Delhi schools will close for a winter break from November 9 to 18 – in view of the toxic smog that has blanketed the city for six straight days – the city’s Directorate of Education said Wednesday, noting “no respite from adverse weather conditions” has been predicted over the next few days.
The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Environment Minister Gopal Rai and attended by Education Minister Atishi, Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot and senior Delhi government officials.
The decision to bring forward the vacation – normally in December-January – was made to protect children’s health. The Nov 9-18 holiday will be adjusted against the traditional Dec-Jan break.
On Monday, Mr Rai had announced that all Delhi schools had been directed to suspend physical classes, except for those in Class 10 and 12, till Friday due to alarming air pollution levels.
The Delhi government is scrambling to contain the poisonous air hanging over residents’ heads, but with little success. The AQI this morning was 421 – a sharp spike from 395 at 4 pm Tuesday.
In the national capital region, Noida clocked in at 409 and Gurugram at 370.
Levels of PM2.5 – capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory system and triggering health problems – still exceed the government’s limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre by eight times.
This is 30-40 times the limit prescribed by the World Health Organization.
As part of anti-pollution measures, the fourth stage of a Graded Response Action Plan have been invoked, and (among other steps) diesel trucks and construction activities have been banned.
The Delhi government had also announced the comeback of the odd-even rule – under which vehicular traffic is restricted based on the last digit of the registration number. The rule was to be re-instated for a week starting the day after Diwali, but there are now question marks over the scheme.
Before this afternoon’s meeting, Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party said a decision on implementation of the scheme would only be taken after the top court’s order is fully examined.
This was after the Supreme Court – hearing a clutch of petitions on the air quality crisis – called such measures “optics” and demanded the Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh governments to work together to contain and resolve the problem, with the focus (again) on farm fires.
“We want it (stubble burning leading to farm fires) stopped. We don’t know how you do it, it’s your job. But it must be stopped. Something has to be done immediately,” the court said.
A cocktail of factors, including vehicular emissions and stubble burning, are being held responsible for the air pollution in Delhi, where authorities have raised the pollution alert to the highest level.