NEW DELHI: Hours after being pulled up by Supreme Court for reopening schools despite alarming pollution levels, the Delhi government on Thursday ordered shutting down of all educational institutions in the city again. The board examinations will, however, go on as scheduled.
The Supreme Court rap for the government came on a day the city’s air quality plunged back to ‘severe’ zone after remaining in the ‘very poor’ category over the past three days. As per the Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi’s 24-hour average air quality index on Thursday was 429 as against 370 the previous day.
Delhi’s environment minister Gopal Rai said in a statement that all schools, colleges, coaching centers, libraries and other educational and training institutes will be closed with “immediate effect until further review”. “Institutes where exams are being conducted will be exempt from the order,” said Rai. He added that schools will be closed for all classes.
Earlier, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the Delhi government for exposing children to highly toxic air. “You have implemented work from home for adults. So, parents work from home and children have to go to school. What’s this?” asked a bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana. “We are looking at this aggressively and you told us schools are closed but it is not so. Three to four year old children are being made to go to school,” the bench noted.
Schools in the national capital have been closed thrice over the last two months. They had remained shut for 20 months since March 2020 on account of Covid-19 and had reopened on November 1 this year. They were closed again on November 17 because of the alarming pollution levels and were reopened again on November 29, when the air quality had briefly showed improvement.
Rai appeals city residents to use public transport
Rai said the schools had remained closed for a very long time and the decision to reopen them was taken keeping in mind the situation at that time as pollution levels were decreasing. “But as we can see, the pollution levels have risen again. The government is constantly monitoring the situation,” the minister said. Rai also listed the measures the Delhi government has implemented to keep pollution in check. It has consistently been working on the action plan to tackle vehicular and dust pollution, he said.
“Construction-demolition work is already suspended; trucks from outside Delhi are also banned from entering the city. I appeal to all citizens that they should use public transport and avoid using private vehicles as much as they can,” Rai said. The environment minister’s clarification came as the apex court was in an unsparing mood, hammering both the central and the Delhi governments.
The Supreme Court was particularly harsh on the AAP government, dubbing some of its initiatives like ‘Red Light On, Gaadi Off ’ as mere populist slogans. The city government has deployed around 200 civil defence volunteers with placards and banners at major traffic intersections to urge people to participate in the campaign for curbing vehicular emissions, which according to several studies comprise a lion’s share in Delhi’s overall pollution levels. Rai said while the AAP government has been running an anti-dust campaign, in projects like the Central Vista the anti-dust norms are not being complied with.
“The central government informed the Supreme Court that the work (Central Vista project) is of national importance. We are currently awaiting reports based on which we will proceed,” said Rai. He also said that government cannot enforce the odd-even scheme for private vehicles owing to the pandemic as it is not in a position to increase the capacity of buses and Delhi Metro trains anymore.