Delhi air quality: Judges accuses authorities of ‘passing the buck’

India’s top court has accused state governments of “passing the buck” on air pollution and failing to take action to tackle Delhi’s toxic smog.

The Supreme Court said authorities were only interested in “gimmicks”, rather than concrete measures to combat pollution levels.

Levels of dangerous particles in the air – known as PM2.5 – are at well over 10 times safe limits in the capital.

City authorities have responded by launching a car rationing system.

“Delhi is choking every year and we are unable to do anything,” said Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra. “The state machinery is not acting… They are passing the buck to each other… Everybody is interested in gimmicks and elections.”

From 4 to 15 November, cars with odd or even number plates will only be allowed on the roads on alternate days, officials said. Such a system has been used before but it is not clear if it helps lower pollution levels.

Cars are not believed to be the main cause of Delhi’s toxic air, with experts pointing instead to crop burning by farmers in neighbouring states to clear fields.

Health officials have asked people to stay indoors and refrain from doing any physical activity as millions are at risk of respiratory illness. Schools are closed until Tuesday and the shutdown is likely to be extended until Friday as the city chokes under a thick blanket of smog.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the car rationing system, known as the “odd-even plan”, would take hundreds of thousands of cars off the road. Those ignoring the rule face a fine of 4,000 rupees (£44; $56) – double that of previous years.

Teary eyes, a throat like sandpaper, and a hacking cough that left me breathless – these were the side-effects after I went for a walk around my neighbourhood in Delhi.

Whenever “pollution season” starts to set in, I notice the changes in my body rather quickly.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken up with a severe cough during the winter season.

From your nose to your chest, it feels like things aren’t working the way they should be. On some days, it’s just a blocked nose and on others, it’s almost a struggle to breathe normally.

The effects go beyond the physical too. I’m constantly thinking about Air Quality Index numbers and whether the air is breathable – I even activate my air purifier via an app as I leave work so that my room has clean air by the time I’m home.

“The perfect storm of conditions during November has created almost 30 percent higher atmospheric concentrations of fine particulate matter,” said a Cornell University study published in July.

Delhi’s geography – it is landlocked and sits on a flat plain that is blocked off by the Himalayas – means it is more drastically affected. Only public transport, emergency vehicles, taxis and two-wheelers will be allowed. Women driving alone will also be exempt from the rule.

The Supreme Court has ordered Delhi’s state government to produce data which proves that the car rationing system works.


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