India’s Top Court Considering Lockdown Measures to Curb Air Pollution Crisis

By Todd Crawford | November 18, 2021
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A metro approaches towards a station as commuters drive along a road amid heavy smog in New Delhi on November 16, 2021. (Image: MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images) 1236596362

India’s Supreme Court is considering COVID-style lockdown measures for its capital of New Delhi in an attempt to address increasing air pollution that is sending children to hospital and has forced the closure of schools and some coal-based power plants in the city and adjacent regions. 

The move would be the first of its kind in the country to address air pollution as opposed to COVID-19. 

The court’s decision is expected to come as early as Nov. 24 however New Delhi has already implemented a weekend lock down to address the worsening problem.  

Details concerning the lockdown are scarce but will most likely include closure of all schools, a work-from-home order and temporarily shutting down industrial centers.

The government is considering whether or not to keep high polluting industries operating with some experts saying that a lockdown on industry would not achieve the outcomes the government wants and would only cause disruptions to the economy and negatively affect the livelihoods of millions. 

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Center for Science and Environment, a research and advocacy organization in New Delhi said, “This is not the solution that we are looking for, because this is hugely disruptive. And we also have to keep in mind that the economy is already under pressure — poor people are at risk.”

On the night of Nov. 16, India’s federal environment ministry panel issued strict guidelines to stem pollution and to demonstrate to residents that the government was taking action to address the environmental crisis.

In addition to school closures, the federal Commission for Air Quality Management ordered a stop to construction activities on the weekend and banned all trucks carrying nonessential goods. “The panel also directed the states to ‘encourage’ work from home for half of the employees in all private offices,” The Los Angeles Times reported. 

READ MORE: Diwali Celebrations Blanket New Delhi in Dangerously Unhealthy Air

Currently New Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) is at 348 a marked improvement since Nov. 5 when the AQI surged to 463 following Diwali celebrations but is still above the dangerous threshold of 300.

This year, following the Diwali celebrations, New Delhi residents woke up to a stifling amount of air pollution that was categorized as “severe” and created conditions that would affect even the healthiest people. Those with per-existing respiratory diseases were at a high risk of serious illness or even death.

The pollution was blamed on the use of fireworks. Every year, India’s Supreme Court enacts a ban on firecrackers to celebrate Diwali however the ban is rarely enforced.

Currently, nine cities in India have an AQI above 300 including, Hathras, Agra, Firozabad and Barehra among others.