The Centre’s top most bureaucrat will monitor the situation in New Delhi and its neighbouring states every day after air pollution in the national capital and surrounding towns reached the worst levels so far this year on Sunday.
Principal secretary to the Prime Minister, PK Mishra, held a meeting with senior officials from Delhi, Punjab and Haryana to review the situation after the air quality in the National Capital Region and other parts of north India turned severe on Sunday prompting several cities to close schools and issue health advisories.
“The meeting reviewed the situation arising out of stubble burning, construction activities, burning of wastes and industrial and vehicular pollution,” a government statement said after the meeting.
“It has been decided that the Cabinet Secretary Shri Rajiv Guaba will monitor the situation with these States on a daily basis. State Chief Secretaries have been asked to monitor the situation in the districts on 24×7 basis,” the statement said.
The Centre has also asked Delhi’s neighbouring states to reduce fire incidents and dust levels due to adverse meteorological conditions in the last three days. The chief secretaries of these states have been asked to monitor the situation in various districts of their respective states round-the-clock.
The government has held a series of meetings to tackle the pollution problem since the high-level review meeting by the cabinet secretary on October 4.
Pollution levels in Delhi and satellite towns shot up again on Sunday morning, with the air quality bordering the ‘severe plus’ category at several places.
The air quality index (AQI), measuring levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter in the air, hit 473 at 9am, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. The air quality at most monitoring stations was in the ‘severe’ category.
The smog was so bad that 37 flights were diverted from Delhi airport on Sunday morning due to poor visibility caused by thick smog that enveloped the national capital.
Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted asking the central government to take immediate steps to provide relief.
“Pollution has reached unbearable levels across North India. Delhi government has taken many steps. Delhiites have made many sacrifices. Delhi is suffering for no fault of theirs,” he tweeted.
The Directorate General of Health Service (DGHS) on Sunday released health advisory to the public for protection from air pollution, which reached a severe level in Delhi and may result in “morbidity” among the exposed people.
“The air pollution harms and may cause respiratory illness in healthy people on prolonged exposure and even pronounced respiratory or other serious illnesses in the ‘vulnerable population’ even on short exposure,” a statement issued by the DGHS.
The vulnerable include the elderly, children below five years, pregnant women and those with poor nutritional status.
The directorate said those with jobs that exposed them to bad air for long them such as traffic policemen, traffic volunteer, rickshaw pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, roadside vendors should take extra precautions.
It also advised people to avoid outdoor physical activities, especially during morning and late evening hours.
From Monday, the Delhi government will also restrict the use of private vehicles on the Capital’s roads under an “Odd-Even” scheme based on license plates.
The Supreme Court is likely to hear a petition on Monday by Environment Pollution Control Authority or EPCA looking for ways to make state governments take tougher action against farmers to curb the stubble-burning.
Kejriwal and the chief ministers from the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana have already urged the Centre to do more to combat the pollution.
The pollution levels had gone below the “emergency” levels on Saturday after rain in some parts of Delhi and an increase in wind speed.
The Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority had declared a health emergency in the city on Friday.
It has directed measures, including shutting down of schools and a complete ban on construction activities in Delhi and neighbouring towns until November 5.