Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow has been among India's most polluted cities on all days after Diwali , but schools continue to function as usual, exposing both students and teachers to severe harm. This is unlike the other Uttar Pradesh cities in the National Capital region like Noida and Ghaziabad, where schools have been shut by the district administration after air pollution reached critical levels.
At a government primary and middle school in the heart of Lucknow, Deepali Pal, a Class 5 student, says the ten-minute walk from her home to school each day has become increasingly difficult . "I put a handkerchief over my mouth when I walk but it doesn't help. I feel uneasy all the time. I even have a headache," says the nine-year-old. Deepali's father is a security guard and spends most of his time outdoors. "It's even worse for him," she says. "But what can we do? We have no option".
Assistant teacher Jyoti Tiwari, in charge of the class, says she has been teaching for the last few days with a severe cold, nasal congestion and irritation in the eyes. The teacher says she gets her medicines to school because the local administration has been unwilling to declare a holiday. "I am facing a lot of problems despite wearing a mask to work. I think the government should declare a holiday. The students are suffering more. I can still wear a mask and buy more protective gear but these kids cannot even afford that," she says.
The official handle of Lucknow's District Magistrate tweeted about the issue three days ago, asking schools to ensure water is sprinkled in open areas within school compounds on priority.
But there is no explanation about why a holiday is not being declared despite the hazardous pollution levels.
Apart from Lucknow, cities like Kanpur, Varanasi, Noida and Ghaziabad are among the country's most polluted. "The Chief Minister called an emergency meeting. We have instructed officers across the state. Burning of crop residue has been banned, all construction has been banned, water is being sprinkled, burning of garbage has been banned, heavy vehicles are not being allowed into Lucknow. I am confident we will bring down pollution numbers in the coming days," Dara Singh Chauhan, Uttar Pradesh Environment Minister told NDTV.
But the same minister, spoke in totally contradictory terms when asked about whether the government, like Delhi, would consider implementing the odd - even traffic rationing rule in Uttar Pradesh cities. After first saying that the UP police has been instructed to implement the odd-even rule in major cities in the state, the minister backtracked, saying there was no need. Both the statements came within 30 minutes of each other on Monday. "The Chief Minister's instructions are enough for UP, so there is no discussion on odd-even right now. It may be successful in Delhi, but we feel the Chief Minister's instructions here are enough," said Mr Chauhan in his clarification.