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No sense in it: Rai after Centre contradicts itself on farm fires

No sense in it: Rai after Centre contradicts itself on farm fires
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New Delhi: Even as the Supreme Court relied on a table submitted by the Centre to hold that stubble burning does not contribute significantly to air pollution in Delhi-NCR, the Centre's own Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR, has as recently as on November 14, found that stubble burning in neighbouring states contribute to at least 35-40 per cent of the pollution in Capital, according to minutes of an emergency meeting on Sunday and officials aware of developments.

The confusion over stubble burning's share in Delhi's polluted air remained even after the Supreme Court hearing on Monday, during which the Centre, through S-G Tushar Mehta, insisted that it was just 10 per cent presently even as a table in the Centre's affidavit said the share was 4 per cent in winters and slightly higher during summers. Importantly, on Monday, the share of stubble burning was recorded at 10 per cent but throughout last week, the share was north of 25 per cent — peaking at 48 per cent a few days after Diwali.

According to the minutes of an emergency meeting held on November 14 (Sunday), the Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR has agreed that the share of stubble burning in Delhi's air pollution is averaging at 35 to 40 per cent. Sources within the Commission confirmed this on Monday, adding that the CAQM's figure was undisputed in the meeting on Sunday, a day before the SC hearing.

At the CAQM meeting, it was also revealed that authorities had recorded over 62,000 farm fire incidents this season, of which over 42,200 were reported in the last 10 days — in Punjab alone. It noted that paddy fire incidents had increased in Haryana compared to last year — citing that over 5,400 fires have been reported this season compared to 3,635 last year. The Commission went on to note that currently, stubble burning contributes to around 35-40 per cent of Delhi-NCR's total pollution load.

Sources within the Commission said that they stand by their figures and added that state governments and the Centre may have used a different method to calculate the share of pollution.

However, the Centre's submissions in the top court prompted Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai to later question how the Centre was presenting such numbers to the top court and the Aam Aadmi Party to level allegations that the Central government was allegedly trying to "mislead the court".

Delhi's air in October this year was the cleanest in five years. But the main point is that pollution levels have increased alarmingly after Diwali, Rai said.

"Only the Centre will be able to specify the source of the data that stubble burning accounts for only 10 per cent (of Delhi's pollution).... It does not make sense," he said, adding, "A joint action plan is the solution to this problem. Everyone should move together in this direction. We will emphasize this point in the meeting of Centre and NCR states on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the air quality in the Capital remained in the "very poor" category, with the CPCP recording an AQI of 353 - slightly higher than that on Sunday.

Significantly, forecasting agency SAFAR said the air quality is unlikely to improve on Tuesday as the transport-level wind speed is increasing resulting in more intrusion of stubble burning-related pollutants into Delhi.

SAFAR said 3,125 farm fires recorded on Sunday contributed 10 per cent to Delhi's PM2.5 pollution on Monday.

The India Meteorological Department said Delhi recorded a maximum temperature of 26.4 degrees Celsius and the minimum temperature settled at 10.3 degrees Celsius, three degrees below normal. The weatherman has forecast mainly clear sky for Tuesday with shallow fog in the morning.

(With PTI inputs)

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