New Delhi, Nov 10 (PTI) Intermittent rains on Friday brought a major relief from hazardous air lingering over the national capital for two weeks, prompting the Delhi government to postpone the implementation of the odd-even car rationing scheme.
The city's 24-hour average Air Quality Index (AQI), recorded at 4 pm everyday, stood at 279, rapidly improving from 437 on Thursday and from 426 on Wednesday.
Delhi had last recorded poor air quality on October 27 when the AQI read 261.
After the day's proceedings in the Supreme Court, which is hearing a matter on the worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR, Environment Minister Gopal Rai announced postponement of the odd-even scheme scheduled to be implemented from November 13 to 20 owing to a notable improvement in the air quality due to rain.
The apex court made it clear that the decision on introducing the odd-even car rationing scheme has to be taken by the city government and pulled it up for shifting the burden onto the court.
As the air quality improved significantly, authorities may lift restrictions mandated under the final stage of Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).
Addressing a press conference, Rai said the government will review the air quality situation after Diwali and a call on the odd-even scheme may be taken if there's a sharp increase in pollution levels.
The minister had earlier said the scheme would be implemented in the city after the Supreme Court reviews its effectiveness and issues an order.
The rain also brought the mercury down in Delhi on Wednesday, with the maximum temperature settling at 22.7 degrees Celsius, seven notches below the season's average. The city recorded 4.2 mm of precipitation between 8.30 am and 5.30 pm.
Kuldeep Srivastava, a senior scientist at the IMD, said most parts of northwest India, including Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have recorded rainfall since Thursday night.
Once the western disturbance passes, the wind speed will increase to around 15 kilometres per hour on November 11, which will help disperse pollutants ahead of Diwali (November 12), Srivastava said.
While hearing a matter on the worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said the court had nothing to do with the odd-even scheme and it had never said that it should also apply to taxis entering Delhi from the adjoining states.
The Delhi government had earlier announced it would implement the odd-even scheme a day after Diwali from November 13 to 20, when air pollution is likely to peak.
During the hearing on debilitating air pollution in Delhi-NCR on November 7, the apex court had questioned the effectiveness of the scheme following which the environment minister said it would be implemented only after the apex court has heard the matter on Friday and issued an order.
On Friday, the apex court said it had flagged the odd-even issue at the last hearing after an advocate, assisting it as an amicus curiae, said the odd-even plan does not actually help reduce air pollution.
The counsel representing the Delhi government said taxis from adjoining states were required to be allowed into Delhi as commuting will become a major problem otherwise. Lakhs of people working in Delhi live in cities like Noida and Gurugram in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
"I am agreeing with you. We never said that. Don't try to non-perform and shift the burden onto the court. This is what is happening," Justice Kaul observed.
"All we flagged was an issue that the amicus was saying that really this odd-even does not help. It has not proved to help. But you say now, we will implement odd-even and also implement odd-even on taxis. Did we ask you to implement odd-even on taxis? We did not ask you to implement it," the bench said.
The counsel argued that the odd-even plan may not have a very large mitigating effect on pollution, but even if it has a small impact, it will count.
The lawyer said one of the major causes of pollution, as observed in studies, was traffic congestion on roads and odd-even helps decongest them. "What you have to do, you have to do. We are not here to tell you what to do," the bench told the lawyer.
The Supreme Court also said crop residue burning in Punjab and some other states adjacent to Delhi has to be stopped and a solution found to reduce pollution levels in the National Capital Region (NCR).
The bench headed by Justice Kaul observed there were several reports and committees on the pollution issue, but nothing was happening at the ground level.
The Supreme Court was informed that every endeavour was being made to bring farm fires under control.
Following the visit of various cabinet ministers to the borders of Delhi on Thursday, Rai shot off a letter to transport ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, requesting them to return restricted vehicles from the starting point of Eastern-Western Peripheral Expressway.
"... during the visit of cabinet ministers of Govt. of NCT of Delhi on various Delhi Borders in the night of November 9, it was noticed that non destined vehicles, which were supposed to be diverted through the Eastern and Western Peripheral ways are entering through the border and plying via Delhi for their out of Delhi destinations, causing vehicular air pollution in Delhi.
"In this regard, it is requested that directions be issued to the concerned to ensure that all the non-destined vehicles should be diverted through Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressway right their entry points before Delhi Border. Accordingly, additional Enforcement Teams may be deployed at all the Entry Points to Peripheral ways to ensure the implementation of the aforesaid directions," read the letter.
The Delhi University has declared an early winter break from November 13 to 19 in view of the rising air pollution in the national capital, according to an official notification.
The winter break, which is usually given in December, has been revised keeping in mind the GRAP-IV measures being implemented amid the prevailing air pollution in Delhi.
Stringent restrictions mandated under the final stage of the Centre's air pollution control plan for Delhi-NCR -- Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) -- have also been implemented in the national capital.
The restrictions under stage IV of the GRAP, including a ban on all kinds of construction work and the entry of polluting trucks into Delhi, took effect on Sunday after the air quality in the city dropped to "severe plus" (AQI above 450) levels.
The GRAP categorises actions into four stages: Stage I -- Poor (AQI 201-300); Stage II -- Very Poor (AQI 301-400); Stage III -- Severe (AQI 401-450) and Stage IV -- Severe Plus (AQI above 450).
Unfavourable meteorological conditions, combined with vehicular emissions, paddy-straw burning, firecrackers and other local pollution sources, contribute to hazardous air quality levels in Delhi-NCR during winter. PTI GVS ABA SJJ SLB BUN SMN