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Delhi primary schools shut; WFH for 50% govt staff as air pollution turns 'severe' in Delhi-NCR

Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, and his Punjab counterpart, Bhagwant Mann, both accepted responsibility for paddy straw burning in the agrarian state and promised to put an end to it by next winter.

Delhi primary schools shut; WFH for 50% govt staff as air pollution turns 'severe' in Delhi-NCR

New Delhi: Alarmed by hazardous pollution levels and health warnings, the Delhi government on Friday announced that primary schools will remain shut from Saturday and 50 per cent of its staff will work from home, while private offices have been advised to follow suit. Delhi's air quality remained "severe" for a second day on the trot, with stubble burning accounting for 30 per cent of the PM2.5 pollution in the capital, according to the Central Pollution Control Board and SAFAR, a forecasting agency under the Ministry of Earth and Sciences. Over the last few days, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party have traded barbs over the increase in stubble burning in Punjab.

However, on Friday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann owned responsibility for paddy straw burning in the agrarian state and promised to curb the practice by next winter. "We (AAP) have our government in Punjab and we are responsible if 'parali' is being burnt there. Farmers are not responsible for it," Kejriwal said in a joint press conference with Mann. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said stubble burning is not a "political issue" but expressed concern over rising farm fires despite funding and machines provided by the Centre.

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The number of stubble-burning incidents in Punjab rose 12.59 per cent year-on-year to 26,583 in the last 50 days, with a spurt in such cases after Diwali, according to the latest Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) data. However, when compared to Punjab, the number of paddy stubble burning events in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi remained lower between September 15 and November 4 this year, the data showed. The Supreme Court agreed to list for hearing on November 10 a public interest litigation seeking fresh guidelines on stubble burning.

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National Human Rights Commission asked the chief secretaries of 4 states

Taking note of the hazardous air quality, the National Human Rights Commission asked the chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to appear before it on November 10 to discuss the matter, an official statement said. The commission said it was "not satisfied" with the action taken so far to address the issue and that "much more" needs to be done to reduce pollution in Delhi. While parents breathed a sigh of relief following the announcement to shut primary schools, academicians expressed concern over learning losses due to the frequent suspension of classes -- earlier in view of the Covid pandemic and now because of deteriorating air quality.

Experts on air pollution

Experts suggested that the government should rejig vacation schedules as pollution turns severe every winter. At a press conference, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said schools would be asked to curtail the outdoor activities of senior students. Rai ordered 50 per cent of the staff of the Delhi government to work from home and said an advisory would be issued to private offices to follow suit. He said the Delhi government has decided to implement the anti-pollution curbs recommended by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), including a ban on non-BS VI diesel-run light motor vehicles. A six-member panel chaired by the special commissioner of transport has been set up to monitor the implementation of curbs on anti-polluting activities. Revenue commissioners have been asked to prepare a plan for staggered timings of markets and offices.

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