New Delhi: A thick shroud of menacing grey haze blanketed the national capital today as pollution level breached the safe limit by over 17 times at places, prompting Chief Minister Arvind Kerjriwal to describe Delhi as a "gas chamber" and seek the Centre's intervention.
Kejriwal appealed to people to minimise the use of private vehicles in view of the situation and switch to public transportation facilities.
The extent of pollution surpassed even the post-Diwali levels, while smog brought down visibility to around 200 metres across the city. Monitoring agencies recorded 'severe' quality air and advised people to avoid going outdoors.
Kejriwal told a press conference that the smog was mainly a product of raging farm fires in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana. Later, he raised the issue with Union Environment Minister Anil Dave in a meeting at the latter's residence.
While the 24-hour average of respirable pollutants PM 2.5 and PM 10 was 355 and 482 micrograms per cubic metre respectively, real-time figures were alarmingly high.
Anand Vihar, for instance, recorded PM 10 level at 1,711 micrograms per cubic metre at 2 PM -- around 17 times above the safe limit.
The safe limits of these ultrafine particles are 60 and 100 respectively. Even the level of gaseous pollutants like NO2 violated the prescribed standards for human inhalation as per real-time readings.
Lt Governor Najeeb Jung has also called for a high-level meeting on Monday to take stock of the immediate, short-term and long term measures, in which he invited Kejriwal, health minister Satyendar Jain, environment minister Imran Hussain, the Delhi Chief Secretary, and representatives of Police and the civic bodies.
Kejriwal said vehicle restriction measures like 'odd-even' scheme will not be able to bring down the smog as initial studies suggest that the "large-scale" influx of pollutant-laden smoke from Punjab and Haryana has aggravated the situation.
He said the Delhi government has very few methods at its disposal and the Centre needs to intervene.
"Pollution has increased to an extent that outdoors in Delhi are resembling a gas chamber. Prima facie the biggest reason seems to be burning of stubble in agricultural fields in Haryana and Punjab in huge quantity," Kejriwal told a press conference.
Shutting down of schools for a long time was not a feasible solution, he said, when asked about the decision of the civic bodies to keep schools run by it closed for a day in view of pollution.