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Delhi air pollution sets alarm bells ringing, shuts down primary schools, hits flights, trains

Delhi air pollution hit severe levels on Tuesday, prompting officials to shut down junior sections in schools and recommend a four-fold hike in parking fees as well as a cut in Metro fares.

delhi Updated: Nov 08, 2017 07:10 IST
Ritam Halder and Sweta Goswami, New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Air pollution,Delhi air pollution,Delhi smog
Schoolchildren cover their noses as air pollution reached severe levels in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)

The National Capital Region was engulfed in a toxic haze on Tuesday, with the worst pollution levels this season reducing visibility, disrupting flights and trains, and forcing the Delhi government and central authorities to announce a slew of emergency measures to minimise health hazards. (Highlights)

A sharp drop in temperature, coupled with low wind speeds aggravated by high relative humidity, sent the average daily air quality index (AQI) to 448 — worse than the post-Diwali haze that had pushed the reading up to 403 for a day on October 20. Relief is not likely soon, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) warned, predicting similar conditions for the next two to three days.

Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal described the city as a “gas chamber” and his government ordered the closure of all primary schools on Wednesday, while restricting the outdoor activities of senior students. Junior classes will remain closed for longer if the air quality doesn’t improve, the government said.

The EPCA — a Supreme-court appointed pollution control panel with sweeping powers – announced a fourfold hike in parking fees across NCR, and asked the Metro rail corporation to reduce fares during off-peak hours. It also asked the government to prepare for the odd-even road rationing scheme, which will be implemented if the air quality index breaches the “severe-plus” zone of 500 for 48 hours as per the Graded Response Action Plan.

When contacted, civic agencies said implementing the increased parking fee hike would require other approvals and may take some time. Metro officials, too, said slashing ticket prices would be difficult as they had to be referred to the fare fixation committee. But EPCA member Sunita Narain contended that the authorities did not have a choice as all orders of the panel are legally binding.

The haze had started settling on Monday night brought down visibility to 200m by 5:30 am on Tuesday.

The CPCB insisted that what Delhi was experiencing was “fog”, because the sulphur dioxide level in the air was not high enough for it to be classified as “smog”.

“Currently, Delhi and its neighbouring region are seeing almost still conditions at the ground level, but in the upper atmosphere, there are two wind masses – one from Punjab bringing pollutants and the other from eastern UP bringing moisture. These are colliding at higher altitudes, leading to moisture and pollution in the air but no wind at the ground level,” said A Sudhakar, member secretary, CPCB.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) issued a stern warning on potential health hazards, describing New Delhi as a “public health emergency state”. This was primarily because the suspended particulate matter in the air was at “hazardous” levels through the day across all monitoring stations.

In 2016, the air pollution in Delhi was the worst on record, and the city had experienced its thickest smog in 17 years, with the average AQI hitting a peak of 497.

First Published: Nov 07, 2017 19:38 IST