For most days in the year, air quality in Delhi, India’s capital, does not meet the norms set out in the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. This year the situation was slightly different with pollution levels dropping low due to the Covid-19 induced lockdown followed by a good rainy season.
But then 2020 is an unusual year. Delhi experienced a reduction of 41 to 53 percent of particulate matter pollution during the lockdown period. In the three preceding years, only 6 per cent of days met the norms for particulate matter and other pollutants—those days were inevitably during the monsoon or rainy season.
Poor air quality is an everyday problem in Delhi, but its residents, by extension the government, only seem to react when the air gets visibly poor with the city enveloped in smog and the air perceptibly toxic. That is generally during onset of the winter season that is, October and November.
A Seasonal, High Visibility Problem
For about three to four weeks during this period, Delhi’s already poor air quality gets an additional influx of particulate matter as farmers in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana burn paddy crop residue to clear the land quickly in time for sowing the winter wheat crop.
“Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh produce nearly 40 million tonnes of paddy straw every year. Punjab alone produces about 22 to 23 million tonnes.