Delhi extends pollution semi-lockdown as toxic smog continues to choke city

All schools in city will remain shut until further orders and employees will continue to work from home this week

Arpan Rai
Monday 22 November 2021 11:22 GMT
Delhi monuments shrouded in smog

The toxic pollution-induced lockdown in India’s national capital will go on for at least another week after authorities extended restrictions till 26 November, as the city of 20 million continued its struggle to breathe clean air.

All schools in Delhi will remain shut until further orders, a notification issued by the Directorate of Education said on Sunday.

The lockdown-like measures were first imposed in Delhi on 13 November, more than a week after the city’s air quality plummeted to its worst this season, and most parts of the city were covered in a thick reddish haze of pollution.

Delhi’s state administration, which shut its offices last week, told government employees to continue working from home for another week. The environment ministry also advised private offices to allow their employees to work from home wherever possible.

Heavily-polluting, diesel-guzzling trucks entering Delhi from border checkpoints will continue to be banned till 26 November, the Delhi administration said. Only those carrying essential commodities like food rations and medicines will be allowed to enter Delhi starting this week.

However, the government has allowed construction activities to resume.

“Delhi’s AQI is steadily improving, therefore we are removing the ban on construction activities,” environmental minister Gopal Rai said on Monday. “This will benefit construction workers, but construction sites must follow all anti-dust guidelines otherwise strict action will be taken.”

Mr Rai said that the decision to reopen schools and educational institutes will be taken in the ministry’s next review meeting on 24 November. The city-state administration will also review other crucial decisions such as allowing the entry of CNG (compressed natural gas) trucks, and extending work from home opportunity for government employees beyond Friday.

Delhi’s residents faced a sharp drop in the Air Quality Index (AQI) in late October when crop burning began in earnest after a wet spell ended, and the AQI across the city has remained severe for a large chunk of November already.

Farmers in states around Delhi are forced to burn swathes of agricultural lands to get rid of the residual harvest of rice straws, which emanates plumes of white smoke. This is carried by the northwesterly winds travelling from the northern part of India and depositing them over Delhi’s atmosphere, after which it takes weeks to dispel them due to weather conditions.

The federal and state governments have, so far, drastically failed to provide safer, less polluting alternatives to economically disadvantaged farmers, whose livelihoods would suffer if they stop burning waste.

The fires account for at least 10 per cent of the capital’s pollution problem as revealed by the federal government at a hearing of the problem in the country’s Supreme Court.

Another cause that aggravates Delhi’s pollution problem has been the indiscriminate burning of fireworks on the Hindu festival of Diwali, which fell on 4 November this year. Just a day after the festival, Delhi’s AQI level shot up to the maximum reading of 999 in many parts of the capital, where streets were engulfed in a blanket of smog.

But authorities imposed a lockdown only after India’s top court called the alarming AQI levels and smog an “emergency” and delivered a sharp rebuke to authorities for exposing children to poor-quality air outdoors at 7am.

Delhi’s internal vehicular emissions, dust pollution, construction projects and industrial pollution are other factors that keep the city polluted for most of the year.

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