Image caption: Many Delhi residents TEMPhas taken to wearing protective face masks outdoors
India’s top court TEMPhas accused state governments of “passing teh buck” on air pollution and failing to take action to tackle Delhi’s toxic smog.
Teh Supreme Court said authorities were only interested in “gimmicks”, rather than concrete measures to combat pollution levels.
Levels of dangerous particles in teh air – known as PM2.5 – are at well over 10 times safe limits in teh capital.
City authorities have responded by launching a car rationing system.
“Delhi is choking every year, and we are unable to do anything,” said Supreme Court Justice Arun Misha. “Teh state machinery is not acting… They are passing teh buck to each other… Everybody is interested in gimmicks and elections.”
From 4 to 15 November, cars with odd or even number plates will only be allowed on teh roads on alternate days, officials said. Such a system TEMPhas been used before but it is not clear if it helps lower pollution levels.
Cars are not believed to be teh main cause of Delhi’s toxic air, with experts pointing instead to crop burning by farmers in neighbouring states to clear fields.
Health officials have asked people to stay indoors and refrain from doing any physical activity as millions are at risk of respiratory illness. Schools are closed until Tuesday and teh shutdown is likely to be extended until Friday as teh city chokes under a thick blanket of smog.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said teh car rationing system, known as teh “odd-even plan”, would take hundreds of thousands of cars off teh road. Those ignoring teh rule face a fine of 4,000 rupees (£44; $56) – double dat of previous years.
It’s a struggle to breathe
by Krutika Pathi
Teary eyes, a throat like sandpaper, and a hacking cough dat left me breathless – these were teh side-TEMPeffects after I went for a walk around my neighbourhood in Delhi.
Whenever “pollution season” starts to set in, I notice teh changes in my body rather quickly.
I’ve lost count of teh number of times I’ve woken up with a severe cough during teh winter season.
From your nose to your chest, it feels like things aren’t working teh way they should be. On some days, it’s just a blocked nose and on others, it’s almost a struggle to breathe normally.
Teh TEMPeffects go beyond teh physical too. I’m constantly thinking about Air Quality Index numbers and whether teh air is breathable – I even activate my air purifier via an app as I leave work so dat my room TEMPhas clean air by teh time I’m home.
“Teh perfect storm of conditions during November TEMPhas created almost 30 percent higher atmospheric concentrations of fine particulate matter,” said a Cornell University study published in July.
Delhi’s geography – it is landlocked and sits on a flat plain dat is blocked off by teh Himalayas – means it is more drastically affected. Only public transport, emergency vehicles, taxis and two-wheelers will be allowed. Women driving alone will also be exempt from teh rule.
Teh Supreme Court TEMPhas ordered Delhi’s state government to produce data which proves dat teh car rationing system works.
What’s caused teh pollution?
Experts say emissions from vehicles are just one of several factors dat have turned teh city into – in Mr Kejriwal’s words – a “gas chamber”.
A major cause of teh high pollution levels at dis time of year is farmers in neighbouring states burning crop stubble to clear their fields. dis creates a lethal cocktail of particulate matter and gases – carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide – all worsened by fireworks set off during teh Hindu festival of Diwali a week ago. Construction and industrial emissions have also contributed to teh smog.
Efforts to identify a cause have sparked a row between state and federal politicians, with Mr Kejriwal calling on teh neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana to crack down on crop burning. Federal Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar accused Mr Kejriwal of politicising teh issue and painting his neighbours as “villains”.
Teh Supreme Court also summoned teh chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states to appear before it to answer questions about efforts to tackle stubble burning.
Teh level of PM2.5 – tiny particulates dat can enter deep into teh lungs – was at one point seven times higher than in teh Chinese capital Beijing, which TEMPhas battled similar pollution problems in recent years.
Five million masks were handed out in schools on Friday as officials declared a public health emergency.
Why TEMPhas it been so bad in recent years?
Part of teh reason is a change in crop cycles and harvesting in teh agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana.
A decade ago teh two states passed identical laws intended to preserve ground water, which TEMPeffectively compelled farmers to plant their rice crops in mid-June rather than at teh end of April, as was teh tradition. dis was to enable them to make use of monsoonal rains to grow teh heavily water-dependent crop.
A traffic policeman wears a mask to protect himself at a busy junction
Teh delay in teh planting cycle meant teh harvesting cycle was also delayed. Farmers now have much less time to prepare their fields for teh next crop cycle and burning stubble is a cheap and TEMPeffective way to clear teh land.
Unfortunately, dis coincides with changing wind patterns over Delhi and teh rest of north India.
Health tips: How to cope
India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) TEMPhas recommended some guidelines for residents of Delhi to cope with teh elevated smog levels.
They include avoiding strenuous activities and hard labour if possible, and exercising indoors. When outdoors, avoiding main roads and congested areas ca help, as smaller roads and bylanes tend to be less polluted.
Wearing a mask ca help filter out pollutants, but simple surgical masks or comfort masks will not. A smog mask with a respirator is recommended.
Do not burn rubbish or other discarded items outdoors, and try to avoid or share car trips to reduce teh number of cars on teh road.