As Delhi's air quality remained on the brink of turning "severe", the centre on Thursday said steps taken by states to control stubble burning were "far from satisfactory" as the environment ministers of four states, including Punjab and Haryana, where the practice is rampant, skipped a crucial meet to discuss the deteriorating air quality in the national capital.
A ban on construction activities came into force on Thursday as Delhi's air quality was on the brink of turning "severe" due to stubble burning in the adjoining regions and unfavourable meteorological conditions, authorities said.
The meeting called by Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan ahead of Diwali to discuss the plan for the next 10 days, when the pollution level is expected to spike, witnessed the participation of Delhi's Environment Minister Imran Hussain apart from officials of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana.
Delhi's air quality has severely deteriorated in the past two weeks and is currently oscillating between "very poor" and "severe" categories.
The absence of environment ministers from the crucial meet was questioned by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet colleague, who said neighbouring states should take the issue of air pollution "seriously".
"Why didn't ministers from other states attend? It's a collective problem and I urge everyone to please work together. Only then can we find a soln (sic)," Mr Kejriwal tweeted.
Mr Hussain said the Delhi government had been urging the centre to intervene and give farmers resources so they do not have to depend on stubble burning.
"Today also, you saw that ministers from Haryana, Punjab, UP and Rajasthan did not attend the meeting by the Union Environment Minister. Seriousness is needed to deal with the issue of increasing pollution in the national capital," he said.
However, Mr Vardhan said the issue of air pollution "should not be politicised" and everyone should cooperate fully to protect the environment, while stressing the need for an "aggressive" plan to combat air pollution in Delhi. Union Minister Vijay Goel blamed Mr Kejriwal for polluting Delhi.
Amid a rise in health-related problems due to air pollution, Mr Vardhan launched a manual on asthma, detailing how school administrations must act in case of an emergency.
The Delhi government also told the Supreme Court on Thursday that out of 1.10 crore vehicles registered in the national capital, 40 lakh "overage" vehicles - more than 15 years old in case of petrol and over 10 years old for diesel - have been de-registered by the transport department.
This information was shared as the top court expressed displeasure that orders passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the Supreme Court in 2015, prohibiting the plying of such old vehicles in the Delhi-national capital region (NCR), had not yet been complied with.
Harsh Vardhan underlined that despite a decrease in incidents of stubble burning by 30 per cent from the previous year, more needed to be done, while asking the Delhi government to ensure 100 per cent stoppage of open burning of domestic and industrial wastes.
An aggressive 10 day-long "Clean Air Campaign" was also launched by Harsh Vardhan. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee, meanwhile, directed the transport department and the traffic police to intensify checking of polluting vehicles and control travel congestion in the region during November 1-10.
The building department has also fined owners of 39 sites for not complying with its directives to check pollution and a fine of Rs 8 lakh was imposed on them.
Moreover, a total penalty of Rs 6.60 lakh was also imposed for causing dust pollution, NDMC authorities said.
A total of 4,385 vehicles have been prosecuted for plying without valid Pollution Under Control Certificate (PUCC) during October, Alok Kumar, Joint Commissioner of Police (traffic), said.
Around 177 vehicles have been prosecuted for carrying uncovered building material and amount of Rs 3,54,000 has been imposed as penalty on such vehicles, he said.
At the border check-posts of Delhi, a total of 70,480 vehicles were checked, out of which 1,738 vehicles not destined for Delhi were made to turn back and take other routes to reach their destinations, he said.
Apart from that, a total of 1,89,290 vehicles were checked this year till October 31, of which 391 vehicles were impounded as they were "overage", Mr Kumar said.
Further, to decongest city roads, reduce the travel time of motorists, save fuel and reduce pollution, a total of 10,23,156 vehicles were prosecuted for obstructive and improper parking, he added.
On Thursday, Gurgaon, Faridabad and Noida recorded an AQI of 416, which falls in the "severe" category, while air quality was "very poor" in Ghaziabad and Greater Noida. Eleven areas in Delhi recorded "severe" air quality while 16 areas recorded "very poor" air quality, according to the CPCB data.
The PM2.5 level was recorded at 217. Fine particulates can be a matter of more serious health concern than PM10 (particles in the air with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres).
As per the CPCB data, the PM10 level in Delhi stood at 368. The Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) said the AQI of Delhi-NCR would continue to remain in the upper range of the "very poor" category in the next three days.
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