How Delhi’s RK Puram improved its air quality
In October last year, the air in south Delhi’s RK Puram was thick with pollutants. Smoke from garbage being burnt, dust from construction, and noxious fumes from vehicles zooming past Ring Road and Outer Ring Road had pushed this residential area into the infamous list of most polluted areas in the national capital. But this year, things are different.
Data data shows that RK Puram — one of the city’s 13 pollution hot spots, where pollution levels are considerably higher than the rest of Delhi — showed the highest reduction in PM2.5 (ultrafine particulate matter with diameter less than 2.5 micrometres) levels compared to the other highly polluted spots.
This, officials said, was brought on by stricter enforcement of anti-pollution norms and better participation by residents and the general public.
In January this year, when the national capital experienced its worst spell of air, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data showed that PM2.5 levels in RK Puram went down by 42% compared to 2019. This was the biggest improvement seen in any of the 13 hot spots.
Similarly, levels of PM10 (particulate matter with diameter less than 10 micrometers) in January 2020 came down by as much as 34%, compared to the same period in 2019.
In February, when enforcement teams withdraw from areas as wind speeds pick up, the reduction in PM 2.5 levels was 37% this year, even as eight hot spots saw spikes as compared to 2019. PM10 levels also recorded a marginal 2% drop.
Data recorded between October 1 and October 25, also spells out a similar reduction.
On Friday and Saturday, when Delhi’s air plunged to the ‘very poor’ category, and most hot spots slipped into the ‘severe’ zone, RK Puram managed to maintain an AQI value in the ‘very poor’ category throughout the day.
Officials from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) said that strict enforcement and public participation led to this change.
Since 2018, when RK Puram entered the list of hot spots, enforcement teams said they have been able to control several local sources of pollution, a drive that resident welfare associations (RWAs) kept alive. Open garbage burning, which was one of the biggest problems in the area, has been controlled to a great extent. Open air eateries that relied on unclean fuel have either been shut down or have switched to cleaner alternatives.
“RK Puram is among the few areas in the list [of hot spots] where controlling pollution sources was relatively easier, because it is a residential area, with no large polluting industries or transport hubs in the vicinity, as is the problem with some other areas like Bawana, Mundka and Anand Vihar,” a senior DPCC official said.
The official also said that while garbage-burning cannot be controlled completely, engagement programmes with local RWAs helped greatly reduce their occurrences.
“Since this is largely a middle-class residential colony, engaging residents helped our cause. There are still some problem areas, mainly some of the slum clusters in sectors 12, 7 and 5, where waste is burnt in the open when it gets cold, but we are trying to find alternatives for them,” the official added.
Apart from the local sources, DPCC officials said the area has also benefitted from the completion of two major construction projects. The Delhi Metro in 2018 wrapped up work on its Pink Line (Majlis Park-Shiv Vihar), which stretches through the Ring Road crossing RK Puram sectors 12, 13 and Moti Bagh. On the other side of the locality, the long-pending construction of the new Rao Tula Ram (RTR) flyover was also completed in 2019.
These projects have also eased traffic jams, in turn bringing down vehicular emission levels, the officials said.
Residents here, however, said a lot can be done here to further bring pollution under control.
Sumedha Suri, a resident of Sector 8, said road dust and vehicular pollution are issues that agencies continue to ignore.
“After 9-10pm, when the winds become calm, you can see the haze because of the dust flying around. Municipal agencies had promised mechanised sweeping, but none of us have ever seen the machines,” Suri said.
The data backs Suri’s fears up. CPCB records show that while there was a marked improvement in PM2.5 levels, there was a negligible drop in the levels of PM10, which is primarily dust.
The air in the area is also hampered by the presence of Ring Road and Outer Ring Road — two arterial roads that see high vehicular volume.
Bhure Lal, chairperson of the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), said these hot spots were marked to target action in these places.
“The idea is to redress the issue that each of these 13 hot spots is facing. That is what we intend to do by focusing on these areas. Monitoring agencies are continuing to keep a close watch on sources of pollutions in each of these areas to find the best enforcement measures here,” Lal said.