In a bid to reduce the increasing air pollution levels in Delhi, the previous Congress government had readied a five-year action plan last year. But it was put in cold storage as the plan had strict penal provisions for violators of pollution control norms and the government didn’t want to look unpopular ahead of the assembly polls.
As winter pollution rises to alarming levels again this season, the new government led by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has completed a month in office, has not bothered to even look at it.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), that had helped the government formulate the plan, said, “The plan was ready, but right ahead of the assembly elections in December last year it was sent back to a committee headed by the chief secretary for more detailing.”
“Now a new government has taken over...we need to pursue the action all over again. We have not heard a word from them (the new government). Even their 18-point action plan of governance doesn’t mention air pollution.”
The government says it is concerned about Delhi’s rising pollution levels. AAP minister Manish Sisodia said, “If the previous government has prepared a plan which, on implementation, can improve air quality of Delhi, we would definitely take it out of the cold storage. We’re concerned about levels of pollution in the Capital. We’re also working on better garbage disposal practices and improving our drainage systems.”
In Delhi, the level of particulate matter less than 10 microns in size (PM10) had increased by 47% between 2000 and 2011, while the level of nitrogen dioxide had gone up by 57%. The level of particulate matter less than 2.5 micron in size (PM2.5) is also exceeding the standard by 4-6 times.
High levels of carbon monoxide, ozone and benzene levels are causing havoc. Particulates include sulphate, nitrates, ammonia, salt, carbon, dust and water.
During the last winter season, the Delhi government promised various measures to fight pollution. One of them was a study by an IIT to examine Delhi’s air quality. The study has just been awarded and will take time in completion.
And the situation is really alarming. A recent study covered 11,628 school-going children from 36 schools in Delhi in different seasons and found that every third child has reduced lung function because of particulate pollution.
“Another study says there are high respiratory disorder symptoms in students residing in Chandni Chowk (66 per cent) in north Delhi, Mayapuri (59 per cent) in west Delhi and Sarojini Nagar (46 per cent) in south Delhi because of vehicular pollution,” she said.
“More evidences from studies of the University of California, Berkeley, show PM2.5 concentrations inside vehicles while travelling can be 1.5 times higher than the surrounding background air and ultra-fine levels about 8.5 times higher. The exposure to vehicular fume in Delhi is among highest in the world,” she said.
The CSE says Delhi has exhausted all its soft options. It has lost the air quality gains accrued through the conversion of vehicles from diesel to CNG. “Against 550-odd new personal vehicles a day, Delhi adds more than double now. The market share of diesel cars is 60%...The next steps need to combat not only the rising pollution but also the high mixture of pollutants,” said Roychowdhury.