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Cars restricted in Indian capital amid air pollution crisis

Smog levels in New Delhi have reached a three-year high.

Traffic in New Delhi (AP)
Traffic in New Delhi (AP)

By Shiekh Saaliq

New Delhi authorities have restricted many private vehicles from the roads to help lessen pollution as toxic smog in the city sparked a public health crisis.

A scheme will restrict private vehicles with odd-number licence plates to driving on odd dates, while even-numbered plates will be permitted on even-numbered dates.

The move began on Monday, days after authorities in the Indian capital initiated emergency control measures and ordered the closure of schools as pollution levels reached a three-year high.

The state-run Central Pollution Control Board’s air quality index for New Delhi was “severe” at 436, about nine times the recommended maximum.

Traffic police officers, wearing protective masks, signalled to cars to stop for not following the temporary “odd-even” rule.

New Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed for residents to follow the rule and for private taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers to support it.

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An ‘odd-even’ licence plate scheme is in play to cut traffic (AP)

Authorities said almost 1.2 million registered vehicles in Delhi will be off-road every day during the two-week restrictions.

People had a mixed response to the measures, with many seen outdoors not wearing protective masks.

Delhi resident Ajay Jasra said: “I don’t think this odd-even scheme will do anything. It’s mostly the stubble burning in the states of Punjab and Haryana which contributes to the pollution, and industrial pollution is also high.”

Air pollution in New Delhi and northern Indian states peaks in the winter as farmers in neighbouring agricultural regions set fire to clear land after the harvest and prepare for the next crop season.

The pollution in the Indian capital also peaks after Diwali celebrations, the Hindu festival of light, when people traditionally set off fireworks.

Residents distraught over the pollution said they wanted to leave the city of more than 20 million people due to its poor air quality.

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The Indian capital’s skyline is enveloped in smog and dust, a growing problem at this time of year (AP)

“I feel like moving out as well because I’m young and I’m still on a stage of building up my life and my career,” Delhi resident Divyam Mathur said.

The vehicle restrictions have been the Aam Aadmi Party-led city government’s pet project to fight air pollution. It was implemented twice in 2016 but remained controversial as critics have debated its success.

Vehicle and industrial emissions, pollutants from firecrackers and construction dust sharply increase each winter, exacerbating what is already a public health crisis.

Last year, the New Delhi government ordered firefighters to sprinkle water from high-rise buildings to settle dust, banned rubbish fires and ordered builders to cover construction sites to stop dust enveloping the area as hazardous air quality affected millions of people.

World Health Organisation data released last year gave India the dubious distinction of having the world’s 10 most polluted cities.

PA

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