Delhi smog: What authorities promised and what they delivered
Pollution levels in Delhi have remained in the severe zone for more than a week, triggering a health crisis and an international debate. But not enough for all stakeholders to get their act together to pull Delhi and its neighbouring areas out of the mess. (LIVE UPDATES)
Last winter, the Capital experienced its worst smog in 17 years and in January this year, the Centre notified the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). But no stakeholder – be it the Delhi or the Union governments or Delhi’s civic agencies – has been able to keep its promise to put in place effective pollution control measures.
Here’s what was promised and what was implemented.
• Bus fleet
What it promised: After the two odd-even drives last year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government had said it would augment the bus fleet as Delhi needs 11,000 buses to boost public transport as mandated by the Delhi High Court.
What happened: Instead, Delhi’s fleet reduced from 5,852 last year to 5,425 now. The government said it could not procure new buses because of non-availability of land to park them. But there has been a clear lack of urgency from the government’s side to push the land-owning agency, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), to get the space allotted.
It was only on Monday – after the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) and the NGT rapped the government – that state transport minister Kailash Gahlot wrote to DDA, seeking 135 acres of land.
The Cabinet has now decided to bring 2,000 more buses but that would take at least six more months. Even after that, a deficit of around 3,600 buses would still remain.
• Polluting vehicles
What it promised: A crackdown on polluting vehicles and stringent checking of pollution under control (PUC) certificates.
What happened: With a compliance rate of 23.2%, most vehicles in Delhi continue to remain out of the PUC
checking network. The transport department is yet to complete creating a cloud-based system to keep a track of PUC renewals.
• Public information
What it promised: People would be alerted through SMSs and the air quality index (AQI) would be updated on LED screens
What happened: Public information dissemination was a complete failure with the government failing to set up hoardings. No information regarding air quality and dos and don’ts was disseminated via hoardings and radio ads
• Dust control
What it promised: The AAP government proposed vacuum cleaning of roads, cloud seeding and other measures
What happened: In over a year, it has been able to get only 20 mechanical sweepers. The cloud seeding plan has now come down to a proposal to sprinkle water from helicopters. And this too was taken up only in the last two days when the government literally had one full year to prepare for it.
Its pollution monitoring body, DPCC, failed to ban construction activities and stop entry of trucks on time.
• Lead in inter-state coordination
What it promised: The Delhi government would actively take up the issue of pollution, especially crop burning, with other states.
What happened: In August, environment minister Imran Hussain wrote to the authorities in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan on crop burning. But there was no followup.
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal took up the matter again last week. He should have raised the issue during summers with the Union environment minister and escalated the matter – something which he is doing only now and which is merely turning out to be ’smog politics.’
• RFID for commercial vehicles
What they promised: Radio frequency identification smart tags had to be installed at 13 toll collection booths to reduce congestion on a pilot basis by March this year
What happened: The project is yet to take off as there is no clarity on funding.
• Waste burning
What they promised: Round-the-clock monitoring of waste burning and controlling fire at dumping sites
What happened: The MCD said it does slap spot fines for waste burning but also acknowledged that the inspection drive is not widespread due to staff crunch.
On fire at dumping sites, it washed its hands of the issue, saying waste generates methane, which automatically catches fire.
• Parking management
What they promised: The MCDs and the NDMC had clearly stated they were prepared to enforce the graded action plan, which mandated differential parking.
What happened: They failed to enforce the move on their own despite pollution levels reaching severe levels. The civic agencies also remained unperturbed by the fresh EPCA directive to increase parking fee by four times.
It took the lieutenant governor to bring them in line and enforce the order. It is still facing difficulty in implementing the order uniformly as contractors are reluctant to hike parking rates.
• Mechanical cleaning of roads
What they promised: Regular vacuum cleaning of roads
What happened: The MCDs had deployed machines but the problem lies in the disposal of heaps of dust collected. The dust collected is being dumped at landfill sites, which is blown away by winds.
• Sprinkling water
What they promised: The civic agencies too were supposed to sprinkle water on roads to settle dust
What happened: The MCDs started the task in the last three days when pollution levels went out of control.
• Coordination between states
What it promised: An action plan for states to follow, which would solved the crop-burning issue.
What happened: Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan instead said no person had died due to pollution so far and that air quality was set to improve in the coming days. The ministry merely issued an advisory to states to implement various actions. But it failed to bring the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi together to solve the problem of stubble-burning.
• De-congestion project
What it promised: Peripheral expressways bypassing Delhi
What happened: The western peripheral expressway and eastern peripheral expressways -- both 135 km long, which would have formed a huge ring road around the capital -- were meant to decongest Delhi and the National Capital Region. But they have repeatedly missed deadlines, because of issues in land acquisition. Once ready, the expressways are going to take at least 80,000 freight vehicles off Delhi’s roads.
• Pollution warning system
What it promised: Timely and accurate AQI information
What happened: Real-time air quality goes missing on several occasions in NCR cities. In some cities such as Noida, monitoring equipment is not calibrated. No air quality forecast is shown on CPCB’s app or website.
• Industrial norms
What it promised: To lay down sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide norms for industries
What happened: The environment ministry delayed it so much that the Supreme Court slapped a fine of ₹2 lakh on the ministry. It described the ministry’s approach as “lethargic and lazy.”
• Tighter emission norms for coal-fired plants
What it promised: Revised norms
What happened: It had issued revised norms for coal-fired power plants. But, the industrial lobby came down heavily upon them. This led to the delay. The modified norms have been prepared and are likely to be notified by December.