Toxic Delhi takes extremse steps to curb pollution like alternate licence plates, closing schools and construction sites

The Indian capital is covered in a thick layer of smog. The level of pollution is like smoking 50 cigarettes a day. The Indian Medical Association wants the half marathon planned for 19 November cancelled. Local companies have handed out masks to employees, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have not.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The authorities in New Delhi scrambled to put in place emergency measures, like limiting car traffic through alternate licence plates, shutting down schools, closing construction sites, and giving commuters incentives to use public transit. This comes as the 16-million metropolis continues to be blanketed in smog.

"The situation is close to a severe crisis," said Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. For medical experts the pollution is so harmful in some parts of the city that it is similar to smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

Today's forecast shows PM10 at 820 microgrammes per cubic metre and PM2.5 at 517 microgrammes per cubic metre, this according to SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research).

PM10 and PM2.5 are ultrafine particulates that have the ability to enter the respiratory system and subsequently the bloodstream of humans and animals, causing harm. 

Over the years, pollution has increased in the Indian capital due to rapid vehicle growth, a preference for diesel cars, increased construction activity in and around the city, and the burning of leftover crop stems or stubble by farmers in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab.

This year, the lack of rainfall in the winter season has aggravated the concentration of harmful substances.

The situation is such that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) today banned construction and industrial activities in Delhi-National Capital Region until 14 November.

Delhi Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot announced the odd-even car rationing scheme for a five-day period from 13 November.

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said that “Due to the deteriorating air quality in Delhi, the health of children cannot be compromised.” thus, “We have ordered the closure of all schools in Delhi until Sunday."

The Indian Medical Association also issued a health emergency, calling for the cancellation of half marathon on 19 November.

Some local companies – like Paytm, Information technology company HCL and the MakeMyTrip travel agency – have handed out air masks to employees or offered flexible working hours to avoid peak pollution in the morning and evening.

Other companies, like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, have not deemed it necessary to protect workers, noting that their plants have air-purifying systems so that the air quality inside is better than outside.