Emergency in the air as Delhi-NCR experience most polluted day in 2 years
In four of 38 monitoring stations, the AQI readings topped out at 500 — the highest level that can be recorded. It was on November 9, 2017, when the AQI last crossed the level seen on Friday, having settled then at 486.Updated: Nov 02, 2019 05:22 IST
The National Capital Region (NCR) experienced its most polluted day in nearly two years on Friday as the air quality deteriorated sharply, forcing the authorities to advise people to stay indoors, shut down schools, ban all construction activity, and declare a “public health emergency”.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) 4pm bulletin, Delhi’s average air quality index (AQI) was at 484 — up from 410 the day before — while the concentration of PM2.5 and PM10 dust particles crossed “emergency” thresholds at midnight. In Noida, the AQI was 499, while it was 496 in Ghaziabad and 469 in Gurugram.
In four of 38 monitoring stations, the AQI readings topped out at 500 — the highest level that can be recorded. It was on November 9, 2017, when the AQI last crossed the level seen on Friday, having settled then at 486.
“People are advised to ensure they minimise personal exposure [to the outside air] as far [as] possible and do not exercise in the open till pollution levels are reduced. In particular, minimise exposure of children, aged and vulnerable,” said an advisory issued by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (Epca).
The actions come nearly at the end of a week that began with a
Toxic haze caused by illegal use of firecrackers on Diwali on October 27, made worse still by weather conditions that trapped them in the atmosphere and by smoke that drifted in from farm fires in Punjab and Haryana.
According to the Union government’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), the share of pollutants from the farm fires — mostly ultra-fine PM2.5 particles — had shot up from 15% on Tuesday to 46% on Friday.
“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighbouring states. It is very [important] that we protect ourselves from this toxic air,” chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a tweet on Friday morning, while posting photographs of a government function to distribute breathing masks to children.
Hours after the event, the CM announced that schools in Delhi will be shut till Tuesday following a recommendation from Epca.
“We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution is now hazardous and will have adverse health impacts on all, but particularly our children,” Epca chairperson Bhure Lal said in a letter to the administrations of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.
The Epca also ordered a complete ban on construction work, firecracker use, and activities of polluting industries such as stone-crushers.
The order came amid growing criticism of the response mechanism — the Graded Response Action Plan (Grap) — and a rule that says escalating curbs will apply only when pollution has been severe for more than 48 hours.
Experts, including some from within Epca, also questioned why some curbs such as shutting of schools was kept only in most extreme scenarios such as when an emergency had to be declared.
According to officials, people in NCR will need to wait till the weather changes for any relief. “A western disturbance is approaching and this is expected to trigger some strong surface winds, which in turn would help flush out pollutants. Significant improvement is expected from Sunday onwards,” said a senior official of Safar.
Delhi, meteorologists explained, is at present trapped in a cycle of pollution that blocks out the sun, which in turn makes the day temperatures cooler — a crucial factor that again leads to pollutants being trapped in the air. Once winds help clear some pollutants, more sunshine will aid in warming and, thus, clearing away more particles.
Beginning on Monday, odd-even road rationing restrictions will apply in the national capital. The Delhi government also announced that 42 agencies, including Delhi government departments, municipal corporations and the state election commission, will work in staggered office timings untill odd-even restrictions end on November 14.
The crisis in the national capital also took a political turn, with chief minister Kejriwal demanding the Centre and the state governments of Punjab and Haryana come up with “specific timelines” to end the practice of farm fires.
Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Friday said Kejriwal was “politicising” the pollution problem and indulging in a “blame game”, before making accusations against the Delhi administration for not taking enough steps. The minister said Kejriwal’s government had not released the state’s share for the Eastern Peripheral Expressway and a bypass road that could reduce pollution levels in the national capital. “The state government had to release ~3,500 crore but they did not give it. They had to release ~1,000 crore on a court order,” Javadekar said.