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Odd-even isn't the answer to Delhi's air pollution woes, industrial emissions bigger enemy, says activist

Mahendra Pandey, an enivironmental activist and former scientist with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), has been a long-time critic of the odd-even rule in Delhi, repeatedly arguing against it as a measure of curbing pollution. After the Delhi government reintroduced the rule this week following the crippling air pollution levels in the city, Pandey was among the petitioners who filed a case in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the move.

He spoke to Firstpost about the capital's pollution problem and ways of tackling it.

Air pollution in Delhi has reached critical levels over the last week. PTI

Air pollution in Delhi has reached critical levels over the last week. PTI

You have long been advocating that odd-even is not a solution to Delhi's air pollution. Can you explain the reasons for this stance?

The CPCB conducted a study on Delhi's air quality last year after odd-even was enforced for the first time. It said odd-even had no impact on Delhi's air quality. In fact, the air quality actually deteriorated in the first few days after odd even was introduced. In its second phase, Ozone concentration in Delhi's air went high.

I think we are concentrating on vehicular pollution too much, but this hasn't yielded any positive results. To contain vehicular emissions, more city buses were introduced, CNG vehicles were started, old vehicles and diesel vehicles were done away with, but air pollution still didn't go down. Rather, it increased manifold. Enforcing odd-even is like aiming at the wrong target.

You have long been claiming that vehicular pollution is not a major cause of Delhi's air pollution. What makes you think so?

I have not said that vehicular pollution is not a major cause of Delhi's air pollution. What I argued is that it is not the biggest cause. There are bigger causes which are needed to be addressed first. And this has not been done. CPCB's study clearly mentions that the overall contribution of vehicular pollution to ambient air in Delhi during the winter is estimated to be around 20-25 percent in respect of PM10 and PM2.5.

The same has been mentioned in a study conducted by IIT Kanpur, which says the total PM10 emission load in the city is estimated to be 143 t/d and the top four contributors to PM10 emissions are road dust (56 percent), concrete batching (10 percent), industrial point sources (10 percent) and vehicles (9 percent). This IIT study also showed that PM2.5 emission load in the city is estimated to be 59 t/d. The top four contributors to PM2.5 emissions are road dust (38 percent), vehicles (20  percent), domestic fuel burning (12  percent) and industrial point sources (11 percent).

But why is industrial emission not being given as much importance as vehicular emission? Industries come under the purview of the Central Pollution Control Board and Delhi Pollution Control Committee. If the harm done to Delhi's environment by industrial pollution is focussed on, it will reveal the failures of these two authorities in containing the menace. So, they have been trying to divert people's attention and have them focussing on vehicular emission in order to save their skin. Vehicles come under the transport department and not these two.

Odd-even is a measure mandated under the 'Graded Response Action Plan' to tackle Delhi's air pollution. Are you saying it was included without a scientific study on its effectiveness?

It's a laughable proposition as the CPCB itself had said that odd-even had no impact on air pollution. I think it was included in 'GRAP' to fool people.

To what level has stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana contributed to Delhi's air pollution? How can it be controlled?

There hasn't been a study about the contribution of stubble burning to Delhi's air pollution. During winters, the wind blows from Punjab and Haryana towards Delhi, which could bring in pollutants caused by stubble burning there. We need to know how much of the pollution is on account of stubble burning. There are various types of technologies available, which can convert unusable stubble into fuel or fertilizers. These can be used instead of burning the stubble.

What preventive measures could have been taken before Delhi's air quality reached these hazardous levels?

Soon after pollution levels reached 'severe' level, measures were taken to shut more than a hundred industries. What this measure proves is that the contribution of these industries to Delhi's air pollution is higher than the permitted level and no steps were taken to check this until the air quality became hazardous. But why was no action taken against them earlier? Why were they asked to close down only when pollution caused by them reached dangerous levels?

Had the CPCB and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee performed their duties honestly, we would have required no preventive measure to control Delhi's air pollution. But monitoring of the emission levels of these industries is not at all satisfactory.

For example, at construction and infrastructure projects, where permissions are given under the condition that the party obtaining a 'No Objection Certificate' would be in charge of curbing pollution caused by such projects. But this condition is not being followed at many of these projects. The bodies receiving a 'No Objection Certificate' are also required to submit compliance report after following the environmental norms, every six months. Had these norms been complied with, Delhi's ambient air quality would not have reached severe levels.

Garbage burning is another similar problem. It's illegal to burn garbage, but we see it being done every day in the landfills. Why is no penalty being imposed on the people or authorities responsible for such illegal action?

Can efficient public transportation solve the problem?

Unlike in Mumbai, people in Delhi are not used to public transport. They would rather use private vehicles than buses and metros. There is also a gap in our public transportation system; many places are connected by Metro rail, but there isn't a feeder bus service beyond this. If seamless public transportation is provided, it may decrease vehicular emission to an extent, but that has to be accompanied by changes in work shifts as well, to actually decrease congestion and emissions.

Published Date: Nov 16, 2017 15:41 PM | Updated Date: Nov 16, 2017 15:41 PM

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