 500 "severe".
Officials attributed the sudden deterioration in the air quality to a change in wind direction, which is now blowing from the northwestern region towards Delhi and bringing dust and smoke from stubble burning in neighbouring states with it.
The overall AQI Monday was registered at 418, a drastic decline from a day before when the AQI was moderate at 171.
As the spike in air pollution levels left Delhiites breathless, experts have asked people to report violators of pollution norms to authorities and said each citizen can make a difference by minimising the use of private vehicles. Doctors here have also expressed concern over the rise in number of patients suffering from respiratory problems.
As thick haze engulfed the national capital two days ahead of Diwali, foreign tourists visiting Delhi complained of having a tough time due to the rising levels of air pollution in the city with some even cutting short their trips citing health concerns.
Some even said the pollution masks were turning out to be useless and the poor air quality has led them to visit hospitals in Delhi as they were experiencing symptoms of breathlessness, allergy and irritation.
Meanwhile a penalty of over Rs 12 lakh was imposed on violators Monday by the teams deployed to monitor implementation of measures to combat pollution in the Delhi NCR under the Clean Air Campaign, the CPCB said.
The highest number of complaints related to illegal construction and demolition activities stood at 91.
The Delhi Police has seized over 3,500 kg of firecrackers from various parts of the city since October 23 and arrested 26 persons for storing them without license.
The police have also registered 29 cases following the Supreme Court order on sale of old firecrackers.
According to an RTI filed by a resident welfare association body, there has been "very little" coordination between authorities responsible for ensuring pollution checks as per the norms listed under the Graded Response Action Plan and the Comprehensive Action Plan.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)