Delhi-NCR air pollution: Odd-even traffic plan returns after 4 years, as air quality stays in ‘severe plus’ category

The odd-even scheme for vehicles in Delhi is set to return after four years — in addition to the suspension of all physical classes except Classes X and XII — as the air quality of India’s National Capital Region (NCR) has entered the ‘severe plus’ category twice in three days.

The odd-even scheme is being reintroduced in order to thin out the traffic on Delhi roads and bring down vehicular pollution. Representative photo courtesy: X/@CSEINDIA

This morning, pollution levels in Delhi-NCR were recorded around 7-8 times above the government-prescribed safe limit, as a toxic haze persisted over the region for the seventh consecutive day.

Stringent curbs, including a ban on the entry of polluting trucks, came into effect in Delhi yesterday. The pollution was exacerbated by unfavourable wind conditions and a sharp rise in farm fires across north India.

The 24-hour average Air Quality Index (AQI), recorded at 4pm every day, worsened from 415 on Saturday to 454 on Sunday, prompting the Centre to implement all emergency measures mandated under the final Stage IV of its air pollution control plan called the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).

GRAP categorises actions into four stages: Stage I – ‘Poor’ (AQI 201-300); Stage II – ‘Very Poor’ (AQI 301-400); Stage III – ‘Severe’ (AQI 401-450); and Stage IV – ‘Severe Plus’ (AQI 450). The city’s AQI stood at 440 at 7am today.

Several cities in the neighbouring states of Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh have also reported hazardous air quality. Ghaziabad (413), Gurugram (369), Noida (403), Greater Noida (396) and Faridabad (426) reported hazardous air quality at 7am.

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), conditions favourable for dispersion of pollutants are likely to develop tomorrow night onwards under the influence of an upcoming western disturbance, weather systems that originate in the Mediterranean region and bring unseasonal rainfall to northwest India.

The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulate matter capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory system and triggering health problems, exceeded the government-prescribed safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre by 7-8 times at multiple locations throughout Delhi-NCR. It was 30-40 times the healthy limit of 15 micrograms per cubic metre set by the World Health Organization. The poisonous haze has been causing significant problems for people with existing respiratory issues, according to doctors.

Farm fires cause peak pollution

According to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), the capital experiences peak pollution from November 1 to November 15, when the number of stubble burning incidents in Punjab and Haryana increases.

According to the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), a total of 4,160 farm fires were reported from north India yesterday — the highest so far this season. Punjab alone reported 3,230 incidents of stubble burning, the state’s highest in a day so far this season, according to Punjab Remote Sensing Centre data.

Odd-even scheme is back

Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai announced today that the odd-even car rationing scheme would be enforced in the state from November 13 to 20 as a measure to combat air pollution.

Rai also said that to safeguard the health of school students, the government had decided to suspend in-person classes in all schools, except for students in Classes X and XII, who would be preparing for board exams.

“The odd-even scheme will come into effect in Delhi after Diwali, running from November 13 to November 20. A decision to extend the scheme will be made after November 20,” the minister said during a press meet in Delhi.

He added that the details of the odd-even scheme, including exemptions, would be worked out soon in consultation with the transport department.

Introduced in 2016, the odd-even car rationing scheme permits cars to operate on alternate days based on their odd or even number plates. The enforcement next week would mark the fourth time that the Delhi government will implement this scheme to tackle pollution caused by vehicles.

According to a 2018 study conducted by The Energy and Resources Institute, vehicular emissions contribute to roughly 40 per cent of the PM 2.5 pollution in Delhi-NCR.

Rai said that the directives were issued to implement the stringent restrictions mandated under the final stage of the Central government’s Graded Response Action Plan. The restrictions under Stage IV of GRAP, including a ban on all kinds of construction work, kicked in yesterday.

A decision on work-from-home order for 50 per cent of staff in government and private offices would be taken after Diwali, said the minister.