NEW DELHI: Commuters make their way along a street amid heavy smoggy conditions in New Delhi yesterday. – AFP

NEW DELHI: The Delhi government pushed back yesterday against a call by India’s top court to declare a “pollution lockdown”, as children stayed away from school for a week because of dangerous smog levels. Air quality in Delhi – among the world’s most polluted cities – regularly plummets to the “severe” category in winter with levels of harmful particulates at dangerous levels.

On Saturday, the Supreme Court suggested imposing for the first time a “pollution lockdown”, effectively confining the megacity’s 20 million people to their homes. In a submission to the court yesterday, the city government said that such a step would only be “meaningful” if states surrounding Delhi are also included.

One of the contributors to the smog that hangs over the city in winter is smoke from farmers burning their crop residue in neighboring states. Delhi is also ringed by several satellite cities like Noida and Ghaziabad that are home to millions of people. “Given Delhi’s compact size, a lock down would have limited impact on the air quality regime,” the Delhi government said. It conceded, however, that industry was the biggest contributor in the city’s air pollution followed by transport and dust emanating from roads and construction sites.

It said the farm fires were contributing only four percent to the city’s PM 2.5 – the most harmful particulate matter that is responsible for chronic lung and heart diseases. Last week, PM 2.5 levels in the city touched 500, more than 30 times maximum safe limits according to the World Health Organization. Yesterday, PM 2.5 levels eased after winds dispersed the pollutants and hovered at around 160, according to the government’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research.

Delhi’s chief minister on Saturday announced a week-long closure of all government offices as well as schools, while also banning construction activity until November 20. A 2020 report by Swiss organization IQAir found that 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities were in India, with Delhi ranked the most polluted capital globally. The same year, the Lancet said 1.67 million deaths were attributable to air pollution in India in 2019, including almost 17,500 in the capital. – AFP