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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Friday, October 19, 2018

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India’s poisoned capital shocks the world, smog-struck

Delhi becomes one of world’s worst polluted cities

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NEW DELHI, India - In a first, the national capital of India, New Delhi has failed to make a return to safety after being struck by a prolonged period of smog following the Diwali festival, leaving the city suffering its world air quality standards in decades. > BNN

According to the World Health Organisation however - the level of PM2.5 (particulate matter that can clog lungs) in the capital soared to over 90 times that the level considered safe and went 15 times higher than the Indian government norms. However, the city is not alone. Ten Indian cities have made it to the list of world’s top 20 worst polluted cities.

Further, the country’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) noted that at least 94 Indian cities have consistently failed to meet the national air quality standards since the year 2011, with many of these cities being on the list since 1990s.  

With the condition worsening, the government decided to shut schools for three days, all construction activity was halted for five days, and the Indian Medical Association urged Delhiites to stay indoors.

Indian Medical Association (IMA) president K.K. Aggarwal said that the alarming air pollution has become an epidemic in Delhi. Aggarwal added that the particulate matter 10 (pm) and 2.5 has crossed 600 which is hazardous for the people. 

He said, “We are now calling this as a pollution epidemic. Our advisory to people is to stay at home, if possible work from home and avoid stepping outside the house.”

The problem was so intense that residents of Delhi posted smog-selfies on social media, showcasing the poisoned capital and one resident even called the current situation an ‘airpocalypse.’

On Sunday, the Indian Meteorological Department claimed that visibility in the capital was just 200m (656ft) at 8.30am local time, "caused by the heavy fog and smoke.”

Some reports compared the Delhi haze to the 1952 London smog, claiming that some of the parameters involved were very close to the Great Smog of London. 

Anumitra Roy Chowdhury of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) was quoted as saying, "In London smog of 1952 about 4,000 people had died prematurely when average PM levels were about 500 microgramme per cubic metre along with high SO2 levels. Here, (the concentration of) SO2 may not be that high, but as we saw on Diwali, several gases had increased substantially. Overall it is a toxic cocktail. Persisting high levels can lead to more premature deaths in Delhi also.”

According to CSE, each year, about 10,000 to 30,000 people die in Delhi due to air pollution. 

Chowdhury added, “Only when there is pressure from the people and the judiciary, cities start acting on pollution. There is no national policy. Even the government's smart city project only makes a passing reference to air quality but doesn't make it binding on cities to meet this criteria.”

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Supreme Court of India is set to hear the case related to pollution in Delhi as the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) termed this as worst in 17 years. The cocky will consider whether the various ordered issued earlier on combatting pollution, like limiting the number of old trucks entering the city - have been ignored consistently. 

The government is also said to have called for an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss several measures taken to combat the extreme air pollution. At the end of the meeting, authorities announced measures including fighting fires at landfill sites, banning all diesel-powered electricity generators for the next ten days, and shutting down the coal-based Badarpur power plant.

Authorities even made arrangements to sprinkle water on main roads to suppress dust. 

The government is even said to be considering including another session of the odd-even scheme that restricts the use of private cars to alternate days. 

The people meanwhile were up in arms with hundreds of residents wearing face masks gathered at a protest at the city’s Jantar Mantar monument. Protests were on in the virtual domain too, as Delhi voiced is frustration under the hashtag, #MyRightToBreathe.

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