NEW DELHI: The rain-washed skies and the fresh breath of air over the past two days were just a brief respite from the eventual bad air days in the national capital. The impact of record rainfall in the city that washed out pollutants completely fizzled out on Wednesday with a drastic spike recorded in the pollution levels.
The spike is mainly on account of northwesterly winds returning, bringing smoke and pollutants from intensified stubble burning activity in Haryana and Punjab, said government officials. The Union government's early warning system for gauging the spike in the farm fires and the consequent pollution levels on Wednesday showed that the burning might peak on October 21.
As per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, Delhi’s overall air quality index (AQI) on Wednesday was 221 in the 'poor' category, shooting up from 69 (satisfactory) on Tuesday and 46 - first 'good' air day of this year - on Monday.
According to the officials, the spike in the number of fire counts in the region is only going to worsen the air quality over the coming days. Rains delayed the harvest thus reducing the window between clearing fields of paddy straw and sowing the next crop.
"We are closely monitoring the satellite images of fire counts. The instances are picking up now, as rains are over. By October-end the fire counts will go up even more," said a senior official, who didn't wish to be named.
The union ministry of earth sciences (MoES), system of air quality, weather forecasting and research (SAFAR) on Wednesday showed the total stubble fire counts in Punjab and Haryana to be 746 and its contribution to PM 2.5 levels - the most prominent pollutant in Delhi - to be 12 per cent.
"Fire emissions from upwind regions lead to an increase in PM2.5 concentration as winds at transport level are from the northwest region. Stubble burning share is likely to increase over the next two days if there is no rain. The overall AQI is likely to further degrade to the higher end of the poor category over the next three days," said a statement issued by SAFAR.
Satellite images from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) fire tracker also showed a spike in the number of 'red dots' that indicate farm fires in Punjab and Haryana and a ring of smoke being transported to the northwest region, including Delhi.
"The fires are back in Punjab and Haryana after a break of a couple of days because of clouds and rain, the total fire count (from September 1) in Punjab has reached around 4,000 while that in Haryana is close to 2,000," said Pawan Gupta, a research scientist at the Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research (GESTAR), Universities Space Research Association (USRA).