by Joe Wallen, The Telegraph, November 4, 2019
An emergency measure banning half of Delhi’s private vehicles from the road was introduced on Monday to combat the city's air pollution, which has risen to more than 20 times the safe limit.
As smog levels grew - making it three times worse than in Beijing - authorities also parked a van with an air purifier near the Taj Mahal 250 kilometres (150 miles) away in a bid to clean the surrounding air.
The level of particulates measuring less than 2.5 microns was over 700 micrograms per cubic metre of air on Monday morning, according to the Air Quality Index (AQI).
The World Health Organisation's safe daily maximum is just 25.
Health officials have instructed Delhi’s 29-million population to stay inside as a reading of over 500 can cause serious aggravation of heart and lung diseases.
The BLK Hospital reported a 300 per cent increase in admissions from respiratory problems since Saturday, with children suffering particularly badly with the toxic air.
Schools are expected to stay shut in Delhi until next week.
“Air pollution of such magnitude has left children gasping for breath,” said Jarnail Singh, director of The Climate Group, a climate change NGO.
“It causes headaches in children which were previously unheard of, burning eyes and regular breathing discomfort.” Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi's chief minister, described the city as a ‘gas chamber’ on Friday.
He tweeted: "Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighbouring states" and urged citizens to use face masks.
On Monday he introduced the policy to ban even and odd-numbered privately-registered vehicles from the roads on alternate days until November 15.
It will keep an estimated 1.2 million vehicles off the road. Delhi has failed to control worsening levels of air pollution in recent years and was named by AQI as the most polluted capital city in the world in 2018.
AQI has estimated Delhites will have a shortened life expectancy of over a decade due to the toxic air they breathe.
The seasonal burning of crop stubble by farmers in the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and the Punjab is a major contributor to the high pollution at this time of year.
Farmers believe burning stubble increases the fertility of their land, but it releases a toxic cocktail of particulates such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide into the air.
Vehicle and industrial emissions, as well as the large number of Diwali fireworks set off last week, also cause air quality to deteriorate. The end of the Monsoon rains in October means the polluted air doesn’t clear.
The Indian Supreme Court on Monday ordered Mr Kejriwal to show how the car rationing system works, describing it as a ‘gimmick’ as it doesn’t apply to motorbikes or taxis.
It also demanded state governments in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and the Punjab eradicate stubble burning. Activists urged politicians to prioritise the threat posed by air pollution.
“The Delhi government, neighbouring states and national government can’t run away from their duties and must stop passing the dice,” said Chittranjan Dubey, Head of Extinction Rebellion in South Asia.
Over 30 flights have so far been diverted from Indira Gandhi International Airport as the thick smog means planes cannot land safely.