New Delhi: The first day of New Year was not very happy for Delhi as air pollution levels showed a sharp rise. The levels of lethal particulate matter hovered around the danger mark. If they rise further and stay there for four days, emergency pollution control measures like odd-even road rationing scheme and ban on construction activities will have to be brought back.
On Monday, the average Particulate Matter or PM 2.5 was recorded at 292 micrograms per cubic metre - which comes under the 'very poor' category. The levels of PM10 were at 444 micrograms per cubic metre, which is 'severe' according to Central Pollution Control Board guidelines.
The Graded Response Action Plan or GRAP laid out by a Supreme Court-monitored panel recommends strict action when PM2.5 and PM10 levels turn 300 and 500 and persist for 48 hours and weather conditions indicate that they will be there for at least two more days.
Delhi currently has three plans to control pollution and while one is being followed, there is no clarity on what is to be done with the other two -- one by the National Green Tribunal and the other by the Prime Minister's pollution task force.
The spike in pollution comes weeks after the initial surge in November that was termed a "public health crisis" by doctors. Pulled up by the courts for inaction, the Delhi government had announced a series of measures that included a the odd-even scheme, ban on commercial trucks and construction activities. Car parking charges were also hiked four-fold to force people to use public transport.
"You just cannot expose children and the elderly to an environment where the air quality index is over 450. This may not have an immediate effect but will leave a long-lasting impact on health," Dr AK Kumar, Lung Specialist at Delhi's Sir Gangaram Hospital, told NDTV.
A statistical handbook of 2017, released by the Delhi Government shows that deaths due to respiratory diseases have increased from 6,502 in 2015 to 9,149 in 2016, a scary 40% increase. However, lacking scientific data, doctors have a caveat.
"PM10 is linked to respiratory illnesses and PM2.5 to heart conditions and that statistics is unavailable. It is premature to link the deaths due to respiratory illness to pollution, but yes, pollution is a health hazard and is linked to exacerbation of asthma and respiratory diseases," said Dr KK Aggarwal, President Heart Foundation and Former President Indian Medical Association.