Delhi air worsens to ‘emergency’ level

With just a couple of days left for the Bangladesh-India first T20I match here, the air pollution in Delhi worsened further on Friday entering the ‘emergency’ category. All the 37 air quality monitoring stations across Delhi recorded the air quality in the severe category on Friday morning.

The blanket of haze over Delhi, which has a population of about two crore, thickened this morning with the air pollution levels increasing overnight by around 50 points, taking the overall air quality index to 459. A Central Pollution Control Board official said the Air Quality Index has entered the "severe plus" or "emergency" category late on Thursday night, the first time since January this year.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal described the city as a "gas chamber" and distributed breathing masks to school children. Notwithstanding the deteriorating air quality, the Indian Cricket Board has said it would go ahead with the India-Bangladesh T20 at the Arun Jaitley Stadium on Sunday.

In strongly-worded posts on the social media, Kejriwal also blamed the governments of neighbouring states Haryana and Punjab for "forcing farmers to burn stubble" that he said had led to the problem in Delhi. If the air quality persists in Delhi persists in "severe plus" category for more than 48 hours, emergency measures such as car rationing scheme, banning entry of trucks and shutting down schools are taken, official said.

An AQI between 0-50 is considered good , 51-100 satisfactory , 101-200 moderate , 201-300 poor , 301-400 very poor , and 401-500 severe . Above 500 is severe-plus or emergency category. "Intake of every 22 micrograms per cubic metre of polluted air is equivalent to smoking a cigarette. So whether the PM2.5 level is 700 or 300 units, the impact is still as bad. People need to take precautions, especially those suffering from asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory illness," said Dr Arvind Kumar, lung surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital here. Weather experts said increased wind speed due to a fresh western disturbance approaching the northern region would help disperse pollutants faster from tomorrow.

Parents in Delhi are anxious as health experts say children breathe faster, taking in more pollutants. Many took to Twitter to demand that schools be shut till the situation ameliorates. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had on Wednesday said the decision to shut schools would be taken "when the need arises". In November 2017, the government had shut schools for a few days due to the deteriorating air quality. The Delhi government, however, has begun distributing 50 lakh N95 face masks, considered one of the good quality masks for tackling smog, among school students in Delhi on Friday morning.