Schools, plants are closing as Indian capital is suffocated by fog

Authorities in New Delhi have endlessly closed schools and shut down a number of coal-based power plants to combat worsening air pollution.

The measures come as India’s highest court discusses whether New Delhi should go into blockade as a cover of thick, gray fog continued to envelop the city, especially in the morning. The panel released the guidelines Tuesday night to curb the pollution and show residents that the government is acting to control an environmental crisis that has plagued the capital for years.

In addition to the closure of schools, the Commission for Air Quality Management has ordered a halt to construction activities until November 21 and banned trucks carrying non-essential goods. The panel also directed states to “encourage” work at home for half of the employees in all private offices.

Despite some improvement in New Delhi’s airspace over the past two days, reading of hazardous particles on Wednesday was still up to seven times the safe level, climbing over 300 micrograms per cubic meter in some parts of the city.

The World Health Organization indicates the safe level for tiny poison particles at 25.

Forecasters have warned that air quality will deteriorate before the arrival of cold winds next week that will blow away the fog.

Earlier this month, air quality levels fell to the “severe” category in the capital and residents faced attacks of severe, multi-day pollution. It issued a stern warning last week from India’s Supreme Court, which ordered state and federal governments to take “immediate and urgent” measures to deal with what it called a crisis.

Among the many Indian cities panting for breath, New Delhi tops the list every year. The crisis deepens especially in winter when the burning of crops in neighboring states coincides with colder temperatures, which catch deadly smoke. That smoke is traveling to New Delhi, leading to an increase in pollution in the city of more than 20 million people.

Emissions from industries without pollution control technology, pollutants from festival-related firecrackers, and construction dust are also sharply increasing in winter months.

Several studies have estimated that more than a million Indians die each year from air pollution-related diseases.

The capital has often experimented with limiting the number of cars on the road to lower vehicle emissions, using large anti-fog guns and stopping construction activity. But the steps had little effect.

Experts say that such emergency measures are not useful in the long run.

“These are done just to make sure you don’t make the situation worse that you shaved off the top. But it’s not a silver bullet that’s going to clean the air,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Center. for Science and Environment, research and advocacy organization in New Delhi.

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