NEW DELHI: Toxic smog gripping New Delhi grew more intense on Thursday as farm fires raged in neighbouring fields despite a court-imposed ban, making India’s capital the world’s most polluted city again.
Pollution levels surged earlier in the week following a brief respite, prompting discussions on additional mitigation measures. However, a plan to make rain via cloud seeding to battle the smog has been pushed back due to adverse weather conditions.
The city secured the top spot on a real-time list of the world’s most polluted cities on Thursday, with an air quality index of 509 around noon, classified as “hazardous” by the Swiss group IQAir.
A northwesterly wind carrying smoke from farm fires in nearby fields, combined with light and unfavourable wind speeds within Delhi, hindered the dispersion of pollutants, a meteorological department official said on condition of anonymity.
Despite a Supreme Court-ordered ban on crop residue burning, more than 2,500 farm fires were reported in Punjab state on Wednesday, prompting warnings of legal action against defiant farmers.
The winter season in northern India exacerbates air quality issues as cold air traps emissions from various sources, including vehicles, industries, construction dust, and agricultural waste burning.
Gopal Rai, Delhi’s Environment Minister, informed ANI news agency that authorities are intensifying efforts to enforce laws more effectively, with plans for a meeting later in the day to discuss additional measures.
To curb pollution, the city has already implemented measures such as a construction ban, school closures to protect children, restrictions on the entry of non-essential petrol and diesel trucks, and the deployment of vehicles to spray water in the air.
The cloud seeding plan, initially slated for around November 20, faced delays due to the absence of cloud cover over the city. Manindra Agrawal, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur leading the trial, explained that radar indications of cloud cover had dissipated, pushing back the implementation of the plan.