Focus on big polluters

Even an abundance of initiatives undertaken to restrain the stubbornly high pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR) has failed to produce the desired outcomes. Reason: The initiatives are largely misdirected. The relatively minor contributors to this menace have received the bulk of the attention even as some of the main culprits remain unaddressed. For instance, a lot of blame is ascribed to the burning of paddy stubble in the surrounding states even though it only adds to the locally generated pollution and that, too, for a short period of around a month (mid-October to mid-November). But pollution remains high, and escalates to dangerous levels, even at other times of the year. The consistent polluters are the industries, transport vehicles, construction activity, fossil fuel-based power plants and generator sets, brick kilns and the torching of local waste. Unfortunately, not much is being done on these fronts.

Going by the findings of a recent study by the Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), about 30 per cent of the NCR’s pollution is caused by industrial units, 28 per cent by transport vehicles and 18 per cent by the dust produced from construction sites, road sweeping and rock crushing. Though crop residue flaming can account for 30 per cent or more of the pollution during the peak paddy-harvesting season, the overall contribution of smoke from outside Delhi during most part of the year has been reckoned by the Teri study at merely 4 per cent. The inflaming of garbage and brick kilns located in and around Delhi further inflate the atmosphere’s smoke content, which, in association with humidity, dust and other hanging pollutants, leads to the formation of health-injurious smog. While, no doubt, crop burning needs to end, well-judged measures are required to curb other air-vitiating factors as well.

An elaborate plan has been formulated to control the NCR’s pollution through short- and long-term actions. It includes a well-crafted Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to deal with emergencies. However, the implementation of this plan is tardy. One reason for this could be the multiplicity of laws, authorities and agencies dealing with this issue. Most of these bodies such as the pollution control boards are just paper tigers. None of them is directly accountable for poor results. Polluting activities such as construction, non-mechanised road sweeping, waste burning, use of diesel generators, etc. are continuing despite the GRAP being in force. Nearly 52,000 polluting industrial units, which have been asked to shut down, continue to operate in the residential and other non-conforming areas. Though the Indraprastha thermal power plant in the heart of Delhi has been closed, even if temporarily, about a dozen other thermal plants continue to function within the 300-km radius of the Capital. The emission levels of most of these do not conform to the standards notified by the environment ministry in December 2015. These emissions are relatively hazardous as they contain highly toxic sulphates, nitrates, mercury and secondary particulate matter. Such blatant violations of pollution control norms need to be checked. Otherwise, the NCR’s ambient environment will remain unhealthy.

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