New Delhi:

Use of diesel generators in Delhi must stop (except for emergencies), parking fees must be increased by three-four times, and burning of coal and firewood cannot be allowed at hotels and open-air eateries, the Central Pollution Control Board said in an order issued Saturday evening.

The CPCB’s subcommittee on air quality management (CAQM) also called for action against the burning of garbage at landfills, and said the government must ensure the closure of all brick kilns, hot mix plants (making asphalt mix for road-laying) and stone crusher plants in Delhi NCR.

The CAQM also called for an uninterrupted supply of electricity – so people don’t use generators.

The above point was underlined by calling for maximum power production from natural gas plants, and a reduction in numbers of operating coal-based power plants that add to pollution levels.

The government has also been urged improve frequency of public transport services like buses and metros in the national capital region, with “differential rates to encourage off-peak travel”.

The CAQM also underlined the need for states and concerned agencies to be in “complete readiness for implementing ’emergency measures’ as listed under GRAP (the graded action plan notified by the centre after a 2016 Supreme Court order) at short notice”.

“GRAP provides specific actions depending on air pollution, which are to be implemented by identified agencies for minimizing the pollution, particularly during critical winter season,” the CAQM order said.

Earlier, sources said the next four-five days would be crucial in the national capital region’s fight against the blanket of toxic smog that has covered the city since Diwali last week.

The order came minutes after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said schools across Delhi would be shut for a week starting Monday, “so children don’t have to breathe polluted air”.

His announcement came hours after the Supreme Court hit out at the air quality crisis.

“You see how bad the situation is…. even in our houses, we are wearing masks,” Chief Justice NV Ramana said as he asked both the centre and the Delhi government a series of tough questions, including if a two-day lockdown was among the emergency measures being considered.

Breathing the Delhi air is “like smoking 20 cigarettes a day,” the state government admitted in the court, stressing, “We agree to the gravity of the situation.”

The court tasked both sides with working together to solve the AQI crisis, which includes controlling pollutants from farm fires in neighbouring states. According to the SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research), today farm fires contributed 36 per cent to PM2.5 levels.

Delhi and surrounding areas, including Gurgaon, Noida, and Ghaziabad, have been choking under a deadly blanket of polluted air for over seven days now – beginning with Diwali last week.

Before, during and after Diwali thousands burst firecrackers in violation of orders by the Delhi, Haryana, and UP governments, contributing greatly to the shocking deterioration of air quality.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, at 7 pm the AQI in Delhi was 417. The AQI in Noida, Gurgaon, and Ghaziabad was 445 (390 in Greater Noida), 415 and 430, respectively.

AQI readings over 400 are considered ‘severe’, with high concentrations of PM2.5 particles and these can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer.



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