Schools and plants near the Indian capital choked by smog
New Delhi Schools closed indefinitely and some coal-based power plants shut down as the Indian capital and neighboring states took drastic measures on Wednesday to combat worsening air pollution following an order from the federal environment ministry.
The measures come as India’s Supreme Court considers whether New Delhi should go into lockdown as a blanket of thick and gray smog continued to envelope the city, particularly in the morning. The commission issued guidelines Tuesday night to stop the pollution and to show residents that the government is taking measures to control an environmental crisis that has plagued the capital for years.
Besides closing schools, the Air Quality Management Committee has ordered a halt to construction activities until November 21, and has banned trucks carrying non-essential goods. The commission also directed states to “encourage” work from home for half the employees in all private offices.
Despite some improvement in New Delhi’s air over the past two days, hazardous particle readings on Wednesday were still up to seven times the safe level, exceeding 300 micrograms per cubic meter in some parts of the city.
The World Health Organization sets the safe level for toxic fine particles at 25.
Forecasters warned of deteriorating air quality before the arrival of cold winds next week that will clear the smog.
Earlier this month, air quality levels fell to the “severe” category in the capital, and residents faced bouts of severe, multi-day pollution. It triggered a stern warning last week from India’s Supreme Court, which ordered state and federal governments to take “imminent and emergency” measures to tackle what it called a crisis.
Among the many breathtaking Indian cities, New Delhi tops the list every year. The crisis is exacerbated, especially in winter, when the burning of crop residues in neighboring countries coincides with cooler temperatures trapping the deadly smoke. This smoke travels to New Delhi, adding to the pollution in the city of more than 20 million people.
Emissions from industries without pollution control technology, pollutants from festival-related fireworks, and construction dust also increase sharply in the winter months.
Several studies have estimated that more than one million Indians die each year from air pollution-related illnesses.
The capital has often experimented with limiting the number of cars on the road to reduce vehicle emissions, using large anti-smog cannons and halting construction activity. But the steps had little effect.
Experts say these emergency measures are not helpful in the long run.
said Anumita Roychodhury, executive director of the Center for Science and Environment, a research and advocacy organization in New Delhi.
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