India’s losing battle against pollution: Delhi air quality reaches toxic levels, again

NEW DELHI —A thick, gray pall of smog settled over India’s capital in recent days, prompting the government to ban millions of private vehicles from the streets on Monday, a day after the city recorded its worst air quality in three years.

Delhi is the most polluted major metropolis in the world, a condition that intensifies every year starting in October as temperatures cool and wind speeds drop. The pungent-smelling air makes eyes water and can induce coughing and breathlessness even for those without respiratory illnesses. Last week, the city declared a public health emergency, and schools have been shut down.

The smog is a cocktail of vehicular emissions, industrial pollution, construction dust and crop burning in neighboring states. Efforts by local and federal agencies to combat the annual scourge have done little to bring relief to the capital: On Sunday, Delhi recorded its worst overall air quality since 2016, according to figures from the Central Pollution Control Board.

The level of particulate matter considered most harmful to human health skyrocketed to more than 25 times the safe limit prescribed by the World Health Organization before receding somewhat.

Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of the state of Delhi, has repeatedly referred to the region as a “gas chamber.” Last week, the city declared a public health emergency, and schools have been shut down.

On days when pollution is severe, an emergency action plan comes into force. Trucks are banned from entering the city, diesel generators are prohibited and certain types of polluting industries are shut down. The local government is also distributing pollution masks to millions of school students and temporarily limiting the number of cars on the road: Only vehicles with even-numbered license plates are allowed on even-numbered days.

Other efforts to combat the smog include a more concentrated campaign — 62 teams of two officers from the state and central pollution authorities fan out across the city, a metropolitan area of 29 million people that is almost the size of West Virginia, to seek out potential violations of anti-pollution regulations.

Anwar Ali Khan, a senior engineer at Delhi’s state pollution control authority, and a partner are responsible for ensuring that more than 50 major construction projects are up to code.

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