India’s capital shutters classes for three days, temporarily bans construction and diesel generators in effort to fight the problem
NEW DELHI—India’s capital ordered the city’s schools closed for three days starting Monday, as authorities moved to combat the effects of thick smog that has choked residents and prompted public outcry.
Some public elementary schools in New Delhi had been shut Saturday as well, but Sunday’s decision marked the first time the local government closed all schools citywide to avoid exposing children to toxic air, a spokesman for the Delhi government said. According to measurements by the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, the concentrations of the tiny pollutant particles that penetrate deep into lungs have been at hazardous levels for much of the past week.
Car exhaust, soot from burning garbage, and dust from unregulated building activity cause the megacity’s air to be ranked among the world’s most dangerous.
The pollution typically worsens as winter approaches, when farmers in neighboring states clear their fields by burning plant debris left over from the harvest. Many of the city’s laborers and poor residents keep warm by burning leaves and trash. The Diwali festival, which is traditionally celebrated by setting off firecrackers, also contributes to the soupy, foul-smelling haze.
But with conditions this season appearing worse than others in recent memory, many residents have criticized authorities’ lack of readiness for what has become a yearly scourge.
“It’s very clear that they were not prepared,” said Chandra Bhushan,deputy director general at the Centre for Science and Environment, a think tank in New Delhi. “They have wasted the last year. Things could have been put in place.”
The capital’s government announced many other emergency measures Sunday afternoon, including temporary bans on construction activity and on the use of diesel power generators.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged residents to stay indoors. He also said the local administration would ask the federal government to help study the possibility of fighting pollution by artificially generating rainfall.
Imran Hussain, Delhi’s environment minister, emphasized the importance of coordinating with neighboring states to enforce bans on burning crop stubble. “Air pollution has become a huge problem for Delhi now, but we can’t tackle it alone,” he said.
Just a few days ago, officials from the governments of Delhi and its neighbors met and agreed to step up implementation of antipollution regulations, such as the prohibitions on burning agricultural debris, controls on vehicle emissions and rules that govern dust at construction and demolition sites.
But many such laws are simply ignored, and previous efforts to improve compliance haven’t stopped Delhi’s air quality from deteriorating to alarming levels.