NEW DELHI (Reuters) — About 1,000 children ran a race in thick smog in the Indian capital New Delhi early on Thursday when authorities declared air quality as hazardous and the city government ordered schools to be shut as part of emergency measures.
Reuters partner ANI tweeted pictures of several children running without protective masks as part of the annual ‘Run for Children’ organised by a not for profit group called ‘Prayas’ that runs programmes for child protection, juvenile justice and education.
The annual run, near New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave, was organised to mark the birth anniversary of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, which is celebrated as Children’s Day.
“The children did not run a long distance. It was a short run,” Prayas’ general secretary, Amod K. Kanth, told Reuters.
“They come voluntarily here…We got permissions from the police, permission from the government, permission for this place,” said Kanth, a former senior police officer. He said the organisers did not have any directions from authorities to cancel the event.
Activists say despite choking levels of pollution, residents of Delhi largely ignore the health risks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not spoken about the crisis even though he frequently takes to Twitter to promote his priorities.
The air quality index on Thursday was at a staggering 472 on a scale of 500, indicating possible serious respiratory risks for the general public, according to SAFAR, a government pollution monitor.
Air quality has remained hazardous for three consecutive days, which prompted the Environment Pollution Prevention & Control Authority (EPCA), a body appointed by the Supreme Court, to order shutting down of schools late on Wednesday.
“Keeping in mind the hazardous exposure to children…all schools must remain shut for the next two days,” Bhure Lal, the chairman of EPCA, said in a letter to the city government of Delhi and to its neighbouring states.
The city government has already restricted private cars until Nov. 15 with an “odd-even” system, banning them on alternate days based on licence plate numbers.
Angry residents took to social media and blamed authorities for organising the run.
“Run for Children…in severe pollution? Theatre of the absurd,” said Shashank Jaitely, a Twitter user.
The city government had no immediate comment.