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The worsening air quality in the National Capital Region (NCR) has spawned panic-stricken reactions, with the Delhi government reaching out to neighbouring states and considering restrictions on plying of vehicles in the city and shutting down schools. Delhi’s air quality index has breached the ‘severe’ category with particulate matter (PM 2.5) crossing 450 microgram per cubic metre level. After the Delhi government decided to shut down schools, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote to his counterparts in Punjab and Haryana seeking their cooperation in tackling air pollution. “One of the main reasons for this poor quality of air in Delhi during this part of the year is the burning of (crop) stubble in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers are helpless in the absence of economically viable alternatives; they are forced to burn stubble. The government has failed to provide them economically viable solutions,” Kejriwal said in letters to Manohar Lal Khattar and Amarinder Singh, chief ministers, respectively, of Haryana and Punjab. The Delhi government has ordered all schools to shut down till Sunday. According to the graded response action plan for Delhi and the National Capital Region, the air quality is now in the ‘severe’ category and if these conditions prevail it will reach the ‘emergency’ category. At that point, entry of trucks into Delhi could be halted, construction activity stopped, movement of passenger vehicles restricted and parking fees enhanced. The graded response action plan was prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board last year on directions of the Supreme Court.
This was the first year of its implementation and the Delhi government was following the guidelines, officials said. “The moment the odd-even (restrictions on movement of vehicles based on their number plates) scheme is needed, we will announce it. DTC has been intimated to increase the number of buses. We are in discussions with DMRC to improve last-mile connectivity to metro stations. This is done to curtail the use of private vehicles,” said Varsha Joshi, secretary, power and transport, in the Delhi government.The DMRC spokesperson said it would use every resource available to ease travel for passengers. DMRC has announced 186 extra rail trips on the six metro lines it operates in Delhi. It will run 3317 train trips from Thursday instead of 3131. These extra trips would be done by inducting trains from the operational maintenance reserve kept in the Metro train depots by optimising the required maintenance schedule, said DMRC. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said the current conditions were likely to prevail for another week or 10 days. “If air quality remains the same for another 48 hours, Delhi will be in the ‘emergency’ bracket of the graded response action plan. Apart from pre-emptory measures, a long-term solution needs to be in place to tackle stubble burning,” said Sudhakar A, member secretary, CPCB. Karthik Ganesan, research fellow at Centre for Energy, Environment and Water, said a working plan for the long term should be implemented. “Farmers need to be engaged for better crop practices and should be compensated for using technology over stub burning. Also, to curb the use of private vehicles, a concerted effort to sensitise people about public transport and the ill-effects of air pollution should be undertaken,” he said.