Authorities in Delhi seek to tackle worsening air quality with odd-even scheme, green crackers and free masks, but experts unsure of execution
Declaring a war of sorts, both the Delhi state government and the Centre have come up with plans at various levels to firefight the air pollution menace in the National Capital Region
According to CPCB, Delhi's air quality worsened on Wednesday with 244 AQI after seeing slight improvement to 206 on Tuesday from Monday's 249
In order to fight the pollution, authorities have identified four major areas of concern such as stubble burning, vehicular pollution, industrial pollution and road and construction dust Ã¢ï¿½ï¿½ that will be taken care of during a fortnightly action plan that comes to effect on 1 November
As pre-emptive measures, the Delhi government is focussing on free distribution of 5 million masks to Delhi school children and is also exploring work from home during the period as an option
As for the Delhi Police, DCP Amulya Patnaik recently asked all DCPs and their teams to ensure that no firecrackers other than the 'anar' (flowerpot) and 'phuljhari' (sparklers) are sold and used during Diwali
The Delhi Police has also set 8 pm to 10 pm as the time for bursting crackers and issued guidelines to be followed during Diwali to all resident welfare associations
With the festival of firecrackers Diwali right around the corner and temperatures dipping in northern India, Delhi is inching closer to poor air quality caused by pollution.
Declaring a war of sorts, both the Delhi state government and the Centre have come up with plans at various levels to firefight the air pollution menace in the National Capital Region.
According to the data available with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi's air quality index (AQI) remained poor on Wednesday as well. At 244 AQI, the air had worsened on Wednesday after seeing a slight improvement to 206 on Tuesday from 249 on Monday.
An AQI between 201 and 300 is categorised as ‘poor’ while AQI between 301 and 400 is categorised as 'very poor'. In Delhi, the AQI shoots beyond 400 — known as 'Severe' — during the peak pollution period in Delhi.
The stubble burning in neighbouring states has been identified as one of the major causes behind the increase in pollution in Delhi’s air.
According to the central pollution forecasting agency, System of Air Quality and Weather Forecast and Research (SAFAR), the contribution of stubble burning to Delhi’s air pollution was around 19 percent.
“A gradual increase in the stubble burning activity has been noticed and fire-count has reached one-fourth of its peak value observed last year,” stated SAFAR in its release.
The agency also anticipates that the air quality may touch ‘very poor quality’ due to low wind speed in the coming days.
Major irritants causing severe pollution
The authorities have identified four major areas of concern — stubble burning, vehicular pollution, industrial pollution and road and construction dust — that will be taken care of during the fortnightly action plan. Also, the period between October end and mid-November has been identified as ‘crucial’ as it is during this period that the air pollution in Delhi is at its peak.
“Delhi’s overall particulate pollution has gone down by 25 percent but in order to meet clean air standards, pollution loads will have to be reduced by another 65 percent,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director and head of the air pollution and clean transportation programme at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
“The graded response action plan (GRAP), which came into effect from 15 October, requires every city in the National Capital Region to act. The enforcement of the GRAP will be crucial for curbing pollution this winter,” she added.
Fortnightly action plan
Both the Delhi and the Central governments have chalked out a fortnightly action plan to combat the air pollution menace in the national capital region. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is the nodal agency of the Centre in formulation and execution of the action plan. The period of the action plan is 1 to 15 November.
As pre-emptive measures, the Delhi government is focussing on free distribution of 5 million N95 anti-pollution masks to Delhi school children (up to Class 12) in both government and private schools.
It is also planning to carry out the Odd-Even scheme for 12 days starting from 4 November to combat vehicular pollution. In fact, the Delhi government has set aside a budget of Rs 5 crore to engage 5,000 civil defence volunteers for the scheme and out of this 500 will be engaged as environment marshals.
The Delhi government also has a plan to suggest staggered timing in offices under its jurisdiction and is also exploring work from home during the period as an option.
As part of the plan, the state government will also identify areas under heavy dust and take measures to prevent pollution. As part of the plan, the Delhi government has already begun spraying water on streets in many areas.
The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), the state agency to monitor pollution in Delhi, has identified 13 pollution hotspots in the city and prepared an action plan with deadlines.
The agency will monitor these areas to see whether any violation takes place like dumping of garbage, debris, construction dust, industrial wastes, burning of wastes, etc. Strict action has also been initiated in the form of issuance of challans by the municipal corporations.
However, environment experts are apprehensive over the state government's ability to execute the plan. Delhi-based environment expert Anand Arya told Firstpost that it's not the planning but the government’s inability to implement the same that has turned pollution in Delhi into a menace.
The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) — a central government committee constituted for the NCR — has already identified every source of pollution, percentage of pollutants in the air, the solution to the problem and execution plan for Delhi and NCR.
"Had the EPCA plan been honestly followed, pollution in Delhi would have declined by at least 70 percent. As there can’t be a Utopian solution to any problem, now it needs to be seen how successfully and up to what extent the Delhi government executes the action plan this winter. The rate of success in the war against pollution depends on it,” said Arya.
Plan to combat pollution during Diwali
Go green seems to be the bottom line when it comes to bursting crackers and fireworks this Diwali in Delhi.
Following the 2018 Supreme Court order that banned conventional firecrackers and ruled that only green crackers with reduced emission will be allowed, Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik, after a meeting with all deputy commissioners of police (DCPs) on Tuesday, asked all DCPs and their teams to ensure that no firecrackers other than the 'anar' (flowerpot) and 'phuljhari' (sparklers) are sold and used during Diwali.
“It needs to be seen what police or government agencies do in preventing the usage of banned crackers and how far they are successful in it. But, when we talk about green crackers, there is nothing ‘green’ as such. The only difference between a regular cracker and a green cracker is the content and degree of polluting chemicals. In both cases pollution is caused — may be lesser in the case of so-called green crackers. The best part of Supreme Court’s guideline is the limited period of time given to bursting crackers,” Arya said.
The Delhi Police has set 8 pm to 10 pm as the time for bursting crackers in the national capital on Diwali in guidelines issued to all resident welfare associations.
According to the Diwali guidelines, joined firecrackers or series crackers (laris); fireworks containing barium salts, lithium, arsenic, antimony, lead and mercury — have been banned. Crackers with sound decibel level within permissible limits (125 dB (Al) and 145 dB (C)pk at 4 meters from point of bursting) are permitted. It also banned bursting of firecrackers in silence zones like around hospitals, educational institutions, courts, religious places and areas as declared by the competent authority.
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