Authorities in New Delhi have indefinitely closed schools and shut down some coal-fired power plants to tackle rising pollution, while the apex court is considering the lockdown.
NEW DELHI — Authorities have indefinitely closed schools and shut down some coal-burning power plants to reduce air pollution in India’s smog-capped capital and neighboring states, as the country witnessed an unprecedented and more severe crisis. A far-reaching step: Lockdown in New Delhi.
The dirty-air crisis in the city of more than 20 million people has underscored India’s heavy reliance on coal, which accounts for 70% of the country’s power.
NEW DELHI: The state government said it is open to the idea of a weekend lockdown to ease automobile traffic and potentially other air-polluting activities in the city, and it awaits a move from India’s Supreme Court . The decision may come by November 24.
It is not clear how widespread the lockdown will be. Authorities are discussing whether to allow industries to continue operating.
Some experts said the lockdown would achieve little in controlling pollution and would instead cause disruption to the economy and damage the livelihoods of millions.
“This is not the solution we are looking for, as it is extremely disruptive. And we also have to keep in mind that the economy is already under pressure, the poor people are at risk,” said the Center, a research and advocacy organization in New Delhi. Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director for Science and Environment, said.
In addition to closing schools and shutting down some power plants, the Air Quality Management Commission ordered a halt to construction by November 21 and banned trucks carrying non-essential goods. The panel also directed the affected states to encourage work from home for half the staff in all private offices.
The importance of coal for India was highlighted a few days ago at the world climate talks in Scotland, where nearly 200 countries accepted a pact to fight global warming. This included a last minute change demanded by India which reduced the critical language about coal.
Instead of “phasing out” coal electricity, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, the revised agreement will “phase out”.
Hazardous particulate matter levels in New Delhi’s air were seven times the safe level on Wednesday, rising above 300 micrograms per cubic meter in some parts of the city. The World Health Organization designates the safe level as 25.
Forecasters warned that the air quality would worsen next week before the arrival of cold winds that would lift the haze.
Earlier this month, air pollution reached “severe” levels in the capital, and residents faced heavy, multi-day pollution. It prompted the Supreme Court last week to order the state and federal governments to take “imminent and emergency” action. Officials in New Delhi responded by proposing a one-week lockdown and the closure of schools.
Among many Indian cities gasping for breath, New Delhi tops the list every year.
According to the federal government, auto emissions contribute about 25% of the city’s pollution in winter. The crisis deepens during the cold season months when burning of crop residues in neighboring states leads to low temperatures that trap fumes. That smoke goes till New Delhi.
Emissions from industries without pollution-control technology, smoke from firecrackers associated with festivals, and construction dust also increase sharply in the winter months.
Several studies have estimated that more than one million Indians die every year due to air pollution-related diseases.
The capital has often experimented with limiting the number of cars on the roads, using large anti-smog guns, and halting construction. But the steps have had little effect.
Residents say the government is not doing enough.
Suresh Chand Jain, a shop owner in New Delhi, said the authorities should make stricter rules to limit the use of the car and control the burning of crop residues.
“Shutting down the city will not end pollution,” Jain said.
Experts say such emergency measures are not helpful in the long run.
“It is only done to make sure you don’t make the situation worse, that you shave off the peak. But it’s not a silver bullet that’s going to clear the air immediately,” Roychowdhury said.