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Friday, December 04, 2020

Explained: Why Punjab’s AQI is moderate despite 11,000 stubble burning cases

Stubble burning started in Punjab on September 21, and till October 21, it had recorded 10,813 farm fires.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Updated: October 23, 2020 11:16:24 am
Punjab, Punjab stubble burning, Punjab AQI, Punjab air pollution, Delhi NCR pollution, Indian ExpressA labourer burns the wheat stubble in his field in Ludhiana. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

While Punjab is often blamed for the high pollution levels in the National Capital Territory post paddy harvesting during this time of the year, the state interestingly has recorded moderate AQI itself despite nearly 11,000 stubble burning cases in the past one month.

During this entire period this year, the AQI of Punjab’s main cities and rural areas (where the fire incidents take place) has remained between good, satisfactory and moderate level mostly barring when a few cities recorded poor AQI for some hours in Punjab. The Indian Express explains why Punjab’s AQI is still moderate, while Delhi has already entered into poor AQI zone.

How has the AQI in Punjab been over the last one month (September 21 to October 21)

Stubble burning started in Punjab on September 21, and till October 21, it had recorded 10,813 farm fires. According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, during this period, Punjab’s main cities including Amritsar, Jalandhar, Bathinda, Ludhiana, Mandi Gobindgarh, Khanna, Patiala and Rupnagar have recorded satisfactory to moderate AQI on most of the days barring a couple of days when Mandi Gobindgarh, Amritsar and Ludhiana recorded poor AQI for some hours.

AQI up to 55 is considered good, and up to 100 it is satisfactory. The moderate limit of AQI is between 101 to 200, while between 200 to 300 it is poor, very poor between 300 to 400. AQI above 400 is considered severe.

Even on Thursday, all these cities recorded moderate AQI much below the 200 mark, while Delhi’s AQI was in the poor category with 296, which is just four points short of ‘very poor’ quality AQI.

What has been the AQI in state’s rural areas where stubble burning is actually happening?

According to Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), the Ambient AQI at the rural stations under National Ambient Monitoring Programme (NAMP) has been recorded at the 19 stations. In July and August, the AQI at these stations remained good to satisfactory between 44 to 99, in September it was satisfactory (below 100 AQI level) at 14 stations and moderate at 5 places (between 101 to 164 ).

In October, when around 10,000 farm fires took place in 21 days, the AQI at 10 out of 19 rural stations across the state in all the three regions including Majha, Malwa and Doaba was also recorded at moderate between 104 to 122, while the AQI of nine stations was not available. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

Why is Punjab’s AQI still moderate?

PPCB experts said that stubble burning is not the only factor responsible for poor AQI, adding that industrial, vehicular pollution too plays a part. They said that out of 2,800 brick kilns in Punjab, around 2,400 are functional and nearly 2,000 of them have been upgraded to ‘zigzag’ technology, which minimises pollution emission by 70 to 75 per cent.

“We have reduced the emission of CO2 into air by 4-lakh tonnes in the past couple of years by converting 2,000 brick kilns to inducted Draft zigzag Technology,” said Member Secretary, CPCB, Krunesh Garg.

Experts said that another major reason for less pollution in Punjab is that the polluted air emanating out of burning has vast area (50, 362 square km) to spread out, while the NCR covers an area of 1,484 sq km (just around 3 per cent of Punjab’s area) and it has around 80 per cent of the Punjab’s population. So Delhi’s own vehicular, industrial and other pollution is much higher which gets small space to get dispersed in winters when the wind flow is slow with 8 to 10 km/hour and the polluted air gets accumulated instead dispersing out of NCR where even a little contribution from Punjab acts like a fuel to the already highly polluted region.

But in case of Punjab, which has vast open fields in the rural areas, it has a lot of area for air dispersal. That is why despite thousands of field fires its AQI is always much below Delhi even if it enters into poor AQI level for a few days in the Punjab, added experts.

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