Delhi’s Environment Minister Gopal Rai has started holding a meeting to review the implementation of measures under Phase IV of the Graduated Response Action Plan (Grap) to control rising air pollution in the city that remained in the severe plus category on Friday morning.
The meeting began at noon a day after the central pollution control authority on Thursday called for sweeping restrictions such as banning the entry of diesel trucks and the use of older private diesel vehicles. The government authority is considering closing schools and moving offices to remote working as the capital’s air quality plunged to its worst level this year.
Implementation of the ordinance now rests with the Delhi government. An official, who asked not to be named, said officials from the environment department and those from other departments and agencies required to implement the ordinance were attending Rai’s meeting.
The meeting came after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the closure of primary schools until further notice, even as the government also considered odd-even rationing of vehicles.
The hourly air quality index (AQI) of 453 was recorded at 7 a.m. Friday morning. The average 24-hour AQI was 450 as of 4 p.m. Thursday. As of 9 p.m., it rose to 454. The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) said the situation would worsen in the coming days as farm fires, one of the main factors at the origin of the peak, continued in Punjab.
The CAQM cited the forecast on Thursday and said the AQI in Delhi is likely to be in the severe+/severe category over the next few days due to calm winds and stable weather conditions. “Therefore, in an effort to prevent further deterioration of air quality, the GRAP Sub-Committee has decided that all actions contemplated under GRAP Phase IV be implemented in earnest by all agencies. concerned.”
Grap stage IV to control pollution includes a ban on all diesel trucks and private diesel cars unless they comply with the new Bharat Stage VI (BS-VI) emissions standards. All linear construction projects such as highways, roads, and flyovers will also have to stop.
There was a likelihood of improved air quality from Saturday due to favorable wind speed and direction, which is currently predominantly northwesterly. A subcommittee will review the air quality again on Sunday and make the appropriate decisions on what Grap action to take next.
An upsurge in farm fires triggered deteriorating air quality on Thursday. On Wednesday, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh recorded a combined fire count of 3,825 fires. The tally rose to 2,834 fires on Thursday. Punjab alone had 94%. The Aam Aadmi party is in power in Delhi and Punjab.
The contribution of stubble burning to Delhi’s PM 2.5 (ultrafine particulate matter) concentration reached 34% on Thursday, down from 12% on Wednesday. This is the highest daily contribution this year.
The CAQM has asked state governments to consider additional emergency measures such as the closure of schools, colleges and educational institutions, as well as non-emergency business activities and the use of vehicles on a odd basis.
Schools in Delhi have reduced outdoor physical activity and enforced the use of N95 masks among students. Some schools have moved to online classes. In Noida and Greater Noida, the administration has only ordered online courses up to grade 8 until November 8.
Experts have said extreme and emergency measures are disruptive but unavoidable.