Around 1,700 junior schools run by Delhi’s three municipal corporations remained shut on Saturday as pollution levels continued to peak in Delhi.
Delhi is facing the worst smog in 17 years with air pollution levels exceeding safe limits by over 15 times. At a press conference, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal blamed paddy stubble burning by neighbouring states and urged the centre to intervene in the matter.
“Pollution has increased to an extent that outdoors in Delhi are resembling a gas chamber. Prima facie the biggest reason seems to be burning of stubble in agricultural fields in Haryana and Punjab in huge quantity,” Kejriwal told a press conference.
“Fireworks during Diwali marginally added to the pollution. But other things inside Delhi did not drastically change. So the smog is mainly due to smoke from farm fires,” he added.
The CM also said vehicle restriction measures like odd-even will not be able to bring down smog as initial studies suggest that the “large scale” influx of pollutant-laden smoke from Punjab and Haryana has aggravated the situation.
Kejriwal then said that his government had very few methods at its disposal and the Centre must intervene.
“The Centre can sit with the Chief Minister of these states and chalk out a solution. Few reports have put the volume of stubble being burned at around 16-20 million tonnes.
Kejriwal’s comments came a day after the National Green Tribunal pulled up Centre and Delhi government for not doing enough to control the poor air quality in the city. The NGT also rejected the Delhi’s government’s claim that the high air pollution is due to crop burning in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan.
However, environmentalists point out that while crop burning is an annual feature, the government has been careless in allowing pollution levels to reach such alarming levels. The NGT also accused the government of putting the health of children and senior citizens at risk.
At a pollution review meeting with secretaries of Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, the environment ministry on Friday admitted that rules to tackle air pollution were weak.
For now, the state governments of Haryana and Punjab have banned burning of paddy stubble by farmers. Haryana also directed district level committees to monitor incidences of crop residue burning through satellite images and submit daily reports.
(With inputs from PTI)