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Delhi failed where Ahmedabad scored: Why capital is not able to ‘close pollution loop’

Delhi has been unable to introduce a mechanism for effective communication of air quality data. Experts says proper dissemination of information on pollution forecasts can help people to take necessary precautions.

delhi Updated: Jul 03, 2017 15:54 IST
Ritam Halder
Ritam Halder
Hindustan Times
Delhi news,Delhi pollution,Delhi air quality
Delhi has an AQI monitoring system installed in 2010 but has failed to complete the full circle, which required effective communication. (Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

The national capital has failed exactly where Ahmedabad is set to score — make air quality data and forecast available to the people.

The Air Information and Response Plan (AIR) is based on data generated by the Air Quality Index (AQI). Delhi has an AQI monitoring system installed in 2010 but has failed to complete the full circle, which required effective communication.

“You can log on to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) or System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) app and know the air quality of the city and various spots where monitoring stations are located. However, there is no service such as bulk SMSes to inform people. We are planning to give out alerts in newspaper, TV and radio when air quality worsens during the onset of winter,” a CPCB official said.

The city of about 20 million people, which ranks among the world’s top cities with foul air on a World Health Organisation list, has been struggling to clean up its air that contains a toxic cocktail of dust from construction sites, and smoke and gases from vehicle and factory exhausts. The condition worsens every autumn and winter as the city, buffeted by farmers burning crop stalks in neighbouring states and atmospheric changes, records higher levels of air pollution.

To combat this foul air and its worsening every winter, the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control and Prevention Authority (EPCA) in January enforced the graded response action plan. The plan includes top emergency measures such as odd-even car rationing scheme and ban on construction activities, which will be automatically enforced in the city if level of PM 2.5 breaches 300 micrograms per cubic metre and PM 10 levels stay above 500 micrograms per cubic metre for two consecutive days.

During “very poor” air quality, diesel generators must be banned and parking free increased by 3-4 times. Other measures include closing brick kilns, hot mix plants, stone crushers, and intensifying public transport services besides increase in frequency of mechanised cleaning of road and sprinkling of water on roads.

According to Anumita Roychowdhury from the Centre for Science and Environment, actions falling under the ‘moderate’ and ‘poor’ levels, the government is already enforcing as these are not dependant on the day-to-day pollution readings.

“As part of the graded response action plan, a task force with experts from Central Pollution Control Board, India Meteorological Department and NCR state governments will be formed to track the daily levels of pollution. There is a need to develop a system of wider dissemination. Through social media, TV, billboards and even bulk messages, a wider strategy needs to be in place to inform people,” Roychowdhury said.

A grim example when such forecast can warn people of bad days was the smog episode in the first week of November, 2016. Compared by many with London’s Great Smog of 1952, which had caused at least 4,000 deaths, this was when Delhi’s air quality had plunged, as the toxic smoke of the Diwali fireworks and the hostile weather conditions, trapped the pollutants, which in turn shrouded the city, severely affecting even visibility.

This was the first time in history of the city, schools had to be shut, coal-based power plants were closed, as part of a slew of emergency measures declared by the Delhi government.

Ashok Pandey, principal, Ahlcon International School, said proper information on pollution forecasts can help people and necessary precautions can be taken.

“If we have an advance system where we are warned about such bad air days beforehand, we will not take any risks. We won’t hesitate in taking actions like closing down the school, if necessary, since children are the most vulnerable,” Pandey said.

Doctors, too, feel warning regarding bad air quality a day or two in advance can help.

“If we get this information, it will help asthmatic patients. They will avoid going outside. They will take regular medication, extra care in those highly polluted days not to miss a dosage. We, too, will be able to tell patients what to do and what not to,” Dr Vikas Maurya, lung specialist at Fortis, said.

A number of cities in the world have a system for displaying air quality levels along with warnings. Delhi, too, had similar plans which failed to take off.

A senior government official said the plan to put up LED displays announced earlier may not be implemented at all.

“We will widen our air quality monitoring network with 20 new stations. All of these will all have screens to display real-time pollution readings,” the official said.

First Published: Jun 01, 2017 11:04 IST