As a thick shroud of menacing grey haze blanketed the national capital on Saturday as pollution level breached the safe limit by over 17 times at places, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kerjriwal described the city as a "gas chamber" even as the Centre has called a meeting of Environment Ministers of all neighbouring states due to an “emergency situation”.
Kejriwal met Environment Minister Anil Dave yesterday and sought Centre's urgent intervention to deal with the challenge.
The Chief Minister likened the city to a "gas chamber" with main reason being smoke from farm fires in Punjab and Haryana and appealed to people to minimise use of vehicles.
After the meeting, Dave said he has called a meeting of Environment Ministers of all neighbouring states on Monday and will request them to curb stubble burning in their states as it increases level of smog in Delhi.
"There is an emergency situation in Delhi. The situation is bad, particularly for children, patients, women and elderly. We need to take immediate steps to deal with the situation," Dave told reporters, adding he was also exploring the possbility to call a meeting of chief ministers of all neighbouring states on the issue.
On his part, Kejriwal appealed to people to restrict use of private vehicles and use public transport.
Earlier, addressing a press conference, Kejriwal said vehicle restriction measures like odd-even will not be able to bring down smog as initial studies suggest that the "large scale" influx of pollutant-laden smoke from Punjab and Haryana has aggravated the situation.
"Pollution has increased to an extent that outdoors in Delhi are resembling a gas chamber. Prima facie the biggest reason seems to be burning of stubble in agricultural fields in Haryana and Punjab in huge quantity," he said.
Dave said the situation has been "very alarming" and that there was a need to take short-term measures to deal with the situation immediately, adding he discussed with Kejriwal "emergency measures" including ways to contain dust pollution and crop burning.
"There are five reasons triggering air pollution that include use of firewood, coal, diesel, petrol and burning of agricultural waste. We have to find solution to address the problem.
"We should imbibe self discipline in our routine life style. If I don't minimize use of my four cars and expect other people to use cycles, that should not be happen. We
should collectively come under self-regulation," he said.
Both Dave and Kejriwal were in agreement that shutting down schools was not the solution when asked about the decision of the civic bodies to keep schools run by it closed for a day in view of pollution.
Kejriwal pitched for providing alternatives and incentives to farmers so that they discard the traditional practise of burning farm stubbles.
Dave said due to high levels of PM 10 and PM 2.5, the situation has been bad through the year in Delhi, but this time round, factors like crop burning and fire crackers are responsible for the deteriorating air quality.
"There is no one particular reason behind alarming air pollution in Delhi. We need to collectively address all issues and improve air quality. We should not indulge in political blame game," the Environment Minister said.
Asked whether the Centre would issue a health advisory, Dave said people are already aware of the situation adding that if there was a need, one will be issued after consultation with the Health Ministry.
Kejriwal said the Delhi government has very few options at its disposal and the Centre needs to intervene.
"The Centre can sit with the Chief Minister of these states and chalk out a solution. Few reports have put the volume of stubble being burned at around 16-20 million tonnes.
"Fireworks during Diwali marginally added to the pollution. But other things inside Delhi did not drastically change. So the smog is mainly due to smoke from farm fires," he observed.
Kejriwal identified the main sources of pollution inside Delhi as vehicles, dust and waste burning, which he said could not be responsible for the pall of smog across the city.
"I saw smoke across Punjab, Haryana during my visits. We need Centre's help. We are hiring an agency in a week or two to study the sources of pollution in Delhi afresh. The Centre needs to intervene," he said.
Air Quality Index (AQI) of all the eight monitoring stations of Centre's SAFAR blinked red, indicating severe levels of pollution. CPCB stations had severe AQI as well.
The Delhi High Court had last year observed that living in Delhi was akin to living in a "gas chamber" as it directed the Centre and the city government to present comprehensive action plans to combat it.
Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain yesterday inspected Bhalswa landfill and said it was "one of the major contributor" of air pollution in the city due to frequent fires at the dumping site.
"This is a big cause of air pollution in Delhi as there are frequent cases of fire at several spots at the site. There is a need to address this problem," he told reporters.
The minister said the Delhi government and civic bodies are working out a plan to dispose the excess garbage and douse flames.
"MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) has asked for 15 to 20 days to douse the fire," Jain said.
The government is also considering to use part of garbage for road construction and rest can be utilised in waste-to-energy plant, he said.