With pollution levels worsening, the Centre's air quality panel on Saturday directed authorities to impose a ban on construction and demolition activities in Delhi-NCR, except in essential projects, and other curbs under the GRAP III.
While more anti-pollution measures kicked in, the AAP government and Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena sparred over a proposed drive to encourage commuters to switch engines off at traffic signals, with the LG saying technological solutions and not ad-hoc steps are needed.
A layer of pungent smog enveloped Delhi-NCR as air pollution in the region neared the "severe" zone amid adverse meteorological conditions. Delhi's 24-hour average air quality index stood at 397 at 4 pm, the worst since January. It was 354 on Thursday, 271 on Wednesday, 302 on Tuesday and 312 on Monday (Diwali).
At an emergency meeting on Saturday evening, the sub-committee of the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) noted that due to unfavourable meteorological conditions and a sudden spike in incidents of farm fire, "it is considered necessary to implement Stage III of GRAP with immediate effect in the entire NCR''.
The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) is a set of anti-air pollution measures followed in the capital and its vicinity according to the severity of the situation.
It classifies the air quality in the Delhi-NCR under four different 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 >450).
Under stage III, the authorities have been asked to enforce a strict ban on construction and demolition activities in the NCR, except for essential projects and non-polluting activities such as plumbing, carpentry, interior decoration and electrical works.
The construction ban will not be applicable on projects concerning national security, defence, railways and metro rail among others. However, it is likely to affect housing projects in Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurugram and other areas.
Mining activities will not be allowed in the region.
The next stage in the "Severe Plus" category or Stage IV can include steps like a ban on the entry of trucks into Delhi, allowing 50 per cent of staff to work from home in public, municipal and private offices,closure of educational institutions and the plying of vehicles on an odd-even basis, etc.
On Saturday, Lt Governor Saxena asked Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to reconsider the 'Red light on, Gaadi off' campaign and sent back the file, questioning the effectiveness of such an "ad-hoc" measure.
Environment Minister Gopal Rai said the Delhi government will answer all questions raised by the LG and resubmit the file for his approval.
The LG objected to the "inhuman" and "exploitative use" of Civil Defence Volunteers (CDVs) at extremely polluted traffic intersections and sites, a source said.
The LG has also highlighted that the "outcome" of the previous campaigns is not reflected in the proposal and there is no impact assessment report provided to support the effectiveness of the earlier campaigns in improving air quality in the city.
Moreover, any effective and sustainable solution to this longstanding problem will involve technological interventions and not ad hoc steps, year after year," the LG said.
Rai will chair a high-level meeting on Sunday to discuss measures to be implemented under stage III of GRAP.
In its order issued on Saturday, the Commission said states might impose restrictions on the plying of BS III petrol and BS IV diesel four-wheelers in the NCR considering the worsening air quality. This direction is non-binding on authorities.
SAFAR, a forecasting agency under the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, said that the share of stubble burning in Delhi's pollution rose to 21 percent on Saturday, the highest this year so far.
It may increase up to 40 percent on Sunday, Gufran Beig, the founder project director of SAFAR said.
The ban on construction and demolition activities covers earthwork for excavation, boring and drilling; fabrication and welding operations; loading and unloading of construction material; transfer of raw material, including fly ash, either manually or through conveyor belts and vehicular movement on unpaved roads.
It also bans the operation of batching plants; laying of sewer lines, water lines, drainage work and electric cabling through open trench systems; cutting and fixing tiles, stones and other flooring materials; grinding activities; piling work; waterproofing work; road construction and repair work.
Brick kilns, hot mix plants and stone crushers not operating on clean fuels, and mining and associated activities in the NCR have also been banned.
The NCR authorities have also been asked to close down industries not running on approved fuels in industrial areas having PNG infrastructure and supply.
In industrial areas not having PNG infrastructure and supply, industries not using approved fuels can operate only for five days a week.
"Paper and pulp processing, distilleries and captive thermal power plants to remain inoperative on Saturdays and Sundays. Paddy/rice processing units to remain inoperative on Mondays and Tuesdays,'' it said.
Textile/garments and apparel units including dyeing processes will remain inoperative on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Other industries not falling in these categories will remain inoperative on Fridays and Saturdays, the CAQM order read.
However, milk and dairy units and those involved in the manufacturing of life-saving medical equipment, drugs and medicines have been exempt from the restrictions.
The measures are in addition to the restrictive action already in force under stage I and stage II of GRAP.
Calm winds are predicted in the coming days and the wind direction is likely to change frequently. Thus, there is a high likelihood of the pollutants getting trapped in the region and not getting dispersed effectively, the Commission noted.
Last year, GRAP IV curbs were imposed in November after the air quality plummeted.
The Delhi government has proposed the month-long 'Red light on, Gaadi off' campaign which aims at encouraging drivers to turn off the ignition of their vehicles while waiting at traffic signals.
The Aam Aadmi Party government had earlier attacked the LG, alleging that delay in approving the proposal had forced it to postpone the October 28 launch of the campaign.
But sources in the LG office claimed that city Environment Minister Gopal Rai had lied as the file sent by the chief minister mentioned the date of launch as October 31.