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Delhi air pollution: GRAP III kicks in as city’s AQI turns severe, primary classes shut, old vehicles and construction activities banned

Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) Stage III have been imposed in Delhi which prohibits the use of vehicles with older emissions standards in several National Capital Region (NCR) districts and closed Delhi's primary schools for the next two days.

An air emergency was declared in Delhi with its air quality index (AQI) plummeting into ‘severe’ days ahead of Diwali. The AQI in Delhi was 460 at 7 am on 3rd November (Friday) and approached 500 in several areas of the city.

Since an AQI of 400 or more is classified as ‘severe’, the authorities have taken action in response to the deteriorating air quality. The authorities summoned an emergency meeting at 12 p.m. on Friday to discuss more measures that should be adopted to manage the worsening situation.

After waking up to a thick layer of toxic smoke on 2nd November (Thursday), the capital region’s air quality quickly dropped to the ‘severe’ zone by 5 p.m. and prompted the administration to implement the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) Stage III which prohibits the use of vehicles with older emissions standards in several National Capital Region (NCR) districts and closed Delhi’s primary schools for the next two days.

The institutions have been asked to hold classes online on 3rd and 4th of November, per an official directive from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). The state governments of Delhi and districts falling under the National Capital Region (NCR) would decide whether to continue offering physical classes for students up to Class V.

At 8 a.m., Delhi’s average Air Quality Index was 351 but by 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. it had dropped to 392 and 402, respectively and had officially entered the severe category for the first time this season. According to data from the Central Pollution Control Board, the AQI had jumped down to 417 by 8 p.m and plunged to 422 at 10 pm.

In light of the steps taken by pollution control authorities on 2nd November to encourage greater numbers of individuals to use public transportation in Delhi and surrounding areas, officials announced that Delhi Metro will conduct 20 extra train trips across its network starting on 3rd November. Delhi Metro started operating 40 more train rides during the week (Monday through Friday) on 25 October after the GRAP II stage took effect.

According to a senior official, the Delhi government is going to introduce a dedicated electric bus shuttle service for state and federal government workers on Friday. It would start from Kidwai Nagar and RK Puram for Central Secretariat staff members for the central government. The e-service would additionally operate from Gulabi Bagh to the Delhi Secretariat for government employees of Delhi.

Center’s pollution control panel has also mandated an urgent halt on mining, stone crushing and non-essential construction activities in the area. The Delhi-NCR pollution control panel issued orders on Thursday to stop non-essential building work and highlighted the city’s now-‘severe’ air quality. A total cessation of building and demolition is mandated by Stage III of GRAP with the exception of mining and stone crushing operations and vital government projects. Delhi’s air quality has declined to the point where all non-essential construction and demolition work has been banned in the region.

The national capital has completely outlawed the entry of diesel trucks and light commercial vehicles. According to the most recent GRAP III limitations, older diesel buses are also not permitted to operate on Delhi’s roadways, and both BS 3 petrol and BS 4 diesel vehicles are prohibited from doing the same. The restriction on two-wheelers and outdated three-wheelers continued to be in effect. Only BS3 gasoline and BS4 diesel LMVs (Light Motor Vehicles) in Delhi and the districts of Gurugram, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, and Gautam Budh Nagar are listed in the statement.

Gopal Rai, the environment minister for Delhi, has scheduled a meeting in order to discuss what needs to be done given the severity of the circumstances. The Graded Response Action Plan’s third stage of execution will be covered during the meeting. He is set to hold a news conference at the Delhi Secretariat at 1 pm following the meeting. He stated that more instructions would be released in this regard.

Activities such as earthwork for excavation and filling, including boring and drilling work, all structural construction work, including fabrication and welding operations and demolition work, loading and unloading of construction materials anywhere within or outside the project sites, the transfer of raw materials either manually or through conveyor belts, including fly ash, the movement of vehicles on unpaved roads, the laying of sewer line, waterline, drainage work and electric cabling by an open trench system, the cutting and fixing of tiles, stones and other flooring materials, grinding activities, piling work, water proofing work, painting, polishing and varnishing work etc. are firmly banned after the commencement of GRAP III.

Further increasing the frequency of mechanised or vacuum-based road sweeping, ensuring daily water sprinkling and dust suppressants are applied before peak traffic hours on roads and right-of-ways which involves hotspots and heavily trafficked corridors and making sure that the collected dust is properly disposed of in designated sites or landfills are all going to contribute to the intensification of public transportation services under GRAP III.

In some areas across the Delhi-NCR region on Thursday, the concentration of PM2.5 in the air exceeded the permissible limit of 60 micrograms per cubic meter by a factor of seven to eight. An AQI of 0–50 is regarded as good, 51–100 as satisfactory, 101–200 as moderate, 201–300 as poor, 301–400 as very poor and 401–500 as severe. GRAP which is the center’s air pollution control plan in the area during the winter has already been activated to Stage III .

On Friday, AQIs in several parts of Delhi were reported to be perilously around 500 including Ashok Vihar (440), Alipur (442), Vivek Vihar (458), RK Puram (488), Shadipur (448), Major Dhyan Chand Stadium (481), Nehru Nagar (461), Mundka (498), Bawana (496), Punjabi Bagh (493), Wazirpur (491), and Rohini (491).

On Thursday, there were similarly high AQI readings in some Delhi NCR regions. At 4 p.m. on Thursday, the AQI in Gurugram was in the ‘poor’ category at 297, in the ‘severe’ category at 402 in Greater Noida and in the ‘very poor’ category at 351 in Noida. Hazardous air was also observed in a number of nearby cities in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Haryana.

The drastic reduction in the region’s air quality has been linked to an increase in stubble burning incidences. A computer model-based approach created by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune estimated that on Thursday, smoke from burning stubble accounted for 25% of Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution, and on Friday, that percentage was expected to rise to 35%. The combination of low temperatures and calm winds has caused local pollutants to build up in the air, which is another main cause of Delhi’s current pollution.

The air quality in Delhi-NCR is expected to degrade within the next two weeks, per scientists. According to official data, meteorologists reported that Delhi’s air quality in October 2023 was the worst since 2020 because there had not been any rainfall. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimated that the capital’s October AQI was 210 down from 210 in October 2021 and 173 in October 2021.

The period from 1 November to 15 November when farmers in Punjab and Haryana start burning their stubble is when Delhi’s air pollution peaks. According to the Commission for Air Quality Management, there has been a notable increase in the recent few days despite the fact that stubble-burning occurrences in Punjab and Haryana have decreased after 15 September.

The worsening air quality index has led to the invocation of Section 144 in Gurugram. Greater Noida and Noida itself are subject to GRAP III limitations as of this Friday.

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