Toxic smog turns India’s capital ‘into a gas chamber’
New Delhi — Authorities in India stepped up efforts on Friday to address deteriorating air quality as farmers burning crop stubble and calmer winter winds left a thick blanket of haze and smog choking residents across the capital Delhi region. Factories, construction sites and primary schools were ordered to close, and Delhi authorities urged people to work from home as dangerous particulate pollution filled the air.
Delhi’s 24-hour average air quality index (AQI), which measures the concentration of very fine particles known as PM2.5 in the air – particularly harmful pollutants because they are easily inhaled and can settle deep in the lungs – crossed 470 on Friday, according to the state To the Central Pollution Control Board.
Anything over 300 is classified as “dangerous” on international AQI rating system, and at “severe” levels, air pollution “affects healthy people and seriously affects those with existing illnesses.” On Friday, many parts of Delhi recorded an AQI of over 600.
Authorities also restricted diesel-powered vehicles and sent trucks equipped with water sprinklers and smog cannons to try to control the smog.
“We are also thinking of implementing an odd-even scheme for driving,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said. Thus, about half of Delhi’s private vehicles would be ordered off the roads, with odd and even number plates allowed to run on alternate days.
Even air quality monitors installed at the US embassy in Delhi, which is located in one of the cleanest and greenest parts of the city, registered an AQI above 360 on Friday, far from the most dangerous, “dangerous” level on the AQI chart. displayed on the embassy’s website.
Residents of the Indian capital are unlikely to see much improvement quickly, with weather conditions expected to remain calm and seasonal stubble burning likely to continue.
India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav on Wednesday blamed the opposition northern state of Punjab for failing to stop farmers from burning the remains of their summer crops.
“There is no doubt who turned Delhi into a gas chamber,” Yadav said in a tweet.
Punjab’s top politician, Bhagwant Mann, defended his administration, saying it took office only half a year ago and calling for a joint effort by the state and federal authorities to tackle the problem.
The Delhi government is following a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to tackle air pollution in the city. Stricter measures were taken on Friday as average air quality deteriorated to “Severe Plus”, with an AQI above 450.
“It is the responsibility of all of us to take initiative at all levels to stop pollution,” Delhi’s state environment minister Gopal Rai said earlier this week.
India’s capital city is choked with toxic air most winters thanks to a mix of factors, but a significant portion of the smog doesin the neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Many farmers burn their crop residues, the stubble sticking out of the ground, to prepare their fields for winter crops. It is a much cheaper option than transporting stubble for proper disposal.
The country’s Supreme Court formally banned the practice, and farmers were warned they would face fines for violating the ordinance, but it served as a weak deterrent.
Between September 15 and October 31 this year, the state of Punjab alone recorded 16,004 farm fires – nearly 3,700 more than the same period last year. The state of Haryana has recorded 1,921 farm fires this year.
Satellite images from NASA’s Fire Rescue Management System on Tuesday showed a dense patch of red dots, indicating live fire, in Haryana over the past 24 hours.
#Toxic #smog #turns #Indias #capital #gas #chamber