A thick blanket of smog on the outskirts of New Delhi in November.(AP file)
A thick blanket of smog on the outskirts of New Delhi in November.(AP file)

Centre releases draft action plan to tackle air pollution in Delhi

The plan includes managing crop stubble and ensuring independent and real-time generation of data on crop burning.
By Malavika Vyawahare | New Delhi, Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON DEC 27, 2017 02:00 PM IST

A high-level task force headed by Nripendra Misra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister, released a 12-point draft plan to tackle pollution in Delhi NCR on Tuesday, including measures such as a crop-burning management plan, annual studies on air quality and steps to bolster the region’s crumbling public transport system.

The task force directed the coordinated rollout of a plan to manage crop stubble and to ensure that data on its burning is generated independently and in real time by monitoring the fires.

“There are many things that contribute to air pollution in Delhi NCR. These are the things that we are focussing on,” CK Mishra, secretary, environment ministry, said of the 12-point plan. “We will monitor implementation throughout the year,” he added.

The environment secretary is tasked with ensuring implementation of the measures, while the task force will step in occasionally to monitor progress. Sources in the ministry said there was frustration with multiple agencies issuing directions, leading to confusion and ineffective implementation.

The direct intervention by the PMO would give the action plan more heft, experts said. The task force was formed after a severe spell of pollution in the region in November when air quality remained at hazardous levels for almost two weeks.The centre and the Union environment ministry faced flak for failing to coordinate actions across states that impacted Delhi NCR’s air quality.

“With the PMO intervening on the issue of air pollution, there seems to be a ray of hope but first the proposed action plan should have clearly defined targets of absolute reduction in pollution levels by a fixed percentage year on year with fixed responsibilities and accountability at various levels,” Sunil Dahiya, an air pollution activist with Greenpeace India, said.

“Punitive measures for polluting industries have to be stricter and clearly defined to fix accountability which seems to be very relaxed in the current plan and, finally, the PMO has to intervene at the national level to act on the rising air pollution and health crises, just a Delhi-NCR plan is not going to bring us a clean air nation.”

Other important steps include conducting source-attribution studies for NCR every year. The lack of data has been a problem in implementation of pollution-control measures. The last comprehensive study on air pollution in Delhi NCR was done by IIT-Kanpur in 2015.

The task force also directed that nitrogen oxide emissions from thermal power plants should be brought under control. In December 2015, the environment ministry notified stricter standards for thermal power plants. None of the plants met the deadline to comply with the norms this year. These include limits for particulate matter, sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide.

The action plan called for strict action against polluting brick kilns, especially in areas such as Bagpat (Uttar Pradesh) and Jhajjar (Haryana), operating without environmental clearance. These kilns are required to migrate to zig-zag technology that reduces particulate matter pollution.

Decongestion measures must be implemented in choke points in Delhi, Meerut, Rohtak and Gurugram, the plan said. Recommendations to improve public transport include adding buses, improving last-mile connectivity, launching a journey planner app integrating Metro, DIMTS and DTC services.

The task force also called for promotion of electric vehicles to tackle transport-related pollution. State and municipal bodies have been asked to manage solid waste better and ensure no fire outbreaks at landfills. Agencies involved in large construction projects have been directed to set up facilities to take care of construction and demolition waste and recycle as far as possible.

An anti-pollution helpline has also been proposed along with an app whereby people can submit photos of violations to get prompt remedial action.

The task force includes senior officials from the environment, agriculture, earth sciences, transport, power and petroleum ministries and principal secretaries of Delhi and NCR states. It has invited comments on the plan over the next 15 days. A final plan is likely to be issued in January.

The 12-point ‘Air Action Plan – Abatement of Air Pollution

1. Crop stubble burning, monitoring and interstate coordination:

Coordinated action to combat stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and UP

In collaboration with Secretary (DARE), Secretary (Agriculture) and Secretary (RD) implement roll out of the agreed plan for managing crop stubble.

In collaboration with the Chief Secretaries of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh--monitor agreed enforcement measures to reduce crop stubble burning.

In collaboration with Department of Science & Technology--ensure that independent data on crop stubble burning is available in real time.

2. Pollution monitoring and source attribution:

In collaboration with Delhi Pollution Control Committee, ensure that Delhi/ NCR has an adequate network of air quality monitoring stations

Commission and validate source attribution studies for the National Capital Region (annually).

Set up an anti-Pollution Help-Line in NCR Districts to register complaints of specific violations. A pollution app should also be prepared wherein citizens can take a picture of the violation and upload it for quick remedial action.

3. Reducing pollution from power plants and other polluting industries:

NOx curtailment measures in all power plants in NCR region in a time bound manner by NTPC and other operators

MoEF to develop a Dashboard of all the Red Category polluting units in NCR. Each of these units to install a certified pollution meter within their premises.

Strict action should be taken regarding brick kilns operating in NCR especially in areas like Bagpat (UP), Jhajjar (Haryana) without environmental clearance

Enforce all brick-kilns to migrate to zig-zag technology [A technology which bricks are arranged to allow hot air to travel in a zigzag path. This reduces coal consumption to about 20%, says this article].

State and municipal actions required to reduce air pollution.

4. Solid waste management:

MCDs to increase decentralized processing of bio-degradable waste, to fill the gap between waste collected and processed. DDA should provide full support to this exercise.

An independent verification mechanism should be set up to check whether 100% solid waste is actually being collected-- with specific focus on poor communities such as slums and JJ clusters.

5. Managing and remediating sanitary landfills:

Steps must be taken to ensure that there are no fires at sanitary landfills. Municipal Bodies must access special expertise to douse landfill fires.

Remediation measures for the all three sanitary landfill sites should be initiated in 6 months.

6. Construction and demolition (C&D) waste:

Large construction Agencies like NBCC and CPWD that are working in the National Capital Region should set up their own facilities for processing C&D waste and reuse the products in their own projects.

7. Mechanized road sweeping and managing road dust:

At present, it is reported that about 15% of road sweeping in Delhi is mechanized. This should increase to at least 40% in the next 4 months.

Delhi PWD, Irrigation Department and MCDs to take up greening or green paving of central verges, roadside berms, sides of drains, etc. over the next one year with monitorable targets.

Watering roadsides (pavement) and parking places by all the Municipal Corporations in Delhi to reduce dust as per agreed schedule.

Ensure SoPs [standard operating procedures] are followed at construction sites in terms of curtaining and sprinkling water to reduce dust.

Municipal Corporations, UD Department have to implement a strong behaviour change campaign involving Resident Welfare Associations and Market Trader Associations on proper management of solid waste to improve air quality.

8. Improving public transport:

Procurement of additional buses and improvement of last mile connectivity.

Increase number of metro coaches

Journey Planner app integrating Metro, DIMTS and DTC services

Integrated ticketing across DTC, Cluster and Metro in six months

Ensure that non- destined trucks do not enter Delhi. Ensuring compliance of the Toll and Municipal charges for entering of trucks in Delhi.

9. Solid waste management in other NCR cities

The respective Divisional Commissioners will assess the management of Municipal solid waste in their jurisdictions, and, within 15 days, prepare a plan to ensure 100% collection and processing. The plan must have monitorable timelines and an independent verification mechanism.

Steps will be taken to combat road dust and dust arising from construction activities, broadly following the model set by Delhi.

10. Completion of Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways within target dates.

11. Encouraging electric vehicles and promoting shared and connected mobility:

Policy support to encourage Electric Vehicles, prioritising the use of EVs for public transport and promoting shared and connected mobility.

12. Reducing congestion:

In collaboration with the traffic police, identify choke points and take up projects to reduce congestion at these points; Similar exercise may be done in respect of Meerut, Rohtak and Gurugram divisions.

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