The central government-appointed Commission for Air Quality Management for National Capital Region on Tuesday directed all industries in the region to completely switch to Piped Natural Gas, noting that the industrial sector was one of the major contributors to air pollution in Delhi and adjoining areas.

The decision was taken during a meeting, which was attended by representatives of the Delhi government, the Gas Authority of India Limited, and the Indraprastha Gas Limited, said a press release by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

About 1,644 industrial units spread across 50 industrial areas were identified to switch over to PNG.

The Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Aam Aadmi Party government were asked to work in “close coordination” with industrial units to ensure that a complete switch over to Piped Natural Gas was made by by January 31, 2021.

The pollution board was also directed to inspect and identify the industries using unapproved fuels, and to take stringent penal action in case of non-compliances.

The Commission for Air Quality has sweeping powers to monitor and act against sources of air pollution in Delhi-NCR and adjoining areas of five north Indian states – Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. It was put in place after the central government brought in a new law through an ordinance which was promulgated by President Ram Nath Kovind on October 28. The ordinance empowers the agency to make rules, set emission standards, and impose fines of up to Rs 1 crore, or imprison violators for up to five years.

Delhi’s air pollution typically worsens in October and November due to farmers burning stubble in neighbouring states, unfavourable wind speed and local emission of traffic fumes in the city. Firecrackers ignited for Diwali and New Year celebrations add to the problem.

Pollution in the city had almost disappeared earlier this year, when the Centre imposed a countrywide lockdown to contain the coronavirus but has returned since the government began lifting restrictions at the end of August.

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But this year’s pollution levels breached the emergency threshold twice in November as smog enveloped the Capital for days. The air quality is considered in the “severe plus” or “emergency” category if PM2.5 and PM10 levels persist above 300 per cubic meter and 500 per cubic meter, respectively, for more than 48 hours, according to the Graded Response Action Plan.

The emergency situation this year had been a cause of concern as the city grappled a surge of coronavirus infections. Health experts worry that high air pollution levels over a prolonged period have compromised the disease resistance of people living in Delhi, making them more susceptible to the coronavirus.

The alarming levels of pollution also has a devastating impact on the economy. A report published in the medial journal, The Lancet, on Tuesday showed that premature deaths resulting from toxic air resulted in an economic loss of Rs 2.6 lakh crore – equivalent to 1.4% of India’s Gross Domestic Product – in 2019. Delhi had the highest per-capita economic loss due to air pollution, followed by Haryana.