Delhi shuts schools as it mulls pollution lockdown


Authorities in India’s capital, New Delhi, have announced a one-week
closure of schools and said they would consider a “pollution lockdown”
to protect citizens from worsening levels of toxic smog.

“Schools will be shut so that children don’t have to breathe polluted
air,” Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told reporters on Saturday, adding
that construction activity would be halted for four days.

Government offices were asked to operate from home and private
businesses were advised to stick to work-from-home options as much
as possible.

The city is ranked one of the world’s most polluted, with a hazardous
melange of factory and vehicle emissions, as well as smoke from
agricultural fires, settling in the skies over its 20 million people each
winter.

On Saturday, the Supreme Court suggested imposing a lockdown on
Delhi to combat the air quality crisis. “How will we live otherwise?”
Chief Justice N.V. Ramana said.

Kejriwal said his government would consider the court’s suggestion
after consulting with stakeholders.

“Pollution lockdown has never happened before. It will be an extreme
step,” he said.

The Central Pollution Control Board on Friday advised authorities to
prepare “for implementation of measures under ’emergency’
category”.

It added the poor air quality would likely run until at least November
18 due to “low winds with calm conditions during the night”.

On Saturday, levels of PM 2.5 particles – the smallest and most
harmful, which can enter the bloodstream – topped 300 on the air
quality index.

That is 20 times the maximum daily limit recommended by the World
Health Organization.

Al Jazeera’s Pavni Mittal, reporting from New Delhi, said people in the
city had been “waking up to thick smog” for more than a week now.

Pollution in Delhi gets worse

“Visibility has been low and the situation gets so bad, there are times
in the day you can actually taste the pollution,” she added.

“The situation gets especially bad during this time of the year,” Mittal
explained, citing the onset of winter and the rise in farm fires in
neighbouring states, among other reasons.

Delhi’s government has been promising for years to clean up the city’s
air.

The burning of agricultural waste in Delhi’s neighbouring states – a
major contributor to the city’s pollution levels every winter – has
continued despite a Supreme Court ban.

Tens of thousands of farmers around the capital burn their stubble –
or crop residue – at the start of every winter, clearing fields from
recently harvested paddies to make way for wheat.

The number of farm fires this season has been the highest in the past
four years, according to government data.

Earlier this year, the Delhi government opened its first “smog tower”
containing 40 giant fans that pump 1,000 cubic metres of air per
second through filters.

The $2m installation halves the number of harmful particulates in the
air but only within a radius of one square kilometre (0.4 square miles),
according to engineers.

A 2020 report by Swiss organisation IQAir found that 22 of the
world’s 30 most polluted cities were in India, with Delhi ranked the
most polluted capital globally.