NEW DELHI — The odd-even traffic rationing plan returned to the national capital and will be in place for four days starting. Nov. 13 as people continued to inhale toxic air for the third day Nov. 9, with the situation expected to be even worse Nov. 10.
The traffic plan was announced the same day the Delhi High Court said pollution in the Delhi-National Capital Region region was an "emergency situation" and asked the Delhi government to consider implementing cloud seeding to induce artificial rain along with vehicle rationing.
The Environment Ministry formed a seven-member committee headed by the environment secretary to find long- and short-term solutions to the worsening problem. AIIMS Nov. 9 reported a 15-20 percent rise in cases of respiratory problems being admitted, as did Safdarjung Hospital across the road.
The National Green Tribunal asked the pollution control boards in the NCR to ban all industrial and construction activities in the region until Nov. 14 and directed the Delhi government to have helicopters sprinkle water on hot spots. It also banned the entry of trucks carrying construction materials into the NCR.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who inaugurated 20 Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations here, blamed stubble burning for the "severe" air quality and said the neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab should join with Delhi to find a solution.
The emergency under the Graded Response Action Plan came into force in the Delhi-NCR Nov. 9 with weather officials saying that a change in wind direction is set to worsen Delhi’s air quality Nov. 10.
The announcement of the third phase of the odd-even rationing traffic plan Nov. 13-17 was made by Delhi's Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot at a press conference here.
He said the modalities of the scheme, under which private four-wheeled vehicles with odd registration numbers were allowed to run on odd dates and those with even numbers on even dates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., would be the same as the previous phases.
The first phase of the odd-even rule was implemented by the Delhi government Jan. 1-15 and the second phase was April 15-30 last year.
But members of the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority said Nov. 13 "is too late" as the "emergency or severe-plus" category under GRAP calls for immediate implementation of odd-even traffic rationing.
The "emergency or severe-plus" situation arises after the major pollutants – PM2.5 and PM10, or particles in air with diameter less than 2.5 and 10mm, remain above 300 and 500 units respectively for at least 48 hours.
The Central Pollution Control Board Nov. 9 said both PM2.5 and 10 had been beyond the "required limit" for the past 52 hours.
On Nov. 9 – and since the evening of Nov. 8 – all ten monitoring stations of center's System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research recorded "beyond severe" or 500-plus units of PM10 and PM2.5.
According to SAFAR, the average PM2.5 was 546 units and PM10 was 895. According to the CPCB, at 5:00 p.m., the average PM2.5 in Delhi NCR was 478 units, across 20 active stations, including Alwar in Rajasthan, with an average air quality index placed 478 (on a scale of 0 to 500).
The safe limit for PM2.5 and PM10 as per international standards is 25 and 60 micrograms per cubic meters, while as per national standards it is 40 and 100 units respectively.
The India Meteorological Department has predicted that some relief will be visible starting Nov. 12 due to a rise in wind speed, while the expected rain in neighboring states Nov. 14 will bring major relief by dispersing the pollutants.
Kejriwal said the one month period between mid-October to mid-November when farmers burn the stubble, "the whole of north India and not just Delhi turns into a gas chamber."
He said that in September of this year, the PM10 was recorded at 300 units and PM2.5 was 160 and the rise was not caused by local problems.
"All of us will have to keep politics aside and work together to tackle this huge problem of pollution," he said.
He said that farmers should be provided with an economically viable alternative to stubble burning.
The Delhi High Court Nov. 9 issued a slew of directions to control pollution in the Delhi-NCR region, including placing a ban on tree removal, and ordering water to be sprinkled on roads to control dust and the strict enforcement of the construction code.
The court questioned the move to increase parking rates by four times.
In the wake of incessant air pollution and smog, some schools in Delhi shifted their winter opening and closing timings by an hour.
Environment Minister Harshvardhan said in a tweet that crop burning increased this year "due to lack of advanced planning." He also said that air quality will improve in the next few days.