Air quality in the national capital remained "severe" for the third day today, prompting authorities to alert people to avoid staying outdoors and Delhi's Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal to order halt in all civil construction activities across the city till Sunday.
A thick blanket of haze has been enveloping Delhi and parts of the National Capital Region (NCR) for the last few days. Referring to India Meteorological Department data, the environment ministry also said that the dusty condition will remain for the next two days.
The 24-hour average concentration (rolling) of PM10 was 1,400 microgrammes per cubic metre (ug/m3), more than three times above the severe level, said Gufran Beig, a scientist at the Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research institute (SAFAR). The severe level begins at 430 ug/m3.
"The pollution caused due to dust storm was expected to settle but the wind speed reduced yesterday, causing the dust that entered Delhi to get trapped in the atmosphere leading to prolonging of pollution," Beig said.
According to the CPCB, the air quality index (AQI) - a measurement of the concentration of toxic particulate matter in the air - at several places in Delhi remained over 500.
The PM10 level (presence of particles with diameter less than 10mm) was at 756 in Delhi-NCR and 785 in Delhi, leading to hazy conditions.
The PM2.5 level (presence of particles with diameter less than 2.5 mm) worsened and became severe from very poor level in the past 24 hours in Delhi-NCR at 268 and Delhi at 277.
"Today even the PM2.5 level has gone to severe from very poor. It happened because of the reduced wind speed has led to accumulation of smaller particles and increasing the PM2.5 level," Beig said. An AQI between 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 satisfactory, 101-200 moderate, 201-300 poor, 301-400 very poor, and 401-500 severe.
Meanwhile the environment ministry said that the Task Force under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) met in Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and recommended that construction activity-related enforcement measures under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) be brought into operation immediately.
The ministry said that air quality of Delhi and NCR, which worsened on June 12-13 due to the incoming dust from Rajasthan, has shown a slight improvement today, with PM10 declining to 759 g/m3 at 4 pm from a peak of 823 g/m3 at 5 pm yesterday.
"In view of the seriousness of the situation, Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan has directed concerned agencies to be on maximum alert and to ensure all necessary measures to contain sources of dust and to check garbage burning. He also appealed to the people to avoid unnecessary exposure, given the prevailing situation," an official statement said.
Baijal ordered stoppage of all civil construction activities across Delhi till Sunday as part of emergency measures that also include intensifying mechanical road sweeping.
According to the L-G office, civic bodies, PWD and Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) have been directed to impose penalties on all road construction agencies for violating laid down norms for dust control measures.
He said emergency measures like stoppage of all civil construction activities till 17th June have been taken and further monitoring would be done by agencies like NHAI, DMRC, MCDs, PWD and NBCC to ensure compliance.
In a statement, the L-G office stated that the municipal corporations, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and SDMs will strictly enforce prohibition on open burning of garbage, plastics and leaves in the national capital.
"Municipal Corporations and PWD will intensify mechanical road sweepings, sprinkling of non-potable water at central verges and roadsides and stop brooming activity on main roads," it stated. The meeting was attended by minister Imran Hussain, Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash, EPCA Chairman Bhure Lal, senior government officers and the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) director general and EPCA member Sunita Narain.
The L-G said that a massive afforestation drive would be conducted across Delhi from July 15 to September 15. Narain said that 'severe plus' category has been imposed for dust pollution under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) with immediate effect till Sunday.
"That means shutting down of all civil construction activities till June 17. "We have been told by the MeT Department that rain is likely to take place on Saturday, which will mitigate this bad weather situation, we have enforced it till Sunday," she told PTI.
The EPCA's action plan, termed GRAP, has formulated five categories. These are severe plus or emergency, severe, very poor, moderate to poor and moderate.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)