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The Delhi government on Saturday put on hold the odd-even traffic rationing system from Monday saying it would approach the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and request that women drivers and two-wheelers be exempted, hours after the green court okayed the scheme but with only emergency vehicles exempted, in a major move to curb rising pollution.
According to Safar (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research), Delhi's air quality stood at "severe" on Monday, with PM10 readings at 645 microgrammes per cubic metre and PM2.5 at 416 microgrammes per cubic metre. Tuesday's forecast for the city also remains severe, although with a dip in PM10 and PM2.5 particle readings. Three days from now, Safar forecasts the air quality in the capital to be "very poor". (click here to check air quality in your city)
Delhi meanwhile continued to wrestle with toxic air on Saturday as the level of pollutants were in the severe category for the fifth successive day. The US-based passenger carrier United Airlines temporarily suspended its Newark-IGI airport flights due to concerns over poor air quality in New Delhi.
Earlier in the day, the NGT gave the go-ahead to the odd-even scheme from November 13-17 and said there will be no exemptions for women, two-wheelers, and government vehicles.
After the NGT order, the Delhi government said it will approach the top green court again on Monday and request that exemptions be given for women drivers and two-wheelers, and subject to its decision, the government will "consider implementing it again".
Delhi government had decided to implement the odd-even scheme for five days from November 13 to 17.
The NGT, in its order, also said that in future the odd-even scheme should automatically come into force if the PM2.5 and PM10, particles in the air with a diameter less than 2.5 and 10mm respectively, go above the 300 and 500 units for 48 hours.
The tribunal directed that odd-even should be implemented "right away" without waiting for 48 hours, in case PM2.5 and PM10 go beyond 400 and 700 units respectively.
The NGT also asked the city government to reconsider the four-times hike in the parking fee.
"The odd-even will go on. No exemption of any kind to anyone, including two-wheelers, women, public officers or politicians, except essential services," NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said on Saturday.
He said only CNG vehicles, emergency services such as ambulance and fire, and vehicles carrying waste shall be exempted.
The Tribunal disapproved all the exemptions that were given by the city government during the previous two phases of odd-even in January and April 2016. The exemptions were given to women, two-wheelers, vehicles carrying children in school uniforms and VVIPs.
The odd-even traffic plan is among the remedies that have to come into force in accordance with the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to deal with air pollution.
After NGT's order, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal held a meeting and decided not to go ahead with the third phase without exemptions, pointing to concerns over "women security" and "insufficient public transport".
"At the moment we are calling it off. We will again approach the NGT and will ask them to allow exemptions to women and two-wheelers," Delhi Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot said here.
"This government gives highest priority to the safety and security of women."
"Further, this government feels that considering the large number of two-wheelers in Delhi, unless adequate number of buses are available, implementation of odd-even will cause great hardship to such persons. This is not feasible to arrange such a large number of buses at this stage," a Delhi government statement said.
The NGT's order came a day after it questioned the efficacy of the odd-even scheme and sought details about the earlier implementation.
On Saturday, the air quality in Delhi-NCR region showed slight improvement towards the afternoon but the pollution levels shot up again later.
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recorded that Delhi's average AQI at 7 p.m. was 445 (on a scale of 0 to 500) while the PM2.5 hovered around 442 units, considered "severe".
Ghaziabad was the most polluted region in NCR region AQI of 497 at 7 p.m. while PM2.5 reached a dangerous 945 units -- 37 times the safe limit.
The average AQI in Delhi-NCR combined was 442 with PM2.5 recorded at 440 units.
"There has been some improvement. We are hoping it would get better tomorrow (Sunday)," Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) chairperson Bhure Lal told IANS.
According to System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), Delhi's air is set to improve from 'severe' to 'very poor' on Sunday.
India Meteorological Department (IMD) has also predicted rains in Delhi on November 13 and 14. This, say experts, will help in markedly improving the air quality of Delhi-NCR.
Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan asked residents of the national capital not to panic and said air quality has been improving over the last two days.
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