In the absence of an integrated approach to deal with Delhi’s air pollution, the issue has created a lot of hot air but almost no action. The reason is simple; lack of political will as cleaning the air would mean some harsh measures.
But time has come to enforce them or else living in national capital will become a health hazard.
The city does not have traffic and industry management plan for high pollution days like many other cities across the world, including Beijing. The government authorities don’t even issue advisories to people despite the city having over 26 real time monitoring stations — highest for any metro in the country — and Delhi’s particulate matter (PM) pollution this winter has been worst since 2000.
The plan to issue an advisory about worst polluted areas was initiated during Commonwealth Games 2010 but it had remained on paper. A senior environment ministry official blamed monitoring agencies working in silos for the failure. “One agency was not willing to share its data with another,” he said.
Since September 2013, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee having six real-time air pollution monitoring stations has not shared its pollution data with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), mandated to issue the advisory.
Parallel to this, the Ministry of Earth Sciences also set up its own 10 pollution monitoring stations in the capital during the games but refused to collaborate with CPCB or DPCC.
“We will have one integrated Air Quality Index for all monitoring locations in Delhi with public advisories soon,” assured the ministry official. However, environment minister Prakash Javadekar put the onus of cleaning Delhi’s air on the new Aam Aadmi Party government. “I will hold a meeting with Delhi government soon to discuss an action plan,” he said on Thursday, most polluted day in February.
That may not help as cleaning Delhi’s air will need an integrated work plan to be implemented by three governments — Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh-and not just Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
About one-third of the vehicles on Delhi roads came from neighbouring towns, westerly winds blow pollutants from south and south-west and Capital’s satellite towns are also home to a number of unregulated industries. Night pollution in Delhi is higher than day-time along the two ring roads thanks to non-destined trucks flocking Capital, despite a Supreme Court ban in 2001.
This does not mean that Kejriwal should not act as implementing a dedicated action plan will have a positive impact and Delhi can be national torch bearer for turning green from grey.
“You need will and it can happen,” Anumita Roy Chaudhary of Centre for Science and Environment said, recalling how Supreme Court pushed Delhi government in 2000 to introduce Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) as alternate fuel and Delhi’s pollution dipped by almost 50% in a few years.
This time the measures needed may be harsher as PM 2.5 microns that enter deep inside one’s lungs and can trigger heart attack was 20 times higher than the safe level prescribed by the government in Delhi.