Toxic smog forces flight cancellations, diversions and delays as worst air pollution this year hits Delhi

‘Pollution has reached unbearable levels,’ says city’s chief minister

Peter Stubley
Sunday 03 November 2019 19:40
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A resident of New Delhi walks with a face mask as smog envelops the city
A resident of New Delhi walks with a face mask as smog envelops the city

Toxic smog forced dozens of flights to Delhi to be cancelled, diverted or delayed as the Indian city recorded its worst levels of air pollution so far this year.

Authorities have already declared a public health emergency and ordered the closure of schools.

But the air quality deteriorated even further on Sunday, forcing the flight cancellations because of poor visibility.

Sensors across the central region recorded an air quality index of well over 900, far higher than the "severe-plus emergency" level of 500.

Roads were almost deserted as large numbers of people stayed home rather than expose themselves to the noxious atmosphere and doctors reported a spike in patients with respiratory problems.

Two airlines, Vistara and Spicejet, warned passengers that several flights had been diverted to Mumbai or Amritsar due to “poor visibility” at Indira Gandhi international airport.

The smog is not expected to clear until later in the week, according to the government environment monitoring agency SAFAR, which has blamed the high pollution in Delhi on agricultural crop burning in neighbouring states.

The country's Supreme Court is likely to hear a petition from the environment agency calling on state governments to take tougher action against farmers who contribute to pollution later this week.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, urged the central government to do more to help the city, adding that the capital’s residents were “suffering for no fault of theirs”.

“Pollution has reached unbearable levels across northern India,” he tweeted.

Mr Kejriwal has already announced plans to halve the number of private vehicles on the roads by imposing “odd-even” traffic days from 4 November.

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He has also launched a campaign handing out five million free anti-pollution face masks, describing Delhi as a “gas chamber”.

The failure to control pollution in the region has left many residents wanting to leave the area, according to a survey of 17,000 people carried out by a private consultancy, Local Circles.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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