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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

Gloom and doom on Children’s Day in polluted Delhi

On Wednesday night, the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) stepped in to direct that schools in the national capital and its suburbs should be closed for two days.

education Updated: Nov 14, 2019 20:04 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
New Delhi
Levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels were nearly eight times higher than the normal limits at several locations in the city on Thursday.
Levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels were nearly eight times higher than the normal limits at several locations in the city on Thursday. (PTI file )
         

Once upon a time not so long ago, this was a day when when schools in the Delhi-NCR region organised picnics, games and other fun outdoor events, celebrating Children’s Day and also the delicious nip that signalled the onset of winter.

But Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth anniversary this year was markedly different as a thick haze settled over the city on Thursday and darkness fell, not at noon but by late afternoon, with the air quality remaining in the ‘severe’ category and authorities closing down schools so children were not exposed to the hazardous outdoors.

On Wednesday night, the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) stepped in to direct that schools in the national capital and its suburbs should be closed for two days.

As children stayed confined to the indoors, parents, students and school authorities voiced their anguish, wondering what the future holds and whether anything could be done to disperse the pollutants. The day got progressively worse with the air quality index (AQI) deteriorating to 463 at 2.30 pm in the city, three points more than recorded at 9.30 am.

Several student wrote letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to take measures to ensure clean air for them.

“I used to enjoy soccer earlier but now I can only enjoy it on TV. I cannot play outside because the air is too toxic to breathe in,” Ishan Mahant, a student, said in his missive. Many students posted copies of their handwritten letters on Twitter with the hashtag “BacchonKeMankiBaat”.

“At this point we need a strong directive from the government of India and the governments of the states affected to control this serious condition. We do have belief in our beloved Prime Minister who will surely take strong decision on this,” said another student. The name was blackened out.

Architect Priyank Taneja echoed the anxiety of the parent community. “Children are forced to be indoors, schools are shut, air purifiers are being installed but none of these are solutions. Something needs to be done other than making attempts to just limit exposure to toxic air,” Taneja told PTI.

Neha Bharadwaj, another parent, recounted that her son was excited about dressing up as Nehru for Children’s Day but was really disappointed when his school was closed.

“I had no way to cheer him up other than dressing him up at home and clicking pictures for his happiness,” the nursing professional said. The Shri Ram School, with branches in Delhi and Gurgaon, took to Twitter to express its anger.

“14th November 2019. It is a dark day, maybe one of the darkest in our recent history, where children are being forced to be locked in their homes because we as a society, a city, a nation have failed them. We have failed to provide them with clean air, the most basic of rights,” the school said. “While our political leaders continue to play the blame-game, children continue to choke inside this gas chamber city we all call ‘home’. They scream but their voices cannot be heard since they fall on the deaf ears of those we’ve chosen to represent us,” it said. The school said children continue writing letters with a pen in one hand and an inhaler in the other. “They continue to march on the streets, breathing in smoke equivalent to 40 cigarettes a day in hope that someone may take notice,” it added.

A representative of the St Mark’s Senior Secondary School in Janakpuri said they had planned Children’s Day indoors but even that was cancelled.

“Students are not only losing out on studies but also extra curricular activities,” a staffer of the school told PTI..

Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi tweeted, “Rushed frm Peru to celebrate Children’s Day. But alas! My children are gasping for a breathe of clean air.Their handmade posters, placards, balloons have lost their joy.Their slogans are silent. If we can’t celebrate our children, what right do we have to celebrate anything else?” With one half of Delhi-NCR children inside their homes and the other half exposed to the polluted outdoors because they have no homes, the irony of Children’s Day was not lost.

Levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels were nearly eight times higher than the normal limits at several locations in the city on Thursday.

PM 2.5 - tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter - can enter deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream.

The AQI in the satellites cities of Delhi was severe -- Faridabad (441), Ghaziabad (490), Greater Noida (470), Gurgaon (414) and Noida (486). An AQI between 201 and 300 is considered ‘poor’, 301-400 ‘very poor’ and 401-500 ‘severe’, while the AQI above 500 falls in the severe plus category.