Delhi air pollution: Public health emergency declared

Representative image. AFP photo

With Delhi and its surrounding areas turning into a veritable gas chamber, a high-level pollution monitoring panel on Friday declared public health emergency in Delhi and its five satellite towns while Delhi government announced closure of schools till November 5.

“The air quality in Delhi and NCR has deteriorated further as of last night and is now at the 'Severe plus' level. We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution is now hazardous and will have adverse health impacts, particularly on children,” Bhure Lal, chairman of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority wrote in a letter to the top officials of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

Lal asked the states to immediately follow a number of steps including a complete halt on all construction activities in order to lift the thick gray haze that engulfed Delhi and its surrounding areas like Noida, Greater Noida, Gurugram, Ghaziabad and Faridabad.

At 4 PM, the Central Pollution Control Board's Air Quality Index shows the quality of air in Delhi and five nearby cities – Noida, Greater Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Gurugram - are in “severe” category. The situation is equally gloomy for nearby towns like Bulandshahar, Hapur,, Meerut and Panipath.

“Air pollution is at severe plus level, which is hazardous for health. Schools are advised to minimise exposure of children by curtailing all outdoor activities and sports for this period,” Lal said. Within hours Kejriwal announced closure of Delhi schools till November 5.

A top meteorologist told DH that weather conditions that facilitated formation of the poisonous smog are likely to continue at least for one more day as winds are light and there could be more aerosol loading due to crop burning. Even for the Sunday, the forecast is not encouraging.

Delhi Chief Minister blamed his counterparts from Punjab and Haryana for their failure to curb the common practice of stubble burning that is estimated to contribute at least one third of Delhi-NCR's pollution load.

On Friday, a Ministry of Earth Sciences' pollution monitoring platform - System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) – said nearly 46% of the pollution was due to the stubble birning while another 30-35% contribution coming from the construction sector as the authorities failed to implement the 2016 rules on the management of construction and demolition waste to reduce release of dust particles in the air.

The EPCA has banned cracker burning has been banned for the entire winter period because of the Diwali experience when despite the government efforts, cracker burning was extremely high leading to accumulation of toxins in the air.

Hot mix plants and stone crushers are to be closed till November 5. The same has been ordered to coal and other fuel-based industries (with the exception of power plant) that haven't not shifted to clean fuel.

The EPCA also ordered a complete closure of the diesel generators but provided exemptions like operating the lifts and power requirements to the highrises in Noida, Gurugram, Ghaziabad and Greater Noida that depended completely on DG sets as their power sets. The electricity boards have been asked to provide 24x7 power supply so that there is no requirement of running the DG sets.

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