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India

Indian capital resists call for 'pollution lockdown'

Supreme Court suggests confining Delhi's 20 million people to their homes because of dangerous smog levels

AFP, New Delhi

AFP, New Delhi

Published: November 16, 2021 06:23 AM GMT

Updated: November 16, 2021 06:31 AM GMT

Indian capital resists call for 'pollution lockdown'

People walk near the presidential palace amid smoggy conditions in New Delhi on Nov. 15. (Photo: AFP)

The Delhi government has pushed back against a call by India's top court to declare a "pollution lockdown" as children stayed away from school for a week because of dangerous smog levels.

Air quality in Delhi — among the world's most polluted cities — regularly plummets to the "severe" category in winter with levels of harmful particulates at dangerous levels.

On Nov. 13, the Supreme Court suggested imposing for the first time a pollution lockdown, effectively confining the megacity's 20 million people to their homes.

In a submission to the court on Nov. 15, the city government said that such a step would only be "meaningful" if states surrounding Delhi are also included.

One of the contributors to the smog that hangs over the city in winter is smoke from farmers burning their crop residue in neighbouring states.

Delhi is also ringed by several satellite cities like Noida and Ghaziabad that are home to millions of people.

Last week PM 2.5 levels in the city touched 500, more than 30 times maximum safe limits, according to the World Health Organization

"Given Delhi's compact size, a lockdown would have limited impact on the air quality regime," the Delhi government said.

It conceded, however, that industry was the biggest contributor in the city's air pollution followed by transport and dust emanating from roads and construction sites.

It said the farm fires were contributing only 4 percent to the city's PM 2.5 — the most harmful particulate matter that is responsible for chronic lung and heart diseases.

Last week PM 2.5 levels in the city touched 500, more than 30 times maximum safe limits, according to the World Health Organization.

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On Nov. 15, PM 2.5 levels eased after winds dispersed the pollutants and hovered at around 160, according to the government's System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research.

Delhi's chief minister on Nov. 13 announced a week-long closure of all government offices as well as schools while also banning construction activity until Nov. 20.

A 2020 report by Swiss organisation IQAir found that 22 of the world's 30 most polluted cities were in India, with Delhi ranked the most polluted capital globally.

The same year, The Lancet said 1.67 million deaths were attributable to air pollution in India in 2019, including almost 17,500 in the capital.

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