Smog in New Delhi is becoming more intense as farm fires continue to rage

A dog crosses the street on a smoky morning in New Delhi, India, November 13, 2023. REUTERS FILE PHOTO

NEW DELHI — Toxic smog in New Delhi intensified on Thursday as farm fires raged in nearby fields despite a court-ordered ban, making India’s capital once again the most polluted city in the world.

Pollution levels have risen since the beginning of this week after a brief respite and discussions about further mitigation measures, but a plan to make rain by seeding clouds to fight smog has been postponed due to unfavorable weather.

On Thursday, the city topped a real-time list of the world’s most polluted cities, with an air quality index of 509 around noon, according to Swiss group IQAir, which classified air quality as “hazardous.”

A north-westerly wind blowing over the city is carrying smoke from farm fires in nearby fields, and the wind speed in Delhi is low and not conducive to the spread of pollutants, an official of the meteorological department said on condition of anonymity.

More than 2,500 farm fires broke out in Punjab state, north of Delhi, on Wednesday as farmers defied a Supreme Court ban on burning crop residues and local police warned they would take legal action against them, The Indian newspaper reported Express.

Air quality in the plains of northern India deteriorates each winter as cold air traps emissions from many sources, including vehicles, industry, construction dust and the burning of agricultural waste.

Delhi’s Environment Minister Gopal Rai told news agency ANI that authorities were trying to better enforce the rules and that a meeting would be held later in the day to discuss further measures.

So far, the city has banned all construction work, closed schools to protect children, stopped unnecessary gasoline and diesel trucks from entering the city, and deployed vehicles to spray water in the air to control pollution.

The lack of cloud cover over the city postponed the cloud seeding plan, which was originally planned for around November 20, said Manindra Agrawal, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, who is leading the study.

“Last week, the radars were showing cloud cover around this time, and now they’re not showing it,” Agrawal told Reuters by phone.

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