Schools in Indian capital shut indefinitely as smog worsens

Nov 17, 2021: 

New Delhi has closed schools until further notice, and appealed to people to work from home and banned unnecessary trucks from entering the Indian capital due to dangerous levels of deadly smog.

New Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world – with a population of about 20 million people – is shrouded in smog every winter.

On Saturday, the Delhi state government ordered schools to be closed for a week and construction work banned for four days. But in an order late on Tuesday, the Air Quality Management Commission for Delhi said all educational institutions should remain closed until further notice.

Five coal-fired power plants around New Delhi have also been temporarily shut down, according to an order from a panel on air pollution, which falls under the Federal Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

The order said that except for trucks carrying essential goods, entry into the capital has been stopped till November 21 and most of the construction activities in Delhi and its neighboring cities have been stopped.

“Anti-smog guns” and water sprayers were ordered to work at the hotspot at least three times a day. The commission also said that at least 50 per cent of government employees should work from home by November 21 and urged those working in private firms to follow suit.

The order comes days after the Delhi government pushed back against a call by India’s Supreme Court to declare a “pollution lockdown” – a first – which would restrict the city’s population to their homes.

The top court also rapped the federal and local governments over their failure to mitigate pollution.

New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted capital cities, faces chronic winter smog every year as temperatures drop outside the city, coal-fired power plants, vehicle exhaust fumes, construction activities and garbage. Traps deadly pollutants in open burning.

One of the major contributors to winter air pollution is the burning of crop residues by farmers in neighboring states. The government, however, told the Supreme Court that the industry is the biggest partner, followed by vehicle pollution and dust.

This week, PM 2.5 levels – harmful particulate matter small enough to enter a person’s bloodstream when inhaled into the lungs, causing chronic lung and heart disease – have been above 400 in several parts of the city.

Last week, the levels touched 500, which is more than 30 times the maximum limit recommended by the World Health Organization.

A Lancet report in 2020 said almost 17,500 people died in Delhi in 2019 because of air pollution. Another report by Swiss organisation IQAir last year found that 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities were in India.

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