According to the web site delhiair.org, air pollution in Delhi-NCR occurs due to a complex mix of pollution from human activities such as vehicle emissions, industry, construction, residential fuel burning, dust and sea salt.
The heavy concentration of particulate matter is greatly affected by meteorological conditions -in the winter, cool air causes"inversions" that stagnant the air and trap pollution close to the ground. Also, air flow patterns from Afghanistan and Pakistan pick up emissions as they move over the densely urbanised regions of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in these two states burn the straw in their fields and this pulls pollution into Delhi and its surrounding neighbourhood. Pre-monsoon dust storms and city activities also contribute.
The website further reveals that the NCR generates 10,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste, much of which is eventually burned, and thus, adding particulate pollution to the air. Galloping urbanisation brings massive construction projects to the area. In addition, Delhi has over a crore vehicles on its roads, and the result is another pollution "hotspot."
ANI approached a couple of experts to get a better understanding of the causes behind this menace, and what steps needed to be taken to reduce it.
Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director (Research and Advocacy) and head of the air pollution and clean transportation programme at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said, "The issue of dealing with and countering the problem of rising pollution is not as simplistic as it appears. Post-2009, we saw a slow-down in actions related to and around pollution. We were losing out on the gains made prior to 2009, and as a result, the scale of pollution again increased."
When asked for a comment on how pollution is impacting the lives of the homeless population in the NCR, especially those living on sidewalks and in the Trans-Yamuna area, and how they burn items like discarded paper, tyres (available for as little as Rs 10), wood, shoes et al to keep themselves reasonably warm during the winter, Roychowdhury said, "This winter, an emergency, graded response action plan has been activated on the direction of the Supreme Court. What is desirable is a comprehensive action plan (and) additional measures that address issues like providing more affordable housing and rentable stock, ensure Euro-6 standards to reduce vehicular emissions, reduce movement of personal vehicles by increasing purchase cost and impose more taxes and put in place a parking policy for public areas, and introduce proper waste management."
Environmentalist Chandraveer Singh bluntly said, "The problem of air pollution is not new, it has been there for ages and we talk about it, express alarm about it, wrestle with it year in and year-out, and almost never come up with a well-considered strategy to minimize it, yet alone counter it."
"There is a need to generate awareness, improve coordination between civic bodies, the government and the people. We have difficult task on our hands, and if we don't take appropriate emergency steps, we are looking at a Delhi-NCR where people will be walking around with at least five oxygen cylinders on their backs in a couple of years. The temporary closing of schools is not a solution at all," he added.
On issues such as vehicle emissions, industrial pollution, construction, residential fuel burning and dust, Chandraveer Singh categorically blamed the government for non-compliance with recent orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and added that there is no infrastructure in place at the state or central level to ensure corrective action. Going a step further, he said that by and large, the administration is "clueless" on the counter-pollution narrative.
"It is important for states to coordinate more effectively and efficiently with each other. All stakeholders, including the Centre, have a role to play. It is up to them to bell the cat of pollution," Singh added.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the Union Environment Ministry has granted a week's time to various agencies to respond on whether deadlines listed in a mega plan to clean Delhi's air by a Supreme Court-monitored panel suits them or not.
The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has come out with several recommendations in the 'Comprehensive Action Plan for Air Pollution', which was submitted in the Supreme Court last month.
"The plan is final. It will not be reopened. The meeting was fruitful and we are hoping the ministry notifies it soon," EPCA member and CSE Director General Sunita Narain said yesterday.
The plan focuses on 14 key pollution sources, as identified by an IIT-Kanpur study, and lists a series of short, medium and long-term measures, unlike the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) which focuses on tackling only emergency levels of pollution.
The EPCA has set February 2018 as the deadline for implementation of a parking policy in the city and tasked municipal agencies, Delhi Traffic Police and the Transport department with implementing it.
It has also said that the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Power Grid Corporation (PGC) have to ensure that the coal-based Badarpur thermal power plant shuts down permanently by the middle of 2018.
The Graded Response Action Plan for Delhi and NCR announced earlier this year comprises of several measures. The nature, scope and rigour of these measures to be taken is linked to levels of pollution ranging from severe + or emergency, severe, very poor, moderate to poor and moderate, after due consideration by authorities concerned. The actions are to be implemented in the entire NCR.
Dr Vikas Maurya, a senior consultant at Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, recently listed steps to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of pollution.
* People should avoid going outdoors along with doing physical activities like cycling and jogging.
* N95 masks should be used if it is necessary to go out.
* Air purifying plants such as aloe vera, ivy and spider plant can be placed at home or in the office.
* To ensure that indoor air pollution does not take place, make sure that there is a chimney in the kitchen and an exhaust in the bathroom.
* Consume fruits rich in vitamin C, magnesium and foods rich in Omega fatty acids.
* Have herbal ginger and Tulsi tea.