Delhi reintroduces odd-even traffic rule as severe pollution persists

Most school classes have been suspended for the week as poor air quality forces residents of the Indian capital to stay indoors

A woman wears a face mask during her commute amid heavy smog and pollution in New Delhi, India on November 4, 2023. Prakash Singh / Bloomberg
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The New Delhi government has reintroduced an odd-even traffic rule and suspended most school classes for the week as severe air pollution in the Indian capital continues despite measures introduced last week.

New Delhi and financial capital Mumbai, the country's most populous cities, have been experiencing high levels of air pollution since last month, setting off alarm over public health.

Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said the rule – which allows vehicles with odd and even numbers to be used only on alternate days – would initially be in force from November 13 to November 20 but might be extended.

The Delhi government also decided to form 200 teams to ensure people comply with a fireworks ban during the Hindu festival of Diwali later this week, Mr Rai said after an emergency meeting convened by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

School classes for only pupils in grades 10 and 12 will be held this week, he said on Monday.

Delhi's air pollution remains high despite a ban on construction and heavy vehicles in the city.

The Air Quality Index reading at the Anand Vihar monitoring station stood at 999 on Monday morning, according to the Central Pollution Control Board.

An AQI between zero and 50 is considered good while 51-100 is satisfactory and 101-200 moderate, according to India's air quality standards.

However, a reading of 201-300 is considered poor, 301-400 very poor and 401-500 severe.

The city's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government last week instructed half of its employees to work from home and extended the closure of primary schools to November 10 as residents complained of respiratory problems.

Mr Rai said authorities were using dust control machines, water sprinklers and anti-smog guns across the city.

People living in the capital's satellite cities of Noida and Greater Noida, in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state, said the pollution was forcing them to stay indoors.

“My energy level has gone down in the last few days and my eyes are stinging all the time. I have good immunity, with hardly any complaints of cough and cold, but I have been persistently coughing now,” Greater Noida resident Teesha Rathi told The National.

“I am staying home with all doors and windows closed and planning to buy an air purifier.”

Sanchi Yadav, a mother of two toddlers, said her mother and children were facing health challenges due to the air pollution.

“The pollution has had a huge impact on my mother’s health. She is diabetic and is undergoing treatment for her eyes these days, but because of pollution her eyes are burning,” she said.

“My children are having colds and coughs and despite long medication, are not recovering. We are at home but it’s very suffocated because we are not getting fresh air. We hope that the government will take protective measures to curb this, which has become routine every year.”

The Delhi government has blamed the pollution crisis on farm fires in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab, where farmers burn the stubble of the previous crop to prepare their fields for planting.

“The stubble burning in Punjab is about 500km away from here and the stubble burning in Haryana is 100km away. An analysis should be done on anti-pollution measures taken by the Khattar government in Haryana since 2014,” said AAP spokeswoman Priyanka Kakkar.

Delhi suffers from air pollution throughout the year but the problem becomes worse with the onset of winter in November, when pollutants and smoke carried by the wind from Haryana and Punjab mix with the city's air to form a noxious blanket of smog.

The pollution has been equally alarming in Mumbai where about half of the 23 monitoring stations in the city recorded AQI readings of between 200 and 300 on Monday morning.

The most severe reading recorded was 278 in the city's Deonar area, according to the Central Pollution Control Board.

The Mumbai High Court is on Monday set to hear a plea seeking direction from the Mumbai civic body and the state government on how to curb pollution.

A central government team is scheduled to visit the city to assess air quality and the steps taken by the state government to improve it.

Updated: November 06, 2023, 1:16 PM