Odd-even system in Delhi next week physical classes in schools paused as air quality stays 'severe'

    New Delhi, Oct 6 (PTI) Schools in Delhi have been directed to suspend physical classes, except for classes 10 and 12, until November 10 while the odd-even car rationing system will be enforced from November 13 to 20 to combat air pollution in the city which was seven to eight times above the safe level on Monday.
    A toxic haze persisted over Delhi-NCR for the seventh consecutive day on Monday as the national capital recorded a 24-hour average Air Quality Index (AQI) at 421, a marginal improvement from 454 a day before.
    A circular from the Department of Education stated that in view of the implementation of the Stage IV Graded Response Action Plan ordered by the Commission for Air Quality Management, "it is ordered that all classes, except 10 and 12, in all schools of Delhi shall be held online up to November 10. Teachers shall come to school and conduct classes online."
    "As for the board classes, the head of schools shall have the option either to conduct the same online or call the students to school for physical classes," it said.
    Delhi Education Minister Atishi had on Sunday announced the closure of primary classes of all schools until November 10 and said schools have the option of teaching online for classes 6 to 12. However, all government and private schools opted to hold physical classes for classes 6 to 12.
    Anticipating further deterioration in air quality post-Diwali, the Delhi government announced the return of the odd-even system after a gap of four years.
    According to a 2018 study conducted by The Energy and Resources Institute, vehicular emissions contribute to roughly 40 per cent of the PM 2.5 pollution in the capital. The odd-even vehicle rationing system was first implemented in Delhi in 2016.
    Under the odd-even system, vehicles with plate numbers ending in an even digit (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) are allowed to operate on even dates, while those ending in odd digits (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) can ply on odd dates.
    Addressing a press conference on Monday, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said, "The odd-even scheme will come into effect in Delhi after Diwali from November 13 to November 20. A decision to extend the scheme will be made after November 20."
    The decision was taken in a meeting held by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with senior officials to review the implementation of an action plan to control air pollution in winter. Rai will hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the modalities of the odd-even system.
    When the odd-even was implemented in the past, emergency and police vehicles, two-wheelers, cars driven by women and vehicles ferrying school children and VIPs were exempted.
    The directives have been issued to implement the stringent restrictions mandated under the final stage of the Central government's air pollution control plan for Delhi-NCR called the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), Rai said.
    The restrictions under GRAP stage IV, including a ban on all kinds of construction work and the entry of polluting trucks into the capital, kicked in on Sunday after air quality in the capital dropped to "severe plus" (AQI above 450) levels.
    The Delhi environment minister also said that a decision on a work-from-home order for 50 per cent of staff in government and private offices will be taken after Diwali.
    He said the air pollution situation may improve over the next few days due to an expected increase in wind speed but cautioned that the air quality may deteriorate again due to bursting firecrackers during Diwali, cricket World Cup match in Delhi and Chhath Puja.
    Some experts, however, termed the Delhi government's move to implement the odd-even scheme a knee-jerk reaction rather than a long-term one.
    Speaking to PTI, Jyoti Pande Lavakare, author of 'Breathing Here is Injurious to Your Health: The Human Cost of Air Pollution', said the same "band-aid solutions" are implemented every year whenever the deteriorating air quality rings an alarm bell.
    "We are dying in this toxic air. Pollution levels are high throughout the year but in Delhi, we have normalised and politicised bad air quality," Lavakare said.
    Several resident welfare associations (RWAs) in Delhi criticised the state government's decision, while many others called for a complete lockdown to combat the rising air pollution.
    A network of 2,500 RWAs, United RWAs Joint Action (URJA), called the Delhi government's move a "political gimmick" and said it does not have a bearing on improving the pollution.
    "The odd-even scheme is a political gimmick by the Delhi government which has failed in introducing actionable solutions to this serious issue of pollution in the city. We are not happy with this decision," said Atul Goel, the president of URJA.
    An RWA in Defence Colony said the state government should impose a more "stern measure" and called for a two-day lockdown to deal with the deteriorating air quality. It said with the festivities around the corner, the state government must act with urgency to ensure that the air quality does not turn even worse.
    A study by IIT-Delhi researchers found that the rationing of vehicles on Delhi's roads reduced air pollution by two to three per cent when the scheme was first introduced in January 2016.
    The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and Evidence for Policy Design had analysed the impact of the odd-even system in 2016 and found that Delhi saw a 14-16 per cent reduction in PM2.5 levels during the hours it remained in force in January that year. However, there was no reduction in pollution when the scheme was brought back in April that year.
    Meanwhile, the Delhi BJP slammed the Arvind Kejriwal dispensation over the reintroduction of the odd-even system, saying the government was punishing people for its failure to check air pollution.
    The effectiveness of the odd-even scheme was not backed by any research and it was being implemented by the Kejriwal government as a "publicity stunt", charged Delhi BJP president Virendra Sachdeva.
    Rai, however, accused the BJP of scapegoating AAP-ruled Punjab for the air pollution in the national capital, "while their own governments failed to ban diesel buses in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana".
    Several cities in Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh reported hazardous air quality. Ghaziabad recorded an AQI of 391, Gurugram 373, Noida 384, Greater Noida 420 and Faridabad 412.
    The Gurugram administration has ordered the suspension of classes from nursery to class five because of the rising pollution in NCR. The decision was taken on the recommendations of the Air Quality Management Commission and the Pollution Control Commission.
    According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences' Air Quality Early Warning System for Delhi-NCR, the region is likely to experience severe air quality for another five to six days.
    The India Meteorological Department said that conditions favourable for the dispersion of pollutants are likely to develop Tuesday night onwards under the influence of an upcoming western disturbance, weather systems originating in the Mediterranean region that bring unseasonal rainfall to northwest India. PTI GVS SLB VIT SJJ BUN BUN NSD

(This story has not been edited by THE WEEK and is auto-generated from PTI)