Delhi pollution: Experts say immediate action needed to ensure pollution-free Diwali and winter next year

  • The Centre is taking measures to prevent pollution in Delhi-NCR from reaching hazardous levels in Diwali, and winter generally, next year.

  • Environmental experts and senior government functionaries at the Centre strongly believe that the mission can only be achieved if the execution of the action plan begins immediately.

  • This season, apart from other factors, stubble burning in the adjoining states has emerged as the main culprit for the pollution in the National Capital.

The Centre is taking measures to prevent pollution in Delhi-NCR from reaching hazardous levels in Diwali, and winter generally, next year.

However, environmental experts and senior government functionaries at the Centre strongly believe that the mission can only be achieved if the execution of the action plan begins immediately.

On Monday, the Supreme Court had issued a slew of orders to combat pollution, one of it being for state governments to stop farm fires in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh or face contempt proceedings. After the order, the Centre is in the process of initiating stringent measures.

Mukesh Khare, professor of environmental engineering at IIT Delhi and a member of Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) told Firstpost, “It is for the first time that the Supreme Court has passed orders related to pollution in Delhi-NCR pollution. The planning and execution of anti-pollution measures has to begin from today itself, if we want to see a clean, pollution-free Diwali and winter next year. No ad hoc arrangement will work. The Supreme Court's directives have to be followed, or else, it will be impossible to curb pollution.”

 Delhi pollution: Experts say immediate action needed to ensure pollution-free Diwali and winter next year

People stage a protest against pollution at India Gate, in New Delhi. PTI

Where lies the problem?

This season, apart from other factors, stubble burning in the adjoining states has emerged as the main culprit for the pollution in the National Capital.

A week ago, images from space released by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) showed that stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana had spiked to alarming levels. It has also been established that stubble burning in the neighbouring states is presently the single biggest cause for dangerous pollution levels in Delhi.

According to a government source, to prevent stubble burning, the Centre gave Rs 700 crore to Punjab and Haryana to buy machines. However, due to bureaucratic apathy at the state level, the measures proposed by the agencies remain unfulfilled, the source said.

“There had been a series of meetings with senior officials of the state governments and other stakeholders on curbing pollution, especially on the issue of stubble burning. But due to apathy and inaction on the part of the lower cadre in the state bureaucracy, plans failed to get implemented as desired,” a member of the task force under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

“It has been found that at the lower level, the subsidy provided by the government for the use of machines is pocketed and stubble burning continues. Stringent action needs to be taken by the state governments against such acts,” the member added.

Expressing his concern over Delhi pollution, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 2 November that his government enforced the law and penalised those found guilty of stubble burning. But the fact remains that the maximum number of farm fires have been reported from Punjab.

Recently, Singh admitted to incidents of stubble burning having taken place in his state and mentioned that action had been taken against 2,923 farmers. The Punjab chief minister has asked Modi to provide a bonus amount of Rs 100 per quintal of crop to farmers to facilitate stubble management.

Amarinder Singh's letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image sourced by Debobrat Ghose/Firstpost

Amarinder Singh's letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image sourced by Debobrat Ghose/Firstpost

“The Punjab chief minister's demand is also justified to a certain extent. But what about the fund that the Centre gives the states for the use of machines?” questioned a senior government official.

These subsidised machines used as an alternative to stubble burning can either be owned and used by the farmers or be available on rent. The government says that in several cases, the machines lie unused.

If a farmer gives a machine on rent to another farmer, the owner gets 2 percent commission on it. “But in many cases, the commission is usurped without the machine being used. The state government officials at the ground level need to keep a strict vigil on it,” the official added.

Environment experts are of the opinion that a persistent campaign — like the one against smoking — is needed against stubble burning, and small farmers and their families should be involved and educated on its harmful impact on health.

GRAP needs to be revisited

Experts feel that the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) meant to combat pollution needs to be revisited and reworked. GRAP defines the measures to be taken based on air quality, particularly the levels of PM2.5 and PM10 particles in the atmosphere.

IIT-Madras and National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have submitted a proposal to the Supreme Court-monitored EPCA to re-evaluate GRAP measures.

“Based on the existing situation, there is a need to re-evaluate and reassess GRAP to make it more efficient. At present, construction work is stopped only when pollution levels exceed the 300 mark. This should be done in September instead, so that dust particles don’t get trapped with the advent of winter. The digging of soil, transportation of sand and cement, concreting and dismantling of buildings should be stopped during this period,” Mukesh Khare added.

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Updated Date: Nov 05, 2019 23:42:37 IST