Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is struggling to deal with rising air pollution levels in the national capital, today described the city as a “gas chamber” while distributing breathing masks to school children. In strongly-worded posts on social media, Mr Kejriwal also blamed the governments of neighbouring states – Haryana and Punjab – for “forcing farmers to burn stubble” that he said had led to the problem in Delhi.

The Chief Minister also urged school students to write to “Captain Uncle and Khattar uncle”, referring to Captain Amarinder Singh and Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana, respectively. “Please write letters to Captain Uncle and Khattar uncle and say, ‘Please think about our health’,” Mr Kejriwal told children today, while distributing breathing masks.

“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighbouring states. It is very important that we protect ourselves from this toxic air. Through pvt & govt schools, we have started distributing 50 lakh masks today. I urge all Delhiites to use them whenever needed,” Mr Kejriwal wrote on Twitter.

The Delhi government has purchased 50 lakh N95 masks to be given to children in private and government schools.

The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), has declared a public health emergency in the Delhi-NCR region. “We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution will have adverse health impact on all, particularly our children,” Bhure Lal, EPCA Chairperson said in a letter to the Chief Secretaries of the UP, Haryana and Delhi governments.

“The Khattar and Captain governments are forcing farmers to burn stubble, which is causing severe pollution in Delhi. Yesterday, people protested at Punjab and Haryana Bhavan and expressed their anger against governments there,” he added in Hindi.

“People are facing difficulty in breathing and to provide relief, we’re distributing 2 masks to each student in private & govt schools,” the AAP chief said.

On Tuesday Mr Kejriwal had appealed “with folded hands” to Punjab and Haryana to take concrete steps against stubble burning.

Air quality in Delhi has plummeted post-Diwali, which Chief Minister Kejriwal said was the “lowest in five years”. According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), the Air Quality Index (AQI) recorded 412 this morning, which falls in the “very severe” category.

According to the data, the contribution of stubble burning to the haze and air pollution in Delhi-NCR was 35 per cent on Wednesday, 24 per cent on Thursday and is likely to be 25 per cent today. In addition, according to SAFAR data available on Wednesday, the number of stubble burning fires had doubled over the past 48 hours – from 1,200 to 2,700.

(With Inputs from agencies)