A PWD worker sprays water on trees as a pollution control measure. (HT Archive) Exclusive
A PWD worker sprays water on trees as a pollution control measure. (HT Archive)

Master Plan’s push for dust control could accelerate Delhi’s action plan

DDA’s suggestions are expected to be the much-needed push for the city’s dust control measures. Authorities have imposed fines on construction agencies, made smog guns and water sprinklers mandatory at building sites, and ordered high panels and sheets to cover construction material
UPDATED ON JUN 12, 2021 11:11 AM IST

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA)’s draft Master Plan for 2041 released this week envisages a sustainable infrastructure for Delhi and also highlights the problem of dust pollution in the city. The document, which will steer the city’s development for the next two decades, has suggested all developmental projects should strictly follow dust mitigation measures to deal with the pollution. It also seeks to ensure that construction material, building, and demolition waste is handled in an eco-friendly manner.

The DDA has proposed a dedicated dust management plan by Central Pollution Control Board, the apex body monitoring and strategising pollution control measures. It has said the plan should be used as a handbook for construction agencies in the city.

DDA’s suggestions are expected to be the much-needed push for the city’s dust control measures. Authorities have imposed fines on construction agencies, made smog guns and water sprinklers mandatory at building sites, and ordered high panels and sheets to cover construction material as part of its seasonal measures to control dust ahead of the winter pollution season. Experts say the measures are often reactive and do not achieve much in the longer run. They argue while the government and pollution monitoring agencies battle Delhi’s winter pollution, the city is engulfed in a haze of dust through most part of the year, especially coarse PM 10 (particulate matter with a diameter less than 10 micrometres). This is due to the continuous construction activities, un-swept roads, and dust storms that are common in northwest India during summer.

Also Read | A vision for Delhi-2041

A 2015 Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur source and inventory study showed that during summer in Delhi, the overall average concentration of PM10 was over 500ug/m3, against the national ambient air quality standard of 100ug/m3. The study highlighted that crustal dust accounted for about 40% of the total particulate matter in summer. It concluded it is undeniable that air in Delhi is several times more polluted in winter because of an increased contribution of PM 2.5 (ultrafine particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres mostly from combustion). It suggested steps to check road dust as part of measures to improve air quality holistically in summer.

Tanushree Ganguly, programme lead, Council on Energy Environment and Water, said cities across the country need to tackle dispersed sources of pollution such as open burning of waste, dust from construction sites and unpaved roads. “Pollution control boards and urban local bodies should have dedicated field inspection teams to identify such sources and ensure that they are addressed,” she said. “Secondly, we also need robust citizen grievance redressal mechanisms. The Green Delhi mobile application (which enables registration of complaints about violation of anti-pollution norms) is a great move but citizens should be encouraged to use it more actively.”

The weather also plays a role in determining air quality. Delhi’s air quality on Tuesday and Wednesday suddenly deteriorated and reached the “very poor” category. After cleaner air for over two months because of the Covid-19 lockdown, Delhi’s air quality for the first time since February slipped under the danger mark.

India Meteorological Department said the haze in Delhi recently was due to the impact of dust carrying storm from Rajasthan that settled over the region, pushing the air quality index to the poor zone. These storms are common during this time of year. Around May-June, south-westerly winds from Rajasthan often carry high quantities of dust.

Environmentalists say the Aravalli range stood as a barrier for these dust storms and prevented them from entering the Capital. The range has shrunk by nearly 40% over the last 40 years.

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), Centre for Science and Environment, said dust on its own is not life-threatening. She added in a metropolitan city like Delhi, it gets mixed with substances such as vehicular emissions, industrial fumes, residue from waste burning, and other combustion and becomes toxic.

These coarse particles break down into finer particles (such as PM 2.5 or PM 1) as they constantly remain suspended in the air. The particles can easily seep into human organs or even into the bloodstreams.

Roychowdhury called for the need to tackle pollution levels in Delhi as a year-long problem. “It is promising that through the Master Plan 2041, the DDA has tried to acknowledge that pollution is a multi-sectoral issue. We will need to plug all the sources and all agencies concerned will have to be roped in to make a visible impact.”

Dr D J Christopher, who heads pulmonary medicine at Vellore’s Christian Medical College, said Indians have 35% reduced lung capacity due to air pollution in comparison to Caucasians. “Air pollution was the second-highest risk factor in India, second only to child and maternal malnutrition.”

The DDA has also suggested a “robust monitoring framework for tackling environmental parameters”. “Data collected from such monitoring shall be regularly published through online platforms to improve awareness about these issues. Crowdsourcing of information may be explored for parameters like air pollution and noise levels, reporting on illegal dumping of solid and liquid wastes into greens and water bodies,” says the draft Master Plan.

Delhi has 37 air quality monitoring stations. IIT-Kanpur scientists, in collaboration with a Mumbai-based environmental start-up, have also installed over 30 micro-monitors, which help get more localised pollution recordings.

SN Tripathi, who leads the National Clean Air Programme, said that more sensors will ensure more thorough data and that eventually will help Delhi efficiently manage the pollution sources. “If I want to go out for a run or I have a senior citizen or a child at home and want to know the air quality levels in my area, I need to know the pollution level in my location. In a mega-city like Delhi, we still do not have enough air quality monitoring sensors.”

The draft Master Plan also suggests the involvement of citizens in controlling pollution. “Citizens and other stakeholders play a critical role in managing pollution at the local level. All concerned agencies shall take steps to improve awareness, and provide adequate and reliable information to engage stakeholders as implementation partners.”

SN Tripathi, who leads the National Clean Air Programme, said that more sensors will ensure more thorough data, and that eventually will help Delhi efficiently manage the pollution sources. “If I want to go out for a run or I have a senior citizen or a child at home and want to know the air quality levels in my area, I need to know the pollution level in my location. In a mega-city like Delhi, we do still do not have enough air quality monitoring sensors.”

The draft Master Plan also suggests involvement of citizens in to control pollution. “Citizens and other stakeholders play a critical role in managing pollution at the local level. All concerned agencies shall take steps to improve awareness, and provide adequate and reliable information to engage stakeholders as implementation partners.”

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