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Post-Dussehra pollution in Delhi lowest in 5 years

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People in the national capital breathed the cleanest air in five years for a day that falls immediately after Dussehra, environment monitoring officials said on Wednesday, but warned that the situation is likely to deteriorate in less than a week.

The celebration of Dussehra includes the burning of towering effigies and fireworks, and has been followed by a spike in air pollution at a time when meteorological factors and farm fires in neighbouring states usually turn Delhi’s air unfit for breathing.

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data showed that on Wednesday, the city’s overall air quality index (AQI) was recorded at 173 compared to 326 last year (see box).

To be sure, when Dussehra falls is also linked to how polluted the air gets since the months of October and November is the period when temperature dips and farm fires peak. It has been celebrated three times in the first half of October in the last five years – among these, 2019’s AQI was the lowest.

Scientists of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the easterly winds and a prolonged monsoon had a major part to play in keeping pollutants in check. But that may change after October 12.

“The monsoon withdrawal has begun. It has started withdrawing in Punjab, western Haryana and northern Rajasthan, and in the next three to four days monsoon will withdraw from Delhi. After this, the wind direction will also change and pollution levels are likely to increase,” said Kuldeep Srivastava, head of IMD’s regional weather forecasting in Delhi.

Experts and organisers of Dussehra celebrations said a conscious decision by many to cut back on fireworks and effigy burning may have also contributed to the improved air quality.

“Looking at the rising pollution levels, we decided not to burn any crackers and still maintain the festivity of the day,” said Yogesh Pahuja, president of C-Block Lajpat Nagar-II residents welfare association, which did not burn an effigy this year and instead organised a laser show for the “Ravana dahan” ritual. “A lot of stress has been put on the use of green crackers this time, while bringing residents on board to come up with eco-friendly alternatives. All this, along with favourable weather conditions, has helped Delhi this time,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), Centre for Science and Environment.

Experts also noted another change in trend this year in the pollution pattern, which showed a bigger spike in PM10 particles (usually associated with road dust) than PM2.5, finer particles that are emitted during any sort of combustion. “Usually after Dussehra and Diwali, where firecrackers are burnt, the dominant pollutant in the air is PM 2.5 which is more harmful to health. But this time it is PM 10,” said Gufran Beig, programme director of System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (Safar).

Delhi’s air pollution is a toxic mix of vehicular exhaust gases, smoke from burning crops in the nearby states of Punjab and Haryana, road dust, and billowing sand from thousands of construction sites. The pollution is intensified by winter weather patterns and hemmed in by the towering Himalayas to the north.

After several years of the situation turning severe, authorities drew up an emergency action mechanism Graded Response Action Plan. The Environment Pollution (prevention and control) Authority – the committee responsible for implementing it– announced this year that some pre-emptive measures will be taken before the air worsens.

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Delhi air gets toxic, NASA’s crop burning images point to worse days ahead

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The concentration of particulate matter — PM 10 and PM 2.5 — shot up twice the safe limit on Tuesday, when the national capital region’s (NCR) emergency action plan to tackle bad air came into effect, which includes a ban on diesel generator (DG) sets.

Vacuum and water-cleaning of roads will be intensified, pollution hot spots put under closer scrutiny and emission regulations are enforced under GRAP.

The Delhi government is monitoring data from NASA satellite imagery that warned that air pollution is set to worsen in Delhi on account of increase in the number of incidents of stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab.

The red dots indicate stubble burning in neighbouring states.

There was a steep rise in PM 10 and PM 2.5 — the prominent pollutants in Delhi air — over the past five days, when compared to the levels recorded in the first week of October, an analysis by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) shows.

According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, on Tuesday, PM 10 was recorded as 263ug/m3 while PM 2.5 was 120ug/m3. The permissible standards for PM 10 and PM 2.5 are 100 and 60, respectively. The air quality index (AQI) till 4pm was 270 in the ‘poor’ category.

There was a steep rise in PM 10 and PM 2.5 — the prominent pollutants in Delhi air — over the past five days, when compared to the levels recorded in the first week of October, an analysis by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) shows.

According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, on Tuesday, PM 10 was recorded as 263ug/m3 while PM 2.5 was 120ug/m3. The permissible standards for PM 10 and PM 2.5 are 100 and 60, respectively. The air quality index (AQI) till 4pm was 270 in the ‘poor’ category.

“There has been a rise in PM 10 levels because of dust emissions. Road dust and open storage of construction material are the major factors contributing to high PM 10 levels. We have found huge amount of dust in the air in a series of inspections,” said Bhure Lal, chairperson, Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority.

The pollution watchdog has also warned the India Metrological Department (IMD) that the air may turn ‘very poor’ on Wednesday.

“The smoke travelling to Delhi from stubble burning contributes to PM 2.5 emissions here. With the rise in number of farm fires in the past few days, there is a rise in concentration of particulate matter. Calm surface winds blowing over Delhi from the west and northwest are not able to disperse pollutants,” the analysis stated.

However, System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), a unit under Union ministry of earth sciences (MoES), said that stubble burning activity in Haryana and Punjab has shown a slight trend over the past 24 hours. The effect from stubble burning to PM 2.5 level in Delhi was 5% on Tuesday, which was lower than 9% on Sunday.

The ban on DG sets in Delhi and vicinity towns came as a pre-emptive measure under the Graded Response Action Plan (Grap) that was enforced in Delhi-NCR from Tuesday. The plan defines specific actions to tackle different levels of air pollution throughout the year.

According to a senior DPCC official, so far no violations of the generator set ban had been recorded. “We have developed a mechanism for monitoring such violations and have alerted all district heads as well as municipal corporations to inform us of any such complaint.”

Delhi sees a rise in pollution during this time of the year owing to a change in meteorological conditions, combined with local emissions and the effects of crop residue burning in neighbouring states. This is because wind patterns change and blows from the northwest during , bringing pollutants such as smoke, to Delhi with it.

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Delhi govt to announce fitness fee, GPS charges waiver for taxis

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The Delhi government on Monday gave its nod to fully waive the fitness test fees and GPS-related charges for all taxis in the national Capital. It also slashed charges of other documentation and penalties by 60-80% for all cabs registered in Delhi.

The move comes ahead of the assembly elections scheduled in Delhi early next year. As per government data, the scheme will benefit at least a lakh taxis in the city.

Transport minister Kailash Gahlot said the revised fees will be applicable only for those cabs, which are registered under an individual and not in the name of private companies.

“There are only over 15,000 such taxis that are registered directly under cab-aggregators or other taxi companies. So, the scheme will cover most of the cab drivers in Delhi. Also, after the steep hike in penalties under the amended Motor Vehicles Act, these reduced rates will come as a relief for them. It will encourage them to regularly get their cars checked for fitness and help in curbing vehicular emission,” the minister said.

In August, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had announced a similar scheme for auto-rickshaws which is now benefiting nearly 95,000 autos.

The decision to waive fitness test fees for taxis, be it manual or automatic and GPS related fees (Rs 1200 for tracking and Rs 450-Rs550 for SIM card) was taken by the Delhi Cabinet led by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday. The transport department has been asked to issue an order and roll out the scheme from November 1.

The government also slashed the fees for taking a new permit and renewing the same from the existing rate of Rs 1500 and Rs 2,000 to a flat rate of Rs 500. The revision specifically of the permit-fee will, however, need an amended in the Delhi Motor Vehicle Rules which transport department officials said will be done soon.

Besides, registering a newly bought cab will also get cheaper by 70% and so will the subsequent re-registration charges. This fee is currently Rs 1000 which has been revised to Rs 300. Duplicate registration rates will be Rs 150 instead of the current fee of Rs 500.

For drivers who have bought their taxis on loan, the government has reduced the ‘hire purchase’ or hypothecation charge from Rs 1500 to Rs 500.

Similar reductions have also been done in various penalties that are levied by the state government. The fine for delay in getting a cab checked for its fitness will be Rs 300 instead of Rs 1000.

Officials said an estimate of how much this latest scheme is going to cost the government is being ascertained. “It is likely to be less than Rs 20 crore, could be between Rs 10-15 crore in all likelihood,” said an official.

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‘Next war will be fought with indigenous weapons and will win it’: Army chief Bipin Rawat

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In an unequivocal push for inclusion of indigenous technology in the armed forces Army chief Bipin Rawat and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said on Tuesday that it will give India an edge over its adversaries.

Rawat said India will fight the next war with indigenous weapons and win it, and the time was ripe to focus on future warfare. “We are looking at systems for future warfare. We have to start looking at development of cyber, space, laser, electronic and robotic technologies and artificial intelligence,” Rawat said at the 41st DRDO directors conference in New Delhi.

Lauding the Defence Research and Development Organisation, the Army chief said DRDO has made strides to ensure that the needs of the armed forces are met through home-grown solutions. He said while preparing systems for future warfare the military establishment and DRDO needs to focus on “non-contact warfare.”

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, accompanied by the NSA and the three chiefs of the armed forces paid tributes former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Known as the ‘Missile Man’, Kalam was considered the father of the country’s missile programme.

NSA Doval said niche technologies have to be need based and they can make India more secure. “We have to make a hard assessment of what we need to give us an edge over our adversaries,” he said.

Doval said armies that were better equipped have always decided the destiny of mankind and India historically has always been a runner-up. “There is no trophy for the runner up. Either you are netter than your adversaries or you are not there at all,” the National Security Advisor said.

He also identified two key factors that will shape global politics— technology and money. Doval said winning will depend on a country’s strength in these two categories. Of these, he said, technology is more important.

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