Smog over Delhi still at severe level

The capital city saw PM 2.5 levels - a measure of fine particle matter linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease - go up to 500 in some places yesterday.
The capital city saw PM 2.5 levels - a measure of fine particle matter linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease - go up to 500 in some places yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI - India's capital city continues to be enveloped in a grey smog with pollution levels remaining in the severe category.

This is in spite of the implementation of several emergency measures including a ban on all construction activity and sprinkling of water on roads.

The capital city saw PM 2.5 levels - a measure of fine particle matter linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease - go up to 500 in some places yesterday.

The Supreme Court on Monday (Nov 13) called it an "emergency-like situation". But primary schools, which had been shut for a week by authorities due to high pollution levels, reopened on the same day.

Children going to school could be seen wearing masks as the India Meteorological Department predicted levels would start receding by Monday night. The department also said rain would start to clear the air, over the next two days.

Schools said they were struggling to keep children engaged indoors.

"The school is generally confined to the four walls. It is a struggle for teachers to occupy children...We have switched to quiz games, ludo and chess," said Dr Priyanka Mehta, principal of Amity International School. She said attendance was better than expected in the primary classes on Monday.

"I had parents calling me up and asking if it was safe for children to return. I saw many children wearing masks or covering their face with a handkerchief. But we can't be closing schools every year."

Ms Ameeta Mulla Wattal, principal of Sprindales School, said they had nebulizers, oxygen tents and cylinders ready.

"The tragedy is that one has got used to working and living in this difficult situation. It seems to have become another reality."

In the last week, pollution in the capital city hit the severe level on the back of stubble burning, after the harvest by farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana, and amid weather conditions labelled adverse by the Met department.

The lack of winds led to a trapping of pollutants over the city and this added to existing pollution within the city.

The rising pollution levels saw the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) issue a series of instructions to Delhi authorities. They included a stop to construction works and the use of coal and firewood in hotels and restaurants.

While these measures were implemented the previous week, experts said that there has been no immediate effect.

Prof Mukesh Khare from Delhi's Indian Institute of Technology, and a member of the EPCA, noted more research is needed to fine-tune the new Graded Response Action Plan, which came into effect this year, for Delhi.

The plan calls for the monitoring of air quality from various stations located across Delhi and mandates four different categories of action when air quality goes from moderate to poor to emergency.

Prof Mukesh also questioned compliance and monitoring by the authorities. "How serious are they?

"We needed to be ready for this situation two months back."

Environmentalists said a long term plan is needed.

"The whole year nothing happened and suddenly all this. I think the situation is going to worsen in the coming years," said Mr Vikrant Tongad of the Social Action for Forest & Environment: Safe Green.

Vehicular pollution had to be controlled, among other things, he said.

"People are more aware of pollution and its harmful effects year by year. Awareness is going up but pollution level is not coming down."