Health

Delhi, Blanketed in Toxic Haze, ‘Has Become a Gas Chamber’

The situation prompted the state’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, to say on Twitter: “Delhi has become a gas chamber. Every year this happens during this part of year. We have to find a soln to crop burning in adjoining states.”

Imran Hussain, the environment minister of Delhi, said on Twitter in August that he had written to officials in the states of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh requesting a reduction in agricultural fires, but no action had been taken, a government spokesman said on Twitter on Tuesday.

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A construction site on Tuesday in New Delhi, where pollution levels often hover in the “severe” category.

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Dominique Faget/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The fires, combined with car exhaust, smokestack emissions and the burning of garbage, contribute to pollution levels that often hover in the “severe” category, the highest level designated by the Central Pollution Control Board.

An article last month in the medical journal The Lancet found that pollution was responsible for up to 2.5 million deaths in India in 2015, more than in any other country.

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Commuters crossing rail lines in a haze in the state of Punjab. Delhi says agricultural fires in Punjab, among other neighboring states, contribute to its pollution.

Credit
Shammi Mehra/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Manish Sisodia, the deputy chief minister of Delhi, said on Tuesday that “all options” for reducing pollution were being considered. The government has suggested reintroducing an alternate-days limit on the use of private cars, and to using helicopters to sprinkle water to help clear the air.

At a news conference late Tuesday, Mr. Sisodia announced that classes at primary schools would be suspended on Wednesday, and possibly longer. Last year, the government temporarily closed more than 1,800 schools after a string of especially polluted days.

Dr. Sarath K. Guttikunda, an air pollution specialist and the director of the independent research group Urban Emissions, said that keeping children at home could reduce their exposure to air pollution, especially in areas where vehicles emissions are high.

But Dr. Kumar, the chest surgeon, said he was unconvinced by the government’s approach to curbing pollution. The problem would continue, he added, unless the city’s residents put greater collective pressure on politicians to devise sustainable solutions.

“The options for Delhi residents are three,” Dr. Kumar said. “One is to stop breathing. That is not possible. Second is to quit Delhi. That is also not possible. Third is to make the right to breathe fresh air a people’s movement.”

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