Minister compares Delhi to ‘gas chamber’ as pollution crisis worsens

Planes diverted due to thick brown smog hovering over city

(Image credit: (Money Sharma/AFP via Getty Images))

Planes are being diverted away from Delhi as pollution reaches almost 400 times the level deemed healthy, leading one minister to compare the city to a “gas chamber”.

A week after Diwali, the thick brown smog that covered Delhi has yet to shift. Visibility became so poor that more than 30 flights have been redirected from the airport and doctors have seen a spike in patients with respiratory related issues.

This prompted Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to tweet that the city had been turned into a “gas chamber”.

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A public health emergency was declared on Friday and yesterday the air quality index measured over 900 in some areas, far exceeding the level of 25 deemed safe by the World Health Organisation, and well above even the 500 mark deemed “severe plus”. India Today reports that “a thick blanket of smog engulfed several parts of the national capital” today.

The Guardian says the air pollution crisis is now “an annual tradition” in Delhi at this time of year, because of a perfect storm of smoke from festive firecrackers, the incineration of crop stubble by farmers in neighbouring regions, and a cold shift in temperatures “locking in the fumes”.

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Schools are closing and Rachel Rao, the vice-principal of Queen Mary’s school in Delhi, said: “Over the past 10 years the situation has been getting worse”.

“The past few days have been absolutely awful. We have seen many of our pupils falling sick and complaining of having difficulty breathing.”

Many locals are demanding stronger measures to tackle crop burning, which is estimated to cause 44% of Delhi’s pollution. Satellite imaging showed more than 3,000 incidents of stubble burning in neighbouring states last week.

New Delhi is home to more than 18 million people and 8.8 million registered motor vehicles -more than any other Indian city, CNN says.

According to the United Nations, 14 out of 15 of the world’s most polluted cities are in India. A study released last week by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago found that the life expectancy of people living in the Indian states of Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal has reduced by up to seven years due to pollution.

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