We brought an ordinance to combat pollution in NCR: Bhupender Yadav
With the spectre of air pollution once again haunting the Capital as stubble burning starts in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana, the Centre is hoping the situation this year will not be as bad as previous years.
In an interview with HT, Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav said the new agency to curb bad air in NCR, Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), will take its remit seriously and also give legal status to the regional airshed (area affected by similar meteorology and topography that restrict the dispersion of pollutants).
How prepared is the government this year to tackle winter pollution? You have had several meetings with state governments, what is the feedback that you have got and what is your assessment?
The most important step that our government has taken is that we have brought in an ordinance to monitor and control air pollution in the national capital region.
And the agency that has been created through this ordinance, CAQM, is doing its work effectively.
To solve Delhi’s air pollution problem, legal status needed to be given to the (regional) airshed. This happened through the ordinance. Several measures have been taken by the government to manage the primary pollution sources in the region, including vehicles, industries, construction etc.
To maintain transparency in pollution data, we have also launched an online portal called PRANA (Portal for Regulation of Air-Pollution in Non-Attainment Cities), which is a platform that provides information on how cities are curbing pollution levels and historical data on air pollution mitigation milestones achieved since 2018.
While pollution control is the government’s job, it is also a matter that concerns the public and there needs to be a joint responsibility. We have issued over six advisories and over 40 directions related to air pollution since the commission took over.
Will you be able to reduce stubble fires this year?
We started working around mitigation measures to control stubble burning in July. The ministries of agriculture and animal husbandry, the Central Pollution Control Board, and our task force have worked together.
We also monitored the work that has happened in various states to reduce the incidents of stubble burning, and we saw that state governments also took this matter seriously.
Starting July 29, we have held several meetings with all agencies concerned to keep a close watch on the action taken to prevent stubble burning.
We are also working on larger, solution-based plans, such as converting the paddy stubble into biofuels and decomposing it. To curb the practice, we have also come up with machinery advancements (under the Promotion of Agricultural Mechanization for in-situ management of crop residue).
The central government has assigned nearly ₹700 crore, and we have made service centres and hiring centres as well.
I believe that the central government and state governments have worked in coordination to tackle this issue, but CAQM is mapping these incidents closely.
Farmers from Punjab and Haryana have highlighted that unless the government gives them some kind of direct subsidy, the practice of stubble burning is likely to continue. What is being done in this area?
I don’t believe that is the case. Whichever farmer unions and pollution control boards I have interacted with, I have got good feedback.
We understand that this is an issue that would require collective participation and work is being done based on the feedback that we are getting.
Punjab, one of the states where stubble fires are reported, just saw a major political shake-up, and the state is also going into elections next year. Do you think all this will in any way impact the action against stubble burning this year?
I don’t think so. These are two separate concerns. Political matters are there, but our duties and responsibilities as governments are separate. It is our collective responsibility and all agencies are serious.
The ministry of environment, forest and climate change has also been working on revising air quality standards. By when can we expect some clarity on this?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already announced our plan for the holistic improvement of air quality in over 100 cities. For this purpose, we have also launched the PRANA portal.
We are conducting some studies to assess the current air quality standards and see if they can be revised. Our focus is on air quality monitoring also.
Are we on track to achieve the national clean air programme (NCAP) target which aims to achieve a 20% to 30% reduction in PM 2.5 concentrations compared to 2017 annual levels in over a hundred cities by 2024?
We are working tirelessly to achieve NCAP targets. The best example of this is our work to convert all industries to piped natural gas in NCR. We have also taken out a policy to promote electric vehicles, taken steps to control stubble burning, etc.
Last year, there was a lot of confusion over the role of CAQM and CPCB in enforcing the Grap (graded response action plan) measures because of which Delhi saw several spells of ‘severe’ air when no action was called in by any monitoring body. Will things be different this time?
CAQM and CPCB are working together. CAQM has come up with a system of regular updates, where the action taken by states and other agencies will be closely monitored. CPCB will also be helping the CAQM in their efforts.
Can people flag violations?
Yes, people can send in their complaints to CAQM. There is an online portal for this.
The Delhi government has said that they have requested the Centre to ban firecrackers in the neighbouring states as well so that a spike in pollution levels during Diwali can be avoided. Are you considering this?
We will be closely monitoring the pollution levels, but no decision has been taken on this yet. As and when the situation arises, we will see what measures need to be taken.