Delhi schools will shift to online classes starting Monday, all construction activity will be shut down, and government offices will work from home, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said Saturday, as the national capital fights the toxic smog that has blanketed the city for over a week now.
The work from home (WFH) order for government offices is also, for now, for seven days.
However, construction work - among those that contributes to dust and microscopic pollutants in the air - will only be shut down for four days - from November 14 to 17, the Chief Minister said.
Mr Kejriwal's four-step pollution control plan, which includes planning for a city-wide lockdown, comes hours after an angry Supreme Court demanded the government at the centre and in Delhi prioritise an emergency response over long-term efforts to tackle the problem.
"For a week from Monday onwards, schools will be physically closed (they can continue virtually) so children don't have to breathe polluted air. Construction activities will not to be allowed between November 14 and 17," Mr Kejriwal told reporters.
"Government offices will operate from home (WFH) at 100 per cent capacity for a week. Private offices will be issued an advisory to go for WFH option as much as possible," he said.
Delhi and surrounding areas, including Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad, have been choking under a deadly blanket of polluted air for over seven days now - beginning with Diwali last week.
Before, during and after Diwali thousands in these and other areas burst firecrackers in blatant violation of orders by the Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments, contributing greatly to the shocking deterioration of air quality levels.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board, at 6.30 pm the overall AQI in Delhi was 427.
AQI readings in excess of 400 are considered 'severe' or 'hazardous'.
At these levels, the polluted air has high concentrations of PM2.5 particles and these can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer.
Air quality levels in Delhi have also been affected by farmers in nearby areas burning stubble - another annual problem that increases pollutants in the atmosphere.
Chief Justice NV Ramana said: "You see how bad the situation is.... even in our houses, we are wearing masks. Tell us how you plan to take emergency measures. Two-day lockdown? What is your plan on lowering AQI?"
The court also referred to the order re-opening schools (after Covid restrictions were eased), and said: "You opened schools two weeks back. Kids are exposing their lungs to this hazardous air."
Breathing the Delhi air is "like smoking 20 cigarettes a day," the state government admitted in the court, stressing, "We agree to the gravity of the situation."
The Chief Justice warned the centre to look beyond politics and work with the Arvind Kejriwal government to solve what is an annual (and worsening) problem in the city.
In a sharp rebuke to the Delhi government, the court said: "You opened all schools two weeks back... All kids are exposing their lungs to this hazardous air."
The court also questioned the centre's plans to stop stubble burning, and was distinctly unimpressed by blame being placed on farmers in Punjab.
"Why are you projecting like (the) pollution is because of farmers? It is only a certain percentage of pollution. What about the rest? What are you doing to control the pollution in Delhi? You tell us what the plan is... not about 2-3 days," the court insisted.