With air pollution levels increasing to ‘severe levels’ in the National Capital region and Air Quality Index measuring an alarming 494 Sunday, with at least 37 flights diverted between 9 am and 1 pm because of poor visibility, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Sunday called a review meeting on air pollution in Delhi and its surrounding areas.
A statement released by the PMO said that the Cabinet Secretary will be monitoring the situation with these three states on a daily basis. Chief Secretaries of the states have also been asked to monitor the situation in various districts round the clock.
The Delhi government, meanwhile, issued a health advisory urging residents to reschedule outdoor activities and use certified N95 masks. On Monday, the state is rolling out the third edition of its odd-even road rationing measure for a 12-day period.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Environment Secretary C K Mishra said: “The three state governments have been asked to take special steps to counter the air pollution from tonight. Punjab and Haryana have been asked to send enforcement teams across districts to ensure that stubble burning is stopped immediately. They are also to talk to farmers and create awareness. Delhi has been instructed to take strict action against dust. This means that heavy penalties will be imposed at construction sites, which are emitting dust.”
The enforcement teams will patrol the seven major industrial clusters in the NCR as well as key traffic corridors. “Both Punjab and Haryana have agreed to the measures,” Mishra said.
Mishra pointed out that Delhi has also been instructed to increase water sprinkling and send special enforcement teams to monitor the burning of industrial waste. “In Delhi, burning of municipal waste is to be stopped immediately,’’ he said, adding that 300 teams will be deployed across Delhi.
The review meeting was chaired by Principal Secretary to the PM, P K Mishra, and attended by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Environment Secretary C K Mishra, Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Aggarwal, and senior officials from the Central Pollution Control Board, India Meteorological Department and the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi who joined through video-conferencing.
Meanwhile, in a letter to chief secretaries of Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, EPCA chairman Bhure Lal has issued directions to close down coal-based industries, barring power plants, in satellite towns of Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida, Greater Noida, Sonepat and Bahadurgarh during this period.
According to the Central Control Room for Air Quality Management, the level of particulates measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5) reached an unprecedented high of 560 micrograms per cubic metre Sunday, while PM10 touched a high of 665.9.
The 24-hour average safe standards of PM2.5 and PM10, which can enter the bloodstream of humans through respiration and cause health complications on prolonged exposure, are 60 and 100, while the emergency levels are 300 and 500, respectively.
The Air Quality Index, released by the CPCB Sunday afternoon based on data from 32 monitoring stations, put Delhi in the severe zone. With the other areas in the National Capital Region, including Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad and Ghaziabad, also in this zone, schools there were ordered shut till November 5 by local administrations in line with a Delhi directive.
Stating that “our health is at stake”, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a video message said it was no time to indulge in a blame-game. “We are saying that all the people should come together and find a solution. There should be no politics. It is a matter of grave concern for all of us,” he said.
Noting that even short exposure to the prevailing air may cause “serious illnesses” in vulnerable population, the Delhi government’s advisory asked people to avoid outdoor physical activities, especially during morning and late evening hours.
“Such persons having occupations of prolonged exposure such as traffic policemen, traffic volunteer, rickshaw pullers, auto rickshaw drivers, roadside vendors etc should take extra precautions. Remain indoors, or reschedule outdoors activities. Consult the nearest doctor in case of breathlessness, giddiness, cough, chest discomfort or pain, irritation in eyes (red or watery). Persons with airway, lung or heart illnesses should keep their medication readily available,” it said.