Delhi's again toys with odd-even as air quality fails to improve

The Delhi government today moved the National Green Tribunal seeking an amendment to the NGT's 11 November order on the odd-even car rationing scheme. The green panel said it will hear the plea on Tuesday.

A thick cloud of toxic smog 10 times the recommended limit continued to envelop Delhi today, as state government officials struggled to tackle a public health crisis that is well into its second week.

Earlier today, Delhi's transport minister Gopal Rai said his government would file a review petition before the NGT that two-wheelers and women be exempted from odd-even scheme.

The NGT had last Saturday given a conditional nod to the Aam Admi Party government's decision to implement the odd-even car rationing scheme for five days from today, ordering that no exemption should be allowed to ''any person or officer and two-wheelers''.

It had said the odd-even scheme should be implemented ''without any default'' as and when PM (particulate matter) 10 level goes above 500 microgrammes per cubic metre and the PM2.5 level crosses the limit of 300 microgrammes per cubic metre during a span of 48 hours.

The government had thereupon scrapped its plan to implement the odd-even vehicle rationing scheme slated to start today after NGT said there can be no exemption for women, two-wheelers or government servants.

Authorities have already enforced emergency measures such as banning construction activity and the operation of brick kilns in the National Capital Region. Over the weekend, the government used fire trucks to spray water in parts of the capital, but the measures have had little effect.

The Delhi government declared a public health emergency last week after pollution levels in the city spiked, a yearly phenomenon blamed on a combination of illegal crop burning in northern states, vehicle exhaust, and unbridled construction activity.

A US embassy measure showed levels of poisonous PM2.5 had reached 495 this morning, according to Reuters. The upper limit of ''good'' quality air is 50.

''We can only do this much, and now we will have to wait for rains to clean the atmosphere,'' said Prashant Gargava, an official at the Central Pollution Control Board.

The AAP administration was in touch with environmental scientists and continuously monitoring the alarming pollution level which has left people gasping for breath.

''Movement of trucks and construction works are under scrutiny, water is being sprinkled, we are continuously monitoring the situation,'' Rai said, adding ''there is a meeting with Pawan Hans officials today to discuss the plan of aerial sprinkling of water.''

The minister, who holds the transport portfolio along with several others, also hit out at the Haryana government for ''playing a blame game on stubble burning instead of taking action in his own state.''

According to Rai, ''The report for the last 48 hours given by the scientists is that the air quality is fluctuating. The report has been submitted to the chief minister and the cabinet.''

Gargava of the CPCB, who is in charge of monitoring air quality, said Delhi's air has been consistently in the ''hazardous'' zone, despite measures such as a halt to construction and increasing car parking charges four-fold to encourage people to use public transportation.

The state and union governments decided to reopen schools today after closing them temporarily for a few days last week. The move, however, is likely to add more vehicles on the road. Enforcement agencies said they were also unable to impose a blanket ban on movement of commercial trucks.

Aarti Menon, a teacher at a primary school in New Delhi, told Reuters her family was wearing mask even when they were indoors during the weekend.

''Not everyone can afford an air purifier or air-conditioned car. We are all living in hell,'' said Menon, a mother of two teenage daughters.