Quick, proactive: Why Beijing’s Grap works, and Delhi’s doesn’t
Beijing’s four-tier emergency response plan kicks in based on air quality index (AQI) forecasts and not actual recorded concentrations.
Delhi’s deadly air pollution has exposed the lack of preparedness in NCR states to implement the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). It has also shown that many interventions under GRAP should have kicked in much earlier based on forecasts rather than when particulate matter concentrations were already peaking.
Beijing’s four-tier emergency response plan kicks in based on air quality index (AQI) forecasts and not actual recorded concentrations. For example, their blue alert is implemented when AQI is predicted to be greater than 200 for a day— dust-control measures are enhanced, public transit is preferred, outdoor activities in schools are reduced and vulnerable people are alerted about health impacts. Their red alert or the severe most category comes into force when the AQI is forecast to be more than 200 for four to five days—a routine in Delhi.
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Based on such a forecast, off-peak work shifts are promoted, the odd-even scheme is enforced, a 30% traffic ban on government vehicles is enforced, only vehicles complying with latest auto standards are allowed, construction activity is stopped and power is not generated locally.
Under GRAP, severe+ or emergency measures kick in when PM 2.5 concentrations over 250 micrograms per cubic metres persist for 48 hours, the severe category is enforced when PM 2.5 concentrations are more than 250 micrograms per cubic metres or PM 10 concentrations are more than 430 micrograms per cubic metres.
The ministry of earth sciences has come up with an air quality early warning system similar to that of Beijing, which can be utilised for GRAP. The warning system can provide a forecast for couple of days. The GRAP task force’s meeting minutes since September 27 indicate there was enough time to take pre-emptive measures.
The 47th task force meeting on September 27 does not recommend any orders to curb stubble burning in neighbouring states even though it records that incidences of burning are being reported; it recommends surveillance of industries and paving of roads but does not direct any measures on enforcing a ban on Diwali fire crackers.
Only in the 50th task force meeting held on October 24, the task force recommended checking stubble burning and imposing the ban on firecrackers and ordered coal based industries to remain closed. “This year, we did take some preemptive actions like stopping construction activities and prohibiting DG sets. But it can be refined further,” a senior CPCB official said.
The Environment Pollution control Authority’s (EPCA) meetings also exposed the absolute unpreparedness of states such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in implementing GRAP. Haryana’s power secretary said at least 16 colonies in Gurgaon’s old sectors developed before 2007 have no power supply and run on diesel generator sets. Almost none of the new 58 sectors built after 2007 have power supply.
EPCA members were shocked that the 16 colonies developed by private companies managed to get environmental clearances and other permissions even without laying power infrastructure. EPCA meetings also revealed most industries in Haryana and UP are using coal to run boilers.
While GRAP could have taken pre-emptive action, the Centre’s national clean air programme utilised the past 11 months in developing 102 city-level action plans but did not focus on regional issues such as thermal power plants and industrial emissions. Thermal power plants in NCR are set to miss the deadline of December 2019 for meeting emission norms of 2015.
China released its National Action Plan on Air Pollution Prevention and Control a document similar to NCAP in 2013. Using daily data from more than 200 monitors across the country from 2013 to 2017, a University of Chicago team found that China’s most populated areas have experienced improvements in air quality, ranging from 21% to 42%, with most meeting or exceeding the goals outlined in their National Air Quality Action Plan.
China invested about $270 billion in the plan with focus on the densely populated Beijing-Tianjin Hebei area, Pearl and Yangtze River Delta regions, respectively.
“We definitely need a revisit of the GRAP protocols. Its odd that even odd-even and the other emergency measures did not kick in earlier this week. So both the trigger points and the process need to be re-looked. And the emergency measures need to be implemented in all cities affected by pollution, not just Delhi,” said Santosh harish, fellow at Centre for Policy Research.
“Now that we have some forecasting mechanism, pre-emptive action can be taken and some such measures were taken this year. But enforcement cannot be lax when a plan is in place. There should be zero tolerance for polluting activities,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and environment.
Despite CPCB’s air quality bulletin indicating everyday that most cities in the Indo-Gangetic plain region are battling severe air pollution, worse than Delhi’s, there has been no move to enforce emergency action there by state or central governments.