Experts say lockdown will do little to clear Delhi’s air

  • The lockdown suggestion was first made on Saturday by the top court while taking stock of the Capital’s annual air emergency that has once again led to a toxic haze engulfing the city as measures by the Delhi and Union governments have once again failed to control the spike.
An anti-smog gun is being used near Bhairo Marg as Delhi faces severe pollution. ((ANI photo))
An anti-smog gun is being used near Bhairo Marg as Delhi faces severe pollution. ((ANI photo))
Updated on Nov 16, 2021 05:13 AM IST
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By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Delhi government on Monday told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that it was willing to consider a lockdown in the national capital to bring down pollution levels if other NCR states agreed to do the same, but multiple experts believe such a step will achieve little in terms of controlling the bad air, cause major economic disruption, and trigger an emissions rebound once it is rolled back.

The lockdown suggestion was first made on Saturday by the top court while taking stock of the Capital’s annual air emergency that has once again led to a toxic haze engulfing the city as measures by the Delhi and Union governments have once again failed to control the spike. The suggestion of locking down was in the context of Delhi alone, and the rationale behind it was that it will curb emissions from vehicles and industries, and road dust.

But experts said this would only be a reactive measure that is unlikely to lead to any improvement now that the situation has turned serious. Mukesh Khare from IIT Delhi, who is also a former expert member of the now-dissolved Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control Authority), said that measures such as lockdowns, if at all, can be taken pre-emptively when there is a prediction of a drop in air quality.

“We have forecasting systems which can tell when air quality will deteriorate and the concentration levels expected. Measures under Grap (Graded Response Action Plan) and a lockdown should be possibly based on that if required. It is even possible to feed data from the Covid-19 lockdown period and assess the possible reduction that could occur if a decision support system is used,” he said.

Senior counsel Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, told the court on Monday that a lockdown will be of little use unless it is implemented across adjoining NCR regions in UP and Haryana.

Another expert called the lockdown suggestion a “knee-jerk idea” that takes away from what is needed: focussed year-long measures. “It is a knee-jerk reaction, if it occurs. Once the lockdown is lifted, those sources of pollution will return once again and you are only looking at an extreme and temporary solution. What we need is action throughout the year,” he said, asking not to be named.

A third expert said warned of the costs of such measures, especially when there is little scientific evidence it will lead to any significant gains. “It will set a terrible precedent, and show that we are not able to handle the spikes in pollution at this time of the year. We also cannot judge the meteorological factors that will be at play, even if a lockdown is imposed,” said Santosh Harish, fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR).

Thaneshwar Adigaur, secretary of the Delhi Asangathit Nirman Mazdoor Union said that the ban on construction activity in the Capital has already led to uncertainty in the sector, and feared workers might migrate back to their villages as they had when the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed last year.

Inamul Haq, a private labour contractor in Delhi, said: “Workers are worried that the ban on construction activity will be extended as the air pollution situation is unlikely to improve. In the past too, the ban has been extended. It was after great difficulty I managed to get workers back from Bihar, West Bengal etc. Now, I don’t know how long this will continue.”

Haq said that if the ban is extended then he might think of sending the labourers to other cities.

Traders opposed the idea of a lockdown, too, “We hope there is no lockdown now, as it will hugely impact businesses. It is only recently that the rush is back in the markets and sales have picked up. A lockdown now will break the continuity. During the pandemic, traders have suffered a lot,” said Atul Bhargava, president of the New Delhi Traders Association in Connaught Place

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Monday, January 24, 2022