Delhi smog
Boys play football in a public park on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India. [Representational image]Reuters

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Tuesday put a ban on all kinds of construction, burning of crops and garbage and stone crushers for seven days in the Delhi/NCR region after pollution levels in the capital worsened. 

The NGT also slammed the governments of five states — Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — for not taking appropriate measures to curb pollution levels in their respective states. It also asked the states to stop burning waste crops and find a solution to the problem as soon as possible. It also asked the state governments to hold a meeting with the chief secretary of Delhi, if necessary, and inform the NGT of the measures taken in Wednesday's hearing.

"What were you doing the entire year?" the NGT told all the states on Tuesday.

The body slammed all the states for their negligence and said:

"Officers present here aren't revealing ground reality. All we see is construction work on Delhi-Chandigarh route that violates guidelines. Even a mask has a limit. Beyond a degree of pollution, masks may be detrimental. This is a matter of life and death. You have forced the children to confine themselves to their houses."

The NGT attacked every state for not having taken preventive measures beforehand. Environment secretaries of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan submitted their reports on burning of agricultural residues and pollution control to the body on Monday, ANI reported.

"You have done nothing to control the situation of smog and pollution," NGT told the Haryana government.

"What major steps have you taken to reduce crop-burning? How many machines have you provided to the farmers for agriculture waste disposals? If you had provided even Rs 1000 to the farmers, they would not have burnt the agriculture wastage like this," the body told the Punjab government.

The NGT also attacked the Delhi government: "Diwali and crop burning are known factors. Did you hold any meeting in August and September to prepare the state to tackle pollution? You have any data that shows reduction of smog? Why did you not use helicopters to sprinkle water over Delhi and its surrounding areas?"

The state governments admitted that they "have not fully read" earlier court orders on curbing the dangerous levels of air pollution. 

Data provided by the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) stated that the particulate matter in the air in Delhi has worsened to a small extent in comparison with pollution levels on Monday. The smog cover in the capital, however, has reduced to a certain extent.

Levels of the most dangerous particles, called PM 2.5, reached 700 micrograms per cubic meter on Monday and reached 1,000 over the weekend. The levels are over 16 times the limit that the Indian government considers safe. The damage due to exposure to such high concentrations is as bad as smoking over two packs of cigarettes a day, the New York Times reported.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal blamed the burning of crops by farmers in Haryana and Punjab as the reason behind the degrading levels of pollution in the capital and the surrounding areas. The New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) workers also sprinkled water on the roads to minimise pollution rising from dust.

Kejriwal announced several emergency measures on Sunday to minimise pollution — ban on construction for five days, 10-day closure of a power plant and a three-day closure of about 1,800 public schools. 

Delhi smog masks
A traffic policeman wears a mask to protect himself from dust and air pollution as he stands on a road-divider in New Delhi, India [Representational Image].Reuters

The government advised citizens to stay indoors as much as possible and work from home. Citizens have been advised to wash their eyes with running water and visit a hospital if they were experiencing symptoms like "breathlessness, giddiness, chest pain and chest constriction."

Meanwhile, tourists have been avoiding going to Delhi due to the rising levels of pollution and smog. They have instead been visiting hill stations to stay away from the pollution.

"Had plans to go for Delhi darshan, but got to know about Delhi pollution and so came to Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh) instead," a tourist told ANI.

"We have come here from Delhi because the pollution levels have increased tremendously there and we wanted some relief," another tourist said.

"I had been to Delhi, last week and the Smog was noticeable; have a sore throat because of that," a third tourist said.

However, experts are of the view that such conditions would not have come had the government implemented policies months ago. 

"These are all decent emergency measures, but they're not solving the long-term problem... The best we can hope for, in a way, is to plan for next year. This year is almost a washout," Bhargav Krishna, who manages the Public Health Foundation of India's environmental health centre, told the NYT.