The Supreme Court-mandated anti-pollution authority EPCA on Wednesday ordered schools in Delhi-NCR to be closed for the next two days as pollution in the city hovered close to 'emergency' levels. It also advised people to avoid outdoor exposure and work from home wherever feasible.
The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority also extended the ban on hot-mix plants and stone-crushers in Delhi-NCR till November 15.
The apex court had on November 4 banned construction and demolition activities in the region till further orders. All coal and other fuel-based industries, which have not shifted to natural gas or agro-residue, will remain shut in Faridabad, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Noida, Bahadurgarh, Bhiwadi, Greater Noida, Sonepat and Panipat till November 15, it said.
In Delhi, industries which have not yet shifted to piped natural gas, will not operate during the period.
Outdoor activities in Delhi schools remained suspended on Wednesday as unfavourable weather conditions pushed the pollution levels in the city towards the "emergency" zone for the third time in the last 15 days. Early this month, the Delhi government shut all schools for four days after a Supreme Court-mandated panel declared a public health emergency in the Delhi-NCR region in the wake of rising pollution level. The schools reopened on November 5 after the air quality had improved.
"What's the use of being a developing country if our children are not permitted to breathe in clean air...Must think seriously about solutions as soon as possible before any emergency occurs," a Twitter user posted on the microblogging site. Parents also took to social media requesting that schools be closed.
"We understand schools cannot be indefinitely closed but at least on severe air quality days they need to be closed. My son has been coughing ever since he got back from school," another twitter user shared. At 11.30 am, Delhi's overall air quality index read 454. Jahangirpuri and Rohini were the most-polluted areas with an AQI of 483 each, followed by Mundka (479) and Bawana (479). Faridabad (436), Ghaziabad (468), Greater Noida (459), Gurgaon (450) and Noida (469) also choked on extremely polluted air. An AQI between 201 and 300 is considered 'poor', 301-400 'very poor' and 401-500 'severe'. An AQI above 500 falls in the 'severe plus' category.
The levels of PM 2.5 -- tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter that can enter deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream -- breached the emergency threshold of 300 micrograms per cubic meter in Delhi-NCR on Tuesday night and shot up to 354 micrograms per cubic meter, around six times the safe limit of 0-60, on Wednesday morning.
The PM10 levels increased to 506 micrograms per cubic meter in the morning, more than five times the safe limit of 100 micrograms per cubic meter. According to weather experts, a fall in the temperature and wind speed led to the accumulation of pollutants. The problem was compounded by a cloud cover that blocked sunlight.
(With PTI inputs)