New Delhi, Oct 15 (PTI) Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai on Thursday urged the Central Pollution Control Board and a Supreme Court-mandated pollution control authority to shut the 11 coal-fired power plants operating within 300 kilometres of Delhi within a week.

He said the Delhi government has been making all efforts to bring pollution levels down, "but we become helpless when pollution from neighbouring states affects the city's air quality".

A layer of haze hung over Delhi and its neighbouring areas on Thursday and the air quality slipped to "very poor" levels. Delhi recorded an air quality index (AQI) of 312. The last time the air quality hit such a poor level was in February.

"I have written a letter to the CPCB and the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), requesting them to shut these power plants within seven days till the situation improves,” Rai said.

The minister said authorities are considering granting extension to these power plants to meet the new emission norms, instead of shutting them.

The 11 power plants have missed two deadlines to install flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD) units to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had earlier set the deadline as December 2017 to meet the emission standards. It was later extended by two years to December 31, 2019.

"The CPCB recently said these power plants can operate if they pay a fine of Rs 18 lakh a month. How can they allow them to run? How can you play with people's lives?" Rai said.

India is the largest emitter of sulphur dioxide (SO2) in the world. Thermal power plants account for 45 per cent of total industrial SO2 emissions in the country. FGD units can reduce SO2 emissions by 80 per cent.

The minister said the Delhi government banned electricity generators, with the Graded Response Plan coming into force on Thursday, “but Haryana wants relaxations, why?” “They were exempted last year too. If diesel generators are operated in Gurugram and Faridabad, won't it affect Delhi's air quality?” he said.

The Haryana administration recently told EPCA that around 16,200 people in some residential complexes and condominiums in Gurugram and Faridabad will be affected by the ban, as their developers or builders have not yet taken electricity connections.

Rai questioned why the Centre and states were not taking any action against the brick kilns operating in nearby areas using outdated technologies.

There are more than 1,640 such brick kilns in Uttar Pradesh, 161 in Haryana and 164 Rajasthan.

He also said Delhi will be able to reduce vehicular pollution by 15-20 per cent if people switch off their vehicles at red lights.

Rai said the AAP government wanted to turn the “Red light on, Gaadi off” campaign into a people's movement.

He said he will hold a high-level meeting with senior officials on Friday to make a roadmap of the campaign.

The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) -- a set of anti-pollution measures followed in Delhi and its vicinity towns according to the severity of the situation - came into force on Thursday.

It was notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2017 for implementation through the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority.

The measures under GRAP include increasing bus and metro services, hiking parking fees and stopping use of diesel generator sets when the air quality turns poor.

When the situation turns "severe", GRAP recommends closure of brick kilns, stone crushers and hot mix plants, sprinkling of water, frequent mechanised cleaning of roads and maximising power generation from natural gas.

The measures to be followed in the "emergency" situation include stopping entry of trucks in Delhi, ban on construction activities and introduction of odd-even car rationing scheme.