As a toxic cloud of smog enveloped the national capital on the third day on Thursday, the administration took several emergency steps as precautionary measures, in a situation which is likely to persist for another 48 hours. The visibility was 200 metres in the morning, but it improved gradually to 800 metres by 5.30 PM. “The maximum temperature was recorded at 30.5 degrees Celsius, a notch above normal,” a MeT official said. The levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10, which are ultrafine particulates, remained multiple times above the permissible limits, forcing people to breathe noxious air and triggering health complications.
A sweeping set of measures were introduced that included shutting of schools till Saturday, introducing the odd-even car scheme, four-fold hike in parking fees, banning construction and industrial activities, among others. The Delhi Fire Services sprinkled water on trees across the national capital as part of measures to control pollution. As many as 52 fire tenders were at work to spray water on trees in Delhi from noon to 4 pm on Thursday, said an official from the department. The exercise would also continue on Friday, he added.
The administration directed that government and private school would be closed on Friday and Saturday in view of deteriorating air pollution conditions. “Due to smog, pollution and toxic air in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), including Gurugram, we have decided to close all private and government schools on Friday and Saturday,” District Magistrate Vinay Pratap Singh said. “Smog can be dangerous for minor children and students. We have suggested residents to wear the best quality mask to combat air pollution,” he said.
The odd-even car rationing scheme will be rolled out in Delhi for five days from November 13 as part of a graded response plan to tackle the alarming pollution situation in the city. The scheme will be in place from 8 am to 8 pm and there will exemptions for women drivers and two-wheelers, Delhi Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot said. “The exemptions will be similar as last year and there is no need for people to panic,” he told reporters.
The Delhi government has directed DTC to hire 500 buses from private contractors to tackle the rush of commuters during the odd-even implementation week. “Delhi Metro has also promised to provide 100 small buses during the period. Schools will be free to provide their buses voluntarily. However, there will be no compulsion,” Gahlot said. CNG vehicles will be exempt but will need to have stickers in place. These will be available at 22 IGL stations across Delhi from 2 pm tomorrow. “The old stickers which were issued in the last edition of odd-even will be valid too,” the minister said.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) too banned construction and industrial activities and entry of trucks, as it rapped the Delhi government and civic bodies over the situation. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana were also directed to ensure that no crop residue is burnt and incentives are provided to farmers.
“No construction activity will be carried out on structures until further orders… all industrial activities in Delhi-NCR which are causing emissions will also not be allowed to carry on their functioning” it said. It, however, clarified that at places where only finishing work was involved barring the use of construction material like cement and sand, the activity can be carried on during this period.
Reacting to the choking blanket of smog, Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, said, “Have requested PM Modi to convene meeting of CMs of affected States along with Union Ministers. Just my meeting with Delhi CM will resolve nothing.” Delhi Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot also said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should convene emergency meeting of CMs of Delhi, adjoining states to discuss pollution.
AAP leader, Gopal Rai, said, “We want to appeal to the people of Congress-BJP to leave political issues behind, and co-operate with us. We would like to request them talk to the Chief Minister of Punjab, UP and Haryana and take this initiative together. We also appeal to all experts that if anyone has any solution to this problem, then tell us, the Delhi government will consider every solution.”
The national capital is experiencing ‘severe’ air quality under a blanket of thick haze, as pollution levels have breached the permissible standards by multiple times. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said the level of pollutants are going up due to a “cumulative effect”, under which pollution keeps on rising in the absence of any dispersion due to adverse weather conditions. “The air is already saturated with pollutants and there is hardly any dispersion. In a situation like this, whatever is getting added is cumulatively adding up to the prevailing levels thus keeping pollution in the emergency category,” CPCB member secretary A Sudhakar told PTI.