On a day the national capital became the “most polluted city” in the country, a slew of measures, including a ban on entry of trucks and plying of diesel-fuelled Medium Goods Vehicles (MGVs) and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) within Delhi’s limits, was declared by the authorities.
In the National Capital Region (NCR), all schools in Noida and Greater Noida were asked to hold classes online for students up to Class VIII till November 8, according to an official order. No such order has been issued for Delhi schools yet.
The air quality of the Capital on Thursday deteriorated to the ‘severe’ category, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. At 8 a.m., Delhi was the “most polluted” place in the country and by 8 p.m. it was the “second most polluted” city after Charkhi Dadri in Haryana, stated the CPCB readings. Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) was 450 on Thursday, up from 376 (‘very poor’) on Wednesday, as per the CPCB’s 4 p.m. bulletin, which is considered the day’s official AQI.
The overall air quality of Delhi is likely to remain in the ‘severe’ to ‘severe+’ category on Friday and Saturday, according to the Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas (CAQM).
Environment Minister Gopal Rai has called for a high-level meeting of officials of different departments and agencies in Delhi, which are working to control air pollution, at 12 noon on Friday.
The CAQM on Thursday ordered State governments and pollution control boards in the National Capital Region to implement a ban on entry of trucks into Delhi. Exceptions have been made for trucks carrying essential commodities, providing essential services, and to all CNG and electric trucks.
The ban is part of a list of actions under “Stage 4” of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) that the CAQM has ordered the State governments to take “with immediate effect”. GRAP is a set of emergency measures taken to reduce air pollution.
The CAQM has directed the authorities to ban plying of Delhi-registered diesel MGVs and HGVs in the Capital, except those carrying essential commodities and providing essential services. The commission has also ordered a ban on plying of four-wheeler diesel LMVs (Light Motor Vehicles) in Delhi and districts of NCR bordering the Capital, except BS-VI vehicles and those used for essential and emergency services.
These measures will be in addition to those under Stage 1-3 of GRAP, including a ban on construction and demolition activities and operation of diesel generators, with some exceptions.
Impact on children
Under the Stage 4 measures, State governments could consider additional emergency actions such as closure of schools, colleges, educational institutions; halt on non-emergency commercial activities and odd-even vehicle rationing policy. These measures are not mandatory.
On Wednesday, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) asked the Delhi government to consider closing schools. Last year, after the Supreme Court’s directions, the Delhi government had announced closure of schools due to ‘severe’ pollution. Air pollution of ‘severe’ level “affects healthy people” and “seriously impacts those with existing diseases”, according to the CPCB.
The CAQM has advised children, elderly and those with respiratory, cardiovascular, cerebrovascular or other chronic diseases to avoid outdoor activities and stay indoors as much as possible.
Why high pollution?
One of the main reasons for the spike in air pollution is the increased effect of stubble burning on Delhi. The contribution of stubble burning in neighbouring States to PM2.5 — a chief pollutant — in the Capital was 34% on Thursday, up from 12% on Wednesday, according to the Central government-run monitoring agency SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research).
This is due to an increase in stubble burning incidents and favourable direction and speed of upper-level winds, which transport pollutants from these States to Delhi, said SAFAR.
During winter, the contribution of stubble burning to PM2.5 levels in Delhi varies between 0 and 35-40%, depending on the number of farm fires and wind direction among other factors, according to SAFAR.