In an attempts to curb the soaring pollution in Delhi, the green tribunal in November ordered all vehicles- 15 years and older- off its streets. But an internal assessment by the transport department has revealed that all 70 posts tasked with checking vehicular emissions lie vacant — which may just render the court’s order redundant.
Exhaust from vehicles accounts for 70% of air toxicity in the Capital, where pollution levels exceed World Health Organisation limits, according to a recent admission in Parliament by the NDA government.
The Central Pollution Control Board’s latest reports show PM2.5 — extremely fine particulate matter that goes deep inside our lungs — is 21 times the permissible limit while the extremely harmful NOx (nitrogen oxides), which also leads to ozone formation, has peaked to 4.5 times the standard level. Simultaneously, there has been a rapid rise in respiratory ailments such as asthma.
“These 70 posts were originally created (on the Supreme Court’s order) under the environment department in 1987, when air pollution first started becoming a cause for concern. But after they were moved out in batches, there has not been any replacement. We will look at the possibility of filling these posts,” a government official said.
Since then, the posts have been moved to the transport department, the official said, adding, “The officers have been found to be doing jobs other than pollution control. Many are involved in vehicle registration.”
Four months after the National Green Tribunal’s order that banned 29 lakh of Delhi’s 86 lakh vehicles, the transport department has been able to act against a mere 10. “We don’t have the manpower to identify such vehicles,” a department official said.
This is perhaps why eight special vehicles fitted with equipment to monitor emissions — bought by the government in 2001 for Rs 5 crore — lie rusting in a government compound in north Delhi.
The department, however, said its enforcement wing still runs random checks on vehicles.
Following up on the November order, the tribunal on March 16 asked the government to explain why all diesel vehicles more than 10 years old should not be banned. “The tribunal has also sought the exact number of such vehicles by April 7. We have accumulative data, which is not actionable,” said an official.
“Human health is an integral facet of the right to life and must take precedence over all commercial and infrastructure projects,” the tribunal said.
In agreement with this observation, a Delhi Pollution Control Committee official said, “The level of this deadly cocktail is worse than what has been classified as severe in the government’s new air quality index. The current situation demands stringent action to reduce public health risk.” He attributed “the dramatic increase” in both gaseous and particulate pollution to vehicular impact.