Delhi pollution: As Sri Lankans gasp for air at Kotla, Mamata Banerjee taunts Swachh Bharat programme

Delhi continued to reel because of a toxic air after the Capital woke up to another hazy morning on Tuesday. The Air Quality Index (AQI) was close to the outer limit in the “very poor” category.

At Feroz Shah Kotla, where the India-Sri Lanka third cricket Test has been the focus of Delhi’s battle with toxic air quality, Sri Lanka pace bowler Suranga Lakmal doubled up and vomited soon after his team took the field for India’s second innings. The team physio ran in and escorted him off the field.

Delhi pollution gave Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee ample scope to score some political runs. Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat programme, Mamata Banerjee said in Kolkata on Tuesday: “What happened to the Swachh Bharat campaign? Sri Lankan cricketers are playing with masks on the field in the Capital. From political pollution to weather pollution, Delhi represents it all.”

Eight Sri Lanka players took the field wearing face masks with only wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella and the two new ball bowlers, Lakmal and Lahiru Gamage, not wearing them.

The Sri Lanka players also didn’t use the masks while batting, likely due to the limited amount of running involved. However, both skippers, India’s Virat Kohli and Sri Lanka’s Dinesh Chadimal spent hours in the middle as they scored career-best 243 and 164, respectively.

Play at the Kotla, which is stone’s throw away from the busy ITO intersection, began under hazy skies in the morning with floodlights switched on.

VERY POOR AIR

The AQI had dropped to 379 at around 8 am on Tuesday morning, from Monday’s average of 390, on a scale of 0 – 500, according to official figures. Although the level of particulate matter had also dropped compared to the previous day, it was still on the higher side of “very poor” category — 301-400.

An AQI value above 400 on the scale of 500 is considered severe pollution. Such high levels were last seen on November 14 when the city had just come out of a weeklong haze. Monday’s average AQI had hovered around 390, almost touching the hazardous mark.

The Delhi government had been criticised by the National Green Tribunal over measures taken to tackle pollution, and for allowing the cricket Test to go ahead. Sri Lanka players had complained of unease with some vomitting in the dressing room during the second day.

However, the Indian camp had dismissed such concerns and none of the home team’s players wore face masks on the field. The BCCI has said it would, in future, consider Delhi’s air pollution levels while scheduling games.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted cloudy sky and shallow fog on Wednesday morning. “Even though the average AQI is yet to hit severe levels, several monitoring stations in the city such as Shadipur, RK Puram, Anand Vihar, Siri Fort and CRRI had already entered the severe zone,” a senior official of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee said.

The levels of particulate matter – the dominant and one of the most dangerous pollutants – had also shot up to alarming levels. At around 7 pm on Monday, the levels of PM10 and PM2.5 had hit around 4.5 times the safe standards.