India’s capital Delhi limited the number of cars that can enter the city on Monday as authorities struggle with a pollution crisis that has turned the city into a “gas chamber.”
Toxic air pollution has engulfed the city since last week, prompting officials to declare a public health emergency on Friday: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, described his city as a “gas chamber,” and conditions got even worse over the weekend.
On Monday afternoon, the air quality index had fallen slightly to 407, according to the state-run Central Pollution Control Board. That’s still more than eight times the maximum safe level.
When pollution levels are that high, it’s difficult to breathe, because tiny particulates in the air lodge deep in the lungs. And the long-term health implications of living with air pollution like Delhi’s were laid bare in a report published last week, which said pollution has shaved up to seven years off the life expectancy of people living in the states of Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
The “odd-even” car restriction scheme will allow private vehicles with odd-number license plates to drive only on odd-number dates, while even-numbered plates are allowed on even-numbered dates.
On Friday, Kejriwal appealed for drivers to follow the rules, including private taxis and auto-rickshaw drivers.
But the new scheme is already causing problems for motorists, many of whom say they were unaware the system had been put in place and complained about the 4,000 rupees ($55) fine.
The system is set to remain in place for two weeks.
Officials say it will remove 1.2 million vehicles from the roads of the capital every day, but experts say emissions from cars and trucks are not the main contributing factor to the air pollution, pointing to farmers burning their crops in the agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, and the increase in dust from construction work in the city.
This is not the first time the government has implemented the car-rationing scheme, and critics say it has done little in the past to make things better.
“I don’t think this odd-even scheme will do anything,” said Ajay Jasra, a Delhi resident, told AP. “It’s mostly the stubble burning in the states of Punjab and Haryana which contributes to the pollution, and industrial pollution is also high.”
Also adding to the toxic conditions is a thick brown smoke that enveloped the city as a result of fireworks set off during Diwali festivities a week ago, which has yet to shift.
Schools have been closed and are likely to remain shut for the rest of the week, with officials warning residents to stay indoors whenever possible. Dozens of flights into Delhi on Monday had to be rerouted because visibility was too low.
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