Brace up: Ahead of Diwali, graded plan to fight pollution starts tomorrow
Catch alerts on television and radio or in newspapers from Tuesday about dipping pollution levels in Delhi, whose filthy air makes news around this season’s headline show, Diwali.
Authorities will broadcast warnings through media whenever the city’s air quality turns “very poor” or worse, as part of a “graded response system” for pollution that was cleared by the Supreme Court last December.
Daily air quality readings are available on websites and apps of agencies such as pollution control boards and the System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR). But mandatory TV and radio broadcasts as well as bulk SMS alerts about pollution aren’t currently available.
The graded formula designed on the lines of mechanisms in Beijing and Paris starts on October 17, two days before the festival of lights this year.
“Whenever pollution increases, emission has to be cut. We are ready to tackle any situation this time,” said Dipankar Saha, additional director and head of the Air Lab of Central Pollution Control Board.
The system was developed after acrid smog forced authorities to close schools and ban construction activities after Diwali last November in the city of more than 20 million people.
New Delhi struggled with its worst air pollution for two decades, shrouded in smoke from millions of fireworks lit during the festival, burning of paddy stalks in neighbouring states before sowing the winter crop, vehicle exhaust and construction dust.
The level of PM2.5, a fine dust that causes and exacerbates respiratory diseases, was 16 times more than national standard and 40 times higher than the World Health Organization-prescribed grade in a 24-hour cycle.
Among the mega cities inhabited by at least 14 million people, New Delhi has the worst air quality, according to the latest WHO report.
A Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) placed the graded response action plan in the city struggling to clean up its air.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has split the graded response plan into “moderate to poor” with an average PM2.5 level from 60 to 120, and “very poor” in which PM2.5 goes up to 250. Levels between 250 and 300 are “severe” and anything above that becomes “severe-plus” or “emergency”.
The emergency measures include an odd-even car rationing system and a ban on construction activities. These steps will automatically kick in whenever the city records PM 2.5 levels upward of 300 and PM10 above 500 for two consecutive days.
The Delhi government will have to apply the odd-even formula within 48 hours of pollution levels hitting the “severe-plus” mark in the city and rest of the national capital region.
Parking charges will be hiked three to four times, diesel generator sets will be banned and alerts will have to be sent out to people during the “very poor” stage. Brick kilns and industries will not function when the air quality touches “severe”.
The overall air quality index for New Delhi was 283 on Sunday, which falls in the “poor” category. But seven stations across the city showed “very poor” pollution levels.