Delhi’s air quality plunges to season’s worst, government imposes ’emergency measures’

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The dense cover of grey haze shrouding Delhi for almost a week, reminiscent of the 1952 Great Smog in London, on Sunday plunged the city’s air quality to the season’s worst, with even the 24-hour-average threatening to go past the maximum limit.

The real-time readings of respirable pollutants PM 2.5 and PM 10 breached the safe standards by over 17 times at many places. The hourly AQI (air quality index) of monitoring stations run by CPCB and SAFAR remained 500 plus, which is beyond the maximum limit.

Experts said while the level of sulphur dioxide (SO2) is still in control in the city, in terms of other parameters like volume of particulates, the situation was nearly as bad as the infamous London episode that had resulted in around 4,000 premature deaths.

“In London smog of 1952 about 4,000 people had died prematurely when average PM levels were about 500 microgramme per cubic metre along with high SO2 levels. Here, (the concentration of) SO2 may not be that high, but as we saw on Diwali, several gases had increased substantially. Overall it is a toxic cocktail.

“Persisting high levels can lead to more premature deaths in Delhi also,” Anumitra Roychowdhury of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) told PTI.

Air pollution is responsible for around 10,000 to 30,000 deaths in the national capital every year, the CSE had said+ in a report last year.

At 4pm, the 24-hour-average AQI of the city was at a staggering 497, three steps down the maximum of 500, which was the season’s worst, even compared to post Diwali pollution levels.

As per real time readings of Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), Anand Vihar had PM 10 (coarse particles with diameter of 10 micrometres) reading of 1,690 micrograms per cubic metre during the morning hours, which came down few notches during the day before spiking in the afternoon again.

At RK Puram, PM 2.5 touched 885 at 12.30pm as against the safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre.

The 24-hour prescribed standard of PM 10 is 100.

CSE, which said the prevailing spell of smog in Delhi is the worst in 17 years, welcomed the emergency measures like shutting down of schools and power plants announced by the city government. It, however, rued the absence of the vehicular component in it.

“Emergency situation has persisted for about a week now. But we should keep in mind that such measures are only aimed at bringing the peak levels down,” Roychowdhury said.

Government’s emergency steps: Schools closed for 3 days, construction works banned

Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday ordered shutting down of schools+ till Wednesday, banned all construction works for five days and directed temporary closure of a power plant, while mulling the possibility of cloud-seeding to bring in artificial rains over the city.

Announcing a series of emergency measures, Kejriwal said the Delhi government was also exploring the possibility of bringing back the odd-even car rationing scheme, while appealing to the people to stay indoors and work from home if possible, considering the alarming levels of pollution.

Listing short-term steps to deal with the situation, the Chief Minister said the use of all diesel gen-sets has been prohibited for the next five days beginning Monday, barring emergency services like hospitals and mobile towers.

“Schools will be closed for the next three days. The health department will issue the first pollution advisory tomorrow. We also appeal to the people to stay indoors and work from home, if possible.

“We are also starting the preparation for odd-even (car rationing scheme). We will make an assessment in the next few days and implement it, if need be,” Kejriwal told reporters after an emergency meeting of the Cabinet.

Delhi government also decided to shut down the coal- based Badarpur power plant, considered one of the key sources of pollution, for 10 days from Monday. The plant generates around 300MW of power.

While all construction and demolition works in the city have been banned for five days, it was also decided that the PWD would carry out water sprinkling on roads of 100-foot width from Monday at least once a week.

Kejriwal said the government would strictly enforce the ban on burning of leaves and other waste and officers concerned would be held accountable for any lapses in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

Delhi government would discuss with the Centre the possibility of engineering artificial rains through cloud- seeding to douse the smog and settle the dust, saying the city has turned into a “gas chamber” mainly due to large-scale crop burning in Haryana and Punjab. The Cabinet received a proposal to go for artificial rain through cloud seeding, he said.
On Saturday, Kejriwal had met Union Environment Minister Anil Dave and discussed a series of measures to deal with the alarming air pollution levels.

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