A clerk at Delhi Pollution Control Committee’s office in Kashmere Gate says for four years he had been to carry files from one room to another, till the infamous November smog struck last year. That month, Rakesh (name changed) was given a handheld air quality monitoring device and was dropped at Anand Vihar to conduct “inspections”.
“All my life I have been a clerk and tasks like these are done by officers. The week that began from Diwali was maddening. Everyone in DPCC was put on field with the devices. We were asked to go because there was hardly any staff,” Rakesh said.
With the Centre notifying the Graded Response Action Plan, situations like these are bound to occur more frequently as the implementation agencies continue to grapple with staff crunch. The DPCC, for example, has maximum responsibilities in the graded response system. Once air quality hit the severe mark, it has to ensure that all construction activities and use of diesel generators stop, brick kilns, stone crushers and power plants are shut and emissions from industries are curtailed.
To implement these measures, the DPCC and the environment department have only 37 officials and the staff size hasn’t changed since the late 1990s. “We also deploy around 60 trainees who work with us for three years. Still, conducting field inspections across Delhi with the strength is difficult. Even on a good day, an official can cover only 3-4 locations,” an official in the environment department said. Though the DPCC delegates the tasks to various departments, there is no robust mechanism in place to monitor.
Similarly, the transport department has an enforcement team of just 250 officials who have to stop visibly polluting vehicles, check for Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificates and are also tasked with licence related issues.
While rolling out the odd-even scheme is easy, the introduction of ‘peak’ and ‘off-peak’ travel could be tedious. “If pollution reaches severe level today then introducing differential rates as directed by EPCA will be difficult,” a transport official said.
From increasing the parking fees by 3-4 times to stopping waste burning, construction activities and use of coal/firewood at eateries, the municipal corporations have a series of tasks chalked out by the EPCA. The problem, with the MCDs is of poor work culture. So much so that even now despite multiple notices and directives they have failed to control open waste burning.
The North, South and East Delhi Municipal Corporations have a combined strength of 3,500 officials comprising sanitary inspectors and engineers dedicated only for inspecting waste burning and construction activities. “Right now pollution levels are moderate, so we are not strictly adhering to the plan. However, we are keeping a watch,” a North DMC official said.
(With inputs from Vibha Sharma and Shiv Sunny)