New Delhi: Stringent curbs, including a ban on entry of polluting trucks, came into effect in Delhi on Sunday (November 6), as its air quality entered the ‘severe plus’ category for the second time in three days due to unfavourable wind conditions and a sharp rise in farm fires across north India. A toxic haze persisted over Delhi-NCR for the sixth consecutive day, obscuring landmarks from view and causing significant problems for people with existing respiratory issues.
The 24-hour average Air Quality Index (AQI), recorded at 4 pm every day, worsened from 415 on Saturday to 454 on Sunday, prompting the Centre to implement all emergency measures mandated under the final Stage IV of its air pollution control plan called the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).
A thick layer of haze engulfed the national capital on Sunday morning as the minimum temperature was recorded at 15.8 degree Celsius, one notch above the season’s normal. The relative humidity was recorded 96 per cent, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
GRAP categorises actions into four stages: Stage I – ‘Poor’ (AQI 201-300); Stage II – ‘Very Poor’ (AQI 301-400); Stage III – ‘Severe’ (AQI 401-450); and Stage IV – ‘Severe Plus’ (AQI >450).
Unfavourable meteorological conditions combined with vehicular emissions, paddy straw burning, firecrackers and other local pollution sources contribute to hazardous air quality levels in Delhi-NCR during the winter every year.
According to a Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) analysis, the capital experiences peak pollution from November 1 to November 15 when the number of stubble burning incidents in Punjab and Haryana increases.
According to the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), a total of 4,160 farm fires were reported from north India on Sunday — the highest so far this season.
Punjab alone reported 3,230 incidents of stubble burning, the state’s highest in a day so far this season, according to Punjab Remote Sensing Centre data.
The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), a statutory body responsible for formulating strategies to combat pollution in the region, asked Delhi and NCR states to order a ban on construction work related to linear public projects and allow 50 per cent of the staff in government and private offices to work from home.
Under Stage IV of GRAP, only CNG, electric and BS VI-compliant vehicles from other states are allowed to enter Delhi. Exemptions are granted only to those involved in essential services. All medium and heavy goods vehicles not engaged in essential services are also banned in the capital, according to the latest CAQM order.
The official notification issued by CAQM stated,
Keeping in view the prevailing trend of air quality and in an effort to prevent further deterioration of air quality in the region, the Sub-Committee today has taken the call to invoke all actions as envisaged under Stage-IV of GRAP ‘Severe+’ Air Quality (Delhi’s AQI > 450), with immediate effect in the entire NCR. This is in addition to the preventive and restrictive actions mentioned under Stage 1, Stage II, and Stage III of GRAP.
Later in the day, the Delhi government’s Transport Department issued an order banning the entry of trucks, except those carrying essential items, into the national capital.
As per directions provided under Stage IV of the revised GRAP and under Section 115 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, it is hereby ordered… No Entry for Truck traffic into Delhi (Except for Trucks carrying essential commodities/providing essential services and all LNG/CNG/ Electric Trucks).
The order also banned the entry of light commercial vehicles registered outside Delhi, other than electric vehicles, CNG and BS VI-compliant vehicles, except those carrying essential commodities. It further said,
Ban on the implementation of Delhi-registered diesel operated Medium Goods Vehicles (MGVs) and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) in Delhi, except those carrying essential commodities/providing essential services. This direction shall not be applicable on vehicles carrying essential commodities i.e. raw vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, eggs or ice that is to be used as food items, and tankers carrying petroleum products.
According to officials, the Transport Department has deployed 18 teams to enforce the restrictions. An official said,
We will deploy four to five more teams to enforce the fresh restrictions. The department has a total of 114 enforcement teams.
On November 2, the CAQM ordered a ban on non-essential construction work and specific categories of polluting vehicles.
The Delhi government has also announced the closure of all primary schools for two days in an effort to safeguard young children from hazardous pollution.
The air pollution crisis is not confined to Delhi alone. Several cities in neighbouring Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have also reported hazardous air quality.
Neighbouring Ghaziabad (494), Gurugram (402), Noida (414), Greater Noida (410) and Faridabad (450) also reported hazardous air quality.
The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulate matter capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory system and triggering health problems, exceeded the government-prescribed safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre by seven to eight times at multiple locations throughout Delhi-NCR. It was 30 to 40 times the healthy limit of 15 micrograms per cubic metre set by the WHO.
Air quality in Delhi-NCR declined over the past week due to a gradual drop in temperatures, calm winds that trap pollution and a surge in post-harvest paddy straw burning across Punjab and Haryana.
Data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shows that Delhi’s air quality index increased by over 200 points between October 27 and November 3, ending up in the ‘severe plus’ category on Friday.
Friday’s 24-hour average AQI (468) was the worst since the previous high of 471 recorded on November 12, 2021.
While the capital is grappling with an air crisis, a first-of-its-kind study launched by the Delhi government to help identify different sources of pollution in the city and accordingly take mitigating action was recently halted on the orders of DPCC Chairman Ashwani Kumar.
Kumar also “unilaterally” ordered a halt to the operation of a large smog tower installed at Connaught Place two years ago to mitigate air pollution in the area, according to Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai.
Delhi’s air quality ranks among the worst in the world’s capital cities. A report by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) in August said that air pollution is shortening lives by almost 12 years in Delhi.
The hazardous pollution levels have compelled many to forgo their morning walks, sports and other outdoor activities. Parents are concerned as health experts say children breathe faster, taking in more pollutants.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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