The air quality in Delhi and the National Capital Region worsened on Monday with the pollution level falling under the “severe” category. According to data from the System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research, the overall air quality was 449 at 1 pm. The agency on Saturday had predicted that air quality will deteriorate from Monday in the city. The air quality had marginally improved on Sunday.

In RK Puram locality, the index recorded PM2.5 (particles in the air with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres) levels at 437 and PM10 at 377 at 3 pm, according to data recorded by the Central Pollution Control Board. In Wazirpur, PM2.5 was recorded at 446 and PM10 was at 417. The air quality in Anand Vihar area in the national Capital recorded PM2.5 431 and PM10 level was at 402. Visibility on the roads was low in the morning, reports said.

The air quality index is a scale from 0 to 500 – the higher the value, the worse is the air for public health. An index value from 301 to 400, categorised “very poor”, poses a risk of respiratory illness, while an even higher value – “severe” – can affect even healthy people and “seriously impacts those with existing diseases”, according to the pollution control board.

The Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research, better known as SAFAR, said pollution rose in Delhi due to stubble burning from the neighbouring states. “As expected there is a significant intrusion of bio-mass generated pollution in Delhi which is increasing pollution levels and made it very poor in spite of moderate surface wind speed,” an unidentified official of Safar told PTI. “The contribution of stubble burning to pollution in the national capital is expected to be 24% on Monday.”

The levels of benzene, a carcinogen, have also increased over the last week, according to a report in The Indian Express. Nitrogen dioxide, the most common source of which is combustion of petrol and diesel, has been on the rise over the past week during morning and evening peak traffic hours.

A 10-day ‘Clean Air Campaign’ from November 1 to November 10 has been launched to monitor and report polluting activities. A total penalty of Rs 80 lakh was imposed on violators on Friday and Saturday by teams monitoring implementation of measures. The teams visited parts of Delhi and Faridabad, Gurugram, Ghaziabad and Noida.

The think-tank Centre for Science and Environment said that action needs to be taken to minimise the use of private vehicles, PTI reported. Anumita Roychowdhury, an executive director at the think-tank, said that traffic will increase till November 7 due to Diwali shopping, which will also lead to a rise in pollution.

“The proposed action on private vehicles has to be seen within the larger context of how we are gradually ramping up emergency actions on all sectors,” she said during a Facebook Live programme of the organisation. “Today when we have gone to the extent of shutting power plants, brick kilns, hot mix plants and even gensets, the cars are actually coming last. To say make an exception for cars is very wrong keeping in mind that all the new estimates are showing that private vehicles contribute towards 40% of pollution.”

Meanwhile, Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday said legal action was being initiated against those violating pollution regulations. “The Centre is making all possible efforts to maintain the air quality and to protect the environment,” he said. “No leniency will be shown towards those who violate the pollution norms.”

The minister added that the Centre has given financial assistance of more than Rs 550 crore for farmers burning stubble.

Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said pollution in Delhi can be equated to “death by breath”, reported News 18. “PM levels are rising in Delhi but our PM [prime minister] is dithering,” he said.

Singhvi said the Centre and state government are “running around like headless chickens” on matters related to pollution. “Delhi has been declared as one of the world’s most polluted mega cities,” Singhvi said. “When Sheila Dikshit was the CM of Delhi, the city was called the greenest capital in the world.”

He said while Punjab has reduced stubble burning by 70% the problem persists in Haryana. “The problem of stubble burning is more in Haryana than in Punjab yet the Centre and state governments don’t say anything about it,” he added.