As Delhi chokes yet again on Diwali, who is to blame for its toxic air?

Another Diwali passed on Sunday, leaving Delhiites gasping for air. Experts say the pollution level after Diwali this year was worse than the previous years, with the levels of several toxic gases crossing the danger mark.

delhi Updated: Nov 01, 2016 13:41 IST
Soumya Pillai
Soumya Pillai
Hindustan Times
Air pollution,Delhi air pollution,Air quality index
A civic worker sweeps a road littered with remnants of Diwali festivities -- burnt paper, hollow firecrackers and a heavy smell of acrid smoke, in Gurgaon, on October 31, 2016. (Parveen Kumar/HT Photo)

Another Diwali passed on Sunday, leaving Delhiites gasping for air. Experts say the pollution level after Diwali this year was worse than the previous years, with the levels of several toxic gases crossing the danger mark.

So what needs to be done to control this alarming rise of pollution and who is to be blamed?

Experts say though the Delhi government started taking measures to control pollution in the city, years of apathy, ignorance and denial, among both citizens and the governments, have led Delhi to such a state.

“Government initiatives will not help if there is no citizen partnership. It is important to step up awareness campaigns by involving the medical community putting out hard health evidence in the public domain to sensitise people about the harmful effects of firecrackers,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.

Read | Delhi pollution level alarming post Diwali, people complain of ‘zero visibility’

The Delhi government on Monday reviewed a detailed analysis of the pollution levels in the city. Sources in the environment department said a special check was conducted to prevent the rampant sale of firecrackers.

But the state government is still to come out with a ‘radical and a long-term solution’ to check the health hazard. Last winter, the government implemented odd-even road rationing scheme. But it has been non-committal on replicating the exercise that it claimed to be a major success last winter.

This year before Diwali, 12 teams — one for each district — were formed to check the sale of firecrackers across the Capital. The government also announced a plan to install outdoor air purifiers and mist fountains at five worst affected locations across the city.

Read | How toxic are your favorite firecrackers?

“The winters are especially bad for the city because of a spike in stubble and waste burning cases in and around Delhi apart from of course the cracker burning during Diwali. The department is chalking out measures to control the rising pollution levels during the winters and we are taking awareness programmes to schools and residential neighbourhoods,” said a senior environment department official.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), under pressure from the courts, announced several anti-pollution measures last December. The second round of the scheme was reintroduced in April this year.

“The odd-even scheme was definitely a much needed measure. We have studies which prove that pollution levels during its first stint in December went down considerably. But the point is that it still is an emergency measure and we need some comprehensive and long-term measure to control the levels,” said Bhure Lal, chairperson of the Supreme Court-appointed body, Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA).

Read | Delhi smothered by smog: Where’s the city government?

He said that to tackle pollution levels in the city it is important to understand the sources. Delhi’s pollution comes from several factors such as varied fuel types used by vehicles, burning of crop residue and biomass, waste burning, road and construction dust and traffic congestion which hit the roof when the temperature lowers.

Beijing, our closest competitor in air pollution, introduced odd-even number car restrictions ahead of the 2008 Olympics. In 2015, it formalised car-pooling and have rules for their operation.

Other cities, like London, started charging cars for entering its eight square miles central district in 2003. The amount collected from the vehicles is used in strengthening the public transport system in the city to discourage the use of private vehicles.

“If we give people alternatives of a comfortable public transport system and at the same time introduce measures such as congestion taxes then you can easily bring down the number of vehicles on the road. We have to first get a strong policy and only then we will be able get citizens on board,” Bhure Lal said.

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First Published: Nov 01, 2016 07:03 IST