The city government announced Sunday that schools would be shut for the following three days, building projects would be suspended for five days, all roads would be hosed down to help dust settle and that measures will be taken to fight fires at landfill sites. A coal-fueled power plant on the city's outskirts is also to be closed for 10 days and all diesel power generators have been prohibited for the next five days, beginning on Monday.
Emergency services are exempted from this measure, the Times of India reported.
"Emergency measures are needed to solve this problem together," state Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, according to a Deutsche Welle report. "All construction and demolition in the city will be banned for next five days. All schools will be closed for the next three days in Delhi." He also appealed to capital residents to stay indoors and work from home, if possible.
Diwali, the October 30 Hindu festival of lights, est off a sudden spike in air pollution in the Indian capital, driven by the fires and fireworks associated with the festival. The levels of PM10 particles in the air leapt to 42 times higher than the national air quality standards on the night of the celebration, the Hindustan Times reported.
On Sunday, even the 24-hour average air quality measure was just a hair under the worst pollution measured yet, the Times of India reported. Real time readings of pollutants PM 2.5 and PM 10 were more than 17 times the safe limit at many sites, they report.
The situation is being compared to the Great Smog of London, which is blamed for 4,000 deaths. "Here, (the concentration of) SO2 may not be that high, but as we saw on Diwali, several gases had increased substantially. Overall it is a toxic cocktail," said Anumitra Roychowdhury of Centre for Science and Environment, quoted in the Times of India report.
Air pollution is responsible for around 10,000 to 30,000 deaths in the national capital every year, the center announced last year.
India's air pollution woes go much deeper than a yearly celebration. After the growing season ends, the leftover straw in the paddy fields that feed the massive nation are often burned, and the smoke from farmland in nearby Haryana and Punjab blankets New Delhi. The fires and smoke are clearly visible in satellite photos.
Though India's environmental court, the National Green Tribunal, told the government last year that it must stop the practice, farmers in the region are still burning an estimated 32 million tons of leftover straw to make room to plant winter wheat crops, the New York Times reports.
Indian Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave, who was part of discussions with the state's leadership on the pollution problem, is expected to meet with leaders of neighboring farming states to find solutions to the problem later this week, Deutsche Welle reports. A pilot program that restricted cars on alternate days based on their license plates may be restarted.
Outdoor air pollution causes more than 3 million premature deaths per year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a report earlier this year.