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Delhi's sky line is seen enveloped in smog and dust in New Delhi, India, Friday, November 1, 2019. An expert panel in India's capital has declared a health emergency due to air pollution choking the city, with authorities ordering schools closed until November 5. Image Credit: AP

New Delhi: As the blanket of haze over the national capital continued to thicken with overall Air Quality Index (AQI) rising to 459 on Friday morning, a Supreme Court-mandated panel declared a public health emergency in Delhi and nearby areas, and banned any construction activity till November 5.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal issued orders to all private and government schools to remain closed till November 5.

“Schools in the capital have been asked to stop all outdoor activities and sports till November 5 to minimise exposure of children to pollution,” Kejriwal tweeted.

Blaming neighbouring states for turning Delhi into a “gas chamber,” Kejriwal distributed over five million masks to school children.

“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighbouring states. It is very important that we protect ourselves from this toxic air. Through private and government schools, we have started distributing five million masks today. I urge all Delhiites to use them whenever needed,” Kejriwal added.

The CM’s appeal comes just ahead of the odd-even car rationing scheme, which is scheduled to make a comeback from Monday. The scheme will run till November 15.

Meanwhile, in a letter to chief secretaries of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Haryana and Delhi, the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority’s (EPCA) chairperson Bhure Lal said the air quality in Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) stood at “severe-plus” level, the first time since January.

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People walk on the Rajpath on a smoggy day in New Delhi, India, November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis Image Credit: REUTERS

“This is a grave situation and I am hoping for your personal intervention so that there is stringent enforcement and full compliance with the directions issued. People have also been advised to not exercise in the open till the pollution level reduces and special care should be taken of the children, aged and vulnerable population,” Lal wrote.

EPCA also banned bursting of crackers during the winter season.

If the air quality continues to remain in the “severe” or “severe plus” category for another 48 hours, emergency measures such as immediately banning entry of trucks in Delhi and introduction of odd-even car rationing scheme will be undertaken by Delhi administration.

Measures taken

The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has directed that all construction activities in Delhi, Faridabad, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Noida and Greater Noida should remain completely shut till the morning of November 5.

Hot-mix plants and stone crushers will also be completely shut. All coal and other fuel-based industries, which have not shifted to natural gas or agro-residue, will also remain closed.

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A girl wears a face mask to protect from air pollution in New Delhi on Friday. Image Credit: ANI

The bursting of crackers has been completely banned for this entire winter period.

Urgent steps demanded to stop local sources of pollution.

Blame game

Federal Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Friday accused Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of “not doing enough” and said blaming Punjab and Haryana for increased air pollution levels in the national capital will not solve the problem.

“Instead of blaming Punjab and Haryana, Kejriwal should think about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to curb pollutants produced by industries in five states near Delhi,” Javadekar said.

He agreed that smoke emanating from stubble burning in nearby Haryana and Punjab did cause some pollution in Delhi and that needed preventive action from the respective states.

“Please write letters to Captain uncle (Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh) and Khattar uncle (Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar) and say, ‘Please think about our health’,” he told the children.