About 55 kilometres from Delhi is a town that is India's most polluted area right now. Data from the Central Pollution Control Board this morning showed the AQI or Air Quality Index at Baghpat, a town in western Uttar Pradesh's sugarcane belt, at a critically polluted 500 - the maximum possible reading from government monitors.
A thick layer of poisonous smog has engulfed the town since morning and local residents say it is impossible to even breathe outdoors. "It's very polluted, I can't breathe. My eyes are itchy. What is the government doing?" local resident Anant Bharadwaj told NDTV.
Ironically, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is visiting Baghpat this afternoon - not to deal with the pollution but to inaugurate a sugarcane factory.
Many other towns in western Uttar Pradesh, like Hapur, Meerut, Bulandshahr have been as polluted, or even more than Delhi and the National Capital Region in the last few days which has grabbed international headlines. Larger cities like Kanpur, Lucknow and Varanasi also continue to remain severely polluted.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, chaired a meeting related to pollution on Friday but no details were given to the press about what decisions were taken in the meeting. Sources in the government say officials in charge of districts have been asked to stop road construction and repair right now to stop dust from spreading, decisions to declare holidays in schools have also been left to district hospitals. Local officials have been told to strictly curb the burning of garbage and crop residue.
"The government is serious about tackling pollution and officials have been instructed," was Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Maurya's one-line answer to journalists in Varanasi when asked what the state administration was doing to tackle the poisonous air.
Reports from towns in western Uttar Pradesh like Meerut and Muzaffarnagar suggested that the local administration is getting water sprinkled on roads and polluted zones to try and reduce dust accumulation. News agency PTI quoted UP Agriculture Department Deputy Director Ashutosh Mishra saying that as many as 66 farmers have been fined Rs 2.32 lakh for burning crop waste in the Hardoi district.
"Stubble burning in fields results in massive air pollution. Therefore, farmers should be encouraged and made aware of the consequences of burning straw in their fields. Officials should ensure straw is mixed in the soil to make compost," UP Chief Secretary Rajendra Kumar Tiwari said in a directive to officers, PTI reported.
(With inputs from PTI)