Delhi air pollution: Know govt's emergency plan to avoid smog filled winter

Air pollution
Last winter, the Delhi-NCR suffered one of the worst bouts of pollution. The entire region was in the grip of haze and smog. Now, the dreadful pollution is back to the national capital and its nearby states. Meanwhile, recent satellite images from the NASA showed that farmers in Punjab and Haryana have started burning crop residue earlier this month.

On Sunday, the air quality in Delhi remained poor, as the overall air quality index (AQI) recorded at 10 am Sunday stood at 208 which falls in the poor category, according to Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR).

The PM10 level (presence of particles with diameter less than 10 micrometres) in Delhi stood at 183 and the PM2.5 level was recorded at 93, according to the data.

Authorities have predicted further deterioration of air quality in the coming days.

An emergency action plan has been implemented from Monday to combat air pollution that has begun to show a trend towards poor category.

Here are the emergency measures that will be taken under Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP)

1. Air Quality in moderate poor category

If the air quality lies in moderate to poor category- measures like stopping garbage burning in landfills and other places, and enforcing all pollution control regulations in brick kilns and industries would be implemented.

2. Air Quality in poor category

If the air quality falls in the very poor category, additional measures of stopping use of diesel generator sets, enhancing parking fees 3-4 times and increasing frequency of metro and buses would be implemented.

3. Air Quality in severe zone

If the air quality falls in the severe category, additional measures would be implemented of increasing frequency of mechanised cleaning of roads, sprinkling of water on roads and identifying road stretches with high dust generation.

4. Air Quality in severe plus

If the air quality falls to severe plus emergency category, then measures like stopping entry of trucks into Delhi (except essential commodities), stopping construction activities and appointment of task force to take the decision on any additional steps, including shutting of schools, are implemented.

Meanwhile, South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) has asked the state-run NBCC, which is building a world-class convention-cum-exhibition centre at the site of the Pragati Maidan.

Recent satellite images from the NASA showed that farmers in Punjab and Haryana have started burning crop residue earlier this month.

What has the government done to prevent air pollution over the year?

Here's the Ministry of Environment's response:

1— Stringent BS–IV vehicle norms have been implemented from April 1, 2017 throughout the country. Leapfrogging to BS-VI fuel standards from 1st April, 2018 has been done in Delhi. BS–VI vehicle norms are proposed to be implemented from April, 2020 across the country.

2— Standards for SO2 & NOx have been revised this year for five Industrial sectors and for all types of industrial boilers using solid and liquid fuels.

3— National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) was set to be launched by the environment ministry for controlling air pollution. However, NCAP proposal is still in draft.

4— 31 point action plan for prevention, control or abatement of air pollution and improvement of ambient air quality in non-attainment cities and towns has been issued to concerned State Pollution Control Boards. Further, to sensitise stakeholders such as local urban bodies, transport departments, industries, pollution control boards, etc. and facilitate preparation of action plans, six regional workshops at Bhubaneshwar, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Guwahati, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam have been organised.

5— Directions have been issued to 6 regions regarding agriculture stubble burning in NCR, Punjab and Haryana to effectively control the air pollution

Environmentalists say govt has failed miserably

Earlier this month, Greenpeace India alleged that the government had failed miserably in staying true to its commitment of notifying a programme which proposes multiple strategies to combat air pollution.

Points highlighted by Greenpeace:

* NCAP still in draft

According to Greenpeace,  after much pressure from the public and the media, the Union Environment Ministry in April released the draft NCAP. However, even after five months, there is no sign of the programme being finalised.

* Environment laws weakened

Government is actively diluting environmental laws and arguing on behalf of polluting companies to enable them to continue to pollute.  

* Centre, State's blame game hazardous

Greenpeace said that when asked about the air pollution situation, the Centre and state governments start blaming each other.

* Govt's favouritism toward polluting firms

Instead of taking action against polluting industries and coal power plants, the government extended deadline for implementation of emissions standards for thermal power plants by another five years.

Why confrontations between farmers and govt continue

Notably, states of Punjab and Haryana every year are blamed for rising air pollution and smog. To avoid stubble burning, the government sanctioned Rs 2.69 billion subsidy to Punjab farmers.

This year, the Centre also announced agricultural mechanisation scheme for in-situ management of crop residue in Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Delhi with total fund of Rs 11.52 billion for 2018-19 and 2019-20. This year, Punjab will get its share of Rs 2.69 billion to buy 24,972 different machines –rotavator, Happy seeder, chopper, super straw management system—that help in chopping straw in small pieces and spreading them inside the soil itself. However, according to Down To Earth, the scheme was rolled out in April this year, but machines have not reached the cooperative societies.

On October 10, more than 350 farmers protested against the government's effort to force farmers into buying costly machines to stop burning crop residue. “We demand a proper way of decomposition of straw as machines are not available in any societies,” says Ghuman Singh, state secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), a farmer organisation in the state told Down To Earth. “Even if machines are available, they cannot solve the problem in short time as the time for sowing of wheat and potatoes is approaching,” he adds.

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