New Delhi: Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday announced a string of emergency measures, including the closure of schools and a ban on construction, in response to rapidly deteriorating air quality.
The chief minister also asked all stakeholders to stop blaming others for the massive spike in air pollution.
“Instead of politicizing the issue, all stakeholders need to work together to find an effective solution to this. Crop burning is going to continue for a few more days and we need to take immediate steps. Let’s not point fingers but work together to bring a solution," Kejriwal told reporters.
The decisions were taken at an emergency cabinet meeting held at Kejriwal’s home. Other emergency measures include a ban on the use of generators, burning leaves and a 10-day shutdown of a thermal power plant on the outskirts of Delhi.
“Schools in Delhi are being shut for three days. We appeal to the people of Delhi to stay indoors as much as possible and work from home if possible," Kejriwal said.
“For the next five days, all sorts of construction and demolition will be stopped. There will be water sprayed on the roads of Delhi from tomorrow so that dust settles. DG (diesel generator) sets other than those for emergency services to be stopped for next 10 days," he said.
The government also plans to start vacuum cleaning all public works department roads from 10 November and is considering resuming the odd-even road rationing scheme.
“We are making preparations for odd-even; and after assessment, we may impose that as well. There is a suggestion for artificial rain as well which is being examined but we need to work with the central government on this," Kejriwal said.
Earlier this year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government implemented the odd-even scheme twice as air quality in the city-state worsened. At the time, experts were not entirely convinced about its effect on air quality, but felt it helped clear heavily congested roads.
On Saturday, Kejriwal also met central environment minister Anil Madhav Dave to discuss the deteriorating air quality in the national capital.
As per the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) of the Union ministry of earth sciences, the air quality on Sunday was “severe", with levels of particulate matter PM 10 more than eight times the safe limit and PM 2.5 more than nine times the safe limit. The fine particulate matters are key pollutants that can cause damage to lungs.
The air quality of Delhi and its adjoining areas like Noida, Faridabad and Gurgaon has been severe since Diwali on 30 October. On Monday, a day after Diwali, the levels of PM 10 and PM 2.5 had reached eight times the safe limit.
The areas have been shrouded under a heavy blanket of smog causing health problems to people. Severe is a level that can cause respiratory problems in healthy people and seriously impact those with existing diseases.
Experts welcomed the emergency measures.
“It’s good that Delhi government has come out with emergency measures because the current situation required emergency response but government also needs to focus on vehicular pollution. We also need zero tolerance for open burning of waste. The government also needs to bring out health advisories for people on daily basis," said said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based environment think tank.
But action in Delhi alone can’t improve air quality as crop burning in northern states Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan heavily contributes to poor quality of the national capital.
“Very strong coordination is needed with other States to control pollution and that is where central government needs to work. Governments – central and states – need to work on tackling pollution for 365 days a year not just in Delhi but other states as well. We need a proper national action plan to tackle pollution," Roychowdhury added.
environment minister Dave is expected to meet environment ministers of the five states on Monday to find solutions to tackle the high levels of air pollution.