New Delhi: Deteriorating air quality in the National Capital Region (NCR) has set alarm bells ringing, pushing the centre to launch an aggressive Clean Air Campaign to combat the increasing air pollution levels.

The 10-day campaign was launched by the Union minister for environment, forest and climate change, Harsh Vardhan on Thursday, when the air quality in Delhi was edging back towards “severe" levels after having dropped from “severe" to “very poor" on Wednesday.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) stood at 393 in Delhi on Thursday, which falls in the “very poor" category, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR). Prolonged exposure to this polluted air can cause respiratory illness, according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB’s) air quality bulletin.

However, the air quality was worse in Gurugram and Noida where the AQI was found to be 427 and 407, respectively, putting both places in the “severe" category. Under “severe" levels, the air pollution could potentially affect even the healthy people and seriously impact those with existing diseases, said the bulletin.

“The next 10 days are crucial for Delhi, as air quality could worsen in wake of the approaching festive season. So, we have decided to launch a 10-day aggressive Clean Air Campaign in Delhi-NCR to step up preventive action. In case of repeat violations, criminal proceedings against defaulters will also be initiated," said the minister, soon after chairing a meeting with representatives of the governments of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Over 52 teams, including members from CPCB and the Delhi government were jointly flagged off by Harsh Vardhan and Delhi environment minister Imran Hussein, who was also part of the meeting. The teams would monitor and report polluting activities and ensure quick action. There would be two teams each in Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Gurugram.

As many as 30 private university buses were also flagged off, under the pilot project ‘Pariyayantra’. Filter systems developed by students have been mounted on top of the buses to filter the ambient air passing through them.

The government has already banned construction activities, hot-mix and open burning of domestic and industrial waste, as part of its efforts to curb pollution.

However, compliance reports from the inspection teams have been far from satisfactory, Vardhan regretted. “According to the field visit reports, the compliance score in Delhi stands at only 4.6 %, Faridabad 5%, Gurugram 3%, Ghaziabad 3.7% and 7% in Noida," he said.

Environment ministry officials reiterated that the Supreme Court order on sale of green firecrackers and timings and locations for bursting them would be adhered to, even as uncertainty looms large on the availability of green-firecrackers in the market.

“The Delhi Police and local administration would strictly ensure that only PESO-certified firecrackers, which are eco-friendly, would be sold in the market. Firecrackers which do not fulfil the criteria would not be permitted in Delhi/NCR," said environment secretary, C.K. Mishra.

Even as officials highlighted the 30% decrease in stubble burning incidents from neighbouring states this year, the air quality in Delhi has failed to show any improvement and hinges on ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’ levels since last one week.

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