By Neha Arora
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - New Delhi on Tuesday pledged "game-changing" steps to clean its foul air, including intensive water sprinkling and a crackdown on the burning of garbage, as eye-stinging smog covered the Indian capital for a fifth straight day.
The government vows action each year to battle the smog in the world's most polluted capital and one environmentalist described Tuesday's announcement as mere face-saving rhetoric.
Delhi's pollution gets worse in October and November as crop fires and vehicular exhausts get trapped in the cool, slow-moving air for longer. Diwali revellers last week defied a ban on fireworks during the annual Hindu festival of lights, making things worse.
A recent private survey showed that nearly 80% of families in Delhi and its satellite cities reported ailments like headaches and breathing troubles due to the air.
The concentration of poisonous particulate matter PM2.5 in a cubic metre of air averaged 309 on Tuesday, six times the safe limit set by the federal government. PM2.5 is small enough to travel deep into the lungs and even enter the blood stream.
Delhi's environment minister promised a campaign against open burning of garbage from Thursday, widespread among the poor, increased sprinkling of water to settle dust, action against pollutants like coal furnaces and diesel generators and efforts to encourage public transport to reduce vehicular emissions.
Gopal Rai also said that all of Delhi's 4,000 acres of cultivable land will be covered with a bio-decomposer solution by Nov. 20 so that farmers do not have to burn crop stubble.
Crop stubble burning in states neighbouring Delhi is a major driver of the pollution in the city of about 20 million people, and Rai again urged the federal government to address the issue.
The city government said in a statement it was "taking its fight against pollution to a higher level" and that Rai's "game-changing five-point plan will bring Delhiites freedom from pollution".
But an environmentalist said not enough was being done.
"This is mere rhetoric and face-saving tactics by the government, putting the onus of the extreme pollution in Delhi on to neighbouring states or the farmers alone," said Vimlendu Jha, founder of environment group Swechha.
"Lack of public transport leads to massive use of private vehicles and that remains the main source of air pollution in the region," he said, adding that some studies showed that it contributed to almost 30% of the problem.
India loses more than a million lives each year to toxic air, various studies have shown. Many Indian cities top global pollution lists as enforcement of laws is lax.
(Reporting by Neha Arora; Editing by Nick Macfie)