Millions in Indian capital endure ‘eye-burning’ smog

 

 

Millions of people in India’s capital started the week Monday choking through “eye-burning” smog, with schools closed, cars taken off the road and construction halted.

A poisonous haze envelops New Delhi every winter, caused by vehicle fumes, industrial emissions and smoke from agricultural burning in neighbouring states.

But the current crisis has turned into the worst in three years, and New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called for a range of measures to fight what he described as “unbearable pollution”.

“There is smoke everywhere and people, including youngsters, kids, elderly are finding it difficult to breathe,” Kejriwal said in a Twitter video on Sunday.

“Eyes are burning. Pollution is that bad.”

Kejriwal’s government has ordered half the city’s private cars to be taken off the road, based on an odd-even registration plate system.

Schools, which were closed on Friday last week, remained shut on Monday, and city-wide construction was halted until Tuesday in Delhi and surrounding areas.

Kejriwal said authorities were also distributing face masks to schoolchildren.

Other parts of the country have also been choked by smog, the government’s Central Pollution Control Board said on Sunday.

Authorities brought a van with an air purifier to the Taj Mahal, the country’s top tourist site 250 kilometres south of Delhi, with fears the pollution was damaging the 17th-century marble mausoleum, the Press Trust of India reported.

With a state election due in Delhi in early 2020, the pollution crisis has also become a casualty of political bickering, with each side blaming the other for the severe conditions.

Kejriwal, who likened Delhi to a “gas chamber” on Friday, said his city had done its part to curb pollution and that the burning of wheat stubble residue on farms outside the capital was responsible for the smog.

But national environment minister Prakash Javadekar accused Kejriwal of politicising the issue, while an MP from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dismissed the odd-even car rule as a “stunt” and said he planned to ignore it.

A group of environmentalists wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday urging him to “take leadership” on the issue.

The environmentalists said political parties were “intent on fixing the blame while Indians continue to die”, PTI reported.

Mounting crisis

India has faced a mounting pollution crisis over the past decade.

Fourteen Indian cities including the capital are among the world’s top 15 most polluted cities, according to the World Health Organisation.

Experts warn that both state and national governments needed to go beyond short-term remedies and tackle major pollution causes if air quality is to improve in the long-term.

Stop-gap solutions “can’t be a substitute for addressing the major long-term chronic sources of air pollution,” Daniel Cass, senior vice president for environmental health of global non-profit Vital Strategies, told AFP.

He said emissions restrictions should be imposed on motorbikes and scooters, which are heavily used in Delhi but exempted from the odd-even scheme, and called for more public transport investment.

Changing agricultural practices, switching electricity generation sources and accelerating the conversion of home-heating from charcoal to natural gas were also key measures in the pollution fight, Cass said.

© Agence France-Presse

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Glenda Kwek
Glenda Kwek

Glenda Kwek is an AFP correspondent, Australia and former writer for the Business Day.

Advertisting

South Africa has been junked

Treasury says the credit ratings downgrade “could not have come at a worse time”, as country enters a 21-day Covid-19 lockdown with little money saved up

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories