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Free bus, metro services suggested, Delhi schools, colleges closed till Sunday

New Delhi: All schools and colleges in the capital will remain shut till Sunday due to alarming levels of pollution, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia announced on Wednesday.
"Delhi's air quality is getting worse. In this situation, there can be no compromise on children's health," Sisodia, also the Education Minister, said in a tweet.
The national capital and its adjoining suburbs were blanketed in a grey haze on Wednesday morning, dipping visibility to 300 meters at some places, causing train delays and slowing down flight operations here.
Some 30 trains coming to Delhi and 30 flights landing or taking off from the Delhi airport were delayed, according to officials.
The air quality in Delhi and adjoining Noida (Uttar Pradesh) and Gurgaon (Haryana) continued to be alarmingly bad on Wednesday.
The average air quality index was 477 and the level of dangerous PM2.5 particles was "severe" at 475 microgrammes per cubic metre -- about 19 times more than permissible globally.
The permissible range for PM2.5 is 60 as per Indian standards and 25 globally.
The "severe" level has prompted an advisory from the Ministry of Earth Science, cautioning against outdoor activities.
"Give a miss to walk today. Stop any activity level if you experience any unusual coughing, chest discomfort, wheezing, breathing difficulty or fatigue and consult doctor. Masks known as N-95 or P-100 respirators may only help if you go out," advised SAFAR-India, the ministry-run air quality and weather forecasting research centre.
According to data from the Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA), the air quality in Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad (Haryana) was just as bad, with the presence of PM 2.5 NCR pegged at 445 till 10 a.m.
The level of PM2.5 in Noida Sector 125 was especially steep (525). In Faridabad Sector 16, it was 452 by 10 a.m.
In Vikas Sadan at Gurugram, the level of PM2.5 was 316 -- lowest of all those observed till then.
According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), visibility dropped to 300 meters at many places in the capital.
Poor visibility also caused heavy traffic snarls at many places in Delhi and NCR. The saving grace was the absence of hundreds of school buses on the roads.
The situation is likely to worsen on Thursday as the weather department predicted "dense to very dense fog very likely" at many places in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh.

Free bus, Metro ride recommended to battle Delhi pollution
New Delhi: The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and a Supreme Court-appointed environment body have recommended "free of cost public transport" in Delhi for the next few days as the region faces a "pollution emergency".
The final decision to make bus and Metro rides free will come from the Delhi's Lt Governor Anil Baijal, who is likely to hold an emergency meeting with environment authorities, officials said.
The CPCB, which held an emergency task force meeting here, said that a "pollution-clock" was being updated on its portal to monitor the situation closely and impose a "pollution emergency" if PM2.5 remained at the current levels.
To impose "pollution emergency", as recommended under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), the major pollutant PM2.5, or particles with diameter less than 2.5mm, must stay at 300 units or more for 48 hours or PM10 should be at 500 units or more for the same duration.
According to CPCB officials, the pollution emergency clock had been ticking for the past 24 hours and PM2.5 currently was 18 to 30 times the safe range in all the areas across Delhi-NCR after noon. By evening, this has been upgraded to "beyond severe" levels.
Earlier, the apex court-appointed Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) barred the entry of trucks to Delhi and levied a parking fee four times the normal rates.
But there have been issues with the implementation as the "stakeholders fail or deny to implement the directives for various reasons", officials told IANS.
"Delhi could see pollution emergency in the next 24 hours and we are keeping a close watch... We had recommended to EPCA free public transport, implementation of odd-even scheme, stopping movements of all trucks," CPCB Member Secretary A. Sudhakar told IANS.
"There is a need for augmentation of public transport and free of cost public transport is to encourage people to stop using their vehicles," Sudhakar added.
EPCA Chairperson Bhure Lal has spoken with the Chief Secretaries of the neighbouring states, asking them to stay ready for implementing the emergency.
"I had spoken with the Chief Secretaries of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana and given them a notice, asking to be ready for emergency... The Chief Secretaries held a meeting with the heads of the departments concerned and are in talks with the local authorities," Bhure Lal told IANS.
As Delhi-NCR passes through one of the worst smog situations, which is likely to prevail for at least two more days, emergency steps with several restrictions are being put in place by EPCA.
However, officials both at CPCB and EPCA say that while they had been passing orders and instructions, the same were not being adhered to or enforced by the implementing bodies.
"There have been failures and there is no doubt... We have been issuing instructions and recommendations but there are issues with implementation, like farmers in Punjab are not bothered (about stubble burning) at all," said Sudhakar.
"EPCA passes orders and is the implementing authority but it cannot ensure their enforcement... The main issue is that the stakeholder, including the local agencies, accept the orders but then fail to implement," said Polash Mukherjee, Research Associate at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an EPCA member.

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