Hundreds of New Delhi students march to demand cleaner air

NEW DELHI: Hundreds of students marched Wednesday in India's capital to demand action to improve the city's toxic air.

New Delhi has been wrapped in a choking haze for much of the past week. The smog did lift a little in time for the march at Nehru Park by students from 15 private schools.

The march was organized by representatives from the United Nations, private schools and the Sonalika company, a tractor maker.

Charvi Thakkar, 13, said she felt the pollution had risen to an extreme level and that her grandmother, uncle and brother were no longer able to comfortably breathe.

"We need to stop this," she said. "Because this is what we are providing for our children, for the next generation. If we are not able to breathe properly, then there is no future."

Teacher Neeraj Chhiber said that when she moved to Delhi 25 years ago, it felt a little dusty at this time of year but nowhere near as bad as it is now.

Environmentalist Vasu Primlani said she believes a series of low-cost initiatives could halve the city's pollution problem within two years. The measures, she said, would include teaching people to drive more efficiently and stopping farmers from burning their fields.

Meanwhile, authorities opened themselves to ridicule after India's health minister favorably compared the capital's air to a massive 1984 gas leak in the city of Bhopal that killed as many as 15,000 people.

"We call that an emergency situation where you have to panic," Harsh Vardhan told a television channel on Tuesday.

And New Delhi was forced to abandon a plan to use water-spraying helicopters to cleanse the air, due to poor visibility caused by the smog.

New Delhi is one of the world's most polluted cities. The worst air quality often occurs at this time of year as nearby farmers burn fields, people build street fires to keep warm and winds die down.