Work From Home, Schools Closure: Arvind Kejriwal's Delhi Government Scrambles As Delhi Gasps In 'Severe' Air

Delhi is enveloped in a thick layer of smog as air quality remains 'severe' amid unabated farm fires in Punjab and adverse weather conditions in Delhi.

Air pollution in Delhi

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government has closed primary schools and has implemented remote work for government employees in the wake of 'severe' air quality in Delhi. 

Delhi continues to be enveloped in a thick layer of smog as its air quality continues to be in 'severe' category for the second straight day. 

As farm fires in Punjab continue unabated and adverse weather conditions remain in Delhi, the overall air quality index (AQI) of Delhi remains 437 at around 3:15 pm on Friday, according to air quality monitoring app SAFAR of Union Ministry of Earth Sciences. The AQI is worse in several localities within Delhi, such as Dhirpur (533), the airport region (474), Delhi University (471), and Pusa (443). 

The AQI in Delhi's neighbouring cities is also similarly bad, with Gurugram having an AQI of 504 and Noida having an AQI of 526.

The concentration of lung-damaging fine particles known as PM2.5 was above 600 micrograms per cubic metre, around eight times the national standard of 60 micrograms per cubic metre, in many areas.

Amid such extreme environmental conditions, Kejriwal-led Delhi government has taken the following steps:

  • Closed primary schools
  • Shut outdoor activities, such as sports, for senior classes
  • 50 per cent government employees to work from home (WFH)
  • Similar WFH advisory to be issued for private employees
  • 500 privately-run CNG buses to be launched
  • Revenue commissioners asked to prepare a plan for staggered timings of markets and offices
  • Entry of trucks other than electric and CNG ones in Delhi is banned, relaxation for essential goods-carrying vehicles

Earlier on Friday, Kejriwal and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann addressed a press conference. While Kejriwal admitted responsibility for farm fires in Punjab, he also urged the Union government to take action. 

Farm fires are driving the air pollution in Delhi in a major way as smoke from Punjab travels to Delhi. Adverse weather condition don't allow the smoke to travel further. Farm fires in Punjab, and Haryana to an extent, are an annual feature as farmers burn paddy stubble in their fields. AAP, which is in power in Punjab, has failed to crack down on polluting farm fires and the practice has continued unabated. The shares of farm fires in Delhi's pollution has reached 38 per cent.

Kejriwal said, "Since our government is in Punjab, we are responsible for the stubble burning. It has been only six months since we formed the government there and there were issues that were being addressed. We are finding solutions. Give us a year's time to address the issue."

Mann concurred with him and said there was bumper paddy crop, which resulted in a huge amount of stubble.

"We are taking steps like there are 1.20 lakh machines to bury stubble. Panchayats have also passed resolutions to stop stubble burning. We promise by November next year, stubble burning will reduce," said Mann.

However, this has caused no respite on the ground, where farmers continue to burn paddy and harass officials who attempt to curb the polluting practice.

Punjab on Thursday reported 2,666 farm fires. The number stood at 3,634 on Wednesday, the highest this season so far, 1,842 on Tuesday, 2,131 on Monday, 1,761 on Sunday, 1,898 on Saturday and 2,067 on Friday. 

A revenue official was held hostage by farmers in Punjab's Faridkot's Jeewan Wala village by farmers who had gone to check farm fires.

"Our nodal officer gave a report of stubble burning. Patwari [revenue official] had come here to find that out. The villagers came to know about this and took him hostage. We are talking to the farmers (for his release)," said Anil Kumar, Tehsildar, Faridkot, to ANI.

Earlier on Tuesday, farmers in Punjab Kalala village in Barnala held three officials hostage seized their vehicles. 

The officials had gone to douse fire along with a fire tender and farmers captured the fire tender and took it to a local gurdwara and held officials hostage, reported Hindustan Times.

"The officials held hostage were naib tehsildar, agriculture officer and agriculture development officer of Mehal Kalan block," reported HT.

Jagsir Singh Lakhowal, district president of BKU Kadian, told HT, "The government is itself admitting that they have failed to make adequate arrangements. Therefore, farmers have no option but to burn stubble. These officials had come here to take action against farmers. We had released them around 3pm when they assured to take no action against farmers."

(With PTI inputs)