NEW DELHI (AP) — Authorities closed schools indefinitely and shut down some coal-burning power plants Wednesday to reduce air pollution in India’s smog-shrouded capital and neighboring states, as the country weighs an unprecedented and more far-reaching step: a lockdown in New Delhi.
The dirty-air crisis in the city of more than 20 million people has underscored India’s heavy dependence on coal, which accounts for 70% of the country’s power.
The New Delhi state government said it is open to the idea of a weekend lockdown to reduce automobile traffic and potentially other air-polluting activity in the city, and it is awaiting the go-ahead from India’s Supreme Court. A decision could come as early as Nov. 24.
It’s not clear how extensive the lockdown would be. Authorities are discussing whether to allow industries to continue operating.
Some experts said a lockdown would achieve very little in controlling pollution and would instead cause disruptions in the economy and harm the livelihoods of millions of people.
“This is not the solution that we are looking for, because this is hugely disruptive. And we also have to keep in mind that the economy is already under pressure, poor people are at risk,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Center for Science and Environment, a research and advocacy organization in New Delhi.
Soaring pollution levels in the capital prompted a federal environment ministry panel to issue strict guidelines Tuesday night to stem the pollution and show residents that the government is taking action against a crisis that has plagued the city for years.