Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Saturday the capital has turned into a gas chamber and sought the Centre’s help to tackle one of the worst spikes in pollution in Delhi that has left millions of people facing potential health problems.
A thick layer of smog – which people said smelt of smoke and left a bitter taste in the mouth -- hung over the city for the entire day, reducing visibility to around 200 metres in many places.
Even indoors, the toxic air triggered hacking coughs and left people with teary eyes as health experts warned against prolonged outdoor activities.
Monitoring agencies said concentration of PM2.5, tiny particles that can enter deep into the lungs was at the highest recordable levels of 999 micrograms per cubic metre in Anand Vihar, a known pollution hotspot. The reading is more than 15 times higher than the safe limit of 60.
Union minister of state for environment Anil Madhav Dave admitted that Delhi was facing an emergency situation and called a meeting on Monday with ministers from neighbouring states, identified as among the major polluters due to burning of farm residue.
Lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung called a separate meeting on Monday, to be attended by Kejriwal, member-secretaries of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) besides other officials.
Hospitals across the city reported a surge in patients with respiratory disorders. Two Ranji Trophy matches were also suspended due to smog, officials said. On Wednesday, Delhi had seen the worst smog in 17 years, according to the Centre of Science and Environment.
Though the BJP-controlled municipal corporations kept about 1,800 schools shut on Saturday because of poor air quality, Kejriwal said his government had no plan to order the suspension of classes.
“We can’t shut schools…that is not the solution,” he said. Health experts say that children and the aged are the most likely to face health problems due to poor air quality.
In children, air pollution can lead to airway allergies, respiratory infections and irreversible lung damage. Experts say that particulate matter, hundreds of times smaller than the diameter of a human air, can pass through the body’s natural filters, go deep into the airways and lungs and even enter the bloodstream, causing inflammation, heart disease, chronic lung disease and cancers, among others.
Kejriwal, who continued to blame stubble burning in Punjab for the crisis, met Dave on Saturday and appealed to him to stop the practice.
“We need to give farmers alternative technologies so that they stop burning the remaining parts of crop. We need the help of the central government for that. The Delhi government doesn’t have too many methods to tackle this crisis as reason of smog is outside Delh,” Kejriwal told reporters.
Member-secretary of CPCB, AB Akolkar, described the present pollution levels as “one of the worst in recent years” and added that directions have issued to municipal bodies to contain local pollutants by minimising waste burning, sprinkling water on dusty areas and regulating morning sweeping of roads.