NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian authorities on Friday shuttered factories and construction sites, restricted diesel vehicles and deployed water sprinklers and smog guns to control the smog and smog enveloping the capital region’s skyline.
The Delhi government closed primary schools and restricted outdoor activity for older students as the air quality index exceeded 470, considered “severe” and more than 10 times the global safety limit, according to the state’s Central Pollution Control Board. .
In NOIDA, short for New Okhla Industrial Development Authority, a city on the outskirts of New Delhi, schools have shifted to online classes up to class eight to deal with the public health crisis.
The fog enveloped monuments and high-rise buildings in and around New Delhi.
India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav blamed the northern state of Punjab, ruled by the opposition Aam Admi Party, for failing to stop the burning of crop residues, a major contributor to pollution, at the start of the winter wheat sowing season.
“There is no doubt about who turned Delhi into a gas chamber,” Yadav tweeted on Wednesday.
The state’s top elected official, Bhagwant Mann, defended himself by saying his government took office only six months ago and that the federal and state governments needed to work together to tackle the pollution crisis.
Sarvjeet Singh, a 48-year-old autorickshaw driver, said the smog hurt his eyes and made it difficult to breathe. “There are problems, especially in the morning. It is difficult to drive my vehicle because of the pollution. My autorickshaw is open. It will affect us more than people in cars. We have to work, what can we do?’
Rahul Azmera, 29, a software engineer who works in the United States and is visiting New Delhi with his parents, said: “I feel that if I stay here for a month, I will definitely get hospitalised. That would scare me a lot.”
“I feel very heavy breathing here because of the pollution. I could barely see up to 100 meters (328 feet) or 200 meters (656 feet),” he said.
A complete shutdown of schools, colleges, educational institutions and non-emergency commercial activities, as well as a restriction on private vehicles, is being considered if the pollution level does not come down this weekend, a government statement said late Thursday.
The government advised children, the elderly and people with respiratory, cardiovascular and other health problems to avoid outdoor activities and stay indoors as much as possible.
New Delhi tops the list almost every year among the many Indian cities that gasp for breath after the Diwali festival celebrations with the massive lighting of firecrackers. The crisis is particularly exacerbated in winter, when the burning of crop residues in neighboring countries coincides with colder temperatures that trap deadly smoke. This smoke travels to New Delhi, leading to an increase in pollution in the city of more than 20 million people.
The government ban on construction and demolition activities includes projects such as highways, roads, flyovers, sky bridges, power transmission and pipelines. The government has also asked authorities in the Indian capital region covering New Delhi and parts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states to decide whether to allow public, municipal and private offices to work at 50% and ask others to work from home.
The federal government is also considering whether to allow work from home for its offices.
It said the overall air quality in New Delhi is likely to remain in the “severe” or “very severe” categories till Saturday. A review of the Ministry of Environment will take place on Monday.
Emissions from industries without pollution control technology and coal, which helps generate most of the country’s electricity, have been linked to poor air quality in other urban areas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country would aim to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2070 — two decades behind the US and at least 10 years later than China.