Pollution curbs lifted in India’s capital despite ‘very poor’ air

The air quality index in nearly all monitoring stations in New Delhi was between 300 and 400, in the ‘very poor’ category.

An aerial view of residential buildings shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, November 7, 2022.
An aerial view of residential buildings shrouded in smog in New Delhi [Altaf Hussain/Reuters]

Primary schools will reopen in the Indian capital this week and curbs will be lifted on certain construction activities, authorities said, after pollution levels improved to the “very poor” category from “severe”.

A thick layer of smog envelops New Delhi in winter as cold, heavy air traps construction dust, vehicle emissions and smoke from crop stubble burning in neighbouring states, causing a surge in respiratory illnesses among its 20 million people.

The air quality index in nearly all monitoring stations in the city was between 300 and 400 – in the “very poor” category – on Monday, which experts say leads to respiratory illnesses on prolonged exposure.

However, it was an improvement on last week’s reading of 400-500 in the index, which is described as “severe”.

A man rows his boat in the Yamuna river amidst heavy smog in the old quarters of Delhi, India November 4, 2022
A man rows his boat in the Yamuna River amid heavy smog in New Delhi [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

“Directions for work from home amended and offices functioning at full capacity from today,” Gopal Rai, the environment minister of Delhi state, told reporters.

Primary schools will reopen on Wednesday.

The central and state governments ordered the closure of primary schools, banned the entry of diesel vehicles carrying non-essential goods and suspended most construction and demolition activity in the national capital region last week.

Rai said private demolition and construction would remain banned, but public works relating to highways and power transmission will be permitted.

Air quality could worsen later this week, however, the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research said on its website.

Last year this time, schools were also ordered shut amid dangerous levels of air pollution.

A Lancet report in 2020 said almost 17,500 people died in Delhi in 2019 because of air pollution. Another report by Swiss organisation IQAir in 2020 found that 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities were in India.

Dr Randeep Guleria, a pulmonologist and former head of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, said New Delhi’s poor air quality affects its vulnerable residents the most.

“When air quality is poor, it is infecting the vulnerable population – the younger children, the elderly, and those with co-morbidities, chronic respiratory disease or chronic cardiac problem. In children, it can also lead to a decrease in lung growth. As the child grows in this environment, the growth of the lung gets hampered,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The important factor is to be able to control the emission. Some of it is of course related to the weather … But while it (air pollution) is there, we have to try and stop emissions not only in Delhi but even in the surrounding states.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies