About 1,000 children ran a race in thick smog in the Indian capital New Delhi on Thursday, drawing criticism from people on social media, as schools were closed due to hazardous air quality.
The air quality index on Thursday was at a staggering 472 on a scale of 500, indicating possible serious respiratory risks for the general public, according to SAFAR, a government pollution monitor.
Air quality has remained hazardous for three consecutive days, which prompted the Environment Pollution Prevention & Control Authority (EPCA), a body appointed by the Supreme Court, to order the shutting down of schools late on Wednesday.
The New Delhi government followed suit and “ordered all government and public schools to remain shut on Thursday and Friday”.
The city government has already restricted private cars until November 15 with an “odd-even” system, banning them on alternate days based on licence plate numbers.
India has 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not spoken about the crisis even though he frequently takes to Twitter to promote his priorities.
Angry residents took to social media and blamed authorities for organising the run.
“Run for Children…in severe pollution? Theatre of the absurd,” said Shashank Jaitely, a Twitter user.
Amod Kanth founder of 'Prayas' NGO which organized run:That’s(pollution) why we reduced run duration. It was symbolic run. Real program is children's day cultural event for which children were preparing for months.We didn’t know about this emergency(air quality) till yesterday. https://t.co/0w8BUOaMGy pic.twitter.com/BYnPM8dUKR
— ANI (@ANI) November 14, 2019
India’s ANI news agency tweeted pictures of several children running without protective masks as part of the annual Run for Children, organised by a not-for-profit group called Prayas that runs programmes for child protection, juvenile justice and education.
The annual run, near New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave, was organised to mark the birth anniversary of India‘s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, which is celebrated as Children’s Day.
“The children did not run a long distance. It was a short run,” Prayas’s general secretary, Amod K Kanth, told the Reuters News Agency.
“They come voluntarily here … We got permissions from the police, permission from the government, permission for this place,” said Kanth, a former senior police officer. He said the organisers did not have any directions from authorities to cancel the event.
The city government had no immediate comment.