Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday announced that primary schools in the national capital will be shut from Saturday as air quality index in the city continued to be in the “severe” category.

Addressing a press conference with Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, the Aam Aadmi Party chief said that outdoor activities for Classes 5 and above will be stopped in Delhi schools.

“We are also mulling over implementing odd even scheme for plying of vehicles,” he said. Under this system, cars are allowed to operate only on alternate days on the basis of whether their license plate numbers are odd or even.

Hours later, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai announced that 50% of the staff in government offices will work from home from Monday. A similar advisory will be issued for private offices as well, Rai said.

Kejriwal, at his press briefing earlier on Friday, said that deteriorating air quality and pollution levels is a problem which the entire North India faces.

“Many cities [in North India] have severe air pollution,” he added. “AAP alone or Kejriwal or governments of Delhi and Punjab alone is not responsible for this. Central government has to take steps to reduce pollution.”

Kejriwal said that the Aam Aadmi Party government in Punjab takes full responsibility for the rise in stubble burning in the state.

“It has been only six months since we formed the government there and there were a lot of problems to deal with,” he said. “Many steps have been taken and I believe that by next year, the incidents of stubble burning will come down.”

The Delhi chief minister said it was not the time to indulge in blame game or politics as residents are struggling to breathe. “We have said it several times that the central government needs to step forward and take specific measures,” he added.

Air quality deteriorates sharply in the winter months in Delhi, which is often ranked the world’s most polluted capital. Stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, along with falling temperatures, low wind speed and emissions from industries and coal-fired plants contribute to air pollution.

At 11.50 am on Friday, data from the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research, or SAFAR, showed that Delhi’s air quality index stood at 437. An air quality index ranging between 401 and 500 falls under the “severe” category. A reading of above 400 can affect healthy persons and seriously impact those with existing illnesses.

Smoke from farm fires contributed to 38% of the tiny PM 2.5 lung-damaging pollutants in the city’s air on Thursday the highest this season, PTI reported. Last year, the share of farm fires in Delhi’s PM 2.5 pollution rose to 48% on November 7.

SC to hear plea against stubble burning

On Friday, the Supreme Court listed a plea seeking to restrict stubble burning in Punjab for hearing on November 10, Live Law reported.

A bench of Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justice Bela M Trivedi took note of the submissions of lawyer Shashank Shekhar Jha, saying that “even normal people cannot walk in such a situation” as the air pollution situation has worsened due to stubble burning in areas close to Delhi.

Human rights body summons officials

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission on Friday asked the chief secretaries of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh to appear before the panel on November 10.

Dissatisfied by the steps taken to control air pollution, the commission asked the chief secretaries about the steps taken by their governments to stop the burning of stubble in their regions.

“Their reports must also inform about the effect of smog towers and anti-smog guns as to how many such anti-smog guns are operational and what further steps government of NCT [National Capital Territory] of Delhi and the concerned governments are taking in near future,” a statement said. “The report of Punjab and Haryana must also specifically inform about the effect of the scheme of in-situ management of crop residue.”

Steps taken

Due to the deteriorating situation, the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region had on Thursday banned the plying of diesel-run four-wheelers in Delhi.

On Friday, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said that his government has decided to implement the anti-pollution curbs recommended by the Commission for Air Quality Management, including a ban on non-BS VI diesel-run light motor vehicles.

The Aam Aadmi Party leader added that certain construction and demolition activities that were allowed to carry on under the already existing ban will also be stopped from Friday. “Highway road, flyover, overbridge constructions, and Delhi Jal board pipeline work, along with power transmission work will also be banned from today,” Rai said.

In addition, Delhi government has said that it has formed a six-member team comprising senior officials to monitor the implementation of the curbs on anti-polluting activities. Special task forces will also be set up to curb air pollution at hotspots in Delhi, Rai said.

Parents and environmental activists on Twitter demanded that schools should be closed, saying it is not normal to breathe “500+ AQI” at a time when every third child has a pulmonary ailment.

According to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index released in June, the residents of Delhi stand to lose 10 years of life expectancy due to poor air quality.

Also read:

  1. Why Punjab’s farmers are rejecting solutions to curb stubble burning
  2. India’s Rs 12,000-crore fund to fight air pollution is going up in smoke