Cover image via Reuters

The Delhi government on Sunday put all construction projects on hold, shut down schools and advised residents of the Indian capital to stay indoors as part of an “emergency” plan to deal with dangerous levels of air pollution.

New Delhi ranks among the world’s most polluted cities. In the past week, a thick layer of smog has enveloped the city, with people complaining of irritated eyes, throats and lungs.

A combination of smoke from burning farm residue in surrounding states, fireworks for the Hindu festival of Diwali, dust from construction works and vehicle emissions has pushed up levels of the most dangerous particles, known as PM 2.5, to more than 15 times the safe limit.

Hundreds of people, including children, on Sunday staged a protest in New Delhi over the worsening air quality, demanding immediate and effective steps from authorities.

New Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, who has called the city a “gas chamber”, said all construction and demolition would remain on hold for five days and schools would be shut for three days.

He also banned the use of all diesel-powered electricity generators for the next 10 days. The local administration will start vacuum cleaning roads and sprinkling them with water, Kejriwal said.

“We all need to cooperate and work together to find a solution,” he said. “The situation is such that we need to take some urgent measures.”

Air quality is usually poorest in Delhi’s winter months of December and January.

Authorities have responded with such measures as a ban on old trucks from entering the city and briefly trying a scheme that limited use of private vehicles to alternate days. Experts say those have done little to reduce pollution.

Kejriwal said his government was contemplating another round of restrictions on the use of private cars.

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