New Delhi targets older diesel vehicles to clear up choking smog

traffic drives through smog in delhi
Traffic drives through smog in Delhi, November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Licenses given to diesel-powered vehicles more than 15 years old are being withdrawn, which would lead to the removal of 200,000 vehicles from the city’s roads

November 8, 2016 — Authorities in New Delhi began revoking licenses for thousands of older diesel vehicles on Tuesday and halted construction work on the underground rail network, as air pollution remained several times over the safety limit. 

a placard during a protest against pollution in new delhi
A man holds a placard during a protest against pollution in New Delhi, India November 8, 2016/REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The measures were the latest attempt to lift a thick haze of smoke, ash and other pollutants that has blanketed the capital city of some 17 million people for more than a week, triggering public anger.

a man burns paddy waste stubble in a field
A man burns paddy waste stubble in a field on the outskirts of Chandigarh, India November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Ajay Verma
a man paddles his cycle amidst smoke billowing from burning paddy
A man paddles his cycle amidst smoke billowing from burning paddy waste stubble in a field on the outskirts of Amritsar, India November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Munish Sharma
smoke billows from paddy waste stubble as it burns in a field
Smoke billows from paddy waste stubble as it burns in a field on the outskirts of Chandigarh, India November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Ajay Verma

India’s Supreme Court, which has in the past led the drive to clean up the city’s air, ordered the Delhi administration to report back in two days with a plan to combat the worst smog in 17 years.

The court was responding to several public interest petitions from environmental groups seeking its intervention in implementing anti-pollution measures that a top environment tribunal had ordered earlier in the year.

a paramilitary soldier wears a mask as he stands guard on a street near prime minister's residence
A paramilitary soldier wears a mask as he stands guard on a street near Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi, India November 8, 2016/REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
workers spray water on trees to settle down the dust
New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) workers spray water on trees to settle down the dust in New Delhi, India November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Licenses given to diesel-powered vehicles more than 15 years old are being withdrawn, which would lead to the removal of 200,000 vehicles from the city’s roads, Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung’s office said in a statement earlier in the day.

In July, the National Green Tribunal had ordered Delhi authorities to pull diesel vehicles that were more than 10 years old off the roads, but that order was not enforced.

“There is lax action on the court’s directives. There is little recognition of the urgency of toxic air pollution, particularly in the winter months,” said Sunita Narain, head of the Centre for Science and Environment which has filed a petition before the top court.

“We are asking the court to monitor the implementation of measures,” she said, calling for the government to declare the latest outbreak of smog a public health emergency.

a man walks on a pedestrian bridge amidst the heavy smog
A man walks on a pedestrian bridge amidst the heavy smog in New Delhi, November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
a rickshaw puller passes in front of a shopping mall amidst the heavy smog
A rickshaw puller passes in front of a shopping mall amidst the heavy smog in New Delhi, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that reaches deep into the lungs and causes breathlessness, throat irritation and wheezing, were above 700 in the city’s worst affected areas on Monday, according to the air quality index as monitored by the U.S. embassy.

On Tuesday, the air quality index had dropped to 372 by around noon, but that was still in the highest alert “hazardous” zone which starts at 300.

“I could smell the pollution from inside the plane when I landed in Delhi,” said Kiran Shah, a businessman who flew in from Mumbai on Tuesday.

a woman wears a mask to protect herself from the pollution
A woman wears a mask to protect herself from the pollution during a protest in Delhi, November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

The Delhi Metro has stopped work in line with the city government’s order to halt construction, spokesman Anuj Dayal said. The agency had been trying to catch up on delays with the laying of tracks to newer parts of the sprawling metropolis.

It has suspended excavation and backfilling work which added to the dust levels in the city, Dayal added.


by Sanjeev Miglani | Reuters