Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday announced the closure of primary schools until further orders even as the government was also considering odd-even vehicle rationing to check alarming pollution levels. He said the outdoor activities for the students of higher classes have been curbed.
This comes a day after the central pollution control authority called for sweeping restrictions to check the raising pollution levels, which remained in the severe plus category on Friday morning. The hourly Air Quality Index (AQI) was 453 at 7am on Friday.
The authority called for restrictions such as banning the entry of diesel trucks and the use of older private diesel vehicles as part of the implementation of measures under Stage IV of the graded response action plan (Grap) to control pollution. It urged the government to consider shutting schools and shifting offices to remote working as the Capital’s air quality plunged to its worst level this year.
Implementing the order is up to the Delhi government. The 24-hour average AQI was 450 at 4pm on Thursday. By 9pm, it rose to 454. The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) said the situation would worsen in the coming days as farm fires, one of the principal factors behind the spike, continue in Punjab.
The CAQM on Thursday cited the forecast and said AQI in Delhi is likely to be in the severe+/severe category in the next couple of days due to calm winds and stable atmospheric conditions. “Therefore, in an effort to prevent further deterioration of air quality, the GRAP Sub-Committee decided that all actions as envisaged under Stage IV of GRAP be implemented in right earnest by all agencies concerned.”
Grap stage IV to fight pollution includes a ban on all diesel trucks and private diesel cars unless they comply with the newer Bharat Stage VI (BS-VI) emissions norms. All linear construction projects such as highways, roads, and flyovers will also have to stop.
There was a likelihood of improvement in air quality from Saturday due to a favourable wind speed and direction, which presently is predominantly north-westerly. A subcommittee will again review the air quality on Sunday and take appropriate decisions on Grap measures to be taken thereafter.
A surge in farm fires triggered Thursday’s deterioration in the air quality. On Wednesday, Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh recorded a combined fire count of 3,825 fires. The count rose to 2,834 fires on Thursday. Punjab alone accounted for 94% of them. The Aam Aadmi Party is in power in both Delhi and Punjab.
The contribution of stubble burning to Delhi’s PM 2.5 (ultrafine particle) concentration spiked to 34% on Thursday, compared to 12% on Wednesday. This was the highest single-day contribution this year.
The CAQM asked state governments to consider additional emergency measures like the closure of schools, colleges, and educational institutions, as well as non-emergency commercial activities and plying of vehicles on an odd-even basis.
Schools in Delhi have curtailed outdoor physical activity and enforced the usage of N95 masks among students. Some schools have switched to online classes. In Noida and Greater Noida, the administration ordered only online classes for up to class 8 until November 8.