On a day that the air quality index in Delhi fell to its worst this year, 448 on a scale of 500, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia ordered all primary schools to shut down for a day tomorrow along with restriction of all outdoor activities in schools. And said that the government was “prepared” to launch the odd-and-even transport scheme and restrict trucks if there is an “emergency” (AQI above 500). Last year, AQI had scaled 500. The shutdown doesn’t apply to schools in Gurgaon and Noida since they fall under different state governments.
Sisodia said that the “gas chamber” situation in Delhi was “too close to being severe” and urged the intervention of the Central government to prevent a repeat of 2016 when AQI rose to 500, its highest possible. As per norms, satisfactory AQI level is 100 and Delhi routinely is between 300 and 400. According to CPCB data, Tuesday was the most polluted day of this winter so far and at 448, the AQI was worse than the 403 on October 31, the day after Diwali. Exactly a year ago to the date, the Delhi government had faced a near identical situation, with yet another episode of Delhi being shrouded in smoke, with an AQI of 500 (the highest it can be) at the Punjabi Bagh, Anand Vihar and Mandir Marg monitoring stations of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC).
After a meeting chaired by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal today, Sisodia said, “The PM 10 level, as per data from CPCB, was at 436, which is less than 500 – the level at which it is deemed severe. But the entire city seems like a gas chamber and though its not technically severe, advisories are being issued to all schools to stop outdoor activities for all school students due to the prevailing air pollution.” He added, “Along with this, since young children are at high-risk, all primary schools, up to Class V will remain closed tomorrow. The situation will be monitored hourly and after tomorrow, further decisions for Thursday would be taken after looking at the parameter. As per rules, even after air quality is deemed severe, there is another 48-hour period of observation.”
While adding that high-risk individuals – elderly, children, patients with respiratory or cardiac ailments or pregnant women – were being advised to restrict outdoor activities, Sisodia said: “If the need arises and the situation worsens, the government is ready to go ahead with measures such as banning the entry of trucks, construction and implementing the Odd-Even formula for vehicular movement.” These measures are almost identical to the ones that the government had announced exactly a year ago on November 7, 2016 – asking people to stay indoors, shut down of the Badarpur thermal power plant for 10 days and ordering the closure of schools in Delhi for 3 days, diesel gen sets banned for five year. The government had also said that they were ready to consider the return of the odd-even traffic plan.
In 2017, with the implementation of the Graded Response Action Plan formulated by the Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), the Badarpur Power Plant has been shut since and the use of diesel gen-sets has been banned since October 17. Last year, the government had explored the possibility of cloud seeding for artificial rain to reduce suspended dust in the air – something which never worked out, explained officials. This year, the government has proposed the possibility of “reducing dust by watering Delhi from a helicopter” to the union minister Harsh Vardhan. There has been no response on this proposal, said officials. Sisodia added, “We are working on the plan.”
The Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, empowered to enforce the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), also directed the states in the region to start preparing for implementing measures like ‘odd-even’ in light of the “crisis situation”. It also announced that all measures under the GRAP’s severe category will be implemented across the region till further notice.