Delhi and its suburbs turned into a virtual gas chamber on Wednesday with dense haze and toxic air enveloping the region, forcing authorities in the capital to shut schools and colleges till Monday, ban entry of trucks, halt all civil construction work and increase vehicle parking fee by four times.
Doctors simultaneously issued health advisories, asking people to avoid outdoor activities and take steps to prevent allergies and infections that can be deadly for the elderly, children and pregnant women. The AIIMS head feared the diseases due to air pollution can cause 30,000 deaths in the region in the coming winter months.
The authorities also geared to impose an unprecedented "pollution emergency", as recommended under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), if the major pollutant PM2.5, or particles with diameter less than 2.5mm, stayed at 300 units or more for 48 hours.
In that scenario, more drastic steps could be taken including implementation of rationing of vehicles on the basis of their registrations numbers and making public transport free to discourage people from driving their own vehicles.
On Wednesday evening, the average PM2.5 level in Delhi, Gurugram (Haryana) and Noida (Uttar Pradesh) was beyond "severe" at more than 500 units as recorded by the government's 'System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR)'.
The safe limit for PM2.5 is 60 micrograms per cubic meter according to the national standards and 25 units as per the international standards.
According to SAFAR, the situation is likely to worsen on Thursday as both PM2.5 and PM10 (particles in the air measuring 10 mm) are expected to be at "severe-plus" levels.
The top polluting regions in Delhi-NCR where the PM2.5 had been beyond-severe since 11 p.m. on Tuesday till 8 p.m. on Wednesday include Lodhi Road, Mathura Road, Aya Nagar, Punjabi Bagh, Pusa, Delhi University (north campus) and Noida, which recorded at 500 or "severe-plus" level.
Amid the deteriorating situation, Delhi's Lt Governor Anil Baijal and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal approved some drastic measures to curb air pollution.
Baijal ordered a ban on civil construction, shutting down of schools and higher frequency of public transport. Barring those carrying essentials, trucks can't enter Delhi.
Sunita Narain, the CSE chief and a member of a Supreme Court-appointed environmental authority, said actions recommended and directed by the Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority and approved by the Lt Governor targeted at curbing pollution levels in the region -- home to some 50 million people.
"It is now up to the political leadership of Delhi and NCR to take their implementation forward," Narain said.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and EPCA have also recommended "free of cost public transport" in the region for the next few days.
AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria feared that the situation, if it continues, could cause 30,000 deaths in the National Capital Region (NCR) due to respiratory-related issues in the winter season.
"The current smog situation in the national capital is the same to last year's post Diwali situation," Guleira said, citing the Great Smog of London in 1952 which is estimated to have killed nearly 4,000 people within a week.
Calling the current dense smog a "silent killer", Gulleria said while there was a surge in sale of anti-pollution masks and air purifiers, they were not very useful.
"It's better to stay indoors and not go out.
There is an absolute need to avoid the hotspots of air pollution. However, we need a long term solution, all these are short term," Guleria told IANS.
He said there was a 20 per cent surge in respiratory disease patients at the AIIMS. The most affected were children and the aged.
Other doctors asked people to avoid jogging as high levels of air pollution can cause chronic lung and heart diseases.
The smog can cause allergies or aggravate already existing allergies and decrease lung immunity, according to Fortis Healthcare. The high levels of air pollution might also lead to premature birth, it warned.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)