A weekend lockdown and work-from-home for a week were suggested by the Delhi government today at an emergency meeting ordered by the Supreme Court to fight the capital’s toxic air crisis that has forced schools to shut down.
The Delhi government also recommended that construction and industrial activities in the city be paused. Officials of the centre and Delhi met to discuss fighting pollution a day after the Supreme Court raised tough questions on the crisis and called for urgent steps.
“We have proposed a weekend lockdown, we are ready for it. Our strategy will depend on the court’s directions now,” Delhi Minister Gopal Rai told NDTV. Officials also said work-from-home has been suggested for government as well as private offices.
The emergency meeting was held on the prodding of the Supreme Court, which yesterday suggested work-from-home for employees in and around Delhi.
“We direct the Centre to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow and tell us what steps they can take,” the Supreme Court said.
“Central government, NCR (National Capital Region) areas to consider WFH for a week for its employees,” said the judges.
The court said there was “no basis for a hue and cry about farm fires” after it was told by the Centre that stubble burning contributes to only 4 per cent of air pollution.
Rebuking the Delhi government, which attributes most of the pollution to farm fires from neighbouring Haryana and Punjab, the court said: “Lame excuses will force us to hold a proper audit of the revenues you are earning and spending on popularity slogans.”
The Delhi government, however, questioned the Centre’s “4 per cent” figure, pointing out that peak figures in October and November were not counted. “There is some confusion. In the same affidavit, the Centre says 4% and then 35 to 40% stubble burning. Centre should be clear on the figures. We have seen in November 4-14, stubble burning has varied.”
Delhi, which has been battling a toxic haze since early November, took emergency measures on the weekend, ordering schools to close and building work to stop for four days.
The Delhi Government had told the Supreme Court yesterday, in an affidavit filed before the hearing, that it was ready to take steps like a complete lockdown to fight air pollution though it would have a limited effect unless similar restrictions applied to the neighbouring areas.
Air quality in Delhi, often ranked the world’s most polluted capital, has nosedived due to farm waste burning, emissions from transport, coal-fired plants outside the city and other industries, as well as open garbage burning and dust.
An index of air quality stood at 343 on a scale of 500 in Delhi on Monday, a sign of “very poor” conditions that can cause respiratory illness on prolonged exposure.