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India’s toxic smog season shuts down schools, revives vehicle limits

Thick smog engulfed India’s capital New Delhi ( Geeta Colony Flyover) on Saturday as air pollution worsened with the setting of winter, shooting up concentrations of fine particles in the air three times above the acceptable limits on November 4, 2023 in New Delhi, India.

Sonu Mehta | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

A dense cloud of smog has enveloped the Indian city of Delhi and surrounding areas, sending the air quality index to hazardous highs, making it difficult for residents to breathe and disrupting public life.

So far, government officials have shut down schools, restricted the usage of polluting vehicles and paused construction activity.

“The situation arising out of air pollution in the City is extremely worrying,” Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena said in a Friday post on X, formerly Twitter.

Good or satisfactory air quality corresponds to an index somewhere between zero and 100. The air quality index in Delhi on Monday was roughly 450, according to India’s Central Pollution Control Board.

Saxena posted on Friday that the index had reached 800 in some places. He urged people to remain indoors and cancel large gatherings. Prolonged exposure to an air quality index above 300 can lead to respiratory illness and long-term health problems.

The toxic smog blanket is an annual phenomenon in Delhi.

It gets worse at the start of winter when colder, slower-moving air traps polluting particles. It is also exacerbated by purposeful fires in neighboring agricultural areas, which farmers light to more efficiently clear crop fields before next year’s harvest. According to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, these crop-burning fires cause pollution to peak in Delhi from Nov. 1 to Nov. 15. Further, the use of firecrackers on Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of lights that will take place on Nov. 12 this year, will add to the pollution haze

Delhi’s Environmental Minister Gopal Rai announced on Monday that starting Nov. 13, the city will implement the so-called ‘odd-even rule’ for one week. The mandate will allow vehicles with odd license plate numbers to drive on odd-numbered dates, and even plate numbers on even-numbered dates.

The Aam Aadmi Party, which currently governs Delhi, introduced the odd-even vehicle-rationing plan in 2016 to decongest roads and limit pollution. It has been temporarily implemented several times since then.

Thick layer of smog on Kartavya Path as Delhi’s air quality remains very poor on November 5, 2023 in New Delhi, India.

Arvind Yadav | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

In a social media post, Delhi’s Education Minister Atishi Marlena on Sunday ordered primary schools to close until Nov. 10 due to the hazardous air pollution. She added that grades six to twelve can shift to online classes.

On Monday, the city’s Directorate of Education doubled down on that mandate, noting that all classes are required to go online, except for grades 10 and 12, which schools have the option to move online.

The Commission for Air Quality Management has also advised that Delhi and surrounding cities in the National Capital Region ban construction activity and allow some public employees to work remotely.

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