Delhi still smothered in thick smog, Kejriwal likens it to gas chamber (Roundup)

New Delhi, Nov 5 (IANS) Delhi and the surrounding NCR remained engulfed in a shroud of smog on Saturday amid growing worries over air pollution which stayed at a “severe” level throughout the day with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal comparing the situation to “gas chamber”.

The smog reduced visibility and people in different parts of the city complained on irritation in eyes and throat as also respiratory problems.

The city’s pollution levels have worsened after Diwali (October 30) with each passing day adding to worry of people about the health impact. Schools of Municipal Corporations of Delhi were shut for the day.

Experts said that the situation is expected to ease after Monday with dry north-westerly winds likely to reach Delhi, whose dismal air quality has been attributed to low wind speed and high humidity which has blocked dispersal of pollutants.

Air Quality Index in Delhi on Saturday was 485 which falls under “severe” category. It has remained so for the past few days.

The average level of particulate matter 2.5, which can travel deeply into the respiratory tract down to the lungs, was at maximum level of 500 micrograms per cubic metre or “severe” at all pollution measuring centres including Anand Vihar in east Delhi, Punjabi Bagh in the west, R.K. Puram in the south, and Mandir Marg in central Delhi. Dwarka in the west had a marginally lower level of 493.

Kejriwal on Saturday met Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave to discuss the alarming pollution levels.

“I met the Environment Minister. He told me that he will try to call a meeting of the Chief Ministers of the neighbouring states to discuss the pollution and crop burning issue,” he said.

In the meeting, Kejriwal also raised the point of giving some incentives to farmers to stop them from burning crop residue.

Addressing a press conference earlier, he said paddy stubble was being burnt on a large scale “ranging from 16 million tonnes to 20 million tonnes” in the neighbouring states.

“This is a major contributor to the air pollution. Pollution level has increased so much in Delhi that it has taken shape of a gas chamber,” he said, appealing to city residents to use private transport to the least possible extent and rely more on public transport.

Lt Governor Najeeb Jung called a meeting with Kejriwal on Monday to discuss short term and long term measures to curb pollution.

Private weather forecaster Skymet’s Director Mahesh Palawat said the thick layer of smog was due to calm winds which stopped the pollutants for dispersing, and passing of ‘Western Disturbances’ over Himalayas made conditions worse in north India including Delhi.

“Whenever western disturbance passes over Himalayas, it increases the level of humidity which enhances the capacity of air to bear the pollutants for a long time. This results in thick layer of smog over the cities,” Palawat told IANS.

“The situation is expected to remain same tomorrow (Sunday) and the day after. The smog will start dispersing after November 7 (Monday) as dry north-westerly winds with speed 10-15 km/hr are expected to sweep through the region,” he said, calling for serious measures to curtail the pollutants.

Vivek Chatopadhyay, a senior researcher with NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said that pollutants emitted from diesel cars and truck were also major contributors.

“Such situation is usually witnessed a day after Diwali but now this is happening on a normal day. This indicates that the condition has become very very serious. Now the air quality in Delhi is constantly under highest alarm level,” Chatopadhyay told IANS.

Doctors have also advised people, specially those of high-risk groups, to remain indoors.

“It was difficult for me to breath properly and my eyes were itching because of high level of air pollution today (Saturday). I did not go for morning walk due to smog,” Devi Das, a resident of R.K. Puram area, told IANS.

Kartik Kumar, who works with a marketing firm, said that his eyes were itching because of high level of air pollution.