New Delhi lifts construction ban as air quality ‘slowly improves’

Indian capital’s Air Quality Index (AQI) on Monday dropped to 303 on a scale of 500, down from 499 nearly a week ago.

Delhi pollution
Commuters make their way amid smoggy conditions in New Delhi [Prakash Singh/AFP]

New Delhi has lifted a ban on construction activities as air quality improved marginally, but schools and offices will remain closed until at least Wednesday, says the Indian capital’s environment minister.

Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) on Monday dropped to 303 on a scale of 500, down from 499 nearly a week ago, when a thick haze hung over the city of some 20 million people.

The current AQI levels still indicate “very poor” conditions, according to government monitoring agencies.

INTERACTIVE- air pollution symptoms
(Al Jazeera)

“Air quality is slowly improving,” Gopal Rai, the capital’s minister for environment, forest and wildlife development, told a news conference. “Labourers were facing difficulties, and that is why we have decided to resume construction activities.”

Rai said the authorities would monitor construction sites to ensure that builders follow dust-control measures set out by the government.

In an interview with Reuters news agency late last week, Rai said the city would consider restricting private vehicles to driving on alternate days if severe air pollution continued to plague India’s capital.

Apart from banning construction, the city government had also shut schools and offices, allowing people to work from home.

Vehicles are seen shrouded in smog on a highway in New Delhi [File: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

Rai told the news conference the authorities would review the city’s air quality on November 24 and then decide whether to reopen schools and offices.

“We are closely monitoring,” the minister said. He also urged residents to use public transport.

Vehicular emissions contributed to more than half of Delhi’s air pollution between October 24 and November 8, the Centre for Science and Environment think-tank said earlier this month.

New Delhi’s choking air put more children in hospital with breathing problems, doctors said last week, and the government shut five power stations and extended school closures to contain the crisis.

Air quality deteriorates sharply in the winter months in Delhi, often ranked the world’s most polluted capital. Pollutants emanating from crop residue burning, transport, industries, and coal-fired plants outside the city tend to get trapped as temperatures fall during winter.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies