As a public health emergency was declared in the capital Friday — after the air quality plunged further to ‘severe plus’ — the Delhi government ordered that all schools in the city remain shut till November 5 and distributed 50 lakh masks to students. “In the interest of the health and safety of our children, it has been decided to keep all schools — government, government-aided, private — in the NCT of Delhi closed till November 5, 2019. Accordingly, November 2, 4 and 5 be declared a holiday for all schools,” read an order from the office of Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
Sisodia later said the government might consider extending this period after noting pollution levels on November 5.
Delhi saw the season’s worst air quality Friday as the 24-hour average index value was recorded at 484, up from Thursday’s 410. The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) said the contribution of crop residue burning in Delhi’s pollution was 44% Thursday and an estimated 36% Friday. Both figures have breached previous highs this season.
The accumulation is because wind direction was Northwesterly, bringing high quantities of smoke from Punjab and Haryana to Delhi-NCR. Along with this, SAFAR said, calm winds had made the region more polluted. According to officials at the India Meteorological Department, the impact of a western disturbance, currently over Rajasthan, is expected to reach Delhi by the beginning of next week and wind speed will rise.
On Wednesday, the education department had sent out guidelines to all schools to ensure they do not organise outdoor activities like assemblies or sports “till severe pollution condition persists”.
Before it decided to take the step of closing down schools,the government, earlier in the day, had conducted an event to distribute 50 lakh masks to students.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal personally distributed N95 masks to students at the Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya in Civil Lines, during an event telecast across all government schools in the city.
These masks have been distributed to all government schools, with each student from classes VI to XII being given two masks and a pamphlet on how to use them.
“We have done a lot of work for your education and for your future, but your future can only be good if your health is good. We are giving you all masks… Go give these to your parents and let them decide who will use it according to their needs,” said Kejriwal, addressing the students.
At the event, both Sisodia and Kejriwal pointed to stubble burning in neighbouring states.
“Experts say that air pollution has come down by 25% in Delhi while across the country, air pollution is increasing… Now in October-November, all this smoke from stubble burning from Punjab and Haryana has been coming. You should all write to Khattar uncle (Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar) and Captain uncle (Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh) asking them to take care of your health,” said Kejriwal.