Schools in Delhi close for a week due to smog conditions

Though the prime cause is attributed to the burning of residue of crops in Haryana and Punjab during October and November, the Union government and the governments of Delhi and the adjoining states always react in a knee-jerk manner.

The thick blanket of grey air and pollutants has enveloped Delhi for four days.

Bhure Lal, Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) chairperson said in a statement, "There has been some improvement". A USA embassy measure of tiny PM 2.5 particles, showed a reading of 523 at nine am on Friday.

PM 10 level again rose to 541 in the evening from 453 during the day.

The air has remained consistently in the "hazardous" category or beyond those levels, despite a litany of government measures: ordering a halt to all construction activities, restricting vehicular movement and raising parking charges four times to push residents to use public transport. As of Wednesday, schools were closed.

The scheme was introduced in the Chinese capital a decade ago to fight traffic and pollution with mixed success.

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi, said sprinkling water will help, but it won't solve everything.

D Saha, head of air quality laboratory at the CPCB said in a statement, "The air quality has started improving, and weather conditions will get much better by Saturday". Government hospitals in the city, Jain said, were treating thousands of patients with respiratory ailments. It said: "Delhi once again has become a veritable gas chamber with denizens finding it hard to breathe".

Delhi, home to almost 19 million people, is among the world's most polluted cities according to the World Health Organization.

Last November, the city's worst pollution in almost 20 years forced about a million children to miss school, while thousands of workers reported sick and people queued to buy face masks. As per the data collected from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi's average Air Quality Index (AQI) at 3 p.m. was 423 (on a scale of 0 to 500) while the PM2.5 (particles with a diameter less than 2.5) hovered around 422 units, considered "severe".

Vanessa Coleman

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