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Delhi air pollution: Citizens in national capital suffer but odd-even implementation uncertainty still on

Within hours of the National Green Tribunal's (NGT) conditional nod to the odd-even in the capital, the Delhi government on Saturday declined to implement the car rationing scheme and said it would instead file a review petition on Monday.

Although the tribunal approved the scheme, it questioned the exemptions given to sections like women and two-wheelers, if the aim was to improve air quality.

Asking the city government to reconsider the four-fold hike in the parking fee, the NGT ordered that there should be no exemption to anyone expect emergency vehicles like ambulances and fire tenders

The Delhi government later called off the scheme, and assured that it will approach the green court on Monday.

People commute during the foggy in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI

People commute amid the smog in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI

"At the moment, we are calling it off," said Delhi transport minister Kailash Gahlot, adding that the government's decision came in view of the directive by the green court. "This government gives the highest priority to the safety and security of women," he said.

The road rationing scheme was to be implemented from 13 to 17 November, as suggested by the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) and specified under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), after Delhi's air quality went "beyond severe".

In 2016, exemptions were given to women, two-wheelers, vehicles carrying children in school uniforms and VVIPs.

"The odd-even will go on. No exemption of any kind to anyone, including two-wheelers, women, public officers or politicians, except essential services," NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar ordered on Saturday, adding that only CNG vehicles, emergency services such as ambulance and fire, and vehicles carrying waste shall be exempted.

However, three hours after the NGT's order, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal held a meeting and refused to impose the third phase of odd-even scheme without exemptions, pointing out the concerns of "women security" and "insufficient public transport".

In a statement, the Delhi government said that it "feels that considering the large number of two-wheelers in Delhi, unless adequate number of buses are available, implementation of odd-even will cause great hardship to such persons." It further added that it was not "feasible" to arrange such a large number of buses "at this stage".

NGT directs automatic implementation of odd-even on increase in pollution

Earlier on Saturday, the tribunal said that in future, the odd-even scheme should automatically come into force if the PM2.5 and PM10, particles in air with diameter less than 2.5 and 10 mm respectively, levels go above the 300 and 500 mark respectively for 48 hours.

The tribunal directed the implementation of odd-even "right away" without waiting for 48 hours, in case PM2.5 and PM10 go beyond 400 and 700 units respectively.

The NGT's decision came after the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) told the bench that two-wheelers were more polluting than other vehicles, and emissions from two-wheelers accounted for over 20 percent of the total vehicular pollution.

While passing several directives, the NGT said every entry point to Delhi should be properly managed by the city government, the corporations should ensure that there was no congestion, and Uttar Pradesh and Haryana should depute special forces at the border of the national capital to avoid traffic jams.

The tribunal also issued notices to the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) to show cause as to why construction was still going on.

"Why should your officials not be imprisoned for violation of the order putting a ban on construction activities?," Kumar asked.

The tribunal constituted a three member team of officials from the CPCB and DPCC, and the special secretary of the environment department of the Delhi government, which would collect data of ambient air quality and analyse all different parameters including PM (particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5) levels, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and others.

While the Delhi government counsel also asked the tribunal if they should "drop the idea of odd-even" as Delhi's air quality was improving, the tribunal asked the government to take a call on it.

NGT flays DTC

While examining the Delhi government's decision to roll out odd-even car rationing scheme, NGT pulled up Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) for not maintaining its buses and letting them operate without passengers for most of the time.

"Your buses create so much noise on the road. They are a great nuisance. Most of parts of your buses are either hanging in air or broken. Why don't you take proper steps for their maintenance. Either your buses run empty or they are over- loaded," the bench said.

It also rapped the DTC chairman-cum-managing director for not taking note of an NGT order on maintenance of buses and carrying out a rationalisation study so that the vehicles can be used more effectively.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Ajay Maken sided with the NGT order, saying that the tribunal's "displeasure" was justified.

Swaraj India leader Anupam also criticised the AAP government, saying that instead of taking long-term measures, it is only focussed on "knee-jerk reactions". United Airlines acts over smog Considering the poor visibility in Delhi, the United Airlines on Saturday temporarily suspended its flight from Newark to the national capital. The Indian Express reported that the airline has waiver policies for customers who are traveling to, from or through Delhi. United Airlines has asked its customers who plan to travel from 9 to 13 November  to book their tickets before November 18.  

Air quality

Delhi's air quality plummeted on Saturday evening and once again entered the 'emergency' category. The situation had reversed hours after the government announced that levels of ultrafine particulates PM2.5 and PM10 had seen a reduction.

The CPCB's air quality index till 5 pm had a score of 403, against Friday's 468.

Air-monitoring agency SAFAR (System of Air quality and weather Forecasting and Research) project director Gufran Beig said: "There is no likelihood of last week's repeat as there is no fresh influx of pollutants from external sources such as stubble burning or dust storm in the larger region. But recovery will get delayed by at least one more day."

The concentration of PM2.5 and PM10 hovered around 490 and 290 micrograms per cubic metre during the early hours of Saturday, marginally below the emergency limit of 500 and 300.

The reading changed to 522 and 332 by 6 pm.

With inputs from agencies


Published Date: Nov 12, 2017 08:25 AM | Updated Date: Nov 12, 2017 08:28 AM

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