Written by By Abhinav Bharadwaj, CNN
Schools in the capital city of New Delhi will shut for a week starting next Friday, according to a Thursday tweet from Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
In a photo posted to Kejriwal’s Twitter feed, he explained that the closure was in response to heavy air pollution caused by pollution produced by the burning of crop residue in nearby fields.
On Thursday, authorities shut down seven major entry and exit points to Delhi through the National Highway-8 from Haridwar in Uttarakhand state as well as out of towns and villages in Uttar Pradesh.
“The decision is being made to control pollution and maintain the safety of people who visit Delhi,” an Uttarakhand state official told CNN. “The state government is all set to intervene to help farmers realize a fair price for their paddy.”
Two more Delhi highways will also be closed beginning Friday.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the schools closures on Thursday. Cydney Chapman/CNN
On Tuesday, Kejriwal asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare a public health emergency in the state to ensure timely assistance for farmers affected by crop dusting, which aggravates air pollution in northern India.
“I request him (Modi) not to wait for too long. Not only will they suffer (because of crop dusting), but lakhs of children will also suffer,” Kejriwal said.
“I also request Chief Justice of India and Chief Minister of Gujarat to issue directions to the farmers of UP (Uttar Pradesh state) who are committing suicide so that the cause of crop-related suicides is taken care of.”
Pollution levels in Delhi are at their worst since 2015. Cydney Chapman/CNN
IIT-Delhi head Anumita Roychowdhury told CNN that she believes air pollution has reached crisis point.
“We are already in a crisis mode; nobody can deny this,” Roychowdhury said. “It’s worse than 2015. It’s everybody’s responsibility to make it better.”
“We are expecting a normal-to-worse situation to continue through July and August. So at that point, everyone is flocking to Delhi for basic needs like medical appointments, food and water. This is a great opportunity to seek out the most basic needs that one needs to survive,” she added.
While Thursday was a modest improvement, the city’s air is expected to get worse the coming days as farmers in neighboring states release crop residue, leading to another rise in air pollution.
“We expect pollutants to reach eight to nine times the safe level in areas like IIT and local vegetable markets, schools and hospitals, in addition to the core commercial sectors, the Northern Railways and the major highways,” Tumla Seshu, a senior scientist at the Center for Science and Environment told CNN.
A World Health Organization database released on Thursday revealed that, according to 2015 data, 438,230 people died prematurely that year because of air pollution.