An unprecedented bout of toxic air since Diwali celebrations in the Indian capital of Delhi has forced the city government to announce a slew of measures, including shutting down schools for three days from Monday (7 November).
All the construction and demolition work have also been banned for five days this week by the government. Apart from this, the Public Works Department has also been asked to sprinkle water on roads from Monday to settle dust.
The decisions were taken at an emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday (6 November) to combat the crippling air pollution.
The government data shows that the smog that has covered the Delhi city in the past one week is the worst in 17 years.
"The city has turned into a gas chamber mainly due to large-scale crop stubble burning in neighbouring States. But this is not the time for politics. The base level of pollution was already very high. We have consulted experts and we are taking some emergency measures," Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said at a press conference.
Kejriwal also said a coal-fuelled power plan on the remote corners of the city would also be shut for at least 10 days. However, he assured that the power supply to the city would not be affected.
Other measures to tackle the situation include a 10-day ban on diesel-power electricity generator sets for the next five days, except at place providing emergency services such as hospitals and mobile phone towers. All the major roads in the city will be vacuumed cleaned once a week starting Thursday (10 November).
The government is said to be considering bringing back the odd-even car rationing scheme in an attempt to bring down the pollution levels.
Delhi's pollution level of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 soared to over 900mcg per cubic meter on Saturday (5 November). It is reported to be 90 times more than the level that is considered safe according to the World Health Organisation and 15 times the Indian government's average.
Corporate offices in the city too are bracing the situation by letting its employees from home, fearing the toxic air's negative impact on health and productivity may repel investment. Several companies have advised its staff to stay indoors, and have also decided to provide masks, issue health advisories and install air purifiers.
Maruti Suzuki's Chairman RC Bhargava said the pollution blanketing the capital city was "extremely unfortunate". "It may affect new investors if there is no visibility of measures being taken to address this issue. A concerted political effort is required," The Economic Times quoted him as saying.
The serious levels of air pollution is reported to have not spared even fertility experts from worrying, who fear the decline air quality could affect the city resident's sex drive. According to Times of India, experts have said the air pollution can cause 30% reduction in sex activity due to its adverse effects.
"There are a lot of heavy metals in the air, which directly affect the hormones in the body. In India, 15 per cent of the male population is infertile, a rate greater than that of female," said Sagarika Agarwal, fertility expert associated with Delhi-based Indira IVF Hospital.
"Particulate matter carries with it polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, lead cadmium and mercury which can possibly affect the hormonal balance and be toxic to sperm," she added.