A man wears a face mask in New Delhi, India, yesterday.
NEW DELHI: India’s state-run National Thermal Power Corporation is launching bids for clean technology for two coal-fired power plants near New Delhi, officials said, as criticism mounts over the country’s failure to end a toxic smog which strikes the capital in winter.

Environment activists said the measures were too little and too late.

Illegal crop burning in farm states surrounding New Delhi, vehicle exhaust in a city with limited public transport, industrial emissions and swirling construction dust have caused the crisis, sparking a public health crisis.

On Tuesday, two cricketers threw up on the field during an India-Sri Lanka Test match as a toxic haze blanketed the stadium and Sri Lanka, whose players wore masks, said it had complained to the International Cricket Council.

There was also concern about an Indian Super League soccer game last night where players may have to wear masks, one of the team coaches said. Yesterday the air quality reading for an area in the vicinity of the stadium had risen to 204 by noon, way above the safe limit of 50, according to a US embassy measurement.

A task force headed by a top aide to Prime Minister Narendra Modi is driving measures aimed at reducing pollution by next winter, a government source said.

Besides the $215million (R3billion) plan to clean sulphur emissions from the Dadri and Jhajjar power plants, the task force has ordered the opening of an expressway skirting the capital that will ensure trucks don’t have to transit the city.

Vehicle emissions account for 30% of Delhi’s pollutants topped by PM 2.5, or tiny particles that lodge deep in the lungs causing respiratory and other diseases. More than 50000 lorries pour into the city each night.

The government is also considering a plan to give farmers subsidies to buy machines that clear crop waste so they don’t have to burn the stubble.

“The prime minister has directed that air quality should improve by next winter so that we are not in this crisis situation again,” the government source said. “Eventually the plan is to improve to the level of cities in the developed world.”

Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner Greenpeace India, said coal-based power plants - most of which were state-owned - had been given two years to control emissions by this month, but nothing had happened.

“The bigger hindrance to clean up the air in India is lack of political will,” he said. The expressway was meant be completed in April, then moved to August and is now planned for completion by late next year." - Reuters