New Delhi pollution: Schools shut, construction banned

New Delhi aerial shot (Photo by AFP)

Delhi recorded its worst air quality of the season on Friday as the pollution level touched the 'severe plus' category, prompting authorities to shut schools till November 5, ban all construction activities and declare a "public heath emergency".

The city's overall air quality index (AQI) was 504 at 3:30 am, but by 4 pm it was recorded at 484 in the 'severe' category, according to official data.

In the National Capital Region (NCR), Ghaziabad and Greater Noida had an AQI of 496 at 4 pm, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said.

The Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority declared the "public health emergency", following which the Delhi government decided to shut all schools. The EPCA has also banned all construction activities in Delhi-NCR till November 5.

The share of stubble burning in Delhi's pollution stood at 46 per cent on Friday, the highest so far, according to the Ministry of Earth Sciences' air quality monitor SAFAR.

The AQI entered the "severe plus" or "emergency" category late Thursday night in Delhi, the first time since January this year, a CPCB official said .

The 37 air quality monitoring stations here recorded AQIs in the 'severe' category this morning. The Dwarka and the Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium monitoring stations recorded the highest pollution level in the city at an AQI of 499, remaining just two points below the emergency level.

The CPCB official said if the air quality persists in the "severe plus" category for more than 48 hours, emergency measures such as odd-even car rationing scheme, banning entry of trucks, construction activities and shutting down schools are taken under the Graded Response Action Plan.

An AQI between 0-50 is considered 'good', 51-100 'satisfactory', 101-200 'moderate', 201-300 'poor', 301-400 'very poor' and 401-500 'severe'. Above 500 falls in the 'severe plus' category.

Many people moved around with masks and others stayed resolutely indoors as smog enveloped the city. The hazardous pollution levels forced a number of people to miss morning walks and other activities.

Amanpreet Singh, a resident of Jangpura, said he has been avoiding morning and evening walks and preferring to stay indoors.

Health experts said the hazardous air pollution has become a serious health concern for about 2 crore residents.

"Intake of every 22 micrograms per cubic metre of polluted air is equivalent to smoking a cigarette. So whether the PM2.5 level is 700 or 300 units, the impact is still as bad. People need to take precautions, especially those suffering from asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory illness," said Dr Arvind Kumar, a lung surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital here.

Delhi-based journalist Shubhomoy Sikdar said the pollution levels gave him a throat infection and he had to skip his daily sports session.

Weather experts said increased wind speed due to a fresh western disturbance approaching the northern region would help disperse pollutants faster from Saturday.

Parents are a worried lot as health experts say children breathe faster, taking in more pollutants.

Many took to Twitter to demand that schools be shut till the situation ameliorates.

"We, as parents, request Delhi government to keep all schools (pvt and govt) shut for the time being," Anil Atri, a Delhi resident, posted on the microblogging site.

"Whole Delhi air at hazardous levels now. Pollution at its peak. Activate all emergency measures," another resident tweeted.

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