NEW DELHI : Air quality across the national capital region (NCR) worsened from ‘severe’ to ‘emergency’ on Friday, even as the contribution of stubble burning to PM2.5 levels decreased.

The government’s air quality monitoring service, System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), recorded Air Quality Index (AQI) at 552 for Delhi on Friday noon. An AQI level between 400 and 500 is ‘severe’, while anything beyond 500 is ‘severe plus’, or ‘emergency’.

According to SAFAR data, the stubble contribution to PM 2.5 was estimated to be 3%, far less than the 13% recorded on Wednesday. However, according to meteorologists, the decrease could also be due to dense cloudy conditions, which obscure the satellite view and its ability to detect fire counts.

The air quality is not likely to get better anytime soon. While Delhi is likely to witness only cloudy conditions, any possibility of isolated showers could end up worsening air pollution. A western disturbance has brought heavy rains over Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Punjab.

“If the rainfall is not enough for washing out the pollutants, the high humidity can worsen the condition by accelerating secondary aerosol formation," said SAFAR.

The only glimmer of hope is the forecast for an increase in wind speed for the next three days, which could bring down the AQI levels to ‘very poor’ by Sunday.

Amid the worsening situation, a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on urban development, which was scheduled to discuss the crisis, was cancelled after only four out of the 29 lawmakers from both houses bothered to turn up. Top officials of the environment ministry, Delhi Development Authority and municipal commissioners also failed to attend the meeting.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the state government will monitor the air quality levels closely over the weekend before taking a call on whether to extend the odd-even scheme on Monday. “We are worried about pollution levels. We want to thank the people of Delhi for following the scheme so far. Based on the predictions we have received, the weather is set to improve in the next few days. We will take a final call on its extension on Monday morning," Kejriwal said on Friday.

The Delhi government’s car rationing scheme, as part of its winter action plan, ended on Friday.

“Air quality in Delhi increases when incidents of stubble burning increase in neighbouring states. We are taking steps to ensure that we control emissions within Delhi," Kejriwal added.

However, the Supreme Court on Friday reprimanded the Delhi government for the second time, saying that there was no evidence of improved air quality in Delhi, despite the government’s vehicle rotation scheme. It also questioned whether the exemption granted to two and three wheelers, and women drivers, was a good decision.

The apex court bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta issued directions to Delhi Pollution Control Committee to check vehicles running on illegal pollution-creating fuels and submit a report within 7 days. The court expressed concern that despite a reduction in stubble burning, pollution levels in Delhi had worsened.

The court ordered all the civic bodies to cooperate with the monitoring committee to ensure implementation of court orders. The Centre also informed the bench that it is examining the feasibility of putting up smog towers to reduce pollution in Delhi.

The Supreme Court once again summoned the chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi on 25 November for an update on the steps taken to curb pollution.

Pretika Khanna and Japnam K. Bindra contributed to this story.

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