The odd-even traffic rationing plan returned to the national capital and will be in place for five days from November 13 as people continued to inhale toxic air for the third day on Thursday, with the situation expected to be even worse on Friday.
The traffic plan was announced on a day the Delhi High Court said there was an “emergency situation” vis-a-vis pollution in Delhi-NCR and asked the Delhi government to consider implementing cloud seeding to induce artificial rain apart from vehicle rationing on roads.
The Environment Ministry formed a seven-member committee headed by the Environment Secretary to find long and short-term solutions to the worsening problem. AIIMS on Thursday reported a 15-20 per cent rise in cases of respiratory problems being received, which was also the case with Safdarjung Hospital across the road.
The NGT (National Green Tribunal) asked the pollution control boards of NCR to ban all industrial and construction activities in the region till November 14 and directed the Delhi government to sprinkle water on the hot spots using helicopters. It also banned entry of trucks carrying construction material into the NCR.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who inaugurated 20 Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations here, blamed stubble burning for the “severe” air quality and said the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab should come together with Delhi to find a solution.
The ’emergency’ under Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) came into force in Delhi-NCR on Thursday with weather officials saying that change in wind direction is set to further worsen the air quality of Delhi on Friday.
The announcement of the third phase of odd-even rationing traffic plan from November 13 to 17 was made by Delhi’s Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot at a press conference here.
He said the modalities of the scheme, under which private four-wheeled vehicles with odd registration numbers were allowed to run on odd dates and those with even numbers on even dates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., would be the same as the previous phases.
The first phase of the odd-even rule was implemented by the Delhi government from January 1 to 15 and the second phase was from April 15-April 30 last year.
But members of the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) said that November 13 “is too late” as the “emergency or severe-plus” category under GRAP calls for immediate implementation of the odd-even traffic rationing move.
The “emergency or severe-plus” situation arises after the major pollutants — PM2.5 and PM10, or particles in air with diameter less than 2.5 and 10mm, remain above 300 and 500 units respectively for at least 48 hours.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on Thursday informed that both PM2.5 and 10 had been beyond the “required limit” since past 52 hours.
On Thursday (since Wednesday evening), all ten monitoring stations of centre’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (Safar) recorded “beyond severe” or 500 plus units of PM10 and PM2.5.
According to Safar, the average PM2.5 was 546 units and PM10 was 895. According to CPCB, at 5 p.m., average PM2.5 in Delhi NCR was 478 units, across 20 active stations (including Alwar in Rajasthan), with an average Air Quality Index (AQI) placed 478 (on a scale of 0 to 500).
The safe limit for PM2.5 and PM10 as per international standards is 25 and 60 microgrammes per cubic meters, while as per national standards it is 40 and 100 units respectively.
India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted that some relief will be visible from Sunday due to rise in wind speed and rains likely on November 14 in the neighbouring states would bring major relief by dispersing the pollutants.
Kejriwal said the one month period from the mid-October to mid-November, when farmers burn the stubble, “the whole of north India and not just Delhi turns into a gas chamber”.
He said that in September this year, the PM10 was recorded at 300 units and PM2.5 was 160 and the rise had not happened due to the local problems.
“All of us (North Indian states) will have to keep politics aside and work together to tackle this huge problem of pollution,” he said.
He said that farmers should be provided with an economically viable alternative to stubble burning.
The Delhi High Court on Thursday issued a slew of directions to control pollution in Delhi-NCR and banned felling of trees, ordered sprinkling of water on roads to control dust and strict enforcement of construction code.
The court questioned the move to increase parking rates by four times.
In the wake of incessant air pollution and smog, some schools in Delhi shifted their winter opening and closing timings by an hour.
Environment Minister Harshvardhan said in a tweet that crop burning increased this year “due to lack of advanced planning.” He also said that air quality will improve in the next few days.